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#2208 - Thursday, July 21, 2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz



There was a great longing and loneliness inside me. And as I delved into this loneliness, I asked,
“Is there an ultimate freedom?”




An inquiry into living while walking the roads of America, Mexico, and beyond.

A few years ago, Jeffrey Sawyer quit his job, sold all his possessions, and set out walking from Asheville, North Carolina. He had no destination in mind and no goal except to inquire into the meaning of life, love, and freedom. After traveling as far as Minnesota, he returned to where he started. Since then he has taken many such journeys, not only in the continental U.S. but in Mexico, Hawaii, and Southeast Asia. Everywhere he goes, he carries little or no money and does most of his traveling on foot. The following excerpts are from an unpublished book about his experiences on the road.





Hazard, Kentucky, April 2001: It had rained quite a bit, and the cool weather refreshed my tired
legs and mind. The birds began to sing early, and the mist lifted from the sorrows of the valleys
to the bluing sky. Coal trucks streamed up and down the back mountain roads twenty-four hours a
day, hugging each sharp turn with an uncanny precision, nudging me closer to the edge. It was tough
walking in those parts.


There was a great longing and loneliness inside me. And as I delved into this loneliness, I asked,
“Is there an ultimate freedom?” I would eventually walk some thirty-five hundred miles of back
roads in the United States and Mexico. Having left behind everything I knew, I had nowhere to go,
nothing to do but die into this question. I’d never really wished to be an explorer, yet this
inquiry moved me to let go of all that was not entirely new and alive. So my walking journey began.


Though others may be able to look within themselves without leaving job, home, family, and friends,
it was solitude that captivated me. I wished to give all my attention to exploring the capacities
of the heart and mind. As I walked, a few questions became predominant: Must a person work, and
what happens if one does not? What happens when one has no money and no motive to get any? Is it
possible to live entirely free in this culture?


I had needed a vehicle only to drive to work, so I had sold my truck to pay off my debts and given
away what else I owned. As I had no cottage in the woods to which I could retreat, walking seemed
the most obvious course. For two and a half years I walked back roads connecting small towns. The
roads and communities became a monastery of sorts to me, a place for playful inquiry.


In the mountains I took trails to shorten distances or provide a respite from the cars. But mostly
I stuck to lightly traveled roads. I didn’t hitchhike, but I accepted rides if people offered them
of their own accord. It was a fine way to meet people. Also, it seemed rude to decline if someone
was willing to risk pulling over for a strange man. Resting a spell in the car was a treat, too.


In my pack I carried a mosquito net, a pair of linen pants, a bathing suit, a blanket, two ponchos,
a fleece jacket and hat, a long-sleeved shirt, two T-shirts, a pair of socks, some matches, and a
bit of flour and salt. I wore a pair of sandals. With these items I could fit in anywhere, or at
least not stick out as an oddity. I carried no ATM card, no credit card, and no tent. Most of the
time I had no sleeping bag and no money. When I did have money, it was usually just a few dollars,
certainly no more than thirty.


“How do you eat if you have no money?” people would ask me. At first, I familiarized myself with
edible plants and spent my days with my eyes to the ground, finding things to throw into an evening
stew with some salt: chickweed, dandelion leaves, violet leaves, wild onions, flowers, shoots,
acorns. I would heat them up over a fire and eat them in the evening. With some flour, I would roll
the leftovers into dumplings and take them with me on the road.


It seemed that, as hunger arose, I would be drawn instinctively to edible mushrooms and plants. The
more quiet and attuned to the environment my mind became, the more effortless living was.


Early one afternoon, I was tired and hungry. I’d already had a full day: cars and trucks flying by,
dead groundhogs, the smell of exhaust, cigarette butts, downed butterflies, and jeers from a
passing sports car. I had also run out of food, and the nearest town was some ten miles up the Blue
Ridge Parkway
. I saw a large oak tree and thought it would be nice to sit by it for a time and
ponder the nature of hunger more thoroughly. I walked up to the tree and looked around its base to
find a nice spot for my back. As I poked my head around the far side, I spotted a great batch of a
wild mushroom sometimes called “chicken-of-the-woods.” My spirits soared. I took out my little
pocketknife and cut into the brainlike orange fungus.


At first I thought I had best grab just enough for a meal and let the rest be. Tomorrow would take
care of itself. Then I told myself I had better take a bit more, just to be safe. So I cut away
three football-sized hunks of the heavy mushroom. It didn’t feel quite right taking more than I
needed, but it made sense, since I was far from civilization and didn’t want to be hungry again the
next day. I put the mushrooms in a bag and strapped them to my pack.


Walking along a trail through the forest, I found a fire pit and a log to sit on under some huge
hemlock trees. I stopped and sautéed the mushrooms with a bit of salt and some wild onions. They
tasted just like marinated chicken. I couldn’t recall a meal so delicious.


I thought it best to cook up some mushrooms for dinner as well. While I cooked, I ate some more. It
was going to be a tough walk up these hills, and I didn’t want to run short of energy. Surely the
rest of the mushrooms would not keep uncooked until the next day, so I sautéed them too, eating all
the while.


While I was bagging up the cooked mushrooms, I began to feel sick to my stomach. I was stuffed, my
belly aching. I lay on the leaves under the hemlock trees to rest.


I had become greedy. I had carved out too many mushrooms from the tree because I was afraid.
Because I had too many, I had eaten too many.


Still, I didn’t want to let food go to waste. I tied the bag to the side of my pack. It made me
feel lopsided and weighed me down as I made my way up the hills. My stomach was bloated. It was a
long walk.


The next day I woke and ate some more chicken-of-the- woods for breakfast. For lunch, though I
wasn’t hungry, I ate a bit more. They tasted like duty now, not the singing mushrooms they’d been
when I’d first eaten just enough. I threw out the rest, which had begun to smell. As I pushed the
bag into a trash can, my mood lightened.


After a time I stopped worrying so much about food and just walked north, talking with people along
the way. I ate what became available and soon became indifferent to whether I ate or not. I came to
the conclusion that, for me, understanding was more important than food. I may not have had a piece
of chicken, but I had a peace of mind. This attended to my hunger for days, whereas when I had more
food without understanding the root of desire, it wasn’t long before I became agitated, fearful,
and again hungry.


I usually had a dollar or less in my pocket, but ultimately food would show up. A person would ask,
“You want something to eat?” or perhaps a loaf of bread would fall off a truck. One time I found
ninety-five dollars along a curb. Sometimes there was just enough money on the ground to buy some
fruit or soup. But mostly food came from unpredictable places: a library pizza day in Pennsylvania;
a generous homeless man in Mexico; a sandbar picnic on the Mississippi with one of the leaders of
the Teamsters Union; venison from a man’s freezer in Iowa. It became clear that the amount of food
I could gather or buy by my own doing was negligible in comparison to the abundance that arrived
when I ceased making any effort at all.


~ ~ ~


Read more about his journey. All the above material is from:


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