Did I want to go to the US again? Not really.
Did I have any more attractive alternative? Not really.
But I was eager to do something for the environment finally!
From my perspective, the US was precisely the right country for it – or so I thought.
“Let’s get this straight: Your visa is not an immigration visa, only a visitor visa,” the officer said to me in a pleasant tone. “I know! I don’t plan to immigrate or work here either; I’m a visitor,” I kindly replied.
“But you come to visit very often and also for a very long time. And now you want to stay again for six months?”
“Exactly. Because of Corona, my possibilities are unfortunately quite limited, and I have to be somewhere. Don’t worry; I’m not looking for work.”
“How are you financing your stay? Why don’t you apply for a green card?
Again, so that you understand, this is a visitor’s visa!” and so our conversation continued in this way for some time until I was able to convince the immigration officer to let me back into the country for six months.
LAX – or Los Angeles Airport – was welcoming. Butch, my three-month-old puppy, was waiting outside the arrivals door for me. I wanted to spare him the stress of a flight at his young age, which I, unfortunately, could not avoid myself.
Since I couldn’t just walk across the border from Mexico – thanks to Covid – I had to take a circuitous, time-consuming, costly, and polluting flight that exposed me more to the Covid virus than would ever have happened in an isolated car.
Well, you don’t always have to understand everything.
My American buddy Ron had driven Butch across the border from Tecate, a border town in Mexico. For Americans, the border crossing is possible in both directions, but not for foreigners.
Since Americans have a different relationship to distances than we Germans, he also drove us to Rialto Beach in Washington State – 1200 miles north. (Route).
Super and many thanks again, dear Ron!
It was cold. Windy and wet. The contrast in scenery from Baja California could not have been more dramatic. From desert to coastal rainforest.
I originally wanted to start at the northwestern-most tip of the lower 48 states, but the point is Indian Reservation. After Covid hit the Native Americans hard, the area is currently closed.
Rialto Beach and its surroundings are beautiful. Rough, lots of driftwood on the beach and ancient trees covered in moss. Numerous bald eagles perch loftily in the treetops, quietly watching the world.
The rapid ebb and flow of tides are not without danger; underestimating the immense power of the sea may be fatal. When the water comes, it rises quickly.
On the beaches in Baja, where I had spent the last four months in a small beach house, I was often lucky enough to find different whale bones, some as long as I am tall and more than I could lift. I was a bit surprised that I couldn’t find any around here.
The reason why Butch and I wanted to start our Walk Across America in the Pacific North West is the orcas. The killer whales living in this part of the world and threatened with extinction needing far more protection at all costs.
Plant A Tree – Save A Whale – written by Lilly Lindlar
Anyone who has been to the North American West Coast is very likely aware of the cultural importance of Orcas, or Killer Whales, as some might call them, especially for indigenous communities.
But the killers are becoming the killed. Formerly a massive population, the number of Orcas traveling from California to British Columbia each year has reached its lowest number in 30 years.
According to a 2020 official count, the so-called “Southern Residents” now only consists of 72 individuals.
But what is the cause of this depletion? And how exactly could planting trees help to increase the Orca population? Let’s start at the root of the problem.
With the full-grown animals weighing an average of 3 tons, it is obvious that they require large amounts of fuel in the form of fish and other ocean inhabitants. Most notably, salmon.
It has been estimated that the current Killer Whale population needs about 230 kg Chinook salmon per day to survive.
The problem is that the salmon are decreasing at a concerning rate, just like with the whale population. Factors to blame are overfishing, the increase in the number of dams, levees, fish hatcheries, and highways affecting spawning grounds for the salmon.
And, of course, the ever-growing problems connected to climate change.
As a result: there is a shortage of food for the whales. Not only that, but the salmon returning to the ocean through polluted rivers aren’t exactly the healthiest form of nourishment for the Orcas.
Of course, the root of the issues lies in the way society itself is developing. But planting trees is the best possible starting point. And this is where One Tree Planted comes into play. The NGO Heike is walking for across America.
What can we do? Apart from the well-known effect of neutralizing CO2 emissions, planting trees in the riparian zones next to rivers and creeks has many other advantages, specifically for the salmon trying to spawn in those rivers.
The trees act as a filter between the land and water, removing toxins before they can be ingested by the fish and keeping the water clean from sediment, which would otherwise keep the salmon from spawning there.
The shade created by the green treetops and branches combats the increasing temperature of the water. Trees and branches that fall into the water form the necessary environment for salmon eggs to hatch.
So, you see, even if the Orcas and trees never cross paths, the effects of even just one tree planted are noticeable.
