I had been walking for two hours when I really needed to go to the bathroom badly. Right there and then I started a new page in my steno pad called “Kiri’s Rules for Traveling.” Rule number one: always go to the bathroom BEFORE you start a long hike.
I hadn’t even made it to US41 yet. At the rate I was walking I was going to be lucky to get that far. But I was getting desperate. There was a mini-mart on the left side of the highway, it had been trashed and had all the windows broken out. I was careful of all the glass, not because I was afraid of getting cut but because when I stepped on it the sound of the glass crunching was so loud I thought someone would hear me.
There was nothing left on the inside of the store. I guess when the place got busted up the owners sent someone to clean the place out of anything else that was left; not even a Slurpy machine was left behind. If the Seven Eleven sign hadn’t been on the outside of the building you couldn’t have told what it used to be. The gas pumps were even gone.
Because there wasn’t anything to block the moonlight I was able to get to the door for the bathroom easy enough. There was no door knob on the door but the bathroom wasn’t too gross. No toilet paper but I was prepared for that with a couple of napkins.
Since I figured water was going to be scarce on my hike one of the things I did before I left the school was to go around to all the sanitizer stations and pumped out what was left and put it into a lotion bottle that I found in a teacher’s desk. The sanitizer had a little bit of lotion in it where I couldn’t wash it out but I didn’t figure that would hurt anything.
I sure didn’t want to put the backpack back on but I was already behind schedule. I got squared away and ate a diet bar while I walked a little faster trying to make up for lost time.
Two hours later, US41 was in sight, and I had to go to the bathroom again so bad I thought I was gonna die. Rules for Traveling Number Two: Fiber bars suck for trail food, save them until the end of the hike. There wasn’t any handy dandy mini-mar around this time and all the businesses I tried were locked up tight. I didn’t want to rattle around too much and my stomach was really starting to hurt. There was no way I was going to go to the bathroom right beside the highway where anyone could see me so I went behind this block of businesses and finally found a private spot that I didn’t feel too exposed at between this big stack of tires and some kind of car fixing place. My stomach hurt so bad and I was so worried that someone would see me that it took forever. I just knew someone was going to jump out and go “Boo!” before I could get my pants up.
Rules of the Road Number Three: Since nothing looks like it is supposed to look in the middle of the night, when stepping off the road always make sure and leave some kind of marker to remind yourself how to get back where you came from.
I don’t know how I managed to do something so ignorant but I did. I must have made a wrong turn because I got so confused that instead of getting back out to the highway I somehow wound up in the backside of a subdivision. I still don’t know how I went wrong but boy was I turned around. I only made it worse when I tried to turn around and go back the way I had come and couldn’t even find the big pile of tires.
So I wasted at least an hour probably wandering around in circles inside this business park and when I finally see the highway I start running to get to it. Baaad decision. It was so dark that I didn’t see where the drainage ditch started and I fell in. Lucky for me it wasn’t a bad fall and the ditch wasn't deep but the bottom was full of dirty water.
Rule Number Four: Never run at night unless there is a monster chasing you. Rule Number Five: Never put your spare set of clothes at the bottom of the backpack.
I wasted another hour unpacking and repacking the backpack to get to my dry clothes. Only the bottom part of me was wet but I wasn’t going to walk around in wet and muddy undies and wet shoes and socks. By the time I had changed and figured out how to tie all the wet stuff to the back pack so that it would have a chance to dry while I walked I was so mad I could have screamed a cuss word if I wasn’t afraid of someone hearing me.
I eventually made it up to the US41/SR54 intersection but the sky was already getting that color that it gets right before the sun starts coming up. I didn’t want to risk anyone seeing me so I needed to find a place to sleep. I almost picked Big Lots but there were a bunch of cars parked in front of it though I couldn’t see people to go with the cars. The McDonald’s was burnt to pieces. So I picked the Cox Lumber place. It looked like it had gone out of business a few months ago and it was easy to crawl through the gaps the back fence. My bolt cutters let me into the store and then I found a closet in the back offices that was big enough that I could lay down in and go to sleep.
