by Bill Glose
The guard at the park entrance regarded my driver’s license with skepticism. “This doesn’t look like you,” he said.
He was right. My weight had nearly doubled in the nine years since the photo had been taken. Most mornings I barely recognized my own face in the mirror.
I drove past the frowning guard and parked at the First Landing Monument. This was the spot where, 402 years ago, Captain Christopher Newport and John Smith first came ashore. This had been the launching point of the great exploration of America. It seemed a perfect place to begin my own adventure.
Heaving a 35-pound rucksack onto my back, I shifted it into a comfortable position and set out on my walk. The pack contained “road food,” water, clothes, medical supplies, and various other necessities. Over the next few months, the load on my back would seem lighter as muscles in my legs grew toned and my gut shed more pounds than the pack weighed. But this day, it felt as if I’d strapped a tractor’s engine to my back.
I’d once been a lean paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, but when I left the army for the corporate world, I also left behind the ritual of early morning exercise. My hours became filled with television, computer games, and fast food, and my weight crept up to 400 pounds. Then I decided to do something about it: I would walk it off.
That first day, I barely had the energy to lace up my sneakers, sweating and wheezing from the effort. I walked less than a quarter-mile down the road and came back a shambling wreck. The second time was even harder. But I stuck with the regimen, and, by degrees, the walks became easier. The mileage increased, the pounds came off, and I dreamed of other places I visit by foot. The dreams grew larger and coalesced into a goal that was grander than anything I’d attempted before: I would walk across Virginia!
The first leg of my journey took me south along the Virginia Beach shore to the vacationland strip of boardwalk. Bikinied waifs and wiry boys with surfboards under their arms gave wide berth to the sweaty man with a pack on his back. When I reached 31st Street, a band was playing beach music on an outdoor stage so I flopped down on the lawn and watched couples shagging on the sidewalk. I basked in the celebration of life, feeling, for the first time in a long while, as if I was part of life.
I’ve marched many miles since then and have many more to go. I walked the length and breadth of Hampton Roads and trekked up the Middle Peninsula to Virginia’s Northern Neck. I traveled by foot from the blue collar neighborhoods in Newport News to the cobbled streets of Colonial Williamsburg. I hiked the Colonial Parkway under starry skies and on the shoulders of busy thoroughfares beneath the midday sun. I walked in the rain and in the boiling heat. I walked until my thighs chafed and my heels grew wet from broken blisters. I walked until I found myself again. I walked until I recognized the face in the mirror.