I knew in the back of my mind for a while that I was going to walk so when I awoke that Saturday morning and received the command I wasnít entirely surprised. The spirit that commanded me to leave was powerful enough to convince me to quietly leave everything I owned and everyone I knew and loved and run to God out in the streets. My delusion was that I was a biblical figure and that I would be hunted and killed out in the streets. For quite some time now I had been having thoughts that I would be tortured and murdered a thousand different ways. My thinking was, they can kill my body but I wonít let them have my soul. So I got up that morning and the God of Love told me to leave immediately. He told me what to wear, blue jeans, a blue T-shirt, and a single light tan corduroy jacket. My God told me to put my Bible in my jacket pocket and leave. I donít believe I was running away, I believe I was running toÖ God for help.
I walked right past my roommate who was asleep on the couch and I drove to the Day Labor place where I had been working the past few days. Iím not sure why because I knew I was leaving, but I was responding to the voice that was commanding my every step. As I waited at Labor ready for work I remember some men next to me talking about the Bible and something came over me that commanded me to walk. I got up and left. I walked right past my truck. I just kept walking. I walked through downtown Long Beach to the 605 freeway. When I got to the wash that runs along the 605 freeway I heard the voice within my mind commanding me to take off my shoes. I didnít want to but the voice kept repeating it, and I obeyed. I took off my shoes and socks and kept walking. Something told me to take off my $300 watch and lay it on the ground, then my car keys , then the money in my pocket. I left everything behind and kept walking without knowing where I was going or what lay ahead.
I spoke to God; I cried and I kept saying ďAre you there God?Ē This was the first time I can remember speaking to Him and feeling as though He was responding to me. The voice that I heard from God was not audible but it came to me as a thought and I began to intuitively trust that God was guiding me, which is why He had me leave every object I owned behind so that I would learn to trust Him for every single thing. As I said before, there was also a demonic presence and I was completely delusional and wholly convinced that I was never going to live through this, which is also why I held so tightly on to God. I walked for 5 days with no shoes.
I had already been walking for three weeks in Los Angeles when Nick found me at a shelter in Coachella. Nick and my family, who had flown out to Long Beach when I disappeared, had put up missing posters all over southern California. I saw the picture when I checked into the mission but I thought no one would recognize me in my condition and no one said a thing to me. They had noticed, though, because Nick had showed up some time in the middle of the night and woke me up in my bunk. I love Nick but I wasnít very happy to see him because I didnít want any interference and I knew he would try to stop me from walking. We stayed up all night talking as I rambled on about my delusions and he just listened. Then he got us a hotel and I agreed to stay with him for the night.
The visions and the delusions were very powerful at this point, and physically I felt I had a supernatural strength and energy. My sense of purpose and resolve was like it had never been before and I could walk forever without resting which is what I did the next day with Nick by my side. He never told me that he had called my family and that my father was on a plane to California as we walked 14 miles together that day. At a gas station he used the phone and told me that his girlfriend Megan was on her way with my father to pick us up. This wasnít my plan so when they arrived and wanted me to go with them I refused. So they physically picked me up and put me in the car. I didnít resist. I just went limp as I didnít want physical confrontation with anyone. I just prayed and left it up to God who I believe wanted me to walk. He did and I would.
On the car ride back to Nickís place my father had convinced me to fly home to Maryland back to my very distraught mother who I spoke to on the phone. So we went to the airport and I boarded a plane with my father. Like I said before, this wasnít God's plan, and just as the plane left the terminal, heart pounding, I had the impulse to stand up and shout ďI want off.Ē The stewardess immediately told the pilot to back up to the terminal and my Dad and I stepped off.
So we got off the plane and then I had to talk to airport security. My father and Nick wanted them to do something to keep me from leaving but there was nothing they could do and they wouldnít get involved. We went back to Meganís place and they told me they would take me back to Palm Desert so I could resume my walk. They secretly had other plans. Nick and my father had contacted a hospital in Escondido and in the morning they told me they were taking me back to the Coachella mission. I knew something was wrong on the drive because we were going a different way and when we were about to turn into the hospital I panicked. They locked the doors but as we pulled in I unlocked my door and tried to jump out.
Nick stopped the car and my foot got caught under the tire so I couldnít run. They both grabbed me so I submitted, calmed down, and agreed to go into the hospital. I immediately started talking to the hospital workers pleading my case explaining to them that it was my own rational decision to walk. Somehow in the midst of my insanity God gave me the presence of mind to pretend to be rational and it turns out that as long as Iím no danger to myself or others they canít hold me. It was kind of sad and my father wept.
It was the only time I had ever seen him cry. I loved them both but I had to go. They were very disappointed that the hospital wouldnít hold me but there was nothing else they could do. We said goodbye in the parking lot and from there I started walking again.
