April 18
"The longest journey begins with a single step." Chinese proverb

The transition from sleep to wakefulness was instantaneous, but I didn't dare open my eyes yet. I wasn't sure I wanted to start the day. The day I would break away from home, from my own safe bed, from the familiar smell of the guinea pig cage and the street light that nightly irritated me and the thousand little things that suddenly made home so dear. I lay with my eyes tightly closed, every fiber of my being alert, and then with horror I felt my back tighten to the verge of spasm. Dear God NO! ''Easy, easy, relax," I commanded myself as I finally opened my eyes with slow deliberation. "Deep breath," but not too deep. Wait....wait.....pause. "Now, sit up, straight up, don't twist, keep going....now stand." With the exquisite controlled deliberation of defusing a bomb, I worked my body away from the edge of spasm, every movement down to finger tips cautious and minutely measured. No one must ever know that my trip teetered so close to the edge of disaster before it had even begun.

I crept downstairs avoiding any glance to the right, for it was there that my half loaded park sat propped against the wall. But its presence dominated the whole room. Through breakfast its yellow canvas hovered menacingly just out of sight as my back twinged threateningly. The situation rapidly escalated to ludicrous proportions. I, about to begin a 2,000 mile trek...was afraid of my pack. Numbly I approached it head on and fumblingly crammed in the last minute odds and ends, maps, food, water.  But I couldn't lift it into the car. The fear of it dominated me. It had to be carried for me.

The car crept away from the house forlorn and unnoticed. At the [14] intersection another car stopped, and out hopped Helen a woman I scarcely knew but who had heard of my trip. She dashed across the street, reached impulsively through the open window or the car and kissed me feverently wishing me an emotional ''good luck."

At the bus station I again lost the battle of wills and nerve and had my pack carried right on to the bus and placed in the seat next to me. I would have to come to terms with it later.

I waved goodbye and sat staring as beloved Boston passed by and behind.
The spring buds on the trees were still tightly compact. They would bloom and fall before I’d see them again. The streets would ooze tar in the summer heat and skim with ice in the fall before I'd return.

I was on my way. I planned a stop to see my grandfather in Bridgeport, Connecticut, another stop to see Father Russo, a trail enthusiast in Yonkers, New York, and a last stop in Missouri to see Greg Franzwa who had generously offered his valuable maps to copy. Only after all that would come my first step on the trail.

After pulling in and out of nameless and faceless bus stations distinguished only by their varying degrees of squalor, we pulled into Bridgeport. Time ran out for the reconciliation with my pack. It was just as well. I had no choice. I picked it up gingerly at first, heaved it onto my back and marched into the scary dark city. My back never even quivered.

My grandfather has always been a symbol of pioneering heritage and pride to me. Having come to the United States from Hungary at the age of 19 with $3 in his pocket, he managed to learn the language, raise a fine family and put in an honest and honorable 45 years with General Electric. Sometime in my formative years he must have found time to instill in me his own reverence and respect for ''pioneer stock.'' My grandmother always had hovered subserviently in the background. Her "old country'' long skirts and [15] incomprehensible language mingle intimately in my memory with the aroma of Hungarian pastries which she pressed upon us insistently. I looked forward to my visit with Grandpa as a kind of affirmative acknowledgement of his emigration 71 years ago and my journey as a tribute to and a continuation of his pioneering spirit.

I walked up his long and creaky backstairs in the dark, past the initials my father had carved in the banister as a boy. My knock was answered after a long wait. An old man, my grandfather, peered at me, worried, bewildered expression. "Hello Grandpa," I said. "It's Barbara.  Remember, I called earlier to tell you I was coming."

The old eyes struggled to peer through the fogs of age and reflected the mental effort to orient himself. Ever the decent gentleman, he invited me in. "Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm Barbara. I'm your son Louie's daughter." Long pause.

"Do you know my children?" he asked brightening visibly at the mention of his children.

"Yes. I'm your son Louie's daughter. Do you remember that Louie had two children?"


"And one of them was a little girl?"

"Oh yes! Little Barbara'' he smiled joyfully.

''Yes!'' I excitedly exclaimed, ''and that’s me! '' But the light of recognition that had flared briefly faded. Later my Aunt Lillian arrived. My grandfather turned to my aunt and gestured to me saying, "Who is this woman? I don't know her."

I had arrived too late in a life weighted with distant memories and a mind revisiting the early years. Age and time had slipped a curtain between us before I had even known it was happening.  [16] With a wistful sadness and vague guilt I boarded the bus for Yonkers and Father Russo.

From a Y.W.C.A. room in Yonkers I wrote my first letter home.

                                                                         April 21, 1978
Dear Howard, Paula, and Cliffie,

No matter what happens on this trip, even if my back breaks and I get chickenpox in the middle of the desert, this day alone will have made it all worthwhile.

