By Charlie Johnston
“I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? . . . But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.” – Musing of Francis Cardinal George after the election on Pope Benedict XVI, as recounted to Fr. Robert Barron in his book, ‘Catholicism.’
If events arise that cause you to need to leave on foot, here are some things I found useful during my year and a half pilgrimage walking across the country from Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012.
There were several types of events that I suspect were anomalous to my particular pilgrimage. I thought maybe I should downplay these, because I was not sure how much use they would be to you. I acted in some ways I would not have had I not believed this to be a Divinely-assigned mission. I am normally a prudent man, but I believed this journey was an act of radical faith – and so I acted consistent on that belief throughout. After considering it, though, any of you who leave your homes on foot will also have to act on a radical faith. So I have concluded that I should tell you some of the anomalies, that perhaps it may hearten you and give you more resolve in fearful circumstances.
There are three major areas that were anomalous. I will list them in the order of how much they surprised me, from greatest to least:
Animal Behavior: From within the first month, I knew that wild animals were not behaving as I had expected them to. Squirrels and birds did not treat me as if I wasn’t there, but as if I belonged there and was part of their everyday experience. I walked throughout the heart of the deep south – rattlesnake territory. I was constantly given hair-raising tales of snake attacks. Yet the only two times I even saw snakes in the wild were in Colorado. I was warned by a public works administrator of the dangers of brown recluse
and black widow spiders under the bridges I often slept beneath in rainy weather, but I was never bothered. In Houston, I made camp in a little spot at the far outside eastern reaches of the city, near the Buffalo Bayou. A family of rabbits – about 12 or 13 – made camp with me and slept near me at night. It was probably their nest, but it was strange to literally sleep with rabbits. Deer were initially shy around me, but got bolder and bolder as I went along. By the last few months. They were as unconcerned about me as the birds. My favorite occasion was when a little fawn came bounding up upon me in my wooded retreat in northern Colorado. He looked at me quizzically, then curled his legs beneath him and sat before me gazing at me for about 10 or 15 minutes. It was amazing. Wild turkeys were constantly strolling by. They are supposed to be wiley birds who carefully avoid humans but they somehow knew I was harmless to them. After a time, I was struck by the fact that I could move around and even wave my arms at them but they would not care. But most times – not every time – but almost every time, if I raised my camera to take a picture, they would take off.
Several times, dogs came into my camp at night. Not once did they try to roust me. They would always just lay down and sleep near me, then trot off in the morning – though occasionally wanting to play a little first. I don’t think that is entirely normal.
These things made me think the predators behavior was probably not as menacing as it might be under normal circumstances. Twice I had cougars come into my camp – and both times they fled when I sat up. One looked at me in almost comical surprise before turning tawny tail and getting out of there. There were a few bobcats and other small wild cats. Foxes constantly circled around my camp, staring at me and circling restlessly, but keeping their distance. Several times I went to sleep with a fox circling. I only saw three wolves, but they were almost as friendly as dogs. The only animals that really made me nervous were bears. They were not aggressive, but I knew they had no fear of man. One night after I had bunked down in my tent, three bears came sniffing around. They snuffled and snorted a while, then ambled on towards the creek. That made me nervous for I was completely vulnerable. If they had crashed the tent. I was not in a position to do much of anything except hope for the best.
Threats: The only animal I ever had any real trouble with was man. A few got aggressive, two with a knife. But when you walk 15 miles with a heavy pack every day, you get absurdly strong. I had figured a few subtle tactics to demonstrate to aggressive types before things got ugly that I was a lot stronger than I looked. I would do something like shift my pack on the ground with one hand and let it drop, from about an inch above ground, so they could get a sense of its heft and contemplate how effortlessly I moved it, while keeping up a seemingly clueless friendly patter. They invariably backed off. But one incident I cannot explain by ordinary means. A troubled young man followed me deep into the woods where I made camp near Lake Charles, Louisiana. When he showed himself, he pulled a pistol on me. Though my heart was racing, I showed no fear and talked cheerfully about ammo and clip sizes. He started to get angry at my seeming stupidity…then for no apparent reason, he looked a little behind me, got a look of panicked fear in his eyes, turned and ran frantically out of the woods. There was nothing I could see behind me. I started to wearily break camp and move somewhere else since he knew where I was and could come back…then something rose in me. “No,” I thought savagely. “I will fear NO evil. I will move tomorrow, but tonight I am going to sleep right here and I am going to sleep good.” And so I did.
