I left Taneytown, Maryland on September 9, 2002. I had a backpack, Bible, and a blanket. I may have had a change of clothes. I don’t remember. I had no money and no plans as to where I was headed. I walked west through Emmitsburg toward Thurmont. I took my first dumpster dive in over a year at a gas station near Emmitsburg.
I remember what a dark time it was for me, unlike the first journey. I felt no supernatural power and I had no resolve. I was simply walking out of shear desperation. I was under a very dark cloud of demonic oppression. I was overcome by the presence of evil and I could feel the demons invading my mind. I was pleading with God to forgive me and restore my fellowship with Him. I walked, stopping only to eat, pray, or sleep. I sought the Lord through Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O’ God, According to thy Loving kindness: According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions….” It took quite a long time to get the sense that God was with me again, but the feeling did return after some time.
I walked through Catoctin Mountain State Park, digging through dumpsters along the way. At the park I got off the main highway and headed down some back roads through the park. I remember searching the trash cans in the park for food. I took the back roads to Hagerstown. I remember eating cake behind a supermarket.
I think it was Hagerstown where I lost my gear. I hid it behind a Harley Davidson motorcycle shop and I left to go hunt for food and when I returned it was gone. I had nothing, no bed roll, no warm clothes, and no Bible. I remember trying to sleep on a bench that night at a strip mall, if I even slept at all. I moved on mourning the loss of my Bible mostly. I headed west again. I can’t recall what towns I went through in Western Maryland; but I was headed towards Cumberland and I don’t recall if I even considered where I was going or what direction at this point. I was just walking to walk.
On the way to Cumberland, I remember being in a small town and it was starting to get cold and I had very little clothing and no blanket. I knocked at the door of a hotel or bed and breakfast type old farmhouse and politely asked for a blanket. The place was owned and run by Amish people. They were kind and they could see I was desperate. They brought me a handmade quilt. I thanked them and left.
I decided to go into a cornfield to sleep for the night where I would be hidden, but right before that I had been stopped by a state trooper who had probably heard about me from the Amish people. He didn’t hassle me too much. I guess enough people in the town had heard about me by now. As I was camped out in the cornfield, I could hear a crowd of people searching for me. After they left, I got up and decided to leave town because I didn’t want to be bothered even by good intentions. As it was getting dark and I was trying to leave, a man in a SUV stopped and asked me if he could rent me a room. I was uneasy about it but I agreed. Looking back I could see what a kind gesture it was, but at the time I was reluctant to accept it.
I stayed at the room that night, but I’m sure I would have been more comfortable outside. I felt panicked in that room. I felt separated from God and His presence. I felt like I was surrounded by demons and that I couldn’t trust anyone. I remember looking at the Gideon’s Bible in the room and it was red. The color of it felt symbolic to me of the fact that I had fallen away from God and now his Word was the color of flames and that I could no longer be in His presence. I hated being inside. I wanted to be out there alone with God and away from everything else in the world. I was very sad and lonely. I barely slept that night and in the morning I left in a hurry.
Something happened to me that night that made me decide not to seek or accept help from anyone anymore. I would no longer accept anything –food, clothing, money, rides from anyone. I left my quilt behind and moved on. I decided to let God make all my provisions. From now on everything I needed I would find, not steal –mind you – outside or mostly in the dumpster. I would have everything I needed. I got my clothes and shoes when I needed them at Good Will and mission store dumpsters. My food I got from dumpsters at supermarkets, restaurants, etc. It would be a long time before I accepted help from anyone again, until God released me from that commitment, a commitment to let Him provide everything for me providentially.
I headed west towards Cumberland. I really don’t remember much about this part of my journey. What I do recall was that in Cumberland I saw a lot of trains and that there was a giant dumpster at K-Mart filled with expired cookies and candy…I moved on.
