Practice Run: Round Two or How to Face Your Fears and Destroy Your Ego in 20 miles or Less
“You’re going to need this if you are walking at night.” George Rithm Martinez handed me a red flashlight. I didn’t know it was a flashlight until he cranked it up and turned it on. “It also serves as a USB charger,” he said.
I smiled as he bid his wife and son goodbye and I loaded a new backpack in his trunk. It was filled with clothing, food and medical supplies. Twenty pounds. I boasted of three containers of water.
We listened to Global Block Collective music and talked politics for 90 minutes as he drove me from his home back to St. Cloud, Florida.
“Remember that we live in the shadow of our thoughts,” Rithm said as he departed. I nodded in agreement. At approximately 10 p.m., I started walking again.
I. The Restart and the Battle of Distance
I was determined to consume more water than I did the first day I walked. I tried to listen to the advice I received. Most of it centered around water and electrolytes. So, at the two-mile mark, I reached a McDonald’s, checked in via their wi-fi and refilled my water containers.
Using Google Maps, the path ahead looked pretty straight. Just another long walk into the night. Unlike last time, I was alone. My support person was still willing, just temporarily without Internet. And, with most of the people connected to me via social media with children and jobs themselves, I was unable to find anyone willing to stay up all night texting or talking. I sent out messages, however, I knew the odds.
The road sign read: Kenansville 27 miles. I imagined I’d walked three and a half or so to reach that sign, so, this was going to be a bit of a challenge. Thirty full miles. With twenty pounds on my back.
Old Canoe Creek Road runs parallel to US 91. It is just big enough for two lanes with no extra space on either side. Mother Nature reigns supreme until the visual horizon left and right. Tall, unkempt grass. Canals of water. The sounds of wildlife all around.
II. Mental Games and Racist Inner Fears
I have a fear of snakes on par with Indiana Jones, so I have very little trouble remaining awake at night in the country. To my imagination, every shredded tire was a water moccasin. I would slow down and with trembling hands turn on the flashlight, cranking away furiously to generate the brightest light possible. (It was never bright enough!) Plus, semi-trucks used the road. I crossed to the other side or stepped off the road – into what I dreamed of being snake-infested grass – to let them pass.
Nope, staying awake wasn’t the issue. Water was. I was drenched in my own sweat and still dropping water at 1 am when I realized I had burned through two-thirds of my water supply. After two hours of walking, I saw no gas stations or truck stop to refill at.
As I left the wildlife preserve and entered Florida farmland, instead of snakes, my own racism was generating fear in me. I wanted to knock on someone’s door and ask for water. Here’s the thought that my subconscious flashed before me: Trayvon Martin’s dead body from a Facebook post. They will kill you and get away with it, Kokayi.
So, I kept walking. And dehydrating.
At 3 am or so, my brain chemistry started to betray my Will. Looking to my right, I saw about a dozen brown cows. Those are cows, the logical side of me said. “So, why are they all paying attention to me?” Now, those cows were probably asleep. However, my brain chemistry had them ALL looking at me. I walked past them, imagining a potential stampede.
Then, I encountered horses. Same experience. Except, I did wake them up and they began to run in response to my presence. I heard my heart in my ears. They respected the fence, then ran off deeper into their territory.
III. Finding What Lies Within
Around 4 am, a pack of dogs, five or so, came running from behind a gate, barking at me. They took over the road. I stopped. Took a step back – then the voice of my Brother, Jeremiah Muhammad, started sounding off in my ears. He was recounting a lecture Minister Farrakhan gave about facing a wolf. “When you know that you are God, everything will bow down to the spirit that you project.”
I stood up straight. Exercised my Will and yelled, “NO!”, at the dogs. Then started walking forward into their midst. Every last one of them retreated back behind the gate they emerged from.
It clicked that my ego did not make those dogs run away. My usage of a principle greater than my individual persona made those dogs retreat. As Bob Marley said, “It was a spiritual thing.”
The sun started coming up around 6 a.m. Those 20 pounds on my back might as well have been 80 pounds. I was exhausted. The bag was sagging. Both feet hurt and I was hobbling like the pro-wrestler, Mick Foley (as Mankind) when the Undertaker nearly killed him in ’98 (Hell in a Cell 2).
At 7:30 a.m., I saw a police car show up. “I’m dead,” I said to myself. My subconscious flashed the Zimmerman trial again. The police officer was thin, white-skinned and wore shades. He asked me what I was doing.
“I’ve gotten a couple of calls about you,” he said.
I fought the fear that was coursing up and down my spine! Quickly, I stated my name, which he did not seem to understand. The Officer understood the word “Alaska.” I fumbled and produced a business card along with my ID.
His entire demeanor changed after he received the business card.
“So, you’re not some bum walking around out here. You look like you could use some water, buddy!” he said.
He refilled my last container to the brim and took out his laptop. I’d walked fifteen miles past the Kenansville sign. I had twelve more miles to go. That was the least of my problems. Apparently, once I got to Kenansville, I still had thirty or so miles to go before Urban America replaced the Country.
“You’re in the most rural part of Osceola County. You’ve got about fifty, sixty miles of just plain nothing in front of you,” he said. “Are you still gonna walk?”
“Thirty-one million children are hungry in this country. Very few people are giving them a voice in Washington, DC. I gotta walk, Sir,” I answered.
He called his station, wished me luck and let me go.
IV. A Heroic Ending
I limped on. I was literally throwing my left foot forward against the intelligence of my body. I chugged half the water I had and felt sweat rinse over me. I chanted spiritual affirmations silently to myself.
At 8:30 a.m. a firefighter stopped in a white truck and asked if he could give me a ride. He bought me two Powerades at the country store in Kenansville and put $20 cash in my pocket. Then, he said that he lived in Vero Beach, Florida. It had a truck stop and motels. If I didn’t mind, he’d love to take me there.
I drank the Powerades and made sure I wasn’t hallucinating again.
“Okay,” I said. “Thank you very much.”
He took my business card and placed it in a pamphlet entitled, “Man of God.”
“You know,” the firefighter said, “I’m helping you out because the Bible states that we should help strangers. We don’t know if we are entertaining angels. God bless you and I pray that you are successful.”
I limped into the truck stop and tried not to cry. In one night I had learned a lot about myself: strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, I learned that when you tap into YOUR humanity, it activates the humanity of others.
Which is powerful.
More powerful than ego.