I got a banana and my water bottle and met Jordan at the grade crossing by the gym at 1330. We started walking.
I had never really done an appreciable walking journey without shoes before, nor had I yet trackwalked barefoot. I didn’t have much in the way of strategy at first. I walked on ties, but when they had rocks on them, I balanced on the rail itself. The rails are actually really thin, thinner than my foot. It doesn’t seem like a train ought to be able to travel on them, especially not for hundreds of miles. Pretty soon, the structures of the town and the college petered out from both sides, giving way to small trees and brown bushes. We didn’t talk overly much, because the journey spoke for itself. But we did talk. Jordan told me about other times he’d come this way. He does a lot of trackwalking, often with camping equipment and food. He just walks off and then comes back later that day, or sometime on the next. The bushes stopped along with the ground they were on, leaving the railroad on top of a ridge flanked on either side by farms. He pointed out a creek that crossed under the railroad and continued off in a squiggle across the field on the left – he creekwalked down it once. I’m not sure where it ends up going. After a while, he slid down the ballast rocks onto the grass margin, then skied down about fifteen feet to the field at the side. I followed, but a little slower. This place was the grove we were walking to. On a warm day last year, he had come this way and found it, and ended up just falling asleep under it for a few hours. There were a bunch of young oaks, planted in rows and standing up straight. That was the grove, a stand of trees at the bottom of the hill, surrounded by an expanse of field on its other three sides. The grass underfoot grew fluffy and wild. One kind of oak had deep red leaves for fall; the other had brown ones. There were also a few other trees – a spruce, a juniper, a short ash enclosed by chicken wire. We found a lean-to, made of branches scattered over a wire framework. It might’ve been for hunting; it didn’t provide good cover, but maybe it was meant to have something draped over it. We walked through it slowly, and when we came out the other side back into field we had come halfway back up to the level of the railroad. We found a barbed-wire fence and climbed over it back to the tracks, and kept walking.
Mostly it was farms on the side of us now, but they seemed remote, because we were at the top of the ridge on the railroad, the farms below us at the bottom of a hill of ballast and grass. We walked over a couple private grade crossings and one bridge over a highway. We could see forever, usually. We were headed for a tree that Jordan had been to. He spotted it a couple times; only on the last time was he actually spotting the correct tree. To get to it, we cut through a harvested cornfield, full of dry stocks and spent, empty cobs, with a distinct smell of cow manure. At the edge of that was a field of green grass with a runnel filtering through it, keeping the ground squishy for me. The tree had situated itself to take full advantage of this squish. I climbed up into it. It was a world-class climbing tree, a field maple that had spread out to take up all the sun there was to be had. Within four feet from the bottom, it splits into about nine smaller trees, each of which is the size of a full-grown tree. There are several absolutely perfect perches. Mine took a rash leap of faith to get to. We sat and relaxed in the tree for a good while. But we eventually had to turn back to the tracks.
It seemed shorter on the way back. Jordan told me about how he once walked all the way to the next town, and then it started storming, so he ate in a restaurant for a while. But then it didn’t stop, so he headed back toward the college in the rain. Halfway there he stopped and camped out in the rain; his sleeping bag got wet, but it kept him somewhat dry, and he strolled into the college the next day. I recommended a few things for him to check out on the internet and such, and he told me about some comedy troupes he’s seen on TV, and other stuff. I mostly walked on the rail, and at one point we both balanced on it for probably upwards of half a mile, which took some focusing. We came back into the campus shortly before 1700. Then I went and had dinner.
A band called The Mountain Goats came here on Friday. They were pretty cool. I got their CD called Get Lonely. The guy’s lyrics are very sophisticated, not just words. If I seem a bit distracted, it’s because I’m listening to music.