I went through Frostburg and it was raining. I got there at night and I had no blanket and I was cold. I stayed up late that night walking around town, combing the alley ways. For some reason I couldn’t find any food because I was in a part of town where there were no restaurants, supermarkets, or hotels. I was also in a desperate need of a warm blanket and a dry place to sleep. I stayed up late and I found a thin white sheet to use as a blanket. It was a rough night.
I headed south through Deep Creek Lake. I remember being encouraged when I saw a 'sun dog' (mini rainbow) in the sky. I wondered and I prayed that it was a sign from God that He was with me. It brought hope, but I was still a long ways away from sensing God’s presence. There was very little to be cheerful about, just countless dumpsters and gloomy days. There was a long stretch of rainy and overcast weather that lasted well into West Virginia.
According to my map, which I traced my path on when I first got home, I went down 219 through Western, Maryland to route 50 in West Virginia. It was a remote and mountainous region. Walking through that country was strenuous and there was nowhere to find food except private residential garbage cans, so I ate very little and I walked with an urgency from hunger’s sake. It felt a little like the deliverance movie walking through this area. You could tell it was a very poor area. People’s houses were old and dilapidated and the children played barefoot in the yards. People stared in astonishment at me as I walked down the road; but I looked straight ahead or down at my feet as I traveled by. I was extra skittish and paranoid of people while I was in West Virginia.
It was near Grafton that one day I walked out into the woods and I spent the whole day there just lying down, praying, and fasting. I wanted to do everything in my power to be released from Satan’s grip and be restored by God’s Holy Spirit. I fasted for 24 hours and then in the morning I went into town to search for food. I left in a hurry and headed towards Clarksburg.
Clarksburg was a big town and I ate well there. I stayed for a day or two resting and exploring behind strip malls and shopping centers. I wasn’t just looking for food. I was looking for clothes, shoes, books, etc., anything essential that I could use that wouldn’t weigh me down. What I really wanted was a Bible and I considered asking for one at a hotel, but I decided against it. Not just because of the pact, but also because I didn’t trust any other translation of God’s Word except King James. I don’t feel that way now, but back then I thought in my delusional thinking that God’s Word had been tampered with in these other translations from evil motives. Anyway, at this point I still had no Bible, but I would find one eventually. I drew near to God in prayer continually and it was in Clarksburg that I decided to try to fast for 72 hours with the hope that if I could do it, God would draw near to me.
I headed down Interstate 79. It is a very long walk all the way to Charleston. Now typically, cops won’t let you walk on interstates and I got stopped at least twice on 79, but for some reason they let me pass. This stretch of road was a rough one because I was still praying really hard that God would help me. I stopped every few hours to go into the woods and kneel down and pray and to seek God with everything I had; but in my mind there was so much darkness and I could only feel the grip that the demons had on me. Delusions invaded my mind and I was beginning to believe again that I was an important biblical figure who was going to be murdered. I saw pictures in my mind’s eye of a pentagram with a number on it seared into my forehead as if I belonged to Satan, but that was a fate I could not accept and these were my motives for running towards God like a frightened child. As I ran down that stretch of highway in West Virginia the voices in my head were telling me that I was in Witches’ country and that I was surrounded by people practicing witchcraft and the occult. I feared for my life again both spiritually and physically everyday.
Small towns all the way down I-79 provided food. People who saw me walking on the Interstate stopped to ask me if I needed a ride or to leave food and money on the side of the road. Both of which I refused. I kept moving, averaging twenty miles a day. That was my average distance, but some days I went much further. I remember being in a town called Burnsville where a man had bought me a meal at a fast food place and he wanted me to take it which I refused. He also kept trying to get me to go to a park with him and I think he had something sexual in mind. Anyway, I refused his offer and advances, but he got a little mad and aggressive. It didn’t really matter to me that he was offended especially since he seemed to affirm the fact that I was indeed being preyed upon.