It’s a small price to pay for a brighter future!
If you have ever raised a puppy, you surely know it is not that easy. And it’s anything but just something you do along the way. After Butch and I are together 24/7, I can say: it doesn’t get boring with him.
My down jacket has already suffered a lot and lost many feathers. My shoes and socks are constantly nibbled lovingly and taken for a walk. I had already bought a cheap tent in wise foresight, so my expensive and much loved Hilleberg hasn’t been destroyed. The new tent already has holes. My sleeping pad seems nice to nibble on as I’ve awakened twice to a flat pad and cold hard ground.
Attempting to counteract his excessive nibbling of my equipment, I’ve added some toys to our gear, things I did not know of a few months ago. USA is the dog paradise par excellence. Dog article shopping XXL – like everything in the US – always a bit over the top.
Since I didn’t know how it will work out with Butch and the hike and whether he would even stay in the trailer, I asked Ron to remain in the area for the time being. If there should be any difficulties and I have to set up a plan B, he would be back with us without further ado.
So Ron took a detailed look at Olympic and Mt. Rainier National Park while we headed off into the unknown.
Of course, I had to listen to a few people again, this time, saying that I couldn’t possibly take a dog on such a trip. “You have no idea about dogs. He has to eat something, and that’s no life for a dog.” And some more. I know such statements by now, and I must say, they don’t bother me anymore.
In the beginning, we went along the Olympic Discovery Trail, which unfortunately was tarmac throughout. A good surface for cycling but tough on the body to hike on all day. The trail isn’t one hundred percent, so many sections were on roads with not-so-great conditions.
The area was very charming. The forest beautiful and often reminding me of the Black Forest.
The beginning was tough. Butch absolutely could not sleep in the trailer, giving me the feeling the whole plan might not work, especially since I was also literally dog-tired every day because, at 5 a.m., the night was over.
5 a.m. each morning, and it’s time to play soccer for a while with Butch and then put him on a leash so that he won’t destroy everything while I’m packing up.
When bedtime arrives, it also takes a bit of discussion to convince him to sleep on his blanket rather than crosswise on my pad – 2 a.m. is when he decides my sleeping bag is cozier than his blanket.
The first half-hour in the morning, we work on him learning to walk beside the trailer. Sometimes a meter at a time as his leash gets wrapped up in the wheel, or our pace is slowed with him deciding he likes to change sides frequently.
Luckily, he is tired after a short time, so into the trailer he goes. But of course, he can’t miss out on anything happening around him, so every car that passes wakes him up again.
Shopping had been just as tricky. Go alone into a store and leave Butch by himself out front? Hard to do; I’ve been told dogs, especially puppies, are often stolen.
Once I leashed him to the trailer, parked him in front of the door of a small store in the bike rack, and was convinced that he could never pull the trailer anywhere because it was way too heavy for the little guy.
Unfortunately, the trailer I bought for $35 in Mexico has neither a regular brake nor a parking brake.
I was barely in the store when he jumped out of the trailer, panicking that I was leaving him he pulled on the leash, and the trailer started rolling towards a parked car. I rushed out of the store and saved the car from damage and my wallet from paying damages.
I have more stories like this, and I ask myself at least ten times a day why I did this to myself? But as always, there are those moments when you never want to give up your little one and say to yourself a hundred times a day: “Oh, isn’t he super cute,” just like a mother, because otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to stand it.
The fact is: my life is different now. And I can’t wait until he’s big enough that we can sleep in together until 9, I can get into the tent without entering a shark tank, and I can finally get rid of that annoying trailer because Butch can walk far enough.
I also hope that the worries will lessen – worries about him having diarrhea, vomiting, or worms. Fleas and ticks feel comfortable with him, even though I’m already fighting them with medication or because he’s eating something again that he’s not supposed to.
But nothing has been quite as crazy as the second night on the Baja in the beach house since.
On this particular night, when he was just six weeks old, he woke in the night and tried to crawl under the bedside table. I awoke to his pitiful screaming; he had crawled onto a glue trap for mice.
His front paws and chin were firmly embedded, but even as horrified as I was I was able to free him.
Welcome to the world of Blue Heeler owners, the breed also called Australian Cattle Dog. Supposedly not a dog for beginners – so just right – after all, I’ve never had a dog before and didn’t know what I was getting myself into!
And still, when he wakes me up in the morning and cuddles up to me. Licks me all over and confesses his love to me, then I always have to say: Butch – you are the best!
