I actually just got home from the major vacation travel I'll do in '09. My walking buddy and I spent a week traipsin' all over the south. Yes, I know, it's early in the year, but travel is like eating dessert--in uncertain times better to do it early! I described our trip in a March 12 post titled "Going Walkabout" if you want to scroll down and read it before I tell you what actually happened on the trip. Warning: I'll be as succinct as possible, but we covered a lot of territory in eight days. The greatest disappointment of the walk was that I messed around with my camera about halfway through and accidentally erased all the photos I'd taken--dogs a day, people, interesting natural and man made sights that would have given you a real flavor of the walk. I've googled like crazy to find some illustrations without totally violating copyright laws. Hope I didn't steal any of your images.)
The question to be answered by the owners of these two pairs of feet was,"Do we still have a long walk in us?" After a week of walking an average of 10K daily through some of the most lively and interesting cities in seven southern states, the answer is a definite "Yes we do!" This photo was taken in Knoxville, TN after my walking buddy Sally (who earned the nickname Rocket Butt for her walking prowess) and I completed the last walk of the trip. Notice we're wearing the same kind of shoes. How precious. However, the similarities end there. The feet on the left belong to me and they were definitely not happy feet. I mistakenly walked the first day in the rain wearing MBTs, shoes that are supposed to help you mimic the barefoot distance walking of African Masai tribesmen. My hiney! We walked 12K that first day with hills and many steps to climb. At the end of the day my feet were wet and sporting baby blisters that no amount of space age bandaging could prevent the blisters from growing and getting really ugly and painful as the week went on.
I first learned about this walk through my favorite cousin. We grew up together and made the effort to see each other often even after we entered college. Last night I was re-reading letters to my sister from college days and most of them warned the family that I planned to spend time with Cousin M when I returned home from college for family visits. Cousin M was in college too so I'm sure we had a lot to talk about on these infrequent visits--boys,clothes, classes, plans for the future, parents--all the important things. Anyway, Cousin M and I reunited last summer after losing close touch for most of our adult years. She and I shared this interest in distance walking, so she urged me to sign up for this Southern Express walk which she and her husband planned to make with their local walking club which is a part of the Ohio Volkssport Association. I did and also recruited Sally to join us. Sally is always up for an adventure that involves physical activities and even more she loves to ask me the question: "So, whose bright idea was this?" when into one of my schemes too far to bow out!
I learned that most every state has local walking groups affiliated with the American Volkssport Association. They're run by volunteer walking enthusiasts. Wandering Wheels of Fairborn, Ohio is my cousin's club. A few leaders of the club did all the planning, recruiting and leading of the Southern Express trip. Forty + people of a variety of ages, interests and temperaments participated. We traveled on a comfortable tour bus to each walk location. We stayed in inexpensive but nice hotels that were convenient for the walks. There was lots of entertainment and camaraderie on the bus that you could participate in or not. And enough snacks to guarantee you wouldn't lose a pound even though you walked at least 10k per day!
Here's how the walk day went. Walking clubs for each of our destinations mapped out both a 5 and 10-12K walk that highlighted the most interesting and scenic parts of their cities. They provided written directions and maps of the area for us. Each walk was rated 1-3+ in difficulty based on terrain,number of steps, etc. At the beginning of each trip we were met by a local contact and got our books stamped and certified. Serious walkers are intent on marking off these different events. And there's a code of ethics that goes something like "No walkie, no stampie." After the books were stamped we headed out, breaking into smaller groups for the walk. Sally and I walked with Cousin M, her husband, and another couple--gratefully because we both suck at map reading! A couple of times Sally, aka Rocket Butt, joined up with another couple who were extra strong walkers. However, she mostly stuck with us because they didn't stop for lunch and we laggards did.
Finally we get to the actual walking. I'll just highlight a few details and impressions of each walk:
Day 1, Saturday, March 14--Nashville, Tennessee--12K, rated 3
--definite country music influence with Ryman Auditorium, Brad Paisley concert near hotel, musical notes imprinted in sidewalks, Printer's Alley where many country singers got their start
--spring was bursting out around the capitol grounds in flowers and trees
--I saw a definite influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in several buildings, streetlights and building ornamentation. The Nashville Public Square, a good example. Earned one of 12 American Architecture Awards for 2008
--first dog of the day was a handsome white retriever mix enjoying a capitol grounds walk, recently adopted from local shelter
Day 2, Sunday, March 15--Memphis, Tennessee--11K, rated 1+
--bright, colorful cable cars throughout the downtown area
--Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated
--22,000 seat Pyramid stadium on banks of Downtown Harbor
--walked along the Downtown Harbor with grand mansions on the hill overlooking the Mississippi River
--saw the pampered ducks and bronze dogs of hades at the Peabody Hotel. Saw the rooftop duckery where the pampered quackers are kept when not making a grand parade through the lobby of the hotel. The elevators had duck feet mosaic tiles on the floor
--went looking for blues and BBQ on Beale Street. Found BBQ at Pig on Beale a 1950s bar and
restaurant, appreciated by the locals for its good mix of blues, country, and rock 'n roll bands. The "Pork with an Attitude" probably comes from the overworked and understaffed waitress who kept turning people away at the door with threats that the wait would be a long one--it was
--horse drawn carriages on Beale Street and downtown had great dogs as the co-pilots. Two favorites were a proud boxer and chow-pomeranian mix that looked like a little red fox
Day 3, March 16--Baton Rouge, Louisiana--10K, rated 1
--Spanish Town historic district old neighborhood with homes still decorated with remnants of Mardi Gras celebrations. Houses owned by a mix of artists, working class, and professionals. The artistic influence could be seen in the bold paint colors for camelback
bungalows and narrow one room wide shotgun houses
--bright pink flamingos were all over the area as Baton Rouge proudly embraces this standard for tackiness as their own special symbol
--dog of the day was a gorgeous border collie romping on the state capitol grounds with his owner, catching a Frisbee and then happily following her off leash as she pushed a baby carriage down the street on what seemed to be a familiar route for them
Day 4, March 17--Ocean Springs, Mississippi--5K, rated 1+
--easy day's walk around the Halstead Bayou Nature
Center and trails, looking for alligators and birds of the marshlands--saw the birds, missed the alligators
Day 4, Continued--Mobile, Alabama--5K, rated 1
--easy stroll through Church Street East historic district, beautiful area with many homes showing a plaque for historic home registration
--bought a used book at Bienville Books on Dauphin Street
--saw a tree decorated with Mardi Gras beads
--took a photo of Cousin M and Sally in front of the National Junior Miss headquarters doing a proper beauty pageant wave, lost that photo with all the rest
--started really missing blog friends, but couldn't remember my new password to get on the internet
--my buddy and I were hitting a wall, tired of living out of ziplock bags, missing Willie. We asked Sally's husband to put out an Amber alert for us, but he wouldn't!
