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A Walk Through Tornado Alley

natchez trace, mississippi

April 2011. Tornadoes ripped through central Mississippi, chewing up forests. Homes. Even whole towns. As I walked through forests yesterday, still decimated almost three years later, I thought back on my second week of walking the Trace.

I never thought anything could be this hard.

It wasn’t enough that the adrenalin from my big start was long gone. That Dad and I were back to our usual patterns of bickering and complaining. That my pinky toes looked like they took a trip through a meat grinder. That I got diarrhea less than two miles into a day and had to go next to a tree, where I ran out of toilet paper and had to spend the remaining thirteen miles smelling like shit.

On top of all that awfulness, I got my period. (As my male readers put their fingers in their ears and chant la-la-la-la-I-am-not-hearing-this.)

I spent two days crying. Two more days fighting off a raging migraine. I was dizzy, and the road tilted sideways as I leaned my pounding head into 30-mile-an-hour gusts of wind. I stopped next to a mile marker—I don’t remember which one—texted MTM and announced that I was quitting.

He didn’t answer. He was in a meeting.

Sobbing, I pressed on.

And, once I had my major meltdown, in the midst of my tears, I came upon a field of wild daffodils. The sun made their yellow heads twinkle and nod. I stumbled into that field, stripped off my backpack, and stretched out with Spring.

When I walked out of that field, I wasn’t the same.

As I strolled past miles of destroyed timber yesterday, I focused on resilience. The trees that soared above the destruction. Those that were chopped off mid-shaft but still sported foliage.

I hope I can be one of those trees.

Click here to see the best photos from Day 15 of my Natchez Trace walk: Andra Watkins Tumblr

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Today’s Reader Question. It’s CARNELL:

100 Comments Post a comment
  1. OK, so you’ve smelled like poo, shot a few people the moon, and walked through a migraine. I am proud of your resilience, Andra, even though you were close to quitting. You know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Keep going! Rah!! Rah!

    March 16, 2014
    • I’m sorry I’ve been so sporadic with comments and visits. The internet at French Camp, MS, where I’ve been for the past few nights, was practically non-existent. I’m in Starkville now at a coffee shop, mooching their wifi. 🙂

      I’m proud of my resilience, too. I have great respect for the boatmen who made this trek without the aid of high-tech athletic wear or comfortable shoes or even decent places to eat and sleep. Much of what I’ve walked through this week was swamp, and those men had to slog through days of wet feet to get home. I hope I’m paying tribute to them by keeping on.

      March 16, 2014
  2. Keep going. I imagine that tornado damage is something to see, but as always, it destroys lives.

    When you get that 3 am call, or the stress piles up, or you really don’t think you’re going to make it.

    What was I thinking?

    We’ve all been there.

    March 16, 2014
    • What’s amazing is how pronounced it is, almost three years on.

      March 16, 2014
  3. Words fail me. It occurs to me that this is your Journal — I’m sure that if we had access to Lewis’ journal, there would be days where he just wanted to give up and die. I’m sure there were also all kinds of things left unsaid…. you, however, are probably more frank than Mr. Lewis, who never had to worry about getting his period on the open trail.
    Thank god for daffodils. I hope you’re recovering your courage and stamina.

    March 16, 2014
    • Surprisingly, Lewis’s journal lacked much introspection. It was more scientific in nature. He knew it would be published, and I’m sure he didn’t want to include things that might mark him as weak. I loved how many times he used the word ‘mortification,’ as those were rare glimpses into things that got to him. I also tried to pepper the book with words he actually used, without making the writing inaccessible to modern readers.

      Lewis did have to doctor all the men who got VD from screwing the natives. He was mortified by that, too. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
      • Well, let’s just hope you don’t suffer too much more mortification, darling.

        March 16, 2014
  4. This post makes me cry, Andra. So proud of you!!!!

    March 16, 2014
    • I will be even prouder of me when I finish. It’s easier to see that now than it was at the beginning.

      March 16, 2014
  5. Have you seen any Malaysian jets on the trace?

    March 16, 2014
    • You know, it’s funny. I walked by a shooting range the other day, and wondered whether I needed to dodge all the gunfire. About that time, I heard a jet fly over. It was overcast, so I couldn’t see it. Maybe it was even the day the Malaysian jet disappeared………….if they wanted to land a plane in the middle of nowhere, this would be the place. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
  6. “Aside from that, Mrs.Lincoln, How was the show?”…all kidding aside. If you can’t change the facts, change the attitude. You know that if you give up, you will never forgive yourself. When you finish the trip, you will never forget the accomplishment. Forge on.

    March 16, 2014
    • I knew I couldn’t quit, even when I said I was quitting. It’s one of those things I needed to put somewhere and move on.

