Sunshine, Cotton, and Magnolias

It was a good thing I had a roof over my head in North Pensacola. It poured…all day. But by the morning of November 30th, I was left with dry, sunny skies. My 27 mile walk to Robertsdale, Alabama, was a day of many firsts for this walk.

I hit the first state line of my journey after nine miles and entered Alabama! A new state always provides a morale boost. After 429 miles in Florida, I was certainly ready for a new state abbreviation.

PJ’s photography skills need a little work, but not bad for his first try!

There was one immediate difference after reaching Alabama – the shoulders. Florida spoiled me with impeccable shoulders for every mile. Alabama’s were narrower, bumpier, and had rumble strips, often in the center of the shoulder, which make for a bumpy ride and thoroughly annoy PJ. Nevertheless, we adjusted quickly and made pretty good time during the sunny 27 mile walk to Robertsdale.

Another trip first – I actually had a host lined up for the night before leaving in the morning (and I would get to sleep in an RV)! Cami, who has followed my walks on Instagram, invited PJ and I to stay on her property when she realized I would be walking through Baldwin County. When we arrived, a smiling Cami was waiting in the front yard. Had it not been for COVID, I’m sure she would have given me a big welcome hug. I felt at home immediately. The RV was stocked with food, coffee, and fresh towels. She even bought a space heater to keep me warm overnight considering the temp was supposed to dip into the upper 20’s. And, I was able to shower for the THIRD day in a row! We shared travel stories for a few hours before bed and visited again in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the restful night in Cami’s “she-shed,” as she calls it. Thank you for your hospitality and making me feel so welcome!

Cami and I outside of her “she-shed.”

From Cami’s house, I walked due west on Highway 104 and met up with the East Shore Trail, which meandered through historic neighborhoods and into quaint downtown Daphne. I ended the day cowboy camping off Highway 98, but not after a little excitement.

Near the end of the trail after dark, I came across a wooden barrier right in the middle of “Gator Alley,” which is a popular boardwalk where people can spot alligators in the surrounding water. I searched for a way around the roadblock, but PJ can’t swim and he’s also afraid of alligators. The nearby highways also passed over the waterway, but were heavily trafficked and didn’t have suitable shoulders. If I walked a series of secondary roads to bypass the swamp and nearby interstate, it would have been a 14 mile detour (only to end up a mile north). It was a real head scratcher.

My best option, it seemed, was to roll the dice and hop the four foot tall roadblock. After all, the boardwalk on the other side looked stable to my amateur eye. I unloaded PJ and clumsily lifted him over the barrier. He needs to walk more because he was heavy. After I made it across the sturdy wooden pieces, I quickly reloaded my gear and gingerly pushed PJ across the wooden planks until we were safely on solid ground. Thankfully, we didn’t end up as an alligator’s entree. Curiously, there weren’t any signs or barricades at the end of the trail announcing it was closed (nor were there any next to the roadblock). Maybe it was some elaborate prank by some neighborhood kids. I’ll never know.

I was excited to walk into Mobile the following morning. I was pushing PJ across the Highway 98 Causeway as the sun came up over misty Mobile Bay.

I made a few new friends, Jeff and Larry, four miles into my day. They were fishing and having a few beers when I rolled by. We chatted on the roadside for 15 minutes. I declined the offer for a beer (by the grace of God, that’s easy to say no to these days) but accepted some breakfast sausage and a bag full of cookies. I got both their phone numbers in case I ran into trouble in Mobile. As I snapped their picture, they let out a loud “Roll Tide!”

I met some awesome people in Alabama, but I’m still not a Crimson Tide fan! Sorry fellas!

I continued towards Mobile after the fun roadside chat. Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct (or legal) route for a pedestrian into downtown Mobile. I had to do a big loop to the north and walk the three-mile long Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge before heading back south into downtown. The bridge rose hundreds of feet above the Mobile River and was the closest thing to a mountain I have walked on my journey so far. The views from the “summit” were breathtaking. After a three mile walk south through the Mobile Railyards, we finally hit downtown.

A view from the top of the mountain!

Mobile is a lovely city. The sidewalks we walked were lined with stately, Southern homes and live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. I camped off a bike path on the south end of town as Christmas music from a nearby mall lulled me to sleep.

One of many live oak tree tunnels in Mobile.

