Thursday, December 5, 2013

Locked up at the watershed

Just when everything was going so well, once again I had to "tap out" due to injury.
I awoke early in the morning with my right side and leg "tight as a drum" from my lower back to the tip of my toe. Knowing this would force me to stop again, I instantly began an anguished conversation with myself, my pride battled my good sense.
A cold sleet tapped on the van windows, glazed with a layer if ice. The cold temperature and wet wind was a dramatic change from the warm sunshine of the previous day. I had walked fifteen miles and felt loose and full of energy when I fell asleep. I awoke to immobilizing pain.
This was no minor cramp. Too many long days of pushing too far before we could stop had been aggravating the dull pain of my sciatica and crooked bones.
I had injured my sciatic nerve in the Spring, adding to my chronic back pains. With the help of chiropractic treatment I have built my stamina. But nerves take much longer to rehabilitate than strained muscles.
All Summer I had been able to average ten miles each day, in the developed eastern states. The distances I need to cover between towns on the high plains have shown me my limitations. Though I have been able to keep moving forward, with the help of good people I meet daily, who shuttle us back to the support van, as I lay in the van racked with pain my mind turned to my need for more help.
Without a support person to go with the van, who can pick us up when we have gone far enough, I will keep injuring myself through overexertion.
My pride and ego argued. I had told people I was walking to Albuquerque and that's what I should do. No matter the pain I had to endure. I had, after all, walked thousands of miles with back pains, torn Achilles heal, wrist injuries, shoulder pains and arthritic fingers.
My good sense countered. I had also said I would stop if I or Nice (the dog) were injured, if the weather got too cold, that I would stop for snow or if the distances were too great. With a wind chill of fifteen degrees, numbing pain and sleet I had those criteria covered.
I battled with myself all morning while stretching and massaging my leg and lower back, but the pain only worsened.
I could go no further...
A guardrail, seven miles outside of Tiaban, New Mexico would be the romantic end of the walk from Lubbock.

I spent the next several days in tortured pain driving back to Louisville.
Thru December I have been able to rehab by trading work with the chiropractor for adjustments.

It has been a good year. A hard year of limits, injury, pain, failure and revision.
A year where the most meaningful accomplishment was no landmark.
I had lunch with my Uncle.
It is hard to admit that the first walk I made six years ago, in honor of my eighty year old uncle was a failure. I was late for his surprise birthday party. My goal was to walk to Pittsburgh for the party.
The surprise party was marred with my frail uncle going into the hospital. When I finally arrived at my destination I didn't want to upset him. We talked on the phone and I quietly returned home.
I was glad I took so long to go back.
When I had lunch with my uncle I felt a sense of completion.

I sometimes accidentally push the wrong prompt on this phone and paste something I copied last month which I had forgotten about. I was doubting myself when I unwittingly pasted the following.
A woman interviewed me when I was walking through Ohio. She wrote for a monthly magazine. She sent me this to proofread before its issue.