I was really disappointed that I hadn’t gotten further and had made such bad mistakes. I promised myself right then and there to try really hard to never make the same mistakes twice. Before I went to sleep I ate another one of the diet candy bars. The only good thing about those bars is they have something in them that kills your appetite … besides the taste I mean.
When I woke up it was still daylight so I decided to scrounge around in the office to see if I could find anything of value. There wasn’t much. Most people must have cleared their desks out before everything was locked down. The manager’s office though hadn’t been touched. Roaches had gotten into most of the snacks the guy had in his desk but there was a small jar of peanut butter than looked OK. There were also a couple of gallon jugs of water in the supply cabinet; he must have used them for the coffee machine. I used those two gallons to fill back up the water bottles I had emptied last night and to try and make myself something to eat besides diet candy bars.
It was really pathetic but I didn’t have much choice. I found this piece of sheet metal and I made a very small fire using scraps of wood that were laying all over the place and one of those Bic disposable lighters that I found in a coat pocket with some cigarettes in the manager’s office. I put some water in the aluminum pitcher I brought from school and got it as hot as I could make it. Then I dumped the water into the stoneware mug and added a few packets of ketchup. Instant tomato soup! There are not words to describe how yuck that tastes, but it was still better than having to choke down another one of those fake candy bars.
I knew I was going to have to do something about food and soon. The idea of breaking into houses or stores scared me to death. What if there was someone in there with a gun? What if I was taking the last bit of food they had and it was my fault they starved to death? What if, what if, what if; none of that made a difference - if I didn’t find some real food soon I was going to be the one starving to death.
I ate a spoonful of peanut butter after my “tomato soup” and that helped some but not much. I thought I had found some chewing gum in the manager’s desk but it wound up being that nicotine gum that you chew when you are trying to quit smoking. That kind of habit I didn’t need though I really did think about it. Some of the girls I used to go to school with said that the nicotine helped when they were trying to lose weight. I put the gum in with my food supplies though I sure hope I never get so desperate I have to use it.
I got antsy so I went scrounging around in all the desks and cubbyholes in the warehouse and office again and was rewarded with a few more things. The best treasure was a watch. I don’t think it has the right time but at least now I can measure the hours as they go by. The watch is too big so I ran the wrist band through my belt loop. It lights up so I can see the watch face at night if I need to. The other thing I found was a package of batteries that would work in the mag flashlight I found in Coach Adams’ office. I’ve learned to get by with moonlight for hiking on the road but the few times I’ve needed the flashlight it was nice to have.
I kept expecting to see some movement over by Big Lots and all of those cars but I never did. The humvees drove by and used the parking lot next to the McDonald’s to turn around in so at least I knew I’d be leaving those guys behind. I guess SR54 was as far as they patrolled. My curiosity was getting to me and as soon as the sun went down I was ready to go and ran across US 41 and checked out the Big Lots.
They should have called Big Lots “Big Cots” instead. The store had been gutted and was full of cots all lined up in neat rows. All unoccupied thank goodness. They must have used the place as a barracks or maybe to warehouse kids like they did us but there was no one there now. I doubt it was kids though because everything was too neat and clean. I’m getting to be a bathroom aficionado now that I have to find or make them for myself and looking back that was one of the cleanest ones I’ve run into for a long time. There was even toilet paper. I admit I swiped some and took some of the brown paper towels too. I would have taken some of the liquid soap but I had plenty of that at the time.
It was just as easy to sneak out as it was to sneak in. Somebody forgot to lock the loading bay in the back. Things must be really bad if people can be so careless as to let something like that happen and there isn’t anyone but me left to take advantage of it.
That night and the next I did a lot better than I did the first night. I guess altogether I had hiked about thirty to thirty- five miles because I made it to Brooksville. And that is where I got cocky or stupid depending on how you looked at it.