It was a suburban walk through South Mobile and Theodore for 15 miles before getting back into the country. I passed by field after field of Alabama’s cash crop, cotton, before reaching Grand Bay. There, I had a care package from home waiting for me. The box included a new solar panel, a sleeping bag liner, snacks, a sports page from the weekend the Broncos beat the Dolphins, and a nice note. Thanks Mom and Dad!

My feet still felt fresh an hour before dark so I walked another four miles to the Mississippi State Line. I camped in the woods right next to the welcome sign!

Two down – six to go! A little too much grass in that picture PJ, for future reference.

After a stormy night, I began the 85 mile walk across the Magnolia State. Traffic increased as I neared Pascagoula, but the shoulder on 90 was MASSIVE. I could have fit five PJs on that thing! It certainly made for some comfortable walking. After a visit to Lighthouse Park in Pascagoula, I continued into Gautier (pronounced go-shay. French pronunciation isn’t one of my strong suits). I met my host for the night, Thomas, at city hall. One of my good friends from home put me in touch with him. We loaded PJ into the back of his truck and made the 30 minute drive to his house. Thomas and I had a blast sharing our travel experiences with one another. After so many nights of stealth camping on this walk, my appreciation for hosts (and a roof over my head) has gone…through the roof! Thank you Thomas!

On day two in Mississippi, I finally hit the Gulf of Mexico in Ocean Springs. Since then, I have been “going Gulfing,” as I like to say. After passing through Ocean Springs, I walked across the Biloxi Bay Bridge. The wide pedestrian lane allowed me to take in the ocean and enjoy the views. I also walked with a woman named Wanda for two miles – my first walking partner of the trip! Wanda completes a seven mile, marina-to-marina walk every Saturday across the bridge. She doesn’t bring her phone or listen to music, she just walks as a way to reconnect with her surroundings and herself. Thank you for the company, Wanda! Keep walking!

My first views of the Gulf from Ocean Springs!

For the remainder of the day, I had a break from traffic and walked a series of sidewalks, bike paths, and boardwalks along the Gulf. I struck up a few conversations with other walkers and a few cyclists as the day progressed. With the advantage of a safe pathway to walk, I continued my day well after dark, eventually passing through Gulfport. There was a beautiful light display at the city park and they were showing “Elf” on a projector screen. PJ and I enjoyed dinner and a show before walking another three miles.

Gulfport getting festive!

I pushed PJ onto the beach at 8 PM and cowboy camped 20 yards from the water. Hands down the best camping view on the trip!

After enjoying the sunrise on December 6th, our Gulf walk continued through Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and into Waveland, where I am camping at Buccaneer State Park. My goal was to get here at 3 PM. We arrived at 2:58. I hoped to get my tent set up by 3:30 since rain was supposed to move in at 4. I had camp ready to go at 3:40. Minutes later, the rain started. For a guy without a schedule, I sure stuck to the schedule today!

The campground tonight is 13 miles from Louisiana – I hope to be in the Pelican State by noon tomorrow!

Favorite Three Pictures

I call this “The Hand of Palm.” This view took my breath away.
The Bay St. Louis Bridge.
Approaching downtown Mobile from the wrong side of the tracks.

Bonus Photo – what would you call this? A snow castle? Sand man?

Trip Stats

26 Days, 590 miles

Jars of Peanut Butter – 18

Roadside Change – $1.82

Miles Per Shower (it’s a new walking metric I created) By State

Florida – 71.66

Alabama – 90 (just one shower!)

Mississippi – 42 (trending in the right direction!)

Favorite Roadside Find – My camping spot right next to the Gulf!

Until next time, walk on!

Ben

4 thoughts on “Sunshine, Cotton, and Magnolias

  1. Beautiful beautiful post Ben- photos, stories and all- and great optimism and humor! Love it! We’re so happy that your walk is going so well! Gosh! We are loving the journey. All the best Ben!

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  2. Lots of beautiful “Calendar” pix. Enjoy your trip blog very much, Thankful you’re keeping on schedule while taking time to enjoy the calming sights and sounds of the Gulf shoreline.
    Walk on, be safe and strong, God be with you every step of the way, Ben🙏🥰🇺🇸

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  3. Wow Ben 4 down already, great going. My favorite pictures are the Oaktrees, Sunrise on Beach and The Hand of Palm. Prayers on your adventure. Walk-On

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  4. Ben, I love to read about your journeys, all the adventures and the people you are meeting. I can feel the excitement you are experiencing.
    Praying always for your safety and God carrying you along.
    I enjoy our chats. So glad God put you in my path at the very moment I needed you.
    God bless you and keep you safe always.

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