Ballet Chelsea, Faith in Action, and HOME
Michigan – Monday, November 18
I had very mixed emotions as I began the final day of my journey. I was sad to think that this was the last day of the big adventure, but I was also looking forward to getting home – it’s been 14 1/2 months since I’ve been there. I still had to walk 10 miles and my final 2 donations would be in my hometown of Chelsea, so I had a very busy day ahead. I started off with an early morning walk along the lake in Phyllis’ neighborhood, and Tula and I quickly covered a mile and a half. We had breakfast when I got back and then I heard from my neighbors that the bad storms yesterday had knocked out the power in most of Chelsea, including my house. Restoration was expected to take 4-5 days, so it wasn’t quite what I was expecting to go home to, but they would help me with the generator. Phyllis invited me to stay until the power was back, but it was time to finish my journey, and I didn’t want to postpone things.
I walked another mile and a half in her pretty neighborhood in the opposite direction, then headed out of Muskegon. Phyllis had told me about a nice walking path at the local Veterans Memorial Park, so I found that and walked another chilly mile. My very last donation was going to be a food donation to Faith in Action, the local food pantry which was one of the little seeds that inspired part of the journey, and I tried calling them, but there was no answer and I knew they were probably affected by the power outage too since most of the town had lost power (which doesn’t happen very often). I was worried my plans for the day weren’t going to work out, but I kept driving east across the state, getting closer and closer. I stopped and checked a couple more things on the computer, and found out power had been restored in parts of town, and this time someone actually answered the phone at Faith in Action, so I was able to find out what items they needed – feeling very bittersweet that this would be the last time I’d be having a conversation like that. I continued driving and as I got closer and closer to home, I began passing all the landmarks I knew so well. I actually had to drive past my street to head into the town of Chelsea, and by the time I drove by, it didn’t seem possible that it had been 14 1/2 months since I’d last driven down those roads – it sort of just seemed like any old drive down that road. It was fun getting back into town, and I noticed a few changes, but most of it was exactly as it was when I left. My first stop was at my old dance studios, which are housed in the old Chelsea High School. School had been canceled today due to the power outage, but dance classes were going to be running since the power had come back on. I stopped by to make a donation to Ballet Chelsea (formerly Youth Dance Theatre – they changed the name while I was gone), which is the ballet company affiliated with the studios. No one was there yet, so I was able to just sort of enjoy walking into my old home away from home, only to be surprised by new tile floors in the hallway and new paint – I almost wondered if I was in the right place! Since I no longer have keys for the place, I slid my donation check under the Ballet Chelsea office door. They are nearly ready for their annual Nutcracker performances, and will be performing Don Quixote in the spring. I was happy to be able to support the organization I’ve been so involved with over the years.
Then it was time to do the final food pantry shopping trip at Polly’s – the local grocery store. Many, many years ago when the kids were young, I had been shopping with the kids, and the local Scout troop was passing out lists of items that Faith in Action really needed. I took the list and I was only able to get 3-4 items on it, and at the time I remember thinking what fun it would be if I could have taken a shopping cart and filled it up with some of everything on the list! And now, many years later, I was able to do just that! It was the perfect way to end the long string of donations, and I got some of everything they had mentioned during the phone call. Never in my wildest dreams all those years ago could I have imagined what I would be doing today. I took the food over to Faith in Action, where they were pleased to get the donation, and were also happy to hear about my story. Unknown to me, the director passed my story on to a news person, who contacted me to get some information about my journey, and she ended up writing a nice article for Chelsea Update. The Faith in Action storage room was pretty full – someone had just done a food drive for them, so they were still sorting things out. Nancy, the director, told me the need for food assistance has grown dramatically in the 10 years that she has been working there. They’re in the process of getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas events, so they were pretty well stocked, but Nancy told me that once February rolls around, the shelves would be pretty empty. And that was something I heard at a lot of places. People are very generous during the holiday times, but they tend to forget about food pantries and soup kitchens the rest of the year – the need exists year-round, not just in November and December. And with that, the donations for Michigan, and the entire journey, were complete.
I still had nearly 6 miles to walk, and Tula and I set off for 3 1/2 miles of walking all around town – down Main Street and along all the familiar streets and shops, and into the familiar neighborhoods, and past the landmarks that Chelsea is known for, like the clock tower and the Jiffy Mix grain elevators. I really enjoyed being back in the town I know so well. I saved the last 2 1/2 miles of walking for the horseshoe-shaped loop by my house that I’ve walked countless times – I wanted my last walk of the journey to be by my house. It had gotten dark while I was walking in town, and it was really dark when I pulled in my driveway because the power wasn’t on in the outlying neighborhoods. My neighbors Lynn, Mike and Ciara were in the driveway to meet me, and it was awesome to see them again – they’ve been a huge support in my journey by looking after things at home. They helped me get the generator going, and then I set off on the final walk of the journey – 2 1/2 miles by moonlight on a road that I know nearly every inch of. Tula seemed to be really excited to be back – she was running back and forth on the street sniffing everything in sight. And then after 45 minutes I walked back into the driveway – home safe and sound, with the journey successfully completed. It was over – an amazing adventure that I will continue to soak in as I move forward with whatever I’m going to do next. I went down to see my fat old horse Misty in the barn, and then slowly began to carry in a few things – scarcely believing that I won’t be researching donation opportunities and looking ahead at the map for the next state. Monday nights usually involved pulling out the map for the next state, and starting to get an idea of what I might do, but now there are no states left. I’ve been to them all! I knew dance classes were over at 9pm, so I headed into the studios since I had always enjoyed Monday nights after class catching up with the instructors. I didn’t know what classes were in, but as soon as I turned the corner, I saw lots of the older dancers who had grown up so much in the last year and a half, and it was almost overwhelming seeing all of them, and their parents and the instructors. In a way it felt like I hadn’t been gone that long, but on the other hand, I could see the changes, and life moves on. I missed the people there, but I didn’t really miss the work, so I know I’m ready for something else.
After visiting for a while, I headed home and the house had warmed up a bit, and I had some light thanks to the generator, so after 444 days on the road, I was back in my own house in my own bed. I had walked 3136 miles in 56 states and territories, and made 392 donations – and a warm, fuzzy feeling came over me knowing I have helped people in some way literally all over the country. It was kind of hard to believe – the calendar on the kitchen wall was still open to August 2012, and for a moment I wondered if it could have all been a fantastical dream. But it’s wonderful reality, and I have memories for the rest of my life. This particular journey has come to an end, but it’s not the end of the road – there will be something waiting around the next bend, and, like I’ve done for the past 14 1/2 months, I’ll simply see what the next day brings.