I've spent the last 5 hours - it seems like 5 days worth of experience - at the Catholic Parish, Our Lady of Mt. St. Carmel, a declining small urban church in Yonkers. There is NO way I could ever describe Father Dominic Russo and if I could, you'd never believe it. He must be the most authentic ball of fire on earth.

He said that until about nine years ago, he had no interests and then he found "the answer to a dream and a prayer," the WEST!!! He took me to his 2 rooms in the rectory where he has books, maps, records, souvenirs, pictures of himself in western costumes, etc. etc., bottles of water from famous rivers, rocks from famous passes, all in a personal shrine from floor to ceiling. The religious stuff runs a poor second in quantity and enthusiasm. He leaped from object to object in a breathless frenzy unable to stay on any one topic long enough even to finish a sentence. When I left the place looked like it had been ransacked, maps and books and horse shoes and records stacked on chair edges and slipping into heaps on the floor. The impressive thing is that everything was so ordered when I arrived but his enthusiasm had him darting in 50 directions and thinking of 50 things to show me at once and SHOUTING at me the whole time, gesticulating wildly. Interwoven with all this from my point of view was my fascination of being ''behind the scenes'' in a real [17] ethnic Catholic Church. I felt rather privileged to get this glimpse and almost (but not quite) guilty since I have some anti-catholic prejudices.  The priests are waited on, buzzed and called for dinner and coffee breaks, etc., served in an elegant dining room. I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway, Father Russo was buzzed for a coffee break and we and the others had coffee and cake. The cook and her daughter and the cook's husband were enthralled with the idea of my trip. The daughter, about my age, has never been anywhere but mentioned how much she likes pretty scenery on TV and begged me to take a camera. She had tears in her eyes and was awed to think anyone could do something as wonderful as my trip sounded to her. Everyone was wonderful to me and seemed happy. Then back to the Russo rooms for another exhausting session. (Everyone had tried on my pack. It was fun.)

Another buzzer at 6:00 o'clock and the 3 priests and I were served dinner in a beautiful room. No one ever asked my religion. All repeatedly expressed amazement "that your husband would LET you do this." My gently pointed answer was, "well, I LET HIM go on trips too.''  The Monsignor loosened up after I repeatedly (and sincerely) admired his bonsai collection.  He then expressed with deceiving calmness his distress at the disheartening (to him) trends in the community. He was born and raised in this parish 1913 and spent his life as an army chaplin to return to this his boyhood streets to be the Monsignor. The Italians are moving out. The Arabs from Jordan are moving in. Some are Catholics but have their own Arab speaking priest. He ate in their home once and was disturbed by their customs, women hiding in the background, men sitting and eating out of a huge common platter heaped with rice and chunks of pork ''as big as your fist'' and all eating "WITH THEIR HANDS," (enunciated with quiet horror). The women then crept forward after the men finished eating.

The table talk was sprinkled with harried comments about church duties [18] confessions to be heard that evening, confirmations to be done in the morning, funeral arrangements, what time the bishop would arrive, what time the cook would put in the turkey, displeasure that it would be stuffed   with only ''Stove Top'' stuffing! I then again felt honored when the Monsignor invited me to see his other bonsai outside and I again (with sincere honesty) expressed that they were much more beautiful than those at the Boston Flower Show, so he warmed to his subject and talked of each tree, how this one is 35 years old, now that one gets its first leaves pulled off each spring (a Maple) so that the second leafing will produce tiny leaves, how he plans to wire and trim another, how his bonsai teacher suggested he shape another or leave alone another since its character was formed. In the orient some are 300 years old and still tiny, etc. Then another honor, I felt, he took me to see more plants in his very elegant and tastefully decorated suite.

Father Russo then ushered me hurriedly back to his room and in a rush before hearing confessions pressed some gifts on me, a cross with turquoise colored stones, a lovely poem he has mass printed, a bookmark, a patriotic tile (flag, etc.). He insisted with the authority that only a Catholic priest can press that he pay the $10 for my room at the "Y" which he drove me to. I'm now in my "Y" room in downtown Yonkers and it is perfect, no pretension, cracked plaster, peeling paint, Goodwill 1940’s style odds and ends of furniture in an ancient building, but clean and rather like a college dorm in a black school, friendly and non critical. The real topping for the day was a remark from Father Russo at the end, there he sat in his car, very short, stout middled, in his fluttering black robe saying, "Monsignor was really nice to let you in the rectory. I've known' other priests who are as peculiar as ducks, believe me!"

He wanted your address.  He'll be writing to you. He wants to visit our "home" - shudder terror - FIX IT UP!  I'm sure we'll be right down there [19] to him in its present state!


I left the "Y" with friendly words from the black woman at the switchboard, "You're going to do WHAT!!! ALONE!!? Honey, I just might not let you go!""  Chuckle…

I left New York for the long ride to Missouri. I wrote the first entry in my journal:

Waiting for the bus at the port authority was like being drowned in numb misery.  The tears were an eyelash away, nothing in particular, just too much feeling pressing me. I felt brave, pathetic, privileged, misunderstood, exulted  and overlooked, thankful and resentful. As the bus pulled out of New York, the tears squeezed out, and then the trip was on.

