An unfortunate update

BREAKING NEWS: due to a terribly sad/inconvenient development, after completing the first third of the trip, we are no longer allowed to call ourselves the big old walk. I’m sure you’re aware of my ongoing foot trouble; with a broken toe in the right foot and strained tendons in the left its now pretty impossible to walk. For this reason we have switched to bikes for the remaining distance. I hope nobody feels cheated by this, and that you realize cycling 2000miles will take a lot of time, energy and willpower.
If you’re still interested, please keep following us on our journey.
Kieran

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God, Guns, Feet, and Ferris Wheels

The last time we spoke, Jack told you how the next day was going to be tough, this time I’m going to tell you how it was because of me, and how much I regret pushing the two of us.

18 miles is a long way to walk. It’s a long way to walk for the majority of you reading (trust me, however far 18 miles is in your head, its further). It’s also a long way to walk for us, it just happens that we currently do that (and more) every day, and have done for the last 8 weeks; on this occasion 18 miles was probably 12 miles too far for our feet.

The night before, I swear to god GoogleMaps told me the journey was 14 miles; the next morning it had turned into 18. I don’t know how and I don’t know why it changed, but the fact was that there wasn’t going to be a chance to camp, eat, drink or refuel before those 18 miles. I decided it was best to keep this information from Jack and just press on with the day.

 

The classic American red barn

The classic American red barn

I’m not proud to say it, but I’m a pretty convincing liar. I’ve come a long way from eating some icing on a cake and just blaming it on my brother; these days id tell you that the heat given off by the lights above it caused the icing to evaporate. and you’d believe me. but it’s very difficult to convince someone who has just walked 6 miles that they have only walked 2. It’s even harder when you get onto a path that has signs indicating the miles to the next town. What I’m trying to say in an incredibly convoluted way, is that Jack was onto me. I think the knowledge that there was an Irish bar in the next town was the only thing that kept us going all day.

Getting into North Judson was a good feeling, getting into an Irish bar with the A/C on full blast was incredible.

As usual the bar lady recognised the accents, asked us where we were from and what we were doing, commented on how much I look like Ron Weasley, and then finally pulled us a pint. Now that we were in North Judson, we had to find somewhere to sleep. We’d been promised that there was a campsite in the town, there wasn’t. We’d been told we could camp in the town park, we couldn’t. Finding somewhere to sleep at night is the only thing that really stresses me out on this trip, and at that moment I was stressed.

It really was an exhausting day

It really was an exhausting day

We didn’t know it at the time, but the bar lady had disappeared to make a phone call to the bars owner, letting him know how and why we had found ourselves in his bar. A stress and Guinness filled hour later, in walked Mike Conlan who refilled our glasses, handed us a menu and told us everything was on the house. This is something I haven’t gotten used to and hope I never do. It’s probably a small thing for a business owner, but it absolutely makes our day.

Mike told us we were more than welcome to come and stay with either him or one of his neighbours, but that they all lived about 20 miles in the wrong direction. This was a tough offer to turn down, but it would mean retracing our steps, which neither of us fancied at that moment in time. As Jack and I looked at each other to try to mind-read the others decision, our phone started ringing and there was a picture of Diana Geisler. Jack took it outside, and when he returned he had the biggest smile on his face.

Diana had been in touch with someone she used to teach with; he lived in North Judson, was letting us stay at his house, and was on his way to pick us up.

I don’t believe in fate or coincidence, but Laura and Richard Strohl came into our lives at the right time, on the right day. Mike wished us well, we loaded our stuff into the car, and headed towards our temporary home.

The Strohl’s had been having a family reunion canoe trip that day, and as we pulled onto the property there were a lot of people getting out of a lot of cars. I panic in social situations; when I first meet someone I find it hard to remember their name because I’m so focused on getting my own right. When there is a crowd of people to meet all at once, I don’t even bother, I just give my name and ask them theirs again later, and I told them this upfront. It didn’t matter, everyone was so welcoming, offering us food or a beer, and luckily they all left fairly soon so I only had the four names to focus on.

Laura insisted we drank some water, had a shower and made ourselves comfortable. Straight away we both felt at home.

