The Texas Perimeter Hike: an encounter with a trail angel
Sept. 19, 2009 at 4:19 a.m.
Vincent: How long do you intend to walk the earth?
Jules: Until God puts me where He wants me to be.
V: What if He never does?
J: If it takes forever, I'll wait forever.
V: So you decided to be a bum.
J: I'll just be Jules, Vincent. No more, no less.
- excerpt from "Pulp Fiction"
Upon entering Seadrift, a police officer stepped out of a restaurant and beckoned me over. I hadn't been in town five minutes. I suppose it was the open umbrella I was walking around with that made me look a bit edgy.
The officer asked if I was hitchhiking. I told him that I was not, that I was in fact hiking around Texas. He nodded and asked for my ID, squinting at it in the midday sun. He called me in.
"We got a hitchhiker here," he said to his dispatcher.
It's worth a moment to try to imagine exactly what I looked like. A blue long-sleeve shirt and shorts, wool socks in running shoes, a Jansport backpack, a straw Stetson hat and a large, tan umbrella providing sun cover, sweat dripping off my face, and a special funk from there to Freeport. One look and you knew: There's a stranger in town. For full effect, I should have cued the music and tumbleweed.
What is it about a backpack that writes volumes about a person's life and character? Why does a bicyclist or kayaker gain some level of credibility in a similar endeavor whereas a hiker does not? I honestly don't know. I opted to travel by foot, and I accept that this mode lends itself to a rather dirty, disheveled appearance. With this as a first impression, I don't blame anyone for a snap judgment, least of all a peace officer trying to do his job.
However, in spite of my appearances, I have often been treated with generosity and kindness in my travels. From cheerful car honks to pleasant conversations, from cold water to a night's lodging, I have been the recipient of Texan courtesy, charm and hospitality. On the long roads of Texas, these are important memories to hold onto.
There is a term for those people who offer a kindness to a traveler, a phrase frequently used on the long hiking trails of America. Hikers call them 'trail angels.' Our journey is a solitary trek across the land, and a trail angel's kindness reminds us we are not alone. It lifts the spirit, makes it easier to go on.
The police officer finished his research and handed back my ID. He looked almost crestfallen that no record had come up. As I put my card away, I asked about camping somewhere for free. He told me there wasn't any place like that. Furthermore, it was illegal to camp on the beach. He turned slightly, about to go back to the restaurant.
Then he stopped. He looked at me.
"There's a small park down the road," he said, "You can camp there if you like."
And in a blink, a kindness, and just like that, an angel.
I spent the evening down by the shrimping boats on the bay, watching the sunset in the distance, and contemplating the journey ahead. The boats seemed peaceful on the water, giving a quiet indication of the distance they'd covered and the difficulties endured. With their chipped paint and worn equipment, they weren't especially pretty things. They were just boats. No more, no less.
Smatt is the penname of S.Matt Read. A writer, inventor, baker, and hiker, he is currently hiking the entire outline of the state. Follow his adventure here and at www.texasperimeterhike.blogspot.com and www.twitter.com/perimeterhiker.