He wasn’t exactly the type of predator that I was imagining was after me; nevertheless, I still saw myself as a sheep among wolves quite literally. My way of dealing with people was to just say “no thank you” and walk away. That was how it was continually, but looking back I can say for sure that he was in the “one percentile,” and that all the other help that I rejected, help was offered out of kindness and love.
Several hundred miles later I was in Charleston. I remember walking at night to get there, which I occasionally did if I was close to a town and I was hungry. But I preferred to sleep at night and walk during the day. I thought of what Jesus said “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.”
When I got into town that night it was drizzling and nothing in town was open, except a few gas stations. I dug through some dumpsters and I’m sure I ate, but I think it took a lot of searching to find enough food to satisfy me. I stayed maybe one or two days in Charleston and because of my love/hate relationship with big towns, (I loved that there was food. I hated that I felt God’s presence less because of the distractions there.) I left in a hurry. I headed south away from Huntington, I believe, but I know that there were still a lot of businesses on the way out of Charleston where I was able to stop and scavenge for food as I left town.
I kept walking into Kentucky. I can’t remember much about it. I just remember at some point ending up in Pikeville, which is south near the western tip of Virginia. Looking back, all I remember about this time period was that it rained a lot. I also remember a couple of girls asking me if I needed a ride just outside of Pikeville on Rte. 119. I refused of course, but I counted it a strange thing that these girls wanted to pick me up considering my condition and appearance. It was probably nothing more than a good will gesture.
I was only in Kentucky for a few days and then I was in Virginia and I was only in Virginia for a couple of days as well. You’ll have to look at a map to see what I’m talking about, but I was in an area of the country where all these states converge and I went from West Virginia to Kentucky to Virginia and then to Tennessee in a very short period of time. I remember crossing the border into Virginia. I stopped at a gas station to search their dumpster for food. I mostly found bread and pastries along with hot dogs and tacos at gas stations; but I will note that I wouldn’t eat any meat out of the dumpster or at all for that matter while I was on the road. I just ate the donuts and pastries that had expired. Not eating meat probably saved me from getting sick a lot more while I was out there, even though it was God who ultimately kept me alive and well through it all. Anyway, at this particular gas station, I had to get in the dumpster to search through the bags and then a couple of guys came out and threw some bags on top of me as I hid in there. It seemed as though they would never stop talking and leave. One of the guys was talking about getting a gun and shooting someone and I thought he was talking about me even though he didn’t see me and he was really just joking with the other man, but I was scared and although I was mentally really out there, I wasn’t beyond feeling embarrassed about getting caught in dumpsters looking for food. The humiliation was like dying and I died a little every time I dove into a dumpster.
Let’s back up for a minute, Peter. I want to recall a few things that happened somewhere between West Virginia and Tennessee. One was that I had found a green tarp to use as a blanket and to shield me from the rain. I found it on the side of the road. Someone had probably lost it while driving. It wasn’t in the best condition, but it was better than nothing for now. Secondly, I want to recall a fast I had somewhere. It was only a one day fast up on a high hill overlooking the freeway. I think it was in West Virginia. I had decided to spend the Sabbath day fasting and praying, so I climbed a great big hill, spread out my tarp and lay there to sleep and meditate. I got up only to pray. Now, I had noticed, as I was walking down I-79 that large birds were always circling the highway ahead of me. I had begun to follow them. Deciding which roads to take according to the way the birds went. But at this point, up until this day, this act of faith was something I was uncertain about. Was God using birds to help guide me?
So I’m sitting on this hill, resting and praying, resisting my hunger for food, when I must have fallen asleep. When I awoke there was a flock of those large birds, turkey vultures, the ones I had been watching, hovering over me and I was sure that they were from God and that they were being led by angels to assure me of God’s presence and His guidance. This was the sign from heaven that I had needed to affirm that God was indeed with me and hope was restored. I still expected to die. It was just that now I believed that God had forgiven me and that he was in control of my fate.