Even when two minutes later, absolute chaos breaks out, and he goes completely crazy, and it’s time to play ball. A puppy just!
In any case, I now have an understanding for parents of small children. Suddenly you can’t get anything done, and you can’t manage your life the way you did before.
I recently managed to lose one of my lenses, something I haven’t done in thirty years of photography. No doubt I wanted to take a picture somewhere, unpacked my equipment, and in no time, Butch came up with something he shouldn’t be into or doing, distracting me from taking care repacking.
During these first weeks of my walk, I’ve had a streak of bad luck. First, the lens and then my camera stopped working. Fortunately, Ron was still in the area and could lend me the old camera I had given him a few years ago. Not the best solution, but better than no camera at all.
Then for whatever reason, my account was deleted from Instagram. A bitter blow. A considerable amount of work went into building the site and attracting over 26,000 followers, along with lost marketing opportunities.
(And yes – my account is back again – hurray)
But now, back to the positive moments.
In Port Angeles, I got my first Covid Pfizer vaccination at Walmart. I stood in line at the pharmacy counter, filled out the form, waited two minutes, and it was my turn. Free, with a vaccination card and no appointment – it doesn’t get any better than that.
Catharina, a former colleague from ZDF, Germans biggest broadcast station, referred me to Paul and Meg, with whom I enjoyed a lovely evening. Butch and I were allowed to set up camp in the greenhouse because the lovely couple was renovating the house.
The coyotes howled outside, which troubled Butch, and sleep was a long time coming.
The next evening I was invited to stay at Paul’s colleague’s place. Two friends came to visit her; one of them was Marc, an oyster farmer. So that evening, I had the very first oysters of my life.
They were grilled with butter, ham, breadcrumbs, and lots of garlic. Mega delicious. Funnily enough, two days later, I met Marc again on the road.
Trump flags continue to hang in the neighborhoods. It almost gives the impression: Don’t come too close to me, unless you have the same political attitude!
The weather was cold and rainy, reminding me of November days in Good Old Germany.
Before Seattle, I met Christian, a follower on Instagram who recognized me right away. He had lived in the Seattle area for many years and said, “I’m from Kiel, so I felt right at home here.”
This made me laugh out loud because with the weather and the taciturn people Seattle and Northern Germany seem to have much in common. We had loosely arranged to meet up, then my Instagram account was gone, and his contact information with it.
So far, I had enjoyed the beauty of Washington, but I was beginning to wonder why the people here were not very friendly. Many ignored me and deliberately looked away when we passed.
Then I realized they thought I was homeless. Locals had told me both the Seattle and Port Angeles areas had pretty sizable homeless populations, many pushing or pulling some kind of cart.
So we were bums, and that’s precisely how we were being treated. No hello back, no small talk, no interest in what I was doing. It seems no one ever took the time to notice my signs on the trailer.
Butch did bring positive contact; however, “Oh, he’s so cute, is that a Blue Heeler? I have a so and so puppy, and he does this and that. Well, all sweet and nice and entertaining too, but something was missing.
I would much rather have learned about the people. What makes up their lives, how they think. But it never came to that. It remained with: “What a sweet puppy he is! What’s his name?”
In all of Washington, one whole month, only one car stopped to ask why we were walking. Only one!
When I was biking, people stopped all the time and were interested. So what were people thinking? Are there really that many homeless people pushing jogging trailers out on the highways and through the countryside on the bike paths.
How am I ever going to raise $50,000 for the trees I would like to plant around the world?
It frustrated me. That someone doesn’t want to donate anything is one thing and entirely legitimate and understandable, but choosing to ignore my existence while passing me on a bike trail is something completely different.
I even shouted out loud, “Hi, I’m here too.” I’ve addressed people directly and asked why they don’t greet me back. What’s the reason? What am I doing wrong? From the reactions, I just noticed people’s insecurity and also lack of understanding.
I started to think that this is just how it is here, and Washington is just different.
Or is it about Corona? Are people afraid? It’s hard to understand; things are much better with the millions of vaccines given out. And if you believe the pandemic is fake, then there is nothing to worry about either.
Anyway, what I experienced here in Washington State has not been my America as I have come to love it. These were not the friendly Americans I have enjoyed and appreciated for years.
The nation I know is generous, cares about harmony, and is always eager to help. Of course, there were exceptions, but very few.
Interview homeless guy in Port Angeles
In Port Angeles, I interviewed a homeless man who lived right on the beach. He had sorted his belongings into a shelf, which is there permanently. He covers his things with a tarp to protect them from the rough weather.
Why are you homeless?