Water: I consider this entirely unremarkable – and only note it because people I trust, including some hardened military types, say it is astoundingly remarkable. I drank from streams, creeks and rivers at least 10 times a week. In the final few months, it was closer to 40. I never used a filter and I never got sick from it. A friend had been terribly worried about this and sent me a water filter. I added it to my pack to soothe him – figured I would use it if I ever had to get water from a stagnant rather than running source. I never needed it and did not take it out of the box. After the pilgrimage was over, I gave it to my nephew, Justin, who was developing a real taste for hiking and outdoor stuff with his Dad.
I have always enjoyed drinking from streams – and liked to hike a lot before my neurological issues arose. I think stream water is amazingly refreshing – and scarcely ever pass a fast- running stream on foot without getting a drink. Despite the necessity during my pilgrimage, I have not developed a similar taste for river water or slow-moving muddy creek water (though I drank from both during my pilgrimage.) It could be I have developed a deep immunity because I have been doing this since I was a kid. On the other hand, I mentioned I did not see a snake in my entire sojourn through the deep south. In normal times, I rarely took a day hike in Alabama around family without encountering at least one snake. Enough people I trust have told me how astounding this is that I figure it should be included here. The rules of everyday life were different on my pilgrimage; not dramatically so, but in many striking ways. I suspect you will find the same if you have to go IF you place your trust in God, live your duty well and act with reasonable prudence.
If you get out on foot into the wilderness, whenever you come across water, get a drink and top off your water bottles. Every time. There is nothing worse than passing a stream on a hot day,
failing to stop there, then realizing five miles later you are dying of thirst with nary a stream in sight. Get in the habit of doing this EVERY TIME you pass a stream.
The first thing to understand when preparing a pack for an extended walk on foot is that weight is your mortal enemy. Lose all macho pretentious displays or you will injure yourself. There is an ideal weight somewhere for you…an amount you can carry that does not strain your lower muscles. For example, when in hiking shape, I can carry 90 pounds all day without breaking a sweat. But I would never do it for more than a few days time. Why? I can feel the strain it puts on my muscular structure and I know that for every moment I do that, I am profoundly more likely to strain a muscle or sprain an ankle with a minor misstep. It is like redlining a stick shift car: you can do it for short periods with no ill effect, but persist in it and you will damage the engine. I found 75 pounds to be my ideal weight. I could carry that consistently without feeling any strain. Aches, sure, but no strain. Walk with weight long enough and you will understand the difference.
But that is not what I started at. I began with about 40 pounds. As I went along, I got stronger and could carry more weight. I strongly recommend that, unless you are a serious fitness
nut or athlete you start out with the same. Do not be deceived about hearing how military personnel carry 125-pound packs on hikes. Yes, they do, but those hikes are limited in duration and only undertaken after they have undergone rigorous conditioning in preparation. Understand that things get much tougher at the margin. When you are carrying nothing, a single pound feels like nothing added at all. When you are at your maximum reasonable weight (90 pounds for me) every extra pound you add feels like 10 or 12 more – and increases the strain and likelihood of injury dramatically. Above all, you do not want to unnecessarily risk serious injury when you are in wilderness territory. Remember, with every pound you give to an item you carry, that is a pound you can’t use for another item. You have to make choices.
Below I list the things I consider essential or near essential for starters. In some cases, I have listed manufacturers…but companies change over time. All I can say is that those items where I list a manufacturer provided me unique utility a few years back. (I should note, I take no endorsements – this is entirely based on my private experience).
Backpack: Get a full-size pack, preferably with numerous loops on it that you can attach other things to with a clip if you need external carrying capacity. You can get a decent one at almost any hardware or big box store. Certainly, the camping stores will offer very expensive high-end units, but mine was a moderately-priced Coleman with good stitching that held up under intense use.
