Part I of the story of Crosby, the Pedestrian, who declared his independence from the car and walks wherever he needs to go. Herein, Crosby tells of how his dedication to walking began, his first walking forays, and where they took him.
We moved often when I was younger because my father was in the Navy. After my parents divorced when I was six, we moved wherever we could afford. Often I only went to a school for one year and was in a new school the next year.
I remember always walking to school, but my first walking trek was when I was in the fourth grade. We lived in Oakland, California. My mother was going to remarry. I decided to visit my new stepfather-to-be. Somehow I found out that he only lived a few miles away.
So I left our duplex and went north, passing my school and then the large AC Transit Bus Yard. My stepfather was a bus driver and many bus drivers apparently lived near the yard. I found his apartment and knocked.
He and his friend, Bob, were surprised to see me and he later drove me home. I was proud of making this walk and visiting my new step-father-to-be. My mom had a different view and spanked me claiming that I could have been killed. (I am white and the neighborhoods I walked through were black.) However, nobody hurt me, except for my mom.
Later, when I was older, I often walked all over San Francisco. Sometimes I would look around and see that everybody within a block was staring at me as if I were an alien creature (they were all black), but nobody bothered me.
After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I decided that I would not own a car. I felt that our society was over-dominated by cars.
After college, for a time in the early 1980’s, I was unemployed. One day, I decided to go to Point Reyes, north of San Francisco. We had visited Point Reyes when I was young; I was very impressed with the place. I went across the Bay on BART, walked over to the Golden Gate Bridge then got on a bus going that way. As I was boarding, I learned that the bus went to Point Reyes only on weekends, but otherwise stopped at some city about 20 miles away. I wasn’t prepared to stay overnight but went to Point Reyes anyway. So when the bus left me, I started walking. For about a mile, some younger people in a convertible decided to follow me, with the driver trying to see how close he could get to me without touching me. I ignored them. After a while I guess they got bored and squealed past me, honking and waving.
I arrived at the park ranger station in time to get a pass to stay overnight. Then I walked to my assigned spot a few miles through the wooded hills. I only had a day pack with some food and water and light jacket. No tent or sleeping bag. It was very windy. I set myself under a picnic table and went to sleep.
During the night, I awoke to something furry trying to move my head. I had used my daypack as a pillow. Two sets of eyes were looking at me: raccoons. They wanted the food in my pack. I told them to go away. Finally, after more gestures and a louder voice from me, they moved on.
After some fitful drowsing, I got up at sunrise and started walking on a fire road to the ocean. At one point, I heard some gravel fall and looked up the ridge next to the road: a mountain lion looked down on me. I looked at her, and she at me. I was calm: I figured that if the mountain lion wanted me for dinner, she’d have snuck on me and ripped into my back. I then looked to the right and noticed a creek and decided she just wanted some water. So I continued to walk on, without looking back. A few yards on, I heard the mountain lion bounding down the slope and across the dirt road. Years later, I met a man who raised mountain lions and I got to pet one of them. I now own a bolo with a mountain lion’s head on it and if somebody were to ask me my favorite animal, I would say, “mountain lion.”
I ended up at the beach walking along the ocean. But I forgot about the rip tide. One of the bigger waves wrapped around my ankles and jerked. I was knocked down and, with the sand scraping my side bloody, dragged me into the ocean. With the influx of the next wave I scrambled furiously to get out of the water, barely making it to shore.
After examining my abraded side, I resumed my beach stroll, though farther from the water. After a mile, I found a promontory that jutted into the ocean. I decided I would have to go back, but realized I’d made another mistake: the tide was coming in. I’d passed other rock falls/promontories earlier, but they were now under water. I was trapped on a small beach with the water coming toward me, driving me to the cliff. I’d never rock-climbed before and I have slight vertigo (I was born with some ear problems). Fortunately, I noticed that a part of the cliff was not so vertical so I went up, hugging the rock and occasionally slipping. At one point the “path” had me hanging out over the ocean. I reached the top and crawled shakily 10 feet from the edge and lay on the ground for awhile. Finally, I sat up and looked carefully over the cliff in all directions: all the sand within sight was now under water.
I finally made my way back to the ranger station and then to the highway. But I was tired and sore and still shaking, so I stuck out my thumb. Everybody ignored me. After about an hour, a young woman came and stood next to me.
“Any luck?” she asked
“Nobody’s stopping,” I said.
She stuck out her thumb. A pickup truck stopped. She got in the cab, spoke with the driver and came back and told me I had to get in the back with the tools and the dirt and the open air. It felt nice. Finally, the driver dropped me at my spot. I waved thanks, but he was already a block away: he wasn’t interested in me.
After living in large cities all my life, I wanted a change. I was going to stay for a year near Lake Chelan in Washington, where I’d spent two summers as a volunteer. They’d offered me a job at the village as a maverick (laborer). But on my way to Washington with my brother-in-law, they told me they no longer wanted me to stay there; they were concerned about my health. I’d been diagnosed with a cyst in my brain that caused a tremor in my right arm. We didn’t know its long-term effects.
My brother and his wife lived in Salem, Oregon. So I stopped there and lived for a year in an apartment on the outskirts of town. I spent my time looking for work, working for a temporary agency or walking around the town. Salem has some nice architecture. A state prison is in the middle of the city, which struck me as strange. Apparently the city grew around the prison. Nearby is the state hospital, the site of the film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
I had no job, but I’d kept my insurance with Kaiser Permanente, paying the fees privately. They had a medical facility in Salem, but they did not have an MRI machine to examine the cyst on my brain. For that, I had to go to Clackamas, a suburb of Portland, about 50 miles away. The neurosurgeon only had morning appointments, and I’d been thinking of giving a 50-mile walk a try. So, as the bus did not get me there in time for the morning appointment, I left at 5 p.m. the evening before and just started walking.
Portland Road is the old highway by the interstate. It is still in use, just not as much. But it was not very well lit. There was no moon when I did my walk and I occasionally had trouble with walking off the shoulder because I couldn’t see. I saw no other pedestrians the entire time. No cars stopped. I was not hitchhiking, but I thought drivers would at least wonder why a lone man was out walking on this dark highway. Not so.
Initially, my pace was four miles per hour. But sometime after midnight, my muscles began cramping and each step became more difficult. Near the end of my walk, I was walking in a nightmare slow motion, maybe a 45-minute mile. I had to deliberately swing my arms to try to get my leaden legs to move. I also had multiple blisters and a sore hip. I arrived at the clinic in Clackamas at 9 a.m.
After the appointment, I took a Greyhound back to Salem. My brother got mad when he heard about my walk and drove me to my next appointment.
The doctor told me that the cyst was in the center of the brain and hard to surgically remove, so it remains today, as does the tremor it causes.
COMING SOON: Part II: How Crosby looked for, and found, a small college town, where he could live without a car, and became the walker of Grinnell, Iowa.