When I reflect back on that moment as I headed down State Hwy 78 towards Anza Borrego Desert State Park, I remember feeling a great relief; and I knew, especially from what had just happened, that this was Godís will for me. I was still very afraid to go but I had to, I absolutely had to, nothing else in the world mattered. I was running to God and away from the world in what was a matter of life and death for my soul. I never planned on living through it. The song by U2, ďWhere the streets have no nameĒ takes me back to that place. ďI want to run, I want to hideÖand when I go, I go there with You, itís all I can doÖ Where the streets have no nameĒ. Itís kind of funny to me now Peter and Iíve heard you refer to music alsoÖ how it has affected you during your illness and how the schizophrenic mind can take the poetry so personally, thatís the way it was for me with many songs and I would sing to myself and to God as I walked down the highway.
I headed for Joshua Tree. I had no objective other than that. I went through Ocotillo Wells, Brawley, and Niland. I went through Bombay Beach and the Salton Sea, where I slept on the beach with a lot of dead fish. There were storms, and border patrol looking for illegals. I ran into some of them, we were friendly towards each other although we could not communicate.
At this point I was still using money and I would find change along the road. Not much but I could buy a cheap box of generic cookies 2 for a $1; and in Bombay Beach a woman I met at a church let me do some work in her yard for $20. I bought food for myself and a border crosser I met at a general store. I slept on the ground out of site, in ditches or drain tunnels, under bridges if it was raining.
Photo © National Geographic
the park. In as few words as possible I explained to him that I had already been foundÖ and released. He let me walk through the park and that night I slept on the floor in one of the parks public bathrooms to stay dry. The next day I discreetly dug through some of the trash cans at the camp sites doing my best to go unnoticed.
Leaving Bombay Beach, I got caught in a downpour and got soaked, which is pretty miserable when you have nothing else to wear. The cool part was that as the storm advanced in front of me along the highway, the most vivid, beautiful rainbow appeared and that was the first time I ever saw a rainbow and felt as though God made it just for me Ė unforgettable. I continued on towards Joshua Tree through a place called Mecca and the Orocopia Mountains on a back road with few travelers. I crossed the I-10 freeway into Joshua Tree National Park.
It was starting to rain as I began walking through the park and a ranger drove by and stopped. He wanted to check me out and it didnít take him long to recognize me from the missing posters that Nick had posted in
I must not have found enough food because I remember approaching a camper to ask if he had any extra bread he could spare. He gave me a half loaf of bread and I moved along through the park. The ranger who had spotted me the day before stopped me again and told me not to beg for food. So I left the park in a hurry. I walked 27 miles that day through most of the park. That night in the mountains was one of the coldest I can remember. It was still February and I found an open campsite and under the cover of darkness gathered up left over wood from other campsites and made myself a fire. As long as I stayed near the fire I was fine, but when I ran out of wood I was freezing.
Walking always warms you up so I left before dawn. I canít remember if I slept at all. I made it through the park in two days and I was in 29 Palms. There is a Marine Corps base so the whole town as far as I could tell was military. I approached some ladies at a church to ask for food and they kindly gave me $10 and told me of another church where I might get a meal. I rested that day. I bought some donuts and some socks at a thrift store. You can imagine with all that walking how important clean socks were. The next day, I started walking West and I didnít have a map so I had no idea how far the next town was. I stopped at the last place I saw as I left 29 Palms. I asked the man at the bar how far it was to the next town and he told me 100 miles. I didnít have much water but I think I filled up one or two soda bottles at the spigot outside. For some reason I thought I could make it and I believed God would get me through it so I headed out into the desert. I walked day and night, 60 miles without stopping. I drank the half full, warm liquid in the soda bottles I found on the side of the road. I camped in the desert and had a fire. In two and a half days I made it to Vidal Junction. I accepted a ride the last 5 miles and the man gave me $5 and I bought a burrito at the only little store at the intersection. I rested and slept. The next day it was a days journey to the bridge that crossed the Colorado River into Parker, Arizona.
Right before I crossed the bridge into Parker, a cop stopped me asking to see my I.D. He questioned me for a while and checked to see if I had any warrants. He wasnít very friendly. I think he was hoping I was a fugitive or something, but he found nothing and let me go. When I got into town I was starving. Somewhere along the way I had discovered that grocery stores yielded the most abundant and sanitary garbage. So I found a place called Bashas supermarket. You often find a lot of packaged, expired baked goods.
Iím not proud of it, but this was how I learned to survive. I ate and walked around town. I went down to the banks of the river below the bridge and rested. I prayed and read the Bible. That night I slept in an alley behind a shopping center. I remember being awakened by headlights. It was another cop and he wasnít friendly either. He handcuffed me and searched me. He even looked through my Bible to see if I had anything illegal. He said he was going to arrest me for overnight camping or trespassing or something; but he changed his mind and told me to leave town. I walked a little ways that night until I was a few miles outside the city limits and I camped for the night. The next day I headed north towards Lake Havasu.
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