Apart from having raised three boys of their own, Laura and Richard have fostered almost 30 other children, and it really shows in how loving and welcoming they were to us from the minute we arrived. we sat around a bonfire in the garden and had the usual conversations about the walk, american politics, and the differences across the Atlantic.

The Strohl’s are members of a southern Baptist church in North Judson, and they had invited us to join them the next morning for sunday service. It was nice to sleep in a real bed that night, and even nicer to have a fan above my bed, keeping me cool. I woke up early to a strange voice; obviously this happens a lot when we’re sleeping in different beds each night, but this was a voice we hadn’t met the night before.

“He tried to run me off the road, Laura. but I wasn’t speeding up for him or nuthin’! ya know?”. This was the voice of the man, the legend: Uncle Jack. Laura’s uncle Jack to be specific. He had left his house (20 minutes away) two hours before, and only just made it to his destination. When I walked down stairs I was met with “I wasn’t keeping an eye out for the indian, so I missed the turn, and I just kept on going, yep”. Jack rides a moped to get himself from place to place, but had been having a bit of trouble remembering which turns to take, hence why the journey took him so long. Right from the crazy introduction, Jack (Chalkley) and I loved Jack Sr; everything the man was saying had us crying our eyes out. probably not the best man for us to sit beside in church though.

For the first 13 years of my life, I went to church every single sunday, but I have only been a handful of times since then. This service was like nothing I had ever seen before. Pastor Brian was so passionate in delivering his sermon! Members of the congregation sporadically got up and professed their love for the lord, and spoke about how instrumental he was in their lives. It amazes me the level of faith some people have; it was so interesting to experience it first hand, and delivered with such emotion. There were things Pastor Brian said that I did and didn’t agree with, but it was clear he was a man who gave himself completely to the lord. Richard and Laura introduced us to all of their friends in attendance; such lovely people, and one even offered us a place to stay in Denver; an offer we’ll definitely be chasing up. The rest of the day was spent chatting inside, escaping the heat, and the swarms of mosquitos surrounding the house.

I had a rough night and not only was I having difficulty walking but I woke the next morning feeling unable to stomach water, let alone walk all day in 100F heat. Jack and Laura decided for me that id be staying in bed all day while Jack walked as normal, with Richard offering to pick him up at the finish line and bring him back to the house.

When Jack did return, he was a wreck. The local news had a severe weather warning, suggesting people refrain from doing anything strenuous in the heat. Laura made another decision that we were both to rest , and to ride out the heat-wave with them; I was feeling a little better but was more than happy to oblige.

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Annie Oakley, eat your heart out

After another days rest, and a cooler evening ahead, Laura asked us if we’d like to go and take a look at the county fair. As you’ve seen, we get presented with a lot of invitations and opportunities, and unless they involve mint-shower gel we are usually more than happy to oblige.

Uncle Jack had returned and we were so happy he had agreed to come with us. Richard told us how he sometimes speaks about his love of Ferris wheels, but that he hasn’t been on one since he was a boy, and that the last time he was on one people were rocking it all over the place; we promised not to do the same. The fair was huge, and we were told that this was a very modestly sized one! There was a large fairground, an arena, a dressage/rodeo area for the horses, then a massive section full of all different kinds of (prize-winning) live stock. We wandered around eating funnel cake, listening to Jack (Sr)’s stories of growing up on a farm, rearing cattle and riding horses with no saddles.

Starke County fair

Starke County fair

Devastation struck when we got into the fairground just in time to see the guy closing up the Ferris wheel for the night. I tried to ask him if we had time for one more go but he just grunted and walked away. We carried on walking around the different rides without realising Richard had run off to convince the guy to turn it back on for one final ride.

We climbed aboard, with Laura gripping my arm and telling me just how much she loved theme park rides, but how afraid of heights and carnivals she was. Unfortunately for all of us Laura’s fear was realised that night when the ride broke just as we were about to get off. It’s never nice to see a guy walk away then break into a panicked run, but its even worse when he sprints back with ten other guys tasked with trying to get us down safely. Well clearly we did get down and walked away unharmed, but not before hearing one of them say “we’ve got to take this down for good, its fucked!”.