And then something else occurred that reassured me that God was with me. One night I was sleeping behind a dumpster at a hotel, when someone threw a couple bags of trash over the wall on top of me. It made me feel really sad, like I was a piece of garbage. But that night I had a dream. I saw my beloved dog Sox perched upon a post with wings like an eagle. He looked majestic like a lion with wings and in his eyes I saw the wisdom and power of God. Words were spoken into my mind “…and then the spring came, and all the fowls of heaven….” and that was all that was said, but I trusted that it was a Word from God that I must continue, but that Heaven was with me. I understood this as a vision from God. I had believed for some time that God had been using Sox to show me what His love was like – unconditional and forever loyal. OK, so I believe that God uses animals to interact with us, especially dogs. After all, dog spelled backwards is God and have you ever experienced unconditional love and acceptance from anyone more than your dog? I have not.
So anyway, I have this vision of God as my dog and an eagle. The next day as I’m walking down a mountain into a valley, very beautiful to look at on a gorgeous fall day, two hawks circle above the highway in front of me over the valley below. I trusted now that the Lord was with me and would guide me wherever I was going through whatever lay ahead. Now Peter, I know that a lot of what was going on in my mind was lunacy and that many would say that it is crazy to believe that I was being guided by God through nature and birds, but my response would be that they had never been to the place of complete despair and utter reliance on God. I believed and I still do believe that to know God, you must have faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God”. With it God will reveal himself in many unbelievable and supernatural ways. This I know you believe Peter.
So, I have no recollection of what was in Virginia except that dumpster incident. I know I traveled through it fast as it was only the western tip of the state and the next thing I knew I was crossing the state line into Bristol, Tennessee. I fasted all the way through Bristol. I walked right through the city without stopping to look for food. I watched the birds and the large ones were still there on the road ahead even through the city. I walked hurriedly all day until I was through Bristol. The next place I remember was Knoxville and I did the same thing there. I walked right through it without stopping, which is hard to do when you’re hungry and you know that there is food around, but I didn’t want to be in a big city. I felt paranoid and anxious. There was an unnatural feeling I had when I was near all the commotion in the city. My senses were overloaded and it was hard to concentrate on prayer. That was Knoxville. I went through it in one day.
Another thing about Tennessee I remember is sleeping in barns. I don’t recall where or when it started, but once I did it the first time I was hooked. I did it to stay dry and warm, and although I didn’t feel good about trespassing, I felt as though I had to do it. I spoke to the Lord about it and my conscience was relieved. I never stole anything and I always left things exactly the way they were before I slept there. Between Tennessee and Georgia I spent the night in many haylofts nestled with my tarp in big bails of hay. It really helped keep me warm as it was November and it was really getting cold at night. I would cover up with the tarp and get between the bails and pile loose hay on top of me for warmth. I would always keep an empty plastic bottle to pee in so I wouldn’t have to move at night.
I remember one night sneaking into a barn. I was always careful not to be seen. There was a storm brewing and it was really bad. I climbed into the hayloft and made my bed. There were intense thunderstorms all night long and it was hard to sleep. I remember how glad I was to have a safe, dry place to sleep that night, because there were many nights when I did not. I thought the roof was going to blow off the barn that night. A couple days later when I was reading yesterdays newspapers, I read that there had been several tornadoes in that area and they had caused some major damages.
Another night, at dusk, I started walking across a field towards a farmer’s barn to spend the night. Over the fence and past the cows, just as it was getting dark I climbed into the hayloft thinking I had gone unnoticed. Then a voice started calling me out, “Get down from there, I saw you go in there”. I responded “Yes sir.” sheepishly. When I came down the farmer and his whole family had come out. It looked like I had interrupted his supper. He took one look at me and said “You’re up against it aren’t you son.” “Yes”, I said. His whole family was staring at me. He asked if he could help or if I needed a meal. I said “no”, and then I practically ran away. That was the only time I got caught sneaking into barns.