      March 16, 2014
      • Thank you for sharing all parts of your journey. It takes courage to share our humanness with the people we know, much less people “out there” in cyberspace. And it helps to know that there are fields of daffodils when we most need them.

        March 17, 2014
    • Suzanne, I know that field was there for a reason, and at just the right time. 🙂

      March 17, 2014
  7. I couldn’t say it better than Helena did. But just know I’m cheering you forward. I’ve told my friends what you are doing and that you are my hero. I’m so proud of what you are doing. You go, girl.

    March 16, 2014
    • Thanks, Pamela. Experiences are the best part of living life.

      March 16, 2014
  8. ruth sykora #

    I have seen and heard for years about your ability to overcome and push yourself through things that terrify and or push you to your absolute limits ( ie some of your death-defying treks with MTM) but this one really tops it all and I am completely amazed but your fortitude, Andra. Push on! The book is amazing – I am really loving it and history is coming to life through all the characters! A very , very long foot massage is in your future….RS

    March 16, 2014
    • Ruth, you will shriek when you see my feet. You will NOT want to work on them.

      (For everyone else, Ruth is my very amazing masseuse, and I cannot WAIT to see her when I get home.)

      March 16, 2014
  9. Okay, I smell a documentary or something coming out of this. I have more jokes (too many more!), but I’ll save them for now. Well, except this one:

    Oh, all right – and this. I think you need a mild chuckle today.

    Your fortune blew in: “You will now have material for another book after this, but be too damned tired to write it. Fair warning – Lindsay Lohan wants the movie rights, so take your time…”

    March 16, 2014
    • I thought of this movie when I was walking through there yesterday. 🙂

      I’ll get another book out of this. I’m not sure what the narrative trajectory will be right now, but I’m a pantser, so that doesn’t matter.

      March 16, 2014
  10. Hard yes, but concentrate on the lasting memories you are building. There are more fields of flowers ahead of you. Think how nice it will be to see them all.

    March 16, 2014
  11. “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

    Andra, I know it is hard, but you have proven already that you can do whatever you dream. Just take one step at a time. Now I wish I was coming earlier to help you through the hump. 12 days. ❤ Lisa

    March 16, 2014
  12. The worst is surely behind you….. 😀

    You, however, have more than an average share of grit, and you simply are not a quitter! I’m uncertain of your mileage count at this point but, if not now, soon it is all gonna be downhill. You (and we) will be So. Proud. Of. You!! Hugs!

    March 16, 2014
    • Ha. I answered your question in tomorrow’s video. You’re going to remember this comment and LAUGH.

      March 16, 2014
  13. You know, it’s in adversity that we find ourselves. It’s telling that you challenged yourself to walk fifteen miles a day for a month through what’s left of the wilderness along the Natchez Trace – even more so that halfway in, you’re still at it and willing to admit that you’ve had your moments of doubt. This is your adventure, and you’re living it like a boss. Like anyone you move through those unpleasant, dark moments and you find the Sun on the other side; happy to warm you and keep you, to shine upon you and give you peace.

    Honestly, my favorite part of these posts are the video Q&A, where we can really see how strong you are. And honestly, it gives me a chuckle every time you stop to pass the card before the camera.

    You’re doing well, and I meant it when I said you’re my hero. Right now, you’re living a serious adventure, not unlike the explorers of the past. You deserve a fist bump. Pow.

    March 16, 2014
    • Pow right back at you, Rob.

      I absolutely HATE seeing myself on video, so these are really hard for me. I’m glad people like them, and I know it’s a more personal connection.

      March 16, 2014
      • Same here. I don’t sound the way I do to myself, rather less manly, and then I don’t look or act the way I think I do. For me, at least, it’s a very finely filtered self-criticism.

        March 16, 2014
  14. All I can do is laugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 16, 2014
  15. If you made it through that day and kept going, you can make it through anything and keep going. You’ve got this (as well as anything else life throws at you).

    March 16, 2014
    • I think about people like you a lot on this trek. I know you’ve been through trials like this, and you made it. Your strength gives me strength, if that makes sense. You don’t know how many times I’ve thought of your marathon post during this walk. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
  16. Tornado damage is quite amazing, devastation, inspiring, awesome. I’m so glad you found the daffodils. You can do this!

    March 16, 2014
    • I’m a little ahead of Spring this year, but I wanted to get ahead of the bugs and humidity. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
  17. Your answer to Carnell begs a followup! Who has “caught” you and how did they react?

    I am glad to see you are pushing on (and on and on) through the doubt and the muck. I am sure I have thrown this at you before but it is always appropriate:

    “The Road goes ever on and on
    Down from the door where it began.
    Now far ahead the Road has gone,
    And I must follow, if I can,
    Pursuing it with weary feet,
    Until it joins some larger way
    Where many paths and errands meet.
    And whither then? I cannot say.”