Within twenty minutes some of the physical stress and mental agony began magically to disappear. Stomach ache and nausea and dizziness and sore back left.  My pack no longer seemed like a threatening bomb ready to trick my back into spasm. . I took charge of my predicament for the first time, arranged my maps  and food and water bottle and bus seat. The 24 hour ride which I had anticipated  as an ordeal became pure pleasure. The slow deep beat of satisfaction about travel got me together again. 

The bus had one person for every 2 seats and there was a marked isolation between passengers. Despite 20 hours together, each of us remained isolated rigidly. Near the end of the trip I felt calm enough to approach the man across the aisle to inquire how he liked reading his philosophy book. Electrically, within seconds we were marveling at the coincidence of our travel plans. He had just given up serious plans to walk across the country! He had even perused the L.L. Bean catalog.  What a development! Here at last was a person who spoke my language about travel, the OKness of setting out with purpose but not details, with a [20] sense of exploring self along with the physical world. This young man was a professional intellectual and student, a type I generally have contempt toward, and a personal neurotic, self absorbed and self centered, yet he tuned in immediately to my trip with total understanding. He said repeatedly and prophetically, ''If you have your goal clearly in mind, you will certainly succeed. You might follow unforeseen paths or be temporarily diverted but the only essential ingredient for success is for you to hold a steady vision of your goal." 

He said that my body would also be a guide for me if I learned to heed its messages. He was on his way to L.A. after breaking away from the spirit killing effects of 4 years in New York City. He had no idea where or what he'd do when he reached L.A. but had complete faith that when he arrived, his body and instinct would tell him what to do, where to go, etc. I was trying to remain flexible, but he was awesome (and an inspiration) to me in his lack of concern for the details of the future.

Suddenly people all over the bus were talking. Two who had overheard came and asked me about my trip and wished me luck with great warmth. One older woman's brother had just walked all over Europe for 9 1/2 months. She gave me her phone number for when I pass her Kansas Town. The bus buzzed with unaccustomed chatter and then abruptly the trip was over. We disembarked in St. Louis, said goodbyes, and I caught a quick bus to Gerald where Greg Franzwa had his precious maps for me to copy.
The bus stopped in Gerald momentarily, long enough for me to hop out.

It was one of those tiny towns where they hang out a flag on the gas station pump to signal the bus driver whether or not to stop. Immediately I ran into my first crisis, no motels, no hotels, no guest houses, and....no Greg Franzwa. He wasn't home. I had walked the three miles to his rural setting, my pack sagging painfully, my mind churning in disbelief with the [21] suddenness of my unexpectedly predicament. Night was rapidly falling as I walked into the nearby woods and sat disconsolately on a log. I had little time for self pity as huge black rain clouds rolled in and the first sprinkle hit so in a flurry I went into my storm routine and found that my sleeping bag cover leaked like a pitcher. I also discovered a total of 6 ticks on my pack, in my sleeping bag and on my clothes! I was sure they were also on my body, but with the ticks and rain assaulting me I had no time to indulge bug phobias or my old claustrophobic fear of being zipped blindly into my body bag.   I wiggled in and. ... zipped! I clutched the flashlight all night and awoke next morning with a fine feeling of confidence and triumph.

But my problem persisted. The Franzwa house sat maddeningly empty for two days while I hid bewildered in the woods. Had I been forgotten? Did he leave early for the 3 week vacation he'd mentioned?

My greatest torment has always been waiting, and after waiting and waiting and watching and listening for 2 days and pushing 'down tears, I finally said, "what the hell" and gave in completely, sobbed and moaned and made crying tunes and blubbered in a wonderful wallow of self pity. Things seemed much better after the cry, in fact things seemed just fine and down right comfortable. Just after dark, dozing comfortably in the woods, I heard cars and people calling. It was the Franzwas. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and went to them feeling very foolish, my eyes swollen nearly shut with my earlier bout with crying.

The next day I traced Greg's Oregon Trail maps onto my own. I had 80 county maps, 1/2" to the mile. As I made the first tracings with my red crayon, a tremendous shiver of excitement ran up my spine. I was almost, really almost on my way. For the first time, the beginning of my dream seemed at hand.

Next day I waited at the little gas station where the tiny flag was [22] hung out to signal the bus to stop for me. I was coming to terms with my pack. It no longer intimidated me. It felt almost comforting.  In fact, it was a little bit like carrying my home on my back.

My final bus ride to Independence was not uneventful. I vomited/threw up on the bus. I arrived in the strange city after dark. I found a cheap hotel and incredibly, ridiculously tipped a bellhop to carry my backpack 50 feet down the hall. Oh well, that's 50 feet out of 2,000 miles!

Next morning the sun sparkled and I took my first step of my longest journey alone and unnoticed in Independence Square, Missouri. [23]
The Range - along the trail