--had a great oyster dinner at Wintzell's Oyster House and celebrated St. Paddy's Day--lots of atmosphere and characters in this old oyster bar. One "Irish" lassie with green braids and a very short skirt came in to celebrate. If she'd dropped her shillelagh she couldn't have decently picked it up!
--trying to get Sally hooked on reality TV and crime shows. After dinner we watch Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, The Mentalist with sweet baby Agent Jane, and even America's Top Model
Day 5, Wednesday, March 18--Tallahassee, Florida--10K, Rated 1+ ha!
--hardest walk day. We walked in mid-afternoon, temps were in mid-80s, I despise hot weather, my blisters have turned bloody. Tallahassee has seven hills on this walk--we did all of them
--we passed the Greyhound bus station. I wanted a one-way ticket back to Louisville
--I accidentally erased all my photos. "No image" was not what I wanted to see on my camera
--I did however love the red striped awnings on the old Capitol
--and this sculpture on grounds of the governor's mansion. It's called "Follow the Leader" and gives me the dog of the day photo
--Sayre, if you should still be reading this epic to this point don't think I'm 'dissing Tallahassee. Just the most challenging walk of the whole trip
Day 6, Thursday, March 19--Madison, Georgia--0K. rated Shopping Break!
--rated as +1 Small Town in America, historic Madison was said to be too pretty for General Sherman to burn on his march through Georgia. The Hunter House is a great example of Queen Ann architecture and is referred to as Gingerbread House--get it?
--filled with interesting shops around the town square. I bought a very cute baby gift at Cotton's, aptly names because the town was built up around the cotton economy in mid-late 1800s. Couldn't resist Dog Ear Books just off the square. Sold new and "experienced" books. Met a beautiful black and white feminine cat named Evie
--Sally and I had a relaxing lunch and rest at Amici's on the town square. Pleasant to sit outside and drink a tall iced tea and tuck into a memorable salad called The Bistro--romaine lettuce topped with sundried tomato, red onion, mushrooms and London broil strips sauteed in lemon butter and dressed with warm Marsala wine vinegarette. Yum!
Day 7, Friday, March 20--Atlanta, Georgia--10K, rated 1+
--walk started in Centennial Olympic Park, site of the 1996 Olympic Games, just across the street was CNN headquarters
--passed the Olympic Flame Tower and on to Turner Stadium, home of Atlanta Braves
--had a retro lunch at Johnny Rocket's in the Underground--old fashioned service and politeness at a fast food joint
--coming up from the Underground we saw and heard musicians in a drum circle. They were playing the west African djembe drums, like these players at Piedmont Park
--I was familiar with djembe drumming from having recently seen the excellent movie The Visitor starring Richard Jenkins as an isolated,disengaged college professor who joins life again because of his interest in a young djembe drummer who gets in trouble and needs him
--chess players on a lunch break were intent on their al frescoe games in several city squares
--World of Coca Cola exhibition--just the shop not waiting in line to drink unlimited Coke samples for the price of admission
--after Atlanta walk we got back on the bus for drive to Knoxville, TN for last day's walk. Our little group of six walkers celebrated the end --almost--of a successful walk with Long Island style pizza in of all places Tennessee
Day 8, Saturday, March 21--Knoxville, Tennessee--10K, rated 2
--left hotel at 7:30 a.m. for last walk. Bus would head north around noon. We were all ready
--Knoxville deserved the #2 rating--very hilly, especially to get to the UT campus. I spotted a street named Summit and thought "Yes! The hills are conquered." Imagine how sad I was to discover that the street was named for Pat Summitt, Tennessee's legendary women's basketball coach!
--World's Fair (1982) city recreational area with outdoor concert bandstand. Site of Rachmaninoff's last concert
--Tennessee riverwalk--saw a team of women rowers from Minnesota University putting their boat in the water and rowing off down the Tennessee River--synchronized beauty and power
Now if you've managed to get this far, I admire your stamina! And be sure to check out other Fun Monday vacation plans. Would I do this kind of walk again? Well certainly as long as the company's good and the feet are healed.