Sleeping Bag: I love the comfort of fleece-lined bags, but they are more than twice the weight of micro-fiber bags. On the second leg of my journey, after I was much stronger, I did carry the extra weight of a fleece bag. To start, though, I would recommend you get a micro-fiber bag rated to at least 10 degrees. You can always sleep outside the bag if it is too warm, but you do not want too little bag when it gets cold. My favorite store for getting ultra-light weight but top quality equipment was REI. But the lighter a quality piece is, the more expensive it is. You have to pay to shed weight. Also, I did not carry my bag in my pack, but tied it off and balanced it to some of the loops on the outside of my pack. Even when lightweight, it is bulky and would take up most of your room in the pack.
Tent: If you will be walking in cooler seasons or in climates where the temperature drops dramatically at night, a tent is essential. I carried an ultra-lightweight model I got from REI. It is a two-man model, cost a little over $300, and was of an ingenious self-supporting design. I could put it up in less than 10 minutes. The temperature in that small tent was at least 15 degrees warmer than the outside night-time temperature just from the retained body heat.
Adjustable hammock: I recommend this brand from Eagle Outfitters. Get the double nest, variety, as that has room for your sleeping bag and you can really nestle down into it. It has adjustable straps. All you need is to find two sturdy trees reasonably near each other and set it up. It is very light-weight. When the temperatures are warm at night, you neither want to sleep in a tent or even on the open ground. The hammock helps keep you cool. Through much of Texas, the night-time lows would be in the high 80s or even low 90s. That is miserable sleeping weather no matter how you cut it, but in a hammock, even the lightest breeze would dramatically cool me. Sleeping on the open ground which I did for much of February March, and early April, was out of the question if I actually wanted to get any sleep, for the ground will warm you by a good 10 degrees or more from retained body heat after you have been there for an hour.
Wirecutters: This is not a tool I originally took, nor did the pair I found ever touch any actual metal. Whenever I found a tool along the roadside, I would carry it with me for a few days if it was not too heavy to see what it could do. Wirecutters were my favorite practical tool. When you are making camp where there is a lot of underbrush, it will cut away small branches with remarkable efficiency and ease. When you sleep on the open ground, little roots and stumps can aggravate you and keep you awake. With wirecutters, you can cut those little stumps just below the ground’s surface – and get a good night’s sleep. I never would have thought of them, but after having lived it, I would not leave home for a long hike without a pair of handheld wirecutters.
Knife: An essential tool for a variety of purposes, from cleaning fish to cutting rope. I preferred one with a partially serrated blade, which was useful for makeshift sawing and cleaning of fish. Get a good quality knife. You need it to hold up. If you get a Swiss Army type knife, that can be extremely useful, but take great care to make sure it is a quality one. There are a lot of cheap, junk types. You are going to need your knife to last. I always carried it in a pouch in my pack, so it was not immediately accessible and any police officer who stopped me would not be alarmed by it if they checked.
Garden Trowel: Get a forged model, preferably a one piece unit. This will get heavy use as a type of shovel – and on its side, with the help of a hefty rock, can be used as a sort of hatchet. This is definitely something you cannot get at a big box store. Their idea of a trowel would not last you a week in the wild. Just remember, forged one-piece unit, and you will be okay.
Metal clips: You can get these at any camp or big box store in a variety of sizes. They are used to clip things to the outside of your backpack – or your belt loops. I always kept my water bottles clipped to my side belt loops. I just put up the link so you could see what I mean. I used the type at the very top of the link.
Water bottles: Water is very heavy. I always kept two 32-ounce water bottles, one clipped to each side of my pants on a belt loop. I started off with metal, but switched to plastic as soon as I could. When you walk all day in high heat (and I had a hundred days of over a hundred-degree temps that first spring and summer) your water gets hot regardless of what you carry it in. Carry it in metal bottles and you can practically burn your mouth when taking a drink. Trust me, that is not pleasant. Any time I passed a stream in the wilderness, I got a drink and topped them off. Some people, including my son, prefer some sort of camel back system. That is fine, but it takes up room in the back and adds weight that I thought unnecessary.
