I started 2021 off on the right foot (or maybe it was the left) by resuming my trek across the Lone Star State. I left the Super 8 in Fairfield around 10 AM and headed west on U.S. 84. The rain that soaked East Texas over the previous two days had moved out of the region, but overcast skies and brisk winds made for a chilly day of walking. I managed to make it 19 miles before calling it quits and cowboy camping at a picnic area off the highway. There were no signs saying camping was prohibited, so I maintained my comfortable level of plausible deniability in the event the authorities showed up. “There’s a 50/50 chance the cops wake us up tonight, PJ,” I said out loud before I fell asleep.
At about 11 PM, I woke up to a flashlight in my face.
“Limestone County Deputies. Are you ok sir?” It seemed we lost the coin flip. I shot up in my sleeping bag and realized there were two police officers towering over me. “What are you doing out here?” I jumped into a semi-coherent explanation for why I was camping at the picnic area. The officers ended up being very understanding and cordial.
They ran my driver’s license (to make sure I wasn’t running from the law) and asked me questions about my walk. I got out of my sleeping bag, only wearing my fleece long johns, and retrieved two business cards from my pack and handed them over to the officers. To my surprise, they still let me stay there for the night. One of them gave me a fist bump before returning to his cruiser. I was still delirious when they left.
“Have a great night dudes,” I said as they walked off. It took 1,120 miles to have my first encounter with the cops!
In the morning, I walked through Mexia and trudged on towards the outskirts of Waco. As I walked further west, I encountered fewer and fewer trees and more wide open spaces. I was certainly off the “Texas Forest Trail” after leaving Fairfield.
It became obvious that finding places to camp right off the highway would be a challenge in Texas. Most of the land is private property surrounded by barbed-wire fences and marked with no trespassing signs. So I wouldn’t be scrambling for a camping spot after dark, I needed to start calling ahead to more police departments, city halls, and RV Parks and set up sleeping spots beforehand. I actually needed to do some planning!
I hadn’t done any planning on day two out of Fairfield, but lucked out with a camping spot on the east side of Waco at Homeplace RV Park where the owner let me pop my tent up near a gazebo on the property.
I walked into Waco the following morning. There were a few tricky construction zones but PJ and I were able to navigate around some concrete barriers and closed roads in order to reach downtown.
Waco was the last big city I would walk through for a few hundred miles so I bought a couple of new bike tires, new shoes, and some supplies at Wal-Mart before heading out of town. With a lack of sidewalks, plenty of curbs, and very few walking men, it was a frustrating and challenging stroll out of town. I was thrilled to reach the Cotton Belt Trail at dusk and settle down for the night after a stressful day of “big city walking.”
I continued my walk down U.S. 84 January 4th and had a very eventful day. Outside of McGregor, a small sedan was pulled over on the shoulder. A man wearing a reflective vest was waiting for me to walk up. “I gotta hear what you’re up to,” the man said with a big smile as I approached him.
John is the first cross-country walker I have met “in the wild.” He is walking the country in honor of Ernie Andrus. Ernie crossed the US on foot over a three year period (from 2013 to 2016) at the age of 90! When he turned 95, he decided to retrace his route. This was in March of 2019. Unfortunately, health issues sent Ernie home (where he is still alive and well) when he was in the South.
John is continuing Ernie’s journey to honor him and is walking the same number of daily miles Ernie would have – between three and four. John’s expected arrival in San Diego is on Ernie’s 100th birthday – August 19th, 2023. Ernie is expecting to be there, too! It was a pleasure to meet you, John! I love your humble attitude, patience, and gracious spirit! Thank you, John and Ernie, for the inspiration! You can check out Ernie’s page at http://www.coast2coastruns.com.
After a few big hills and my first flat tire since Florida (mesquite thorns 1, Ben 0) I hit Gatesville and had my first newspaper interview of the walk with Rob, a retired police officer and new writer for the city paper. Thank you for taking the time to interview me!
With the help of Sheri at Gatesville City Hall, I camped at Faunt De Leroy City Park in Gatesville for the night. I didn’t arrive until after dark and was exhausted from a full day of walking and social interactions.
I walked a modest 19 miles from Gatesville and camped at a roadside park 7 miles east of Evant the following day – with the permission of the Collyer County Sherrif’s Department, of course! I’m adapting to the Texas walking environment!
