I arrived in Florida around the first of December, 2002. I ended up in Tallahassee first. I went through some dumpsters. That’s about all I can remember. I went west towards a little town called Hosford. There was nothing there just a gas station and an elementary school at the main intersection. I came through at night and I ate at the gas station and at the elementary school. I can’t remember where I slept that night. In the morning I headed south through the Apalachicola National Forest on route 65. There was absolutely nothing for thirty miles on this stretch of highway. I do remember sleeping in the forest on the way to Sumatra and that it was cold even though I was in Florida. It was really cold in the mornings. I had actually found a blanket somewhere recently because I recall walking down the highway in the morning with the blanket around my neck and over my ears for warmth. I was singing, “Dream On” by Aerosmith crying “maybe tomorrow the good Lord will take you away” as if it were my prayer.
In Sumatra, God provided a good meal at a gas station which was all that there was in Sumatra. There was quite a bit of food in that dumpster like a picnic basket full of jellies and crackers, cookies, and chocolates. As sad as it is, finding a lot of packaged food in the dumpsters was very much like a Godsend and I was always really happy about it. I ate and rested for an hour or two and then I headed the other thirty miles all the way to the Gulf coast.
It was a long and exhausting walk for fifty or so miles to the Gulf and just as I saw the ocean ahead of me I looked up and saw a sun dog in the sky above. It was remarkable to me that I had walked all the way from Maryland to the Florida coast; but to God belongs the glory because without Him and His strength, guidance, and the love that He was pouring over me perhaps, I would have turned around without pursuing Him. Perhaps I would have turned around and went into a hospital instead of battling those demons outside where God wanted me, where I could experience Him in the midst of my sickness so that I would always remember my time alone with my Heavenly Father. I’m glad I did it Peter, up until that point I had never done anything significant but now I had walked probably 1000 miles and come so far. I never could have or would have done it if it had not been for Him and now without knowing it I was about to turn west and walk more than 3000 miles to California. He didn’t tell me what He had planned, He just told me to walk.
As I approached the ocean, I was stopped by a police officer who wanted to know what I was doing walking through his town. As usual I revealed as little about myself as possible. The Bible said, “Agree with thine adversary quickly… lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge to the officer and thou be cast into prison”. After all, in Florida I had something to hide. I was pretty sure I had a warrant out for my arrest because of a failure to appear in court in 1997 when I had been arrested for selling bootleg T-shirts at a hotel on Spring break. I was pretty sure there was a warrant and I wasn’t going to lie if I was asked, but I wasn’t going to volunteer the information either. Anyway, the cop didn’t ask and I was released this time. I headed into Eastpoint.
I had been thinking about cleaning myself up in the ocean for some time when I arrived in Eastpoint. I had to walk a little ways to find a private place to bathe. For some reason I only washed my feet, face, and arms. I guess the water was too cold for me. I’m not real sure why I didn’t wash my whole body. I know I was filthy. I hadn’t bathed since Maryland, but I didn’t have any clean clothes either so I guess I just decided a partial cleaning was adequate. I know I felt refreshed and that it felt good to be at the beach even though it was rather cold. After cleaning up I lay on the beach and rested in peace, meditating and praying.
I guess I spent the night around there somewhere. The next thing I remember is crossing the Apalachicola Bay Bridge. The cop who had stopped me a while back had asked me if I wanted a ride over it. He said it would be dangerous to walk across. He did not insist so I declined and now I was crossing it and it made me a little nervous because there was only a little narrow sidewalk to walk across. I’m not sure how long the bridge was but if I had to guess I would say two or three miles and that wouldn’t be the last time I walked across that bridge while I was in Florida. I watched the seagulls flying over the bridge real low and the pelicans diving for fish. It was a pleasant distraction but my thoughts were mostly focused on God because I was in distress. My spirit was always in distress.
Through Apalachicola I spent a day or two walking around looking for food. Then I headed west towards Port St. Joe. I walked, fasted, and stopped only to pray in the woods. I scavenged for food in Port St. Joe at a supermarket and a McDonald’s. I remember sleeping in a little garage that looked abandoned, but I wasn’t sure so I slept with one eye open. In the morning, I crossed the bridge heading west towards Mexico Beach.
It was in between Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach that I decided to fast. I went into the woods near the beach with a couple jugs of water and my bed roll. By now I had a pretty good blanket I think. I lay down to read my Bible, fast, and pray. I think I was at it for three days and whenever I would get restless I would move my camp someplace else. Once when I went to unpack my bedroll and roll out my blanket and tarp there was a scorpion inside. Not a very big one, but still a scorpion nevertheless. I didn’t even know they had scorpions in Florida. In retrospect, I think it was an omen or a warning of things just ahead.
I ended my fast after three days and headed into Mexico Beach to search for food. There was a very serious storm looming and I hurried to find food before the rain came. When it did I sought refuge beneath an awning of an abandoned gas station. I waited out the storm and listened to the cracks of lightning so close I thought I might be in danger. It was a terrible storm. When the storm broke I went out again to search for more food when along came a police officer. It was Christmas Eve. He asked me the usual questions and I gave him the usual answers. Then he asked me the question I had hoped he wouldn’t ask, “Do you have any warrants”? I didn’t want to lie so I confessed that I might have one in Panama City from a few years ago. He checked it out and sure enough I did. He cuffed me and then apologized for having to lock me up on Christmas Eve. He transported me to Tyndal Air Force base where the Panama City police came to pick me up.