Rope or paracord: Again, something of general utility that will find all sorts of purposes as you go along. Paracord is very light-weight and extremely versatile. You can use it for almost everything you would normally use rope for but it has more versatility. You also want to have some sort of length of twine to keep, which is also versatile and useful – and can even be used as a makeshift fish-line.
Boy Scout can opener: You will need to go to a camp store for this. Incredibly cheap and small – about the size of a quarter – it is also incredibly useful without taking up any weight. In the midst of a period of nine days in the mountainous wilderness of Southern California, a nature photographer stumbled upon me. He could see I was ravenously hungry, but all he had was a can of mixed vegetables to give me. Boy, was I ever thankful I had that can opener! Those were the most delicious mixed vegetables I ever had!
Magnesium fire starter: You can get this at any camp store – and at many big box stores, too. It is just a small block of magnesium with a little shaver and flint attached. You shave off a little of the magnesium into a pile of tinder – leaves and sticks, then use the flint to spark the magnesium shavings, and soon you will have a roaring fire. A variety of this is called Firesteel, originally designed for the Swedish Army. This will emit sparks that are 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit and so can start a fire with little or no tinder. Most units are good for 3,000 to over 10,000 strikes – and rarely cost more than $15.
Netting: This is simple, but vital. There are a variety of mesh sizes you can choose from, but make sure you get enough to stretch across a stream. Using rope and poles, you can set up the netting as a seine to catch fish from any running stream or river. Understand, this is illegal just about everywhere right now except in specific commercial use – as well it should be. It is not sporting at all. But you will only use it in dire circumstances when you are hungry – for genuine survival. Sporting rules are suspended in times of crisis. If you have a simple net and you stay near streams, you will never be in danger of starving.
LED Flashlight with strobe setting: Get an LED model because it is very bright and uses very little power. My last one was used extensively for seven months on the same standard batteries. I don’t know how long it would have lasted, for it lasted from the time I got it until the end of my pilgrimage. I got the one with a strobe setting specifically for bear country. Bears have sensitive ears and eyes to go along with their incredibly sensitive noses. If confronted with one that starts to make an aggressive show, make a lot of noise and start flashing the strobe if you can. It will usually disorient the bear and cause him to retreat. Early on, my son gave me a small flashlight he had gotten at the police academy when he was there. It had a deep red setting, which was very useful for reading at night without easily tipping anyone off to your location. I loved that – but if in bear country, I would definitely have one with a bright strobe setting.
Light plastic poncho: If your gear gets soaked in a rainstorm from which you do not find shelter, it can be more than twice as heavy as when it is dry. I learned this to my sorrow in Mississippi. On Ash Wednesday of 2011, it rained howlingly for 14 hours, all through the night. I had found shelter under a covered bleacher at an abandoned VFW softball field. But in the night, the storm got so violent and windy it was raining sideways. I spent the next three days letting my gear dry out before I could move on down the road. A simple large plastic poncho could have saved me a lot of trouble – and I got one the next time I passed a Dollar Store.
Hiking boots: Comfort and quality are paramount here. You are going to be walking hard in all sorts of conditions. Shoes that are comfortable for everyday use can kill your feet when called on to walk 15-20 miles a day in rugged terrain, through swamps and creeks, and in blistering heat. While high-end running shoes are comfortable, they will last maybe a week in the wilderness before falling apart. You need some top quality hiking boots. I got lucky. I was going to wear some heavy boots – that would have had me walking hobbled before three days were out. My youngest brother saw what I was going to leave in and gave me his pair of Keen hiking boots he had only used once when he and his wife were out in Yosemite. I had never heard of Keen before. To my astonishment, I walked the whole 3,200 miles with the same boots.
Admittedly, the last 1,500 miles I was generally doing repairs to them twice a week with my little Walgreen’s sewing kit. But after they held out for 2,000 miles, I was determined that they, like me, endure the entire trip if they did not just disintegrate altogether. In Kansas, I was stopped by a State Trooper (one of nine times I was briefly questioned by police along my entire route). He asked how many shoes I had gone through and looked skeptical when I told him I was on my original pair, until I lifted up a foot to let him take a close look at a battered and bruised boot. He was astonished and asked the brand. If I had to walk again, I would get another pair of Keens, hoping the company still makes such high quality and comfort. I DID go through about a dozen pairs of heavy duty shoe laces.