While planning the next few days of my walk (and checking the weather) after I arrived at the roadside park, I noticed a potential winter storm moving into Texas in four days. With towns of any significance becoming more spread out, I decided to try and make it to Ballinger, which has three hotels to choose from. Ballinger was 122 miles from the park. It would be a challenge to cover those miles in four days but it was my best option. I set up camping spots in Goldthwaite, Early, and Santa Anna. Now, I just needed to cover the miles!
The walk to Goldthwaite was a hilly, windy, 32 mile challenge. I fought a 20 mile per hour headwind all day but still reached town right before dark.
I walked another 32 miles the following day and camped at J’s RV Park in Early. I pitched my tent on concrete slab number 20 for the night surrounded by RV’s.
Santa Anna was the next stop, 26 miles down the road! I was right on schedule and on pace to beat out the storm. I ended my nine day walking leg with a 40 mile day which ended at the Ballinger Inn. I covered the final 40 miles in 12.5 hours and arrived with a few hours to spare. Freezing rain moved in overnight and I woke up to a few inches of fresh snow on the ground.
A huge thank you to Andrew and Stick Newland of Colorado Springs for sponsoring my hotel room last night! My 2nd and 3rd nights at the Ballinger Inn were provided by Jan and Vic Kennah of Ft. Bridger, Wyoming. Thank you for keeping me warm and dry!
In addition to some incredible generosity from friends back home and Wyoming, I experienced some Texas sized generosity during my last walking stint, too.
While I was setting up my tent at J’s RV Park in Early, my neighbor Cindy walked by with her dog, Zeke. We got to chatting and she insisted on “blessing me financially,” as she put it. She went into her RV while I petted Zeke and came back with a very generous contribution to my walk.
Earlier in the walking week, a woman from Lily’s Catering saw me walking down 84. She pulled over and set a breakfast burrito and cup of piping hot horchata down on the highway shoulder for me to pick up as I walked by. She just waved and drove off!
And a few days ago, a man named Bruce pulled over when I was 15 miles from Ballinger. Bruce was dressed in denim from head to toe, wore a cowboy hat, and had a burning cigarette hanging from his mouth.
“I have a care package for you,” he told me after offering me a ride into town. He went back to his car. I was expecting him to return with a few snacks. Instead, he retrieved a massive black duffel bag that was half the size of PJ. “What do you need?”
Bruce sent me on my way with three cans of soup, six microwave dinners (thankfully my hotel room has a microwave!), some cookies, saltine crackers, a bag of donuts, and a roll of TP. PJ was at capacity after Bruce loaded me up with food!
It was a pretty tumultuous week in America. I am blessed to be able to share stories about the kindness I have received from friends and perfect strangers during my walk. There are good people to be found EVERYWHERE! Thank you all!
Favorite Three Pictures
Days – 60
Miles – 1,346
Jars of Peanut Butter – 50
Roadside Change Count – $5.05
Favorite Roadside Find – The “loveseat” at the roadside park near Mexia.
Miles Per Shower in Texas – 61.57
I have walked about 430 miles in Texas so far. My arrival in Ballinger marked the geographic midway point in my third walk across America. Mileage wise, I am roughly halfway there, too!
I am taking two full days off in Ballinger and waiting for the five inches of snow that fell in the recent storm to melt. On January 12th, I will head northwest towards Big Spring, then west towards Andrews and Carlsbad (NEW MEXICO!) over the next 10 days. My walk will lead me through some desolate country. I can’t wait! Walk on!
3 thoughts on “The Heart of the Lone State State”
Great post and fantastic photos Ben! What a time you are having. So happy that you are meeting some wonderful people. You’re right, we could use that after last week. We are so happy you are safe and making good mileage. You have earned your rest! Oh those mesquites! While hiking on the AZT I threw my tent over what I thought was ‘just a bush’ to let the ice sheets melt off of it and instantly recognized the thorns…yikes! It was a mesquite. Realizing my mistake brought out the scare in me (tent + holes= no good), causing me to flip it right off before completely landing! Have a good rest tonight and safe travels this week! We’ll be thinking about you!
Thank you Jan! There were some beautiful sights this week 😃 Haha I figured you have had some issues with the mesquite trees in Arizona on your hikes! They are ferocious. If they can puncture a tire so easily, a tent would be even easier to tear up! I’m glad you realized what you had done before any damage was done. I’m always on the lookout for them now! Thank you again for the hotel rooms- this rest was much needed! Sending you lots of love!
Good to hear there are some fantastic people out there watching over you. Your journey is remarkable and I enjoy the journey with you. Stay safe & warm. Walk On