Earl dropped me off at a crossroads where I could continue walking south on Rte. 69 towards Oakman, Alabama. I had gotten into a nice little rhythm by now. I walked against traffic and would wave at everyone who drove past. One of the charming things about the rural south is that strangers pretty routinely wave at each other while passing. I figured it was a way of blessing people. If they waved back, they were blessing me in return. If not, I figured they really needed the blessing.
The road forward was a long uphill climb. Walking up hill is a little harder than walking in a plain path under normal circumstances: with 75 lbs. strapped to your back it is a LOT harder. I stopped to rest fairly often. The great thing about walking uphill, though, is that when you reach the top of the rise it is so much easier walking from then on, though you hope the walk back down isn’t real steep. If it is too steep, it is almost as hard walking downhill as it is uphill. Your legs are constantly tensed as a sort of brake. It is also much more dangerous when carrying weight for you are much more likely to slip and roll, maybe twisting an ankle along the way.
I walked through the little town of Oakman. There was a church just getting out, a few people shopping at the little dollar stores, but otherwise not much happening. I had had a big breakfast with Earl’s family that morning, so I was not hungry and didn’t stop for any food. I just slogged on. After a while, the climb began to get wearying – and I was really looking forward to reaching the top of the rise.
When I reached the top of the rise I was startled. It was straight for a little ways, then another rise. That was unusual. I walked to the end of the plain path and rested up for the next climb. When I reached the top of that rise, same thing. All day long, each time I reached the crest of a hill it was only to find another hill looming before me. It was a heavy slog. I was beginning to wish I would have picked up some food in Oakman; I was definitely wishing I had some cold water. I was hot from all the climbing and the water in my bottles was warm. Warm water will keep you going, but if it tastes good to you, you are doing some seriously hard traveling.
As I neared the top of my fifth summit of the day, there was a house set back on the left. A big dog came trotting towards me. It was eager, but did not seem aggressive. What was surprising was the dark-haired woman right behind it, running vigorously, seemingly after the dog. The first thing she said to me was, “Are you walking for God?” It was the first time a stranger had ever asked me that (though not the last). I grinned and said that that was, in fact, exactly what I was doing. She jumped up and down, clapping her hands with the exuberant glee of a little girl, exclaiming, “I knew it! I knew it!” She invited me up into the yard, where she had one of those decorative wishing wells set up. Sitting on the edge of it was a big plastic cup, the large convenience store type that Michael Bloomberg doesn’t approve of. It was filled with ice and water. The woman told me she had it waiting for me.
The woman’s name was Shirley Christy. She had seen me 15 minutes earlier as she passed me coming home from church in Oakman. She had a feeling I was walking for God, had told her husband so, and waited for me to reach the house. She pulled up a seat for me under a large carport, which housed several F-150 pickup trucks, one of which her husband and a friend were working on. She excitedly told her husband that she had been right: I was walking for God. He turned, shook my hand and said hi, then went back to work on his truck. Shirley got her kids and a little granddaughter around and we talked for a while about what I was doing and about her family. She loved my name because her daughter was named Charli – and Charli was the mother of the granddaughter she was watching that day. I chuckled and told her that was ironic. Her name was Christy and she had a daughter named Charli; my name is Charlie and I have a daughter named Christie.
We laughed and chatted for about an hour. I needed the rest – and the first cup of ice water was absolutely heavenly. You have no idea how good simple things can actually taste until you slog sweatily along in the mid-day heat without much relief for hours at a time. One of Shirley’s daughters said she had read about me on Facebook – somebody at school had told her. It might have been hyperbole, but already I was getting over 10,000 hits a week on my “Abraham’s Journey” Page I had set up to follow my pilgrimage – and it tracked where I was at, so it was entirely possible. As I prepared to leave, Shirley got me a couple of sandwiches, including a delicious grilled one she had brought back from town. We became Facebook friends and I benefitted from her prayers throughout my journey, as she got more than a few back from me as I walked.
After I left, I walked only about another hour. Things seemed to have leveled off, but I thought that was enough for one day. I would make camp a little early, enjoy a sandwich and read a while.