I felt a little stronger today and a LOT more confident. I sprinted away from 5 Bridges Road with a blistering 15 minute mile walk. Then I started slowing down to settle into a casual rhythm of dodging traffic. Rush hour even in Clinton, NC is not the time to start moving on foot when you have no shoulder and lots of impatient drivers.

After getting off the busy roads and finding the back roads again, I found sleepy farms and cows that followed me from fence to fence. I’m not sure if they thought I was feeding them, or I was just one of them that made it on the outside and they wanted to hear all the details.

What’s the appropriate thing to say to cows? Do you give them nicknames? Talk to them like pets? Can they be insulted? How would you know?

In any case, they were fun traveling companions if just for the length of the fence line.

On busy Highway 421, I found something that seemed a little out of context. Goatherders. On a Highway. One of the goatherders was kind enough to let me take his picture with his goats. I said “ba-a-a-ah” to the goats, and the goatherder gave me his best fake smile and waved me on.

I crossed over more tributaries for the Cape Fear River Basin before I started passing a series of cattle farms that seemed to be owned by one family since all the gates to the individual pens had the same farm name on them. I won’t list the name here, for reasons that will be apparent in a moment.

Each farm looked be about 2 to 3 acres each and was fenced-in with about 20 or more cows in each section. At the entrance to each of these separate farms and stenciled on the side of several pickup trucks was the same family name,  so I’m assuming that they were connected. Inside each fence line was a house. Oftentimes it was a single-wide trailer set on blocks, but they looked like there were residences. Not just offices.

I saw a few workers, smiled and waved. All waved back, but none seemed to quick to add smiling.

When I got to second family farm, there was the word “Snitch’s” (I think they meant “snitches”) spray-painted across both lanes of the highway, with an arrow pointing to the nearest house. I got a bit of a chill and thought there’s a lot of anger in this community. Not knowing what was going on, I immediately felt sorry for these people.

I stood in front of the vandalism that somebody had attempted to go over with black spray paint (which only highlighted the words) and took a picture of it with my phone. When I looked up, one of the workers was looking at me as he was opening a gate to pull his truck through. He gave me a look that I’m not sure how to interpret. His jaw was set, but he wasn’t grimacing or frowning. He certainly wasn’t smiling. He looked me in the eye, held my gaze for a minute, nodded, then went back to opening the gate wider.

I felt like I had been gawking at a mother spanking a child or a man crying when he thought nobody was looking. I was embarrassed and a little ashamed. I put my phone away and moved on.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful and I passed it thinking about how far I had to go until I made it to dirt trails again. If I keep on this pace of 18-25 miles per day, I should be at the Neuse River Trails in 2 or 3 days.

Soon after I got to our new camp in Selma, I found out that the camp owners at RVacation donated our lot to Throwing Bones. The owners had left for the night to help out with a brother-in-law with cancer, so I was able to meet and hug their employees.

While Chuck was cooking “Open Bowl Egg Roll” (fantastic), my old friend of nearly 30 years, Kelly Nester, showed up with a can of beer a hug and even more words of encouragement. Kelly leads with his easy manner and quick laugh. He always seems to be waiting for the punch line, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I learned that attitude. I just wish I did it as easy as he does. Even though it’s been some time since we really have been able to hang out, I felt as if we could have stayed up all night cracking each other up. But Cub Scouts called him away, and my bed couldn’t have looked more inviting. 5am was coming soon.

The shins are there. The ankles are swollen, but they’re moving better than they were yesterday. Onward and upward.

Know your limits. Then color outside the lines. Keep moving forward.