The last ever ride from the top of the Ferris wheel

The last ever ride from the top of the Ferris wheel

Richard and Jack Sr had disappeared to use the facilities, but through the darkness we could just about see them and hear their voices. The conversation we could hear and the sight that emerged showed us that, in his desperation, Uncle Jack had pissed on the side of a police car. “When you gotta go, you gotta go. ya know?”. We decided it might be time to head home.

Saying goodbye to Richard and Laura (sadly Jack had left before we woke) was one of the hardest of the trip so far. It’s difficult to say goodbye to everyone, but these two had been so loving; caring for me when I was sick, picking up Jack, taking us places, showing us things… I apologise if that sentence doesn’t make much sense, but I’ve deleted it and re-written it over and over. What I’m trying to say is that I genuinely love the pair of them, and I cant wait to (hopefully) see them again in a couple of weeks.

Gideon and Steph's ted

Gideon and Steph’s ted

Next Stop Chicago.

Kieran

Walking on Water

I will pick up from where Kieran left off. Diana had just dropped us off. We walked for the day, it was a relatively easy day’s walk. Whilst we were walking we had a call from Sara, a woman we met the day before (her father had the beautiful bar in his house) and she had a friend, Pat, who lived in Rochester who was happy to put us up. She lived right next to Lake Manitou. We were so thankful.

We gave Pat a call, and she was happy to come and pick us up, and said we were more than welcome to stay at hers. We met Pat a little while later and she drove us back to Rochester to her house. It was beautiful.

Kieran Writing on the deck at Pats

Kieran Writing on the deck at Pats

Her house sits right on the edge of the lake and the first thing she told us to do on a hot day like it was to jump straight into the lake. Of course I was a little worried about sharks, but I manned up and jumped in. It was the most refreshing thing imaginable (luckily the sharks weren’t biting either).

We swam around in the lake as Pat and her friend finished a mural in her hot tub room (that’s right a hot tub room!) I got brave and started diving and flipping into the water. It was exactly what we needed after a hard day’s walk. Kieran’s ankle started to play up a bit that day, so a good swim was what we thought might help put him back on the mend.

After an hour or so messing around in the water, Pat and her neighbor came and had a chat with us about what we are doing, such lovely people. Pat then asked us what we wanted for dinner. Kieran and I are easy going with food, we will eat anything so said it was up to Pat. While she cooked she told us we could go out in the kayaks.

Team GB

Team GB

We paddled into the lake, down one of the estuaries, through high reeds and huge lily pads. It was a great experience, and so peaceful.

We rowed around for an hour or so before we headed back to Pat’s. Kieran was limping at this point, and it seemed his foot was just getting stiffer and stiffer, and my feet were covered in blisters, something only time and good care could solve.

We sat down to eat, and chatted about our lives with Pat. She told us how seeing us jumping into the lake, laughing and having fun reminded her of when her kids where younger, doing the same thing. It must have been such a lovely place to grow up, and we were happy that Pat was getting something back from having us there.

We discussed our injuries at the table, and spoke about how we walked through western Pennsylvania and Ohio Kieran’s other ankle was playing up, and now it’s his left one. Pat said that if we didn’t feel any better we were more than welcome to stay another day.

Before we went to bed Pat took us round the lake on her boat as the sun went down. It was such an amazing place; it would be like living at a beautiful holiday home all year round. We went all the way around the lake. There were so many different types of houses scattered around the edge of the lake, including one that was built on a small island, that turned out to be for sale (Mum…please?).

Sunset at Lake Manitou.

Sunset at Lake Manitou.

We pulled back up to the house and we were both bushed; we went straight to bed and as soon as our heads hit the pillow we were asleep. We woke up feeling refreshed, but unfortunately Kieran’s foot was still strained. I went down stairs to chat with Pat while Kieran tried to stretch it out and get ready for walking.

I told Pat that if she didn’t mind, we would stay for the day. Kieran wanted to try and walk, but knowing what happened while he tried to walk through it in Western Pennsylvania, I thought it a good idea to take the day to rest.