I was extremely distressed on the ride. I was thinking a lot of paranoid thoughts like maybe this was it and that they weren’t going to ever let me go. The Panama City cop took me to the city jail for processing. The first thing they did was make me take a shower which I hadn’t done since September. Then they took me to the cell block which was a communal cell with a T.V. and 25 to 30 cots. There were a lot of guys in there. I got myself a cot and kept to myself. There was a lot of playing of cards for commissary and socializing going on. I kept quiet and I only spoke when I was spoken to. I mostly slept or stared out the window at the birds. I longed to be outside. I prayed to God to let me walk again.
On Christmas day all the guys got in a circle and sang Christmas songs and Hymns. Some of those guys could really sing. There were guys singing solos and people singing backup. Some were banging on the tables and clapping hands for beat. I was really entertained for a moment. I just watched as they prayed together as well, but I’ll never forget that spectacle. I was really amused for a minute, but not enough to bring me out of my psychological coma. I refused to associate with anyone because of my paranoia and mistrust, not because of any ill will towards others. I refused to eat in there as well. I gave every meal away. Every time a meal came I gave mine away and people began asking for my food before it came. It was a little uncomfortable and I thought there might be a conflict about who would get my food but there wasn’t. I tried to make sure someone different got it each time. Four days went by and I didn’t eat. Anyway, on the fourth day I went before the magistrate and I was released on time served.
After they released me I went into the woods and cried out to God. I just poured out a river of tears to relieve my soul of the torment. I know God heard those prayers. I know that He remembers every tear I cried unto Him. I had thought that they were going to keep me in prison or that someone was going to torture and kill me. My paranoid thoughts didn’t change though when I was released they remained the same and I still thought I was being hunted.
So I pressed on and went into Panama City to look for food and I know I enjoyed eating garbage after fasting for four days. Everything tastes good after not eating for four day’s. I decided not to leave Florida for now because there were still two good months of winter left and I thought I’d be better off heading south into the Peninsula. I really didn’t have much of a plan. I was just taking it one day at a time asking God to lead me, but I also knew that there were a lot of big cities in South Florida and I didn’t want to be in that situation either. I guess I had hoped to find a remote place a little to the south to spend my winter fasting and praying. So I backtracked and headed east towards the Air Force base.
I headed east through Mexico Beach and on to Port St. Joe. I walked that day in the light rain and just before nightfall as I was about to cross the bridge back into Port St. Joe an ominous looking storm approached. In an instant rain began falling in buckets. It happened so fast I had no time to take cover. I’d never been hit with rain like that before. My shoes filled up instantly. I was drenched, soaking wet from head to toe. I took cover under the roof at a gas station, but it was too late. It was dark and I was soaked to the bone with no dry clothes to put on. I walked across the bridge into town.
I went back to the abandoned garage that I had found the first time I had been through Port St. Joe. Thank the Lord, I found a dry blanket so I stripped down in the dark, wrung out my clothes and hung them in the busted window hoping that the cold wind would help them dry. I went to sleep. In the morning I put on my still wet clothing and left.
I headed back towards Apalachicola and Eastpoint. I tried to fast. Sometimes I could for a day or two and other times I gave into hunger and went searching for food. I went through Carabelle, Medart, and several other towns. I went through Newport. I headed east towards Perry without knowing that it was Perry I was headed towards or how far it was to the next town. It was a two-day walk to Perry and on the second day I continued walking late into the night because I was so hungry. I made it into Perry early in the morning and under the cover of darkness I went searching for food in the alleyways like a burglar on the prowl. Only I wasn’t out to steal anything, just to find a simple meal. What a wretched man I was.
I was in Perry for a few days, hanging around town rummaging through the garbage. There were a lot of good places to eat, a lot of packaged foods at grocery stores and such. There was also a Good Will store there and I managed to find some new clean clothes, which was a blessing because my clothes were worn out and filthy especially from digging in dumpsters. I can’t imagine how I must have looked and smelled.
I tried a few times to leave town, but I’d get about 10 miles and stop, camp for the night; and then in the morning I’d go right back into town to look for food. One morning, I believe it was January 11, I was headed back to town. A car stopped to ask me if I needed a ride. I said “no thanks”, politely as I normally did, but the guy looked a little upset that I refused his offer and he sped off. Shortly after that as I was walking along the road with the flow of traffic, out of nowhere I felt an incredible force hit me from behind and send me tumbling forward. My lights went out instantly, all I remember was being hit really hard from behind. The next thing I knew I was waking up in an ambulance and they were cutting off my clothes.
I don’t know how long I was in that ditch before the ambulance came. The driver who hit me never stopped. I was somewhat conscious when they got me to the hospital. Remarkably, there was no major injuries just a few cuts and bruises. I lay there in the hospital for a few hours. They fed me and gave me some new clothes. They released me that afternoon, but I was really sore. I went to the bathroom before I left and washed the blood off my face and then I limped back out in the street.
It wasn’t like I was more paranoid after that, but I did feel as though what had happened was more evidence that there were people who wanted to kill me. I really thought that it was the guy who had stopped to ask me if I needed a ride because he seemed so mad that I had refused his offer. Anyway, whatever had happened I still knew that God was with me which was why I left uninjured, and to show me God put a little sun dog in the sky for me to see as I was leaving the hospital. No matter what happened, I knew I could trust Him. I went to a place in the woods behind a supermarket so that I could rest and be close to a place where I could eat. I lay there for about three days because I was really too sore to do a lot of walking.
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