Off the Beaten Path: My Hometown Adventure.

Like most people, I like to take a trip every now and then. Of course, if I had my druthers, I’d go on a long, cross-country road trip. I’m lucky enough to have done that five times in my life, and I’m itching to do it again, but for right now I’d be content to go to the beach. But you know how it is – if you have the time you don’t have the money, and if you have the money you don’t have the time.

Well, I’m here to save the day and, in the process, probably make you so happy you’ll never be sad again. Well, OK, that may be exaggerating just a tad, but what I’m going to tell you is bound to get you through to next week at least. I’d lay money on that. I’m going to tell you about a way you can travel to mysterious places and have transformative experiences without going more than fifty miles from your home, and maybe not more than a half a mile. Needless to say, in dollar terms, this is a cheap proposition, but there is a price to pay, and some of you aren’t going to like it. People have been engaging in this activity for centuries, but in modern day America it seems to have gone sadly out of fashion. Now I could go on and on and on and on and on, in a way nothing at all like I’m doing now, before I reveal this secret to you, but I’m going to cut to the chase and let you have it:


Yeah, walking. But not the kind of walking people usually do, mind you. No, the kind of walking people usually do is too complex for me. I mean, think about it – there’s a whole checklist of things you have to do first:

1. Most people want to walk in nature, so you first have to find a tract of remote wilderness in which to walk. Granted, this isn’t as hard as it used to be way back in the old days, say five years ago, mainly due to changing tastes in what is considered to be a wilderness. In fact, people nowadays often find interstate highway frontage roads sufficiently wildernessy for their purposes.

2. You have to go out and buy all those costly clothes with fancy names like Under Armour or Over Legour or whatever. It seems like overkill to me, but I guess if you absolutely, positively must have clothes made out of fabrics so strong that you can laugh in the face of grizzly bears, or fabrics so sophisticated (Area 51?) that they can somehow make you feel cool and refreshed while you’re smelting iron in Death Valley, then I guess it’s worth the cost.

3. Next, to get where you’re going, you need a vehicle that’s up to the task, and, as everyone knows, a vehicle that’s rugged enough to give you at least a reasonable chance of making it out alive is going to cost you upwards of $40,000! That seems a bit steep to me, especially if you’re just looking to wear off maybe 50 of the 3,000 calories you ate for supper. Then too some uncooperative bramble might actually reach out of the wilderness and scratch the paint job. There goes another grand or two!

4. Then, to top it all off, you have to coat yourself from head to toe in chemicals so deadly that mosquitoes literally turn to dust in mid-flight a hundred yards out.

No, the kind of walking I’m talking about is much simpler than all that. I’m talking about walking in and around your hometown. Now I know this may seem like an awfully dumb thing to suggest at first glance but hear me out. I think it’s true – people tend to go everywhere in their car. Why, one time I watched my sister fire up a 3,000-pound piece of machinery and drive it about 200 feet to the grocery store just over the bank from her house – just to pick up a loaf of bread! That’s about a hundred pounds per slice! If the aliens who invented those Over Legours ever find out we do stupid stuff like that they’ll wipe us out for sure.

The only walking people usually do is from their car to the store, or whatever, after they have driven to their specific destination. So, what I’m suggesting is that you do more than that. Get out and walk through those areas that you’d normally drive past. You’ll be amazed at how different everything seems! You’ll see your town in a whole new light. It’ll seem like a whole ‘nother’ place, as they say. And you might just have some adventures along the way.

Back when I was a teenager, my friends and I used to walk beside the highway, but as time wore on and they became adults, they developed an aversion so powerful that wild horses couldn’t have dragged them anywhere near a highway. Apparently, they were afraid that some chick would see them walking and think they were too broke for wheels (they were sorely disappointed when they bought cars and found themselves too broke to drive to where the chicks were). I myself never developed this aversion, but, being pressed for time, or out of sheer laziness, I too eventually stopped walking the highways and byways of my hometown. But one night this past April I changed all that. It was a nice night, so I decided to take a walk down my street. But when I got to the end of my street, I thought (sort of like in Forrest Gump), ‘Well, I’ve made it this far, I might as well go a little bit further.’ And when I had gone a little further, I thought, ‘Wow, since I’ve made it this far, I might as well walk all the way out to Kroger.’

Kroger in Lewisburg is about a mile from where I live, and, needless to say, I always drive there. Walking along this familiar but utterly unknown stretch of highway was like seeing my town as maybe a visitor would see it. Things didn’t seem right somehow. Spatial relationships seemed alien. I noticed details in things that I’d never seen before, even though it was dark. I walked by, and actually took notice of, stores and businesses I have never been in before, wondering how something so close by could yet remain terra incognita.

I ran into other travelers of the night. As they approached, I just knew I was going to have to say something, otherwise I’d have felt like I was in one of those old western movies – you know, the ones where two men, who are so mean they do all their talking in hot lead, slowly approach one another down some dusty, abandoned street. Apparently my fellow travelers felt the same way, as sometimes they’d be the first to speak. Many of them seemed to be carrying some sort of package. Now, the tendency is to assume that any parcels carried through the night by lone travelers contain items intended solely for nefarious purposes. I don’t know – plutonium maybe. But all of them seemed friendly enough, and none of them were wearing radiation suits. All of them, I noticed however, had a distinct lack of eye candy on their arms. I guess my friends were right.

The moon was high in the sky and the cool spring air was awash in mellifluously discordant scents – newly mown grass, asphalt, delicate blossoms, and car exhaust, all mixing into one heady, odiferous brew. As I walked forward, I saw the Kroger sign slowly rising above the hill in front of me, like another moon in the sky, only much uglier. I felt much like the Pilgrims must have felt at first sight of Plymouth Rock: soon I’ll be where the chow is.

When I got to Kroger, I realized Easter was just around the corner, so I picked up a can of baked beans (for my famous homemade baked beans) and a couple of other items and was on my way again. The trip back was every bit as interesting, thanks to my new-found appreciation of the benefits of going less than 50 miles per hour and actually paying attention to things. Somewhere along the way I looked down at my bag and realized that now I was the one carrying plutonium.

Give it a try folks. You might be surprised. And after you’re done exploring your own town, drive over to some nearby town you think you are intimately acquainted with and do it all over again. If being around people carrying radioactive materials makes you uncomfortable, then do it during the day. It will surely open your eyes to new vistas, and you won’t need the help of aliens or a $40,000 piece of scrap iron to do it. Maybe you can let us know what you find!

– Barry Pyne, Mathematics Instructor at New River Community and Technical College in Lewisburg, WV. HashtagWV #123. March 2020.

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