Pat made us a lovely pancake and bacon breakfast; she told us how she had guests coming the next day and needed to tidy the house. So Kieran and I decided to take it upon ourselves to help. We swept and mopped the entire house (it was the least we could do to repay her for her amazing hospitality).

Once the chores were done, we went back out onto the lake in the kayaks, we rowed back to the same area we went to the day before and just relaxed. As we sat there a storm began to surround us. It closed in on us from all sides, so we paddled back to Pat’s as quick as we could. We thought being out during a storm with metal poles in our hands was probably not the best idea, plus I have heard the sharks become a bit more bite-y during storms!

We got back to Pat’s just in time, the heavens opened as we pulled the kayaks back onto dry land. We sat inside and Pat set up a game of Rumikub. Now, neither of us has ever played this game, and I don’t know about Kieran, but I was not particularly looking forward to it. Well I was wrong; I’m a big fan of the board game Risk – me and my mates would spend many a night round a big map of the earth battling it out for world domination. Well not any more, Rumikub is the one from now on! Great game, especially with the great company, I won the first game, and Pat won the following two. That’s right, Kieran didn’t win any……..not one.

Any who… Once the weather cleared Pat asked if we fancied going out on the speed boat, we could have a go at water skiing or wake boarding. Kieran unfortunately thought it wise to miss out, because of his ankle. I couldn’t believe my luck; I snowboard, so I thought wake boarding must be quite similar.

Such a professional.

Such a professional.

Pat water skied herself but it was one of her sons and her daughter that wake boarded so she could only offer a few tips. She did say to be prepared to land on your face a while before you manage to get up. She wasn’t wrong.

Poor Kieran and Pat were so patient with me; I got dragged quite a distance before I managed to finally get up. I remember the boat pulling off, I had to remember everything I had learnt from falling 10 times before: keep my knees bent, lean forward until I had been pulled up, then push my weight on the back foot. Somehow it all went to plan, I was up and getting pulled along. I couldn’t believe it, it was working, I was so shocked I let go of the rope and cheered, Idiot. I could have carried on going, but in my surprise all I could do was throw my hands up and scream.

Well, safe to say I had another go and…fell flat on my face. One more go I said to Pat, one more go, she was more than happy to oblige. On my last go I got it, I got up on the board, travelled a while before I thought I would try a jump on the wake of the boat, I managed to turn in, I pushed my weight down ready to try and take off, and I fell, face first into the water. That was the most fun I have had, it was amazing. Thank you for that opportunity, Pat.

We went back to the house, ate dinner and chatted a bit more. We then sat down to watch a film, Crazy, Stupid Love. I told Pat how my girlfriend loved Ryan Gosling, she disagreed, until the point he took his t-shirt off, and then we all agreed, we probably would.

We slept well again that night, and got up early to walk on to Bruce Lake, 18 miles from Pat’s place. We were both unhappy to leave Pat’s, she became another member of our American family. We have met so many amazing people along our travels so far, everyone from our family in New Jersey to Sara who we spent all together maybe 2 hours with, but nonetheless we will remember her forever. Everyone has helped us get as far as we have, and without all this help we would have gone home a long time ago.

We said goodbye to Pat and walked on. That day was hard. Like most days the morning starts off nicely, we chat about how the last 48 hours has turned out, we discuss the other highlights of the trip, and just have a laugh. Kieran’s ankle was still playing up, but he wanted to try and push through it.

We stopped for lunch that day like we usually do, around 1, before the heat of the day hits its peak, we then rest for a few hours, until the day cools. We usually get a bit fidgety around 3 and then crack on.

My little toes then began to start to give me grief, I had a serious limp and we both put our headphones on to distract us and tried to pick up the pace to get to our camp site as quick as possible.

Children of the corn

Children of the corn

Kieran marched on as I moaned about my feet. We then saw the lake and the camp site was ahead of us. We walked around the site, trying to find someone to ask if we could put up out tent. I saw a guy in baggy jeans and a white wife beater approach. Turned out he was the owner’s brother; the owner was out of town for the next 40 minutes. He told us it would be $20 dollars and we could camp on the grass area outside the front, normally they don’t let people camp in tents, but because of what we were doing they would help.

