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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”.
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.
Next Stop Chicago.