After Knoxville, my next memory is of Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. It’s amazing how I can remember some things so vividly and then there are whole blocks of time that I remember nothing at all. I’m really grateful to God that I wrote down most of my memories during the first two years of being home. Going into Pigeon Forge, I had been fasting. In fact, I must have been fasting since Knoxville because I believe it had been three days since I had eaten anything and I fought with myself as I walked not to stop at all the many places where I could have found food. So, I walked past all those businesses praying and watching the birds. I walked all day through Pigeon Forge into Gatlinburg. It was a really interesting area with a lot of tourist attractions, condos, and restaurants. I guess because of Dollywood, Smokey Mountain National Park, and the ski resorts, that it was a really popular place that time of year, which was probably around thanksgiving. It was really crowded. There were people all over the streets from an outdoor concert. I walked through all the commotion until I got to the far end of town where things were a little less chaotic. I went behind a building and found some cardboard boxes to make myself a shelter to shield my body from the cold. I went to sleep hungry.
In the morning it had been four days since I had eaten. I remember because that was the first time I had gone that long without eating. I couldn’t hold out any longer so I went behind a breakfast restaurant and found some pancakes in a togo box. I ate and I don’t remember if I enjoyed it or not. I want to point out as well, Peter, that at this point fasting had become the goal of my walk. God had revealed to me one night behind a strip mall that he wanted me to fast, but I took it myself to mean that I must starve myself to death. My delusional mind that had me believing once again that I was being hunted also had me thinking that I was to hasten that death through starvation. At some point fasting became my obsession.
I headed south on the road that led through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I passed the visitors center and headed up the mountain. All day I walked up the winding road climbing to the top. Tourists drove slow stopping to take pictures from the scenic overlooks. I hiked up the mountain as fast as I could. As I reached the top, it got really cold and there was snow on the ground. It was beautiful at the top. I could see forever in the distance, but I didn’t stop to take it in. I knew I had to get to the bottom of the mountain before nightfall and to find a place to sleep before I froze to death. The top of that mountain was the border of Tennessee and western North Carolina. I descended that mountain as fast as I could, racing to beat nightfall, searching for a place to sleep. It got dark and there was no place to rest except the open forest and I desperately wanted to find a barn or an abandoned building. Some place to offer some shelter from the freezing wind. I found a horse’s stable where travelers could keep their horses overnight. It was empty and dark. I lay down in a horses stall and covered up with my tarp. Somehow I fell asleep, but I awoke before sunrise freezing. There was frost on the ground and I was damp with mud or horse manure, I’m not sure which. I began walking to try to warm up. I was so cold.
Before I knew it, I was on the Cherokee Indian reservation. I walked straight through it. I walked until midday where I stopped in some small town to eat. I ate and moved on. I walked through North Carolina into Georgia.
It’s amazing that I can hardly remember anything about Georgia. It was such a long walk too. I knew I was headed towards Atlanta and I wanted to avoid it so I did what I was kind of against doing. I went into a convenience store to look at a map and plot my course. I remember going through Rome. I remember heading towards Columbus, a long walk on some back roads. I don’t remember much, but I do remember sleeping in a lot of abandoned trailers and houses. There were a lot in this part of the south. I did this quite a bit from Tennessee to Florida. I have several memories of sleeping in abandoned houses. If it was raining or something I would look for abandoned houses to use for temporary shelter or when it was the end of the day and I was ready to look for a place to sleep. I would be walking through a town and I’d see an abandoned house and I would sneak inside. I’d camp out there for the day if it was raining or overnight if I just needed a place to sleep. It was always really depressing, especially on rainy, gloomy days to be stuck inside a filthy abandoned building amidst the ruins of someone’s prior life. I would pass the time reading the old books that I often found in these places, but most of the time I couldn’t wait for the rain to pass so that I could walk or search for food. I also believe that I had found a little pocket New Testament with psalms and proverbs somewhere in Georgia in a dumpster at a Goodwill store, and I would read and pray the psalms everyday. I went through Columbus. I headed south towards Florida.
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