July 15

I did 20 miles today and I’m about 8 miles south of Warsaw, Illinois. Two people stopped and offered me rides, four stopped and gave me water, and there were the four happy life loving bikers that stopped me as I was walking by them, I posted their picture. A young lady pulled up beside me just long enough to say, “I’m on my way to work man but I just had to tell you, you were the subject of our preacher’s sermon yesterday morning! Wow I can’t believe I’m seeing you, this is so cool! The preacher said, if a man can make the effort it takes to walk all over the United States telling all to love life, surely, the rest of us can make the effort to love it!” I told her that was really cool and before I could ask what church and where, she said, “I gotta go I’m gonna be late for work…. Bye and be safe.”

A story from my return to the Appalachian trail in 2000 to finish my hike, about nine months after I lost my son:

I trudged on through New Jersey and into New York. I was on the Appalachian Trail at a time when there were hardly any other hikers out there. It was still a little cold for the weekend hiker. The south bound thru-hikers don’t start until the first of June and the north bound thru-hikers were still down south that time of year. So it was natural that the locals would be curious as to why I was out on the trail at that time. I would explain that I had to stop my hike the year before, they would ask me why, I would explain that I had to stop because I lost my son and I would start crying. I just couldn’t control it, it had already happened several times.
I went into a little deli near Arden, New York, for breakfast one morning. It was operated by three Italian looking young ladies who were, no doubt, from the city. There was no way you could mistake that accent. As I was paying my bill, one of the young owners just had to know why a thru-hiker was out there that early in the year. In the strongest Bronx accent you could imagine, she asked, “Wadda’ ya doin’ out hee-ah dis toime ah da yee-ah?” I answered that, “I went a little over half way last year and now I’m out here to finish.” And then I just wanted her to hand me my change and let me run for the door. But, she being the typical “have to know” New Yorker, she naturally said, “Well, how coime ya didn’t finish last yee-ah? I mean, afta awl, ya wah already out dere?” And of course she was using her hands and shoulders to emphasize her point. I couldn’t believe she was pursuing her curiosity, and I blurted out that I had to quit because I lost my son! I couldn’t control it the tears started to pour. She immediately came out from behind the register with both arms up in the air with hands signaling for her partners to follow and she said loudly, “Hug toime!!” She wrapped her arms around me and the other two followed suit and did the same.
Thirty years of operating a business in Florida dealing with New Yorkers had caused me to think I didn’t like New Yorkers. Along the walls of my shop were the license plates of each state and the New York tag was the only one I had placed upside down. One day a New Yorker was looking at my auto tag collection and he asked, “Hey, how coime da Nu Yoik tags upside down?” I answered, “It came that way!” He said, “No shit!” But then, there I was, standing in a New York deli, the center of a “group hug” from three New York Italian ladies, probably from the Bronx.

Dedicated to Anthony Brigandi and all my New York friends.

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