Breaking traveling rules gives hike new perspective

April 3, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2010 at 11:03 p.m.

S. Matt Read hikes through ranch land about 20 miles south of Higgins, near the Texas portion of the Black Kettle National Grasslands.

S. Matt Read hikes through ranch land about 20 miles south of Higgins, near the Texas portion of the Black Kettle National Grasslands.

"(Rule) No. 18 - Bona-fide travelers may be sheltered if convenient, but they will be expected to pay for what grain and provisions they get . and all such persons must not remain at any camp longer than one night."

It was the end of February. I'd volunteered most of the month at Caprock Canyons State Park, and it was time to leave. A cold I'd picked up had mostly gone away, and several of those last days had been sunny and beautiful.

I packed my bag and a box of things to mail home and went to bed with the knowledge that a new sunrise would send me on my way.

I would have seen it too, had it not been for the blizzard.

I was determined to start hoofing it though, and a day of snippety snowfall seemed as good a day as any. I had even gone so far as to do the math: at 20 miles a day, I could hike the whole panhandle in a month.

Ha.

On my second day out, I twisted my ankle. For several days, I continued to walk about 20 miles per day, occasionally getting close to 30. This didn't exactly follow doctor's orders, but there weren't any doctors out there anyway.

I guess this made me a bona-fide traveler. My plan was to hike the entire month, to get as far as I could, to be on the move every single day. Though I wasn't aware then of the old Rule No. 18 of XIT's general regulations, it had become my unofficial motto: get in and get out. With tornado season right around the corner, it seemed to me a reasonable policy.

The residents of the panhandle had another idea, however.

When walking into Canadian, not only did people honk and wave, but two women actually stopped and introduced themselves. The second was the director of community development, and she offered me hotel accommodations. I accepted.

When it rained the following day, she offered me an extension. She didn't have to twist my ankle to get me to agree, either. As you know, it was already twisted.

I would have thought that this would be my one exception, that I would get back on that old horse, Rule No. 18. But the panhandle folks wouldn't have it. I stayed with a couple by Lake Marvin, and a few days later, when I met a group of friends at the Naturally Yours Gallery in Lipscomb, that was almost the beginning of the end of my bona-fide traveler status. I broke so many tenets of Rule No. 18 that, had I been traveling a century prior, I might have gotten blacklisted from the XIT.

It wasn't just nights indoors either. For one week in the eastern panhandle, my food bag actually got heavier each day instead of lighter. My appetite couldn't keep up with all the food people kept giving me. My stomach, of course, was in heaven; my back and ankle, not so much.

By the time I reached the former XIT ranchlands, I had to admit to myself - I was no longer bona-fide. Several times in the panhandle, I hadn't paid for my own grain, and I had definitely stayed more than one night in a camp.

To top it off, I wasn't going to hit 600 miles in the month of March, instead I reached something closer to 450.

But in breaking from the rigidity of my personal Rule No. 18, I started really enjoying myself. I found it a great relief to be taken in from time to time, to have an enjoyable conversation, to remember what it's like being in the company of friends. I happened upon some really good folk, and I'm lucky to have met them.

In the end, it didn't matter if I was XIT bona-fide. Everyone else was the genuine thing.

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 .


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