We sat down on a bench and made our dinner, boil in the bag rice with Campbell’s jerk chicken soup. Lovely. We were both so tired at this point, neither of us where looking forward to a night in a hot sweaty tent. As Kieran showered I started to put up our small two man tent, and the owner returned. He came over to me, and we chatted about why we were walking across the country. He very kindly said “Well it’s too hot to sleep in a tent, we have a few cabins free, why don’t you sleep in one of them, free of charge.” AMAZING.

We had a little cabin, with full working kitchen, a small TV and, wait for it… Air Conditioning. We sat down and watch something my dad would be proud of, Jason and the Argonauts. We both fixed our blisters, popping them (yummy) and covering them with alcohol, and wrapping them with moleskin.

We rested that night, and got up early. The next day we were heading for Tippecanoe River State forest. There was a camp site there and we left early to beat the heat of the day.

The sun was really beating down on us that day, we stopped as usual around 1 for lunch, and we sat and rested for a few hours. We had put a good shift in the morning so we only had 4 miles to do that afternoon. We trekked on and reached the campsite before 5.

They told us is was $25 to pitch a tent, but the prospect of staying in the tent with the heat was not good so we asked if they had any cabins available, which unfortunately they didn’t, luckily one of the kind ladies behind the desk told us she was trying to sell her trailer, but for $20 we could stay there, it had air con so we were sorted.

Our feet were on fire, the blisters we had patched up the night before had gotten worse, so we spent the rest of the day off our feet, and went to work on them with a scalpel, more alcohol and some moleskin.

The next day we planned to walk just 18 miles to North Judson, but our feet were a mess and Kieran’s ankle was just getting worse. We tried our best to rest well, because the next day was going to be a hard one.

Our motivation on a day-to-day basis is the money that has been raised so far (thank you), but without all the help from Pat and the other amazing people who have helped us along our way we would be nowhere.

At the moment we are staying with Laura and Richard Strohl (their story will be in the next blog) and they are just one of a long list of people who have helped us get this far. We would still be way back in Pennsylvania or worse: home, if it wasn’t for them. We are doing all the walking, but having these people to help us at the end of a long day is priceless.

So please keep spreading the word, keep telling your friends, and if you haven’t already, please donate HERE.

Cheers

Jack

BBQ Chicken, actual Beef, and Homegrown ta-may-tas

Waking up in a different bed (campsite) every morning is a weird feeling, so when it’s a bed you stayed in five nights before, it’s a welcome change. I can’t remember if I mentioned that this wasnt the first time meeting the notorious Johnny Israel but, this wasn’t the first time meeting the notorious Johnny Israel. It was whilst we were on tour with the boys that we had our first meeting.

When Cindy and  the boys go on tour they aren’t fortunate enough to have a label paying their way, so they have to get their own hotel rooms, or alternatively they stay with families through the Christian organization RYFO (I think that’s what it’s called (don’t ask me what it stands for)). These families welcome christian musicians (musicians that are Christians, not specifically Christians that play Christian music, although I’m sure they’re welcome too) into their homes. So Karen is one of these homeowners, and Johnny Israel is one of its residents.

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The Nickelback Trail, as Jack likes to call it

Long story short, after we had left the boys it’s was another few days walk back in the right direction to Johnny Israel. Now the blog can really begin.

Waking up in a different bed (campsite) every morning is a weird feeling… We’ve been here before, literally this time.

When Johnny woke up after a late night, he suggested we have a BBQ and take the day as our rest day; we’re ahead of schedule and actually wasting some time before we meet my brother, and cousin Amy in Chicago so we jumped at the offer. Karen’s daughter Channelle and her husband Matt came round and suggested that we have the BBQ at their house, where we could meet their three children Remy, Kash and Mason, and their two beautiful dogs.