Trail Mix: Trail mix packs a ton of energy without robbing you of much weight or room. I once lasted for nine days on a few handfuls of trail mix each day and stream water. This was not while hunkering down, but while walking seven or eight miles a day in mountainous terrain – physically demanding. In extreme conditions, hunger sometimes does not feel so much like hunger as it does deep fatigue. Trail mix metabolizes quickly and perks you right up. Get the kind that is heavy on nuts and seeds. I liked it with some chocolate pieces, too, for the instant energy it gave. Stay away from types that are heavy on frou-frou, like sesame sticks and such. You need energy, densely packed.
Hat and bandana: A hat with a good brim protects you both from the sun and the rain – and keeps you warm in the cold months. I used about a half-dozen hats along my way. My original soft leather hat was my favorite, but once the heat started rising, it was useless. It would make my head sweat profusely. I sweat heavily from my temples,
which streams right into my eyes, which can be blinding if you can’t slow it down. When summer came I got screened, ventilated hats. Much better, but I still often had the sweat problem. A small bandana wrapped around the top of my head – and frequently wrung out, largely solved the problem. In the final few months I just used a simple baseball cap with mesh backing.
Clothes: Carry a small variety of clothes, going from lightweight to heavy – and layer. In the cold months, layering will keep you warm. In either cold or warm, the extra clothes, when put into the sack that holds your sleeping bag during the day, makes for a nice pillow. You will often have to wash your clothes in streams with rocks and dry them on a line or draped over a tree branch or laid on a big rock in the sun.
There are a variety of extra things you can carry, based on your choice. My extra room was taken up largely by my laptop (I needed it to work online at libraries for the little studio I had signed up to provide content writing for) and by paperback books – and my trumpet tied onto the back of my pack. If you have more than one person in the same hiking party, you can dramatically increase what you can carry. I never carried a hatchet. It would have been incredibly useful, but too much weight, so I made do with a forged trowel and a rock when I needed it. Extra people means extra variety of what you can carry – and children, as they were in days of yore, become practical assets. I might add that children, far from the helpless dainties moderns think them to be, are usually more clever and quick to find solutions in the wilderness than modern adults – because they are not so burdened by either conventional thinking or by fear. They tap into the adventure and often come up with ingenious solutions to puzzling problems.
Into the Wild
The first thing to shed if you must set off on foot is any genocidal fears you have based on watching too many “Terminator” movies. In modern times comprehensive wars of extermination are largely an Asian, African and Muslim thing, not a Western thing. Yes, Nazi Germany was a notable exception and there have been two such eruptions in the Balkans (But in the Balkans, both eruptions involved Muslims). In the west, battles have largely been fought over effective control, and tactics are geared to what best accomplishes the goal of social control at the least cost. Even Russia only waged a war of liquidation under Stalin – and that was limited to specific regions or purges. Don’t get me wrong; I am not telling you there is nothing to fear. There is. But you must neither be lulled by unjustified optimism nor paralyzed by unrealistic fears. To make good decisions, you must work from cold, hard assessments based on facts and evidence.
When genocidal rages are planned, there must be a substantial population of people who, under the right circumstances, would give in to such homicidal rage. The ground is usually prepared for this by vilifying and scape-goating certain target groups for years, sometimes generations. In America there has been an effort to vilify Christians, Jews and conservatives of all stripes, even to the point of naming them as likely terrorists in Homeland Security and military analytical reports. But frankly, it has been flaccid – all the more hysterically trumpeted by certain officials and media outlets because it just lacks the visceral heft of the demonization of Jews in Nazi Germany.