    Tolkien

    March 16, 2014
    • I got your question, and I will answer it at some point. I’ve got such a backlog of them, and I cringe every time I make a video. I just hate my voice. One of my acting teachers used to get in my face and scream at me about my voice. “Voice in the body! Voice in the body!” I can do it, but hell, why give readers a false impression of what I sound like?

      March 16, 2014
  18. Andra! Courage personified!!

    March 16, 2014
    • Thanks, Carolyn. I felt like stupidity personified several times last week. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
  19. menomama3 #

    Naughty Carnell! And very resilient you. Walk on, Andra. You’re AWESOME!

    March 16, 2014
  20. I’m adding my small voice to those of other readers who are emotionally supporting you. I don’t know if you meditate during your walks, but perhaps you can think of all the love that surrounds you…like the daffodils, shining, bright and nodding our heads in assent to your unspoken question, “Will I finish?”

    I’m with others who have said that you will celebrate the accomplishment of completion.

    However, if you need to for reasons of healing or health, can you cut your daily walks down a bit (stretching out the whole, but lessening the punishment on your toes?)

    March 16, 2014
    • I can’t cut down the length of the walks and finish on time. Fifteen miles is what I must do. However, I have been stretching them to 5 1/2 hours. Still a decent pace, but I’m not so knackered at the end. (I don’t know how that will change as I get into the mountainous part of Tennessee.)

      March 16, 2014
  21. “Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all the dark confusions of the soul – but so have we. You found the earth too great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the hunger and desire that fed on them – but it has been this way with all men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way, but, child, this is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savored all of life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us – we call upon you to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.”
    ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

    With you in spirit…Hugs.

    March 16, 2014
    • Lovely, Laura. Thank you.

      March 16, 2014
      • I know you like Wolfe as much as I do. He is an inspiration as are you! That particular passage is very moving, isn’t it? I thought of you when I picked up Look Homeward Angel.

        March 16, 2014
  22. You got this.

    March 16, 2014
    • My guideson’s mom (and my dear friend) dedicated this Cake song to me a long time ago. I still like it:

      March 16, 2014
  23. Is there anything, other than basic words of encouragement, I could tender to you Andra? It seems like there could be something else, but I’m at a loss to know the right thing. Is there a “right thing” I can do for you?

    March 16, 2014
  24. You just described my #1 concern when I’m out on long hikes and walks: having to go #2. I am totally 100% okay with peeing outdoors. I do it all the time because my bladder is the size of a pea, and I have no problem with it, dropping trou at the faintest hint of needing to go. But doing the other… my worst nightmare. Because I know, like you, it would be diarrhea.

    So let’s recap: diarrhea in the bush, without enough TP, a raging migraine and your period. The universe threw everything it had at you, Andra. And you stared the universe down and told it to kiss your shit-smelling ass. YOU WON.

    You. Are. A. Warrior.

    March 16, 2014
    • I said I would never do #2 outside. That’s why I had to, and it had to be of the thunderclapper variety. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
      • The two of us together would be devastating for the environment with our dueling thunderclappers.

        March 16, 2014
      • God love ya’!! Not sure who’s funnier, you or nancytex2013!

        March 16, 2014
    • If there were a LIKE button like on Facebook I would have clicked on it for this post. Well said!

      March 16, 2014
  25. Maybe you should go easy with the schedule, less miles a day, more rest, etc. Its cruel to force a schedule upon yourself during a difficult task, you wont have time to properly assimilate whats going on in mind and body, neither recuperate when needed. I know it may go against the personal and professional plans, but a good administrator (storyteller) knows how to adapt the plans as you apply them in reality.

    This is what makes stories real, and great, everybody can say “I went to the moon, and it was pretty”, but if you really went to the moon…

    March 16, 2014
    • I can’t do fewer miles a day, but I can take my time. That’s how I’ve adapted my schedule.

      March 16, 2014
  26. Go, go, go, Andra! I’m adding my voice to cheer you on. Your posts and video Q&A are something that I look forward to every day. You are such an inspiration. I could never do what you are doing.

    March 16, 2014
    • I didn’t think I could do it, either, Donna. That’s why I’m doing it. 🙂

      March 16, 2014
  27. You were one of my heroes before, but now…. YOU ARE WAY UP THERE, ANDRA! Wow. I bow to your strength and perseverance.

    March 16, 2014
  28. tarakianwarrior #

    :*-)

    March 16, 2014
  29. Look how far you’ve walked already! I’m rooting for you, Andra! You can do this. XO

    March 16, 2014
    • Laurence, your daily texts are notes I sometimes read 50 times. You don’t know how much they mean to me. Thank you.