Remy's self portrait

Remy’s self portrait

We spent the afternoon relaxing on the sofa, chatting about anything you can imagine while Matt and Channelle regularly checked on the grill. Just before the time came to eat, Johnny had to rush off as he had some (as Matt would say) “Johnny Israel stuff to do”. After we ate, fixed Johnny a plate and headed back to Karen’s house, we sat on the sofa and chatted with Matt for another few hours.

For someone we were told “doesn’t like anyone”, Matt was one of the most interesting, generous, and welcoming guys I have ever met in my life.

We both decided that we needed sleep, and that an early night was in order. Little did we know tomorrow was going to be “one of them days”.

It’s shit when you have to backtrack on miles you’ve already done, but two days previous we had sacrificed four miles for the offer of a bed. We didn’t mind too much seeing as the two miles we’d have to repeat would take us back on to the Nickel Plate trail, which we’d follow all the way up to Rochester in northern Indiana.

Maybe it was the fact that we started the day with our headphones in, or that its always hard to restart walking after a rest, either way we were both pissed off with each other.

We walked a good 6 or 7 miles before anything came of it. I’ll admit upfront that I was the cause, the antagonist, the wanker in the argument, but I’m pretty sure Jack won’t have read this far, do please don’t mention it to him.

We had like $24 left, and Jack suggested it was a good idea to stop at one of the many cash points around us. I decided that as we had a cart full of water, food, supplies, and the fact that we were modern day Baden Powells, we’d be fine. Glares were had, words were thrown, names were called… Money was drawn out. One nil Jack.

Silence.

2 hours of silence.

Jack went into a shop to grab a drink while I went in the other direction and grabbed a sandwich, when he returned he had a found us a place to stay for the night. Sara, the owner of the store had suggested her fathers property 8 miles up the road where we could camp for the evening. I felt it was a good time to apologies for being the instigator. I offered a handshake by way of apology, to which Jack met with a hug. As quick as that it was all washed away! We beamed at the prospect of another place to stay at the hand of another kind stranger.

Where we put our differences aside

Where we put our differences aside

The 8 miles were gruesome, the heat was in the low nineties and some bastard had left the humidity on high. By the time we eventually reached Sara’s dad’s property we were tired, thirsty, and our feet were literally (honestly, literally) covered in blisters.

While Jack was on the phone and we were about to set up our tent, Sara pulled in (remember I hadn’t met her at this point) and greeted me like an old friend. She saw the state of my feet and without hesitation rang a doctor friend, asking her to bring round medical supplies. She took us up to the house to meet her dad, Doc.

I’m sorry I don’t have a picture to show you of the property. Doc and his friend had built this place on their own. Besides being a full time dentist, Doc is a carpenter, musician, amateur historian, and craft beer connoisseur. As you can see below, this guy had a full bar in his house. He sang us a few Johnny Cash numbers (along with one about home grown tomatos, which was my favourite) whilst I tended to my blisters, and Sara pulled us a pint.

Docs bar

Doc playing us a tune while Sara pulls us a pint

The reason Jack was on the phone earlier was that Diane (someone from couch surfer) had rung offering to come pick us up and take us to stay at her house in the next town.

After her friend Jenni gave us the much needed medical supplies, Sara dropped us off where Diane’s son Justin had come to meet us. He explained how his mum was working late but that she was more than happy to have us come and stay.

With Diane's son, Justin

With Diane’s son, Justin

Another beautiful house (with our own rooms) to stay in. When Diane got home she was naturally curious about who we were, what we were doing, and how we had found ourselves in her little town in Indiana. Diane and Justin were some of the first people we have met who have not only travelled out of America, but been to England for more than a flight change; more than that, they had even traveled through Stevenage to get to Cambridge.

The two of us with Diane

The two of us with Diane

Diane didn’t have to be in work early the next day so she suggested, when she dropped us back to the trail we go to her favorite coffee shop for breakfast. she picked well. We sat, ate amazing sandwiches and chatted with her and the baristas about where we could rejoin the trail, and where would be the best place in town to buy bug spray.
Im going to leave this one here, but I’ve only told you half of our recent adventures. I’ll write another one soon, and show you the most amazing place we’ve stayed to date (hint, its on a massive lake).
Until next time,
Kieran