In Nazi Germany, a war of liquidation was successfully mounted largely because Hitler deputized a large pool of brutal lowlife thugs – the brownshirts, giving them badges and stepping back to let them have their way. There are really only two substantial pools of people in America with such brutal, malicious, conscienceless mindsets: inner city gangs and the hysterical left –which consistently projects its own homicidal fantasies onto traditionally religious and conservative people. There are, of course, enclaves of potentially radical Muslims, but that is more a problem for the feckless governments of Europe than the United States (unless you live in, say, Detroit). Inner city gangs and the hysterical left are ruthless and brutal enough, but there are two major problems with deputizing either. The inner city gangs, whether black, Latino or Anglo, are long on attitude and short on actual battle skills. They shoot without hesitation, but would rather look tough than actually learn how to shoot straight. They fold quickly when confronted with tactical units from police or military that are properly trained. The thing that has allowed gangs to flourish in inner cities has been restrictive rules of engagement imposed on police, not the skill with which gangs ply their brutal trade. Remove those restrictions and gangs are quickly defeated and contained. They are tougher than a lot of the non-traditional federal police, such as those attached to departments like education, IRS, mapping agency and park services, but nowhere near a match for unfettered units of traditional law enforcement agencies. As I mentioned in part one, local police and the lower ranks of the military can only be counted on to enforce statist oppression for so long as they believe they are in an actual emergency protecting public safety. As soon as they get wise to the game, they will become the armed center of much resistance, rather than enforcement. The problem with the hysterical leftists, who are mouthy and relentless is that, at bottom, they are wimps and cowards. They bully with their mouths and the legal system – but faced with real, determined physical resistance, they run like scalded dogs (if Republicans in Congress had ever figured this out, we would not be at such a tipping point). The hysterical left is like PeeWee Herman strutting into a saloon, interrupting a poker game between John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington and Arnold Shwarzenegger, and obnoxiously spoiling for a fight. Peewee can only sustain the illusion that he is winning for so long as the fight is confined to words rather than fists.
What you have here is the most pathetically dweeby class of elites in history desperately spoiling for a fight with the sturdy yeomen of the country. They think it is no contest because they have successfully taken over the positions of cultural and political power in the institutions. They think the “little people” do what they tell them to do because it is the divine order of things. They honestly are so narrow they cannot imagine it being any other way. It does not even occur to them that their “power” is solely dependent on the submission of the little people and that there could come a bridge too far in which the little people turn on them. But like PeeWee, if they insist on having their fight, they will eventually get it – and regret that they spoiled for it in the first place.
If statist authorities did manufacture or provoke a crisis to take authoritarian control, that control would start slipping away within a few weeks because they face some major institutional problems they have not taken into account:
- The people they rely on to establish early control are overwhelmingly populated by decent and honorable Americans. To maintain control, they have to maintain the illusion of a genuine threat to public safety. Every offense they commit will cause the defection of more and more of those honorable people, which would likely eventually result in the instigators’ being overthrown rather than consolidating power.
- The allies they can turn to as the traditional, honorable professionals are those seething with sentiments of resentment and entitlement. However brutal they may be, they lack the competence, skill and discipline of the honorable professionals who have accepted much self-denial to train to protect and defend. As soon as the howling rent-a-cops get their noses bloodied, they will avoid areas of potential resistance and keep to where people are more easily cowed.
- To prolong their shaky control as long as possible, statist instigators will need to focus on high-return areas such as communications, transportation, and population hubs that they can control with minimal investment of manpower, which gets progressively less reliable as the crisis goes on.
So how does knowing these things help you if you have to leave on foot? Stick to rural areas. It is not that anything untoward would ever happen there, but that they are too high-effort, low-return areas for modern mandarins to worry about. Capturing a few does not significantly enhance control, while requiring manpower that could be more fruitfully used elsewhere. Stay away from loudmouth braggarts on your way. There are two reasons for this: First, most are actually cowards when confronted with real adversity and; second, those who are not actual cowards usually lack judgment and will eagerly go running into ambushes and futile efforts that simply drain resources. You will inevitably form communities of people. Stick with serious, sober people.