Back in August 2013 I injured my back putting in a brand-new wing at the hospital in Nampa Idaho. I herniated my L5 and my S1. I was almost paralyzed for seven months before surgery and they didn’t want me to have surgery they just wanted me to go lay down and die.
Were you homeless at that time?
No, I had a house and mortgage, a car and car payment, I had bills.
Did you have insurance?
I had Workmen’s Comp. but they didn’t compensate me for anything, they paid the doctors, but they didn’t save my house and they didn’t save my car. After my surgery I went through a year and a half of physical therapy, before I got to go before the industrial commission the people that were paying my insurance claim for the Workmen’s Comp must have greased the doctor’s palm, because the day before he wrote a statement saying there’s nothing wrong with me and I could go back to work.
How did you get hurt?
I was picking something up at work same thing I’ve been doing for years. But after 20 years in carpentry my back just gave out. And, because my Social Security number is tied to my last gainful employment, a Workmen’s Comp. case shows up and no one in the Corporate world will hire me, so I can’t get a job and I can’t get disability because the doctor says there is nothing wrong with me. So, for the last seven years I’ve been living on food stamps, a $190.00 a month. That’s my only income. But, starting this month I’m finally receiving disability from the state. I get $197 cash assistance along with my food stamps.
But that's still not enough to rent a house or to rent a room or anything this is a ridiculously expensive place here.
But I’m not gonna lay down and die.
How are people treating you here?
A lot of people when they pass by, I wish them a good day and how are you doing.
Are they greeting you back?
Some do, others just look at me like how dare you talk to me you filthy thing.
But you don't look filthy at all you look like a decently dressed person.
I try to look decent and I don’t leave garbage lying around like others who give us a bad name.
How do you see your future?
Oh, it looks good, I still have my daily pain, but finally I have a bit more money to spend.
From the Discovery Trail, we headed across the outskirts of Seattle to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. From there, we turned onto the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail. These trails are part of the Rails to Trails system, which have opened up abandoned rail lines for hikers and cyclists. You can find these trails all over the US.
The Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail was particularly impressive. The big old railroad bridges reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Stand by Me, in which four young boys are looking for a dead body and are traveling on old railroad tracks.
The trail went through some long tunnels. One of them was over 5 kilometers long and absolutely pitch black. The only thing I didn’t like was the proximity to Interstate 90 and the noise of the cars. Anyway I had a great time.
There was still some snow on the trail in some sections, which was not easy with a heavy trailer.
Colleen, whom I had met while cycling the Baja Divide Trail in Mexico, visited me twice on my walk. She biked the Baja Divide with Harry, whom I had spent ten weeks with during Colombia‘s virus lockdown.
She came out on her bike to meet me on the Discovery Trail the first time, and then we met a second time in Cle Elum, and went up to the impressive old town of Roslyn to stay with her friends. Colleen spoiled us all and got us both back on the trail. Many THANKS to the three of you 😉 .
Of course, with invitations like this, I have to watch Butch a lot more than usual. If he bites my tent, that’s one thing, but if he destroys the living room cabinet of my hosts, that’s something else. I can’t let him out of my sight for a second. But luckily, he still sleeps a lot!
Generally, I have difficulty sticking with following trails; I prefer to put together my own route; I decided in Ellensburg not to continue further east but rather start bending the path in the direction of New Orleans.
Not on the direct route, but through the desert – simply because I like desert much better than rain and cold weather!
The Yakima Gorge was incredible. One of the many Scenic Byways in the country. The road had a shoulder, so it wasn’t all that bad to be on the highway. Campsites were easy to find, which was not always the case before.
Far too often, I had encountered: No Trespassing, violators will be shot, or something like that.
Life on the road with Butch was improving. He learned to walk next to the trailer. He slept until 7 a.m. without waking up at night and had learned a lot and started to love the trailer as a sleeping place.
Unfortunately, we have not yet managed to get an appointment at the vet because of Covid; the veterinary practices I contacted only made appointments with existing patients or an appointment far in the future.
He needs a rabies vaccination and a 15-digit international chip before we can head for home or elsewhere when my visa runs out. Traveling with a dog will be a bit more complicated in the future, but I knew that from the beginning.
The highway through the Yakima Indian Reservation was hectic, nerve-wracking when trucks thundered past us at high speed. Surprisingly I found one of the best campsites so far on my journey.
Finally, we were able to get a ride, which I much preferred over losing my life on the highway.
Shortly after, we crossed the bridge to Briggs, Oregon, another America was waiting for me, the America I know. Friendly people as far as the eye can see. But more about that next time.
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