      March 16, 2014
  30. Andra, you are an inspiration as you keep on keeping on despite the obstacles. I love your videos along with your posts. Thank you for taking the time to do this journal and sharing it with us all. I had to laugh at Carnell’s question and your response was priceless. 🙂 Maybe some questions should be left un asked? LOL (P.S. I hope you get to my question. :)) Maybe there is a special place for those questions and I missed it?

    March 16, 2014
    • James, did you send me a question? I haven’t seen one from you.

      March 17, 2014
  31. i’m so happy you didn’t give up andra. isn’t it amazing how things fall right in front of our eyes, right when we need them ? hugs

    March 16, 2014
    • Even when I typed that I was quitting, I knew I wouldn’t. Sometimes, we just need to put those things somewhere and leave them there.

      March 17, 2014
  32. Not sure what happened to my earlier comment, but welcome to my day.

    Anyway, glad to know I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree. Or bush. I would have taken that as a sign. 😉

    March 16, 2014
  33. Andra, I wish I’d had your spunk and courage when I was your age. I so admire your determination. You are my hero. I have no doubt you will finish this walk. I wish your aunts could be there in person cheering you on. Just know we are cheering from where we are. And long live Voodoo Lou!!

    March 16, 2014
    • Thanks, Aunt Wanda. Spunk, courage and determination runs high with the women in our family. 🙂 (Voodoo Lou survived.)

      March 17, 2014
  34. Point out that field of daffodils, will ya? I need to walk through it.
    Carry on, baby, you’re doing great!!

    March 16, 2014
    • Surely they’ll start blooming soon in CO. Winter has got to end for everyone.

      March 17, 2014
  35. You certainly have been put through the wringer this past week. Every step this next week puts you beyond your half-way mark and closer to the goal. I think sometimes telling ourselves we really do have the power to quit, helps remind us that we also have the ability to keep it up! We are all so proud of you, but I hope more than that, you’re proud of yourself! 🙂

    March 16, 2014
    • I’m surprised at myself more than anything. Next time I want to stop holding a pose in yoga class because I’m tired, I’m going to remember how many miles I walked when I was exhausted.

      March 17, 2014
  36. Sometimes you have to vent out the fear and frustration to make room for the strength and resiliency deep within you.

    March 17, 2014
    • That’s the way I’ve always been. Glad to know I’m not alone, Marie.

      March 17, 2014
      • Oh, indeed, you are not alone, Andra 🙂

        March 18, 2014
  37. Full of admiration. I am of the opinion that if you don’t succeed at first, fuck it….I didn’t want to do it anyway. With my sort of pioneering spirit, Columbus wouldn’t have left port yet:)

    March 17, 2014
    • But you keep entering photography competitions and the like. You have a pioneering spirit of a different kind, Roger. 🙂

      March 17, 2014
  38. I had no idea you’d felt so bad. You did so well to push on through it all. (Periods just make me want to curl up in a ball even when I’m in the comfort of home, so to have all the rest as well must have been so difficult.) I hope this week is more pleasant for you. For what it’s worth, I am really enjoying following your trip across the airwaves.

    PS you do seem to get a lot of questions on the subject of bathroom duties, don’t you?! 😀

    March 17, 2014
    • YES! And I’ve got another one in the queue. People seem to be fascinated with the bathroom bits.

      March 17, 2014
  39. I admire you. I don’t know if i could say i would have kept going.

    March 17, 2014
    • Laura, it’s hard to quit when I’ve made such a public commitment. That’s part of it.

      March 17, 2014
      • Very true. I still admire you 🙂

        March 22, 2014
  40. This post reminded me of my own experience last year hiking the 900km Bruce Trail in Ontario … the bites on my backside from the bugs, the blisters, the tears shed, the nausea, the doubt, the times I wanted to quit but kept putting one foot in front of the other. I feel your pain – it’s very real to me.
    You will finish. You will feel relieved, proud, and extraordinarily happy. That is what keeps you going 🙂

    March 17, 2014
    • Thanks, Joanne. Encouragement from someone who’s walked even further is such a gift. I can pull from it at my lowest moments.

      March 17, 2014
      • Just remember that you’re awesome. Not many people would even attempt what you are doing … ESPECIALLY because of the bad days 🙂

        March 17, 2014
  41. Reading this made me realize why Merriweather might have taken his own life. 😐

    March 17, 2014
    • People like Meriwether Lewis endured much more discomfort than I’ll ever know. (Okay, he didn’t have to deal with a period, but still.)

      March 17, 2014
  42. *Gives you a hug*
    Wishing you the best in the rest of your journey.

    March 17, 2014
    • Thanks. Fewer miles to go than I’ve already done. 🙂

      March 17, 2014
  43. I absolutely could not do what you’re doing now, you are impressive Andra, truly! A real badass in my eyes!

    March 18, 2014

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