Do not waste time plotting the overthrow of occupying powers. There is no challenge or great honor in even successfully delivering the final blow to a muddled beast that signed its own death warrant when it tried to take total control. Devote your efforts to helping your neighbors in your little rural communities. If you can, get some canopy cover for such little communities, but do not worry overmuch about that. Even if you have 300 people in a collection of tents, cabins and shacks that are easily visible, you have little to worry about. First, the statists’ fear that we are all trigger-happy wild-eyed gun nuts now works in your favor. They will not want to risk attacking such an enclave except by stealth. Even if they succeeded, they will quickly figure out that when they do, they still have a thousand more such enclaves out there – populated by the sorts of people most likely to fight back; that it does not extend their control at all; and it increases the number of defections from the troops they actually need near infrastructure and population hubs. Quickly enough, they will decide to leave rural enclaves alone if those enclaves leave them alone. Your strategy is similar to Joshua at the wall. The instigators have set in motion the events that will cause the walls of their ambition to crumble. Be vigorous in defense of your enclave, eager to help each other, and ignore the statist occupiers. The walls will crumble soon enough.
When you first set out, keep your course close to streams and rivers. You will not die of thirst and you will always find cover. Even in the most barren parts of the country, I was always able to find cover by following running water. Some of the best cover I ever found was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the most relentlessly stark city I visited. I followed along the Rio Grande and found a wonderfully sheltered copse of trees…sheltered even more because the trees were otherwise so widely scattered. You will ALWAYS find cover if you follow that rule. At least I did.
If you are in an area heavy with mosquitoes and do not have a tent mesh to protect you, I discovered a very peculiar thing while walking. This may not hold in all cases or for everyone…but I found that if I made camp within about 10 yards of the bank of a stream, the mosquitoes were not so bad. If I got more than 20 yards away from the bank, they were a monstrous cloud. It is counter-intuitive that mosquitoes should be less aggressive closer to running water, but that was my experience. If you have to eat outdoors and there are a lot of ants around, crumble up a dry piece of pastry near the highest concentration of them. Wait about 15 minutes. They will all swarm to the pastry – and you can eat in peace just a few yards from them. I discovered this by accident, too, when I dropped some crumbs of a Pop-Tart in the woods near Waco, Texas. I finished what I was eating, then looked at the crumbs and saw ants swarming them. It gave me that idea, which always worked for me. So the rest of my pilgrimage I always had a Pop-Tart with me.
You will have to choose your own course, but I preferred to walk openly in the daytime. I only walked at night if it was absolutely needed – maybe three or four times the whole journey. I did not want to scare anyone. It seemed to me that an old man with a heavy pack walking in the middle of the daytime was an interesting peculiarity to any passerby. In fact, in rural areas, I often came to a café to find that townspeople had been talking about me for days – and were glad to meet the peculiar old man. The same thing at night would seem sinister and scary. But there was another, strategic reason. That I walked openly said to most that I meant no one any harm. That I did so with confidence suggested it might be dangerous to provoke me. A fellow I met in Houston was working security in advance
of the Fourth of July. I had walked up the stairway from the Buffalo Bayou into a great park. When I got to the top, there was this cool artistic metal gating that was made to resemble canoes and paddles, so I pulled out my camera to get a picture. Afterwards, I went to sit on a bench. The security guard, about my age, came over and struck up a conversation. Turns out he was former Marine Drill Instructor. He astonished me after we got to know each other a little by saying, “As soon as I saw you I knew you were someone I didn’t want to have to mess with.” I asked him why, I am an easy-going fellow. He replied that those steps up from the bayou are so steep he got winded when coming up them anytime:
when he saw me come up with that loaded pack on my back and immediately turn to take a few pictures rather than sit down and catch my breath, he figured I must be tough as nails. I laughed and said when you walk 15 miles a day with it, you adjust. Walk as children of the daylight and with confidence. Your confidence is not ill-founded.