Erik Bendl: Rollin’ Along for Diabetes Awareness
​My house sits on Route 40. We frequently meet up with people who walk/run/bike/etc. along the National Road to draw attention to a cause. Every year State Highway Patrol personnel run along the road in support of the Special Olympics. I’ve met a man driving his solar-powered car across the U.S., a Vietnam Vet advocating the draft be abolished, a man hiking across Ohio in support of the Health Care for All Ohioans Act, and promoters of world peace. So I wasn’t totally surprised to be confronted a few months ago by a large world globe rolling down the sidewalk as I left the store after buying my morning paper. The globe was larger than the man walking behind it, Eric Bendl. He was accompanied by his dog named Nice, and he is rolling the globe along to draw attention to his cause -- diabetes awareness and prevention.
​Erik and Nice have walked over 6,000 miles and touched into 40 states. He walks in memory of his mother, Gerta Bendl. Gerta was a Kentucky State representative who was too busy to take proper care of her diabetes. At age 54 – way too young, she died unexpectedly of complications from the disease. Erik reports he also has an uncle with diabetes who has had a difficult time managing the condition but is still “hanging in there” at age 86.
​Erik is a carpenter from Louisville, Kentucky. “I do the carpentry jobs no one else wants to do – like shoring up a house with foundation problems or taking off doors and refinishing,” says Erik. In 1988, a friend who taught school gave him a giant globe the school wanted to get rid of. The globe is made of canvas with an inner tube similar to those inside waterbeds. Outlines of all the continents were drawn on the canvas. Erik stuck the globe in his garage for 10 years, but when his son was old enough to enjoy it, he would blow it up, and they would play with it in the park. He put a coat of paint over the rough bare canvas – painting the continents green and the oceans blue. Friends began asking him what his cause was. Erik surmised they asked this because of his mother being in the State legislature and always fighting for good causes. Thinking of his mother, Erik decided he did have a cause and the cause was diabetes awareness.
​In the late 1990s, Erik did his first walk – a 160 mile trek around Kentucky to promote the American Diabetes Association. He began calling himself World Guy. He and his globe frequently walked in parades across the state. As time passed, he got divorced and his son grew up. In 2007, Erik did his first long walk from Louisville to Pittsburgh where his uncle lives. When I met Erik he was repeating that 430-mile walk.
​Erik averages 10 miles a day. The ball weighs 80 pounds on a dry day, but a couple of hundred pounds if it rains. In the early days, Erik says, “I didn’t have the world on a string at first.” He learned to clip a leash onto the ball and use the leash and a stick to steer it. He personally has benefited from the walks. “I’m finally losing weight and keeping it off,” he reports. He’s also been able to study his eating habits on the road. “Once, more or less by accident, I went for two weeks without eating anything fried. I was in the South and was then invited to dinner by a man whose wife was undergoing surgery to have her stomach stapled. He fed me a dinner of fried fish, French fries, grits, hush puppies --the works. A few hours later, I felt like I had the flu – fever, chills, nausea. The next day I ate nothing but some fruit, walked a lot of miles and felt fine. I decided the fried foods have a great impact, but we may not realize it because we become acclimated to them.”
​So Erik talks with people along the way and chronicles his travels on a blog. He has a Facebook page as well. His message is simple, “Love yourself, and go for a walk! If you walk every day, you can prevent, control and sometimes even turn diabetes around.” He thinks his message has gotten a “lot of people off their assets!” Sometimes people do walk with him, such as the Indian tribe that walked along when he was in the Plains or the volunteer firemen in Oklahoma, but most of the time, it is just Erik and Nice. People do let him know that they have taken his message to heart, and he says that is what the walk is all about: “Hearing from people who say they are getting up out of their seats or a whole town eating better to lose weight.” He recalls hearing from a group of three school girls who held a 5K walk/run and raised $25,000 to fight diabetes. While walking through New Concord, Erik met a teacher. He blogged, “We were invited to talk to the entire seventh grade class at the middle school in New Concord. I transported the world there in the van. We inflated the world in the gymnasium where I spoke to them about my journeys, my family who have suffered from diabetes, and the many who have shared their success, through activity and healthy diet, in preventing and controlling the disease. I also encouraged the class to learn who in the school are diabetic, what they can do to help if their classmate is in distress. I answered questions. Then we had a group photo before Nice was surrounded with attention and petting hands.”
Eric’s van is painted a glittery purple with rainbow highlights. He got it from a friend who used to own a coffee shop. He sleeps in the van, and starts each day from it. He reports he never has had trouble getting a ride back to it so he can drive to his starting point for the next day. He calls the people who help him his “support team.” And he reports, “The less I worry, the more things just come together.” A couple of weeks before I met Eric, the comforter he sleeps under was a mess – old and falling apart. He bagged it up to throw it away and happened to mention it to a woman he’d just met. “And what do you know? She gave me a fresh, washed, down comforter.” This past February, Erik and Nice were walking in Florida when Nice began limping. “We found out he needed to have two knee replacements. Two nice ladies we met helped us by giving us a place to stay for two weeks while Nice recovered. The Good Samaritan Fund at a local vet school helped pay for the surgery.” Recently, dispatchers at the State Highway Patrol in Wilmington, Ohio gave Erik an official patch and said he could show it to any officer who stopped him so he could prove his bonafides. Erik reports he was surrounded by several highway patrol cars as he walked near their post on Route 40 and was ruing the fact that he had left the patch in his van. “But it was OK – they were friendly and interested in what I was doing.”
Erik says he used to be a pack rat. However, as he has journeyed around the country, he has become less and less tied to possessions. “I used to go on a walk and then return home and work for several months to get the money to pay my bills and go on the next walk. Eventually, I decided I could do away with a lot of that if I reduced my bills.” So Erik has given up having a permanent residence and has divvied his possessions up among a group of friends who he drops into see. He has a garage where he stores his tools, but takes a few with him and helps people along the way – repairing some steps or putting in a railing. He says he and Nice plan to do this “until the wheels fall off.”
I just checked Erik’s website. He’s making his way from Texas (where the tumbleweeds were rolling like the globe) to New Mexico. You can follow Erik’s travels at his website The website has a button to allow you to donate to the American Diabetes Association. Or “Like” his Facebook page: Erik Bendl – World Guy.

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