I do not know what dire situations you may encounter as you go. I told you about the guy who followed me into the woods with a gun. That was nowhere near the most dire situation I faced. It doesn’t even rank among the top three, though it probably makes the top five. There was once I really did not think I was going to make it. I have never discussed it with anyone – even my son – because it was my own stupidity that got me into it. Thanks be to God, He carried through me an hour and a half in which any false move would have resulted, at best, in a quick death and at worst, a slow, lingering one. My walking chant was my Rosary. Understand, my private Rosary is absurdly complicated. Each decade I pray has around 300 specific intentions attached to it. Ah, how generous I was in sharing my wealth of prayer on that journey…on behalf of everyone I met, old schools chums I had not seen from first grade. I even had the weirdest feeling once that I should offer up a decade for the old country-western singer Patsy Cline (who I am indifferent to), that she only needed a few prayers to get out of purgatory. So I did. I was a spiritual Midas for a time. And though I had not publicly discussed it with any but my priests at the time, any time I was faced with a serious challenge or danger, I took a moment to say The Prayer of Miraculous Trust. These were my armor, my sword and my shield as I walked. It was far more difficult than I ever let on to anyone, but far more beautiful and joyous than I will ever be able to describe. But from the beginning I walked with the confidence of one who trusts that God is nearby. He sustained me through (mostly) ordinary miracles. My confidence was not misplaced and neither will yours be if you must go.
Many ask me what provisions God has made for those who are infirm, or handicapped or require regular medical attention. He has a plan for such: it is you. I know people want some miraculous exemption, but that is not the plan. No created being knew the certainty of God better than Our Lady, Holy Mary. But when she heard that her cousin Elizabeth had a potentially dangerous late-in-life pregnancy, though she was pregnant herself, she got up and made her way through the hill country to help. In the Annunciation, Mary knew when to leave the details to God. In the Visitation, she knew when to act, understanding that we are the primary instruments through which God accomplishes His will. Her Visitation was not a lack of faith that God would provide, but humble obedience that she was called to be part of His plan to provide for Elizabeth. Mary was full of grace. May we all have a double measure of her grace, to know when to be still and when to act. We are the ones who, in our disobedience and arrogant vanity, have brought this Storm on. Now, we are being given the great grace of being God’s plan. Go forth.
We have assessed things wrongly. We think a child or a handicapped person is a burden to be borne, an expense to cover. But through the instrument of the Storm, we will begin again to see things in their proper order. Money and time are all passing away…like so much costume jewelry. Children, the handicapped, the needy, will soon no longer be seen as a burden, but as a particularly intense blessing. Providing for them, caring for them, will be seen as what it really is: a way to encounter God and lay up treasure in heaven, treasure that will not pass away, but will last. I tell you that soon communities that are not blessed with a handicapped person to care for or children will seek them out, groaning in grief until they find them. Care for them as best you can. And when you are in need, accept with grace, gratitude and docility the efforts of others to help you. Do not let your pride rob them of the treasure they are trying to lay up in heaven. Where your efforts and the efforts of doctors who found their way to your enclave fall short, invoke God through the Prayer of Miraculous Trust, giving yourself over in trust to Him. You will see miracles. When you do, give thanks. You will see others that it pleases God to call home to Him. When He does, immediately begin asking for their intercession, to help you from heaven to endure.
That is what your duty and your calling is; to endure. Endure and help others to endure. Just a generation hence, people will look back in astonishment at our age and how degenerate we had become. In three generations, people will be more ashamed to find a director of Planned Parenthood in their family tree than to find a slave trader. Ten generations from now, people will look at us as some sort of primitive race, almost alien in our routine barbarity and emptiness. But if anyone from that age happens to read this, I plead with you to look deeply, for we are not aliens: we are you. We, all of us, are always the ones who killed Christ. It is never those “others who are not like us.” I plead with you because when we humbly know that, we do well. When we start to think we have figured it out, that we have got it, that is when we start heading downhill. For any who might read this in the future, it is critically important that you keep this ever recollected, for after this Storm, the next time there is a mass falling away, there will be no rescue, only the end of days.
For those of us at the precipice of this great ledge in history right now, let us act with the sure knowledge that, 500 years from now, some wise man will stand before a great judicial hall of our age and say to a companion, “I look upon this hall where the secular forces that taught it was a woman’s right to execute her child, that any who held fast to the Christian definition of marriage must be deprived of their property and work and jailed, that all knees must bend to the whims of the state and I ask, ‘Where are their successors?’ But if you want to see the successors of the remnant who kept faith during that terrible winter of the soul, all you need do is look at their smiling faces all around you and hear the laughter of the children they have borne through the ages.”
Endure. Wait on the Lord and He will strengthen your heart. Endure, I say, endure.