Malvern AR.  July 2008

Walking through so many southern states, it wasn’t always easy keeping hyperfocused on a singular mission of cancer especially since conditions in some places for animal welfare were deplorable and others, down and outright medieval.  

I tried as best I could but there were a few encounters intolerable and I had to stand up even though it put my mission at risk.  

The first was in Jacksonville TX a few months earlier than Malvern.  We were scheduled to stay at the home of a kind elderly couple as we walked through the area and after the first day, I noticed a beautiful brindle pitbull in the backyard of a neighbors house chained to a fence and that her water bowl was upturned.   

I made note of it and the following day, it remained still and unfilled.  There’s no mathematical basis for measuring the generosity of a host family against a clear and present injustice.  It wasn’t my neighbor, it wasn’t my town, and it wasn’t my cause.  


And Yet…

I assuaged our host family that my intention was to just inform the neighbors that their dog needed water since they shot down my original idea of just filling the bowl with water myself.  Texans take trespassing seriously so I understood their objection.  

After knocking on the neighbor’s door a few times, a big burly man at least 1.5 times my size in height and girth answered with a mean ass, menacing look.  


“Excuse me, sir.  I’m staying with some friends next door and I couldn’t help notice that your dog in the backyard hasn’t had water in the past 24 hours and it’s pretty hot outside…”.  

“IT’S MY SON’S DOG”, he continued in a gruff, ‘seen-too-many-steven seagal movies-voice’.  

“And yet, the dog still needs water.”


At this point, his chest was bowed out and he was spoiling for a fight and I tried my best to keep circumspect, though my great growl was growing.  “Look man, I no more want to be on your porch than you want me here.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Just give your dog water and I’ll be gone.  But I won’t until you do.”

Like a Warner Bros cartoon I could see steam venting from his ears (and hear the sound a train whistle). I thought I was gonna get cold cocked but instead he slammed the door in my face and I watched as he filled the water bowl.  


The Evil that People Do

Maybe that set the stage for Malvern.  By the time we were just west of Little Rock, temperatures were running as high as solar flares it seemed and I walked most of the Delta to Memphis by myself.  

I remember the day perfectly.  As I was walking on east Hwy 67, I heard crying and yelping on my left.  There was a overgrown, condemned looking house, yellow in color I think, about 100 yards off the highway and I fought back the pokeweed, briar brush and Mimosa tree branches to get to it.  And what I found still breaks my heart.  

A momma pitbull chained outside and a litter of pittie puppies on the inside begging to be with each other.  You can see the momma’s paws on the window sill in the picture top left so I’ll spare you the visual descriptive.  No one should be haunted by an image such as that.  

I couldn’t do anything at the time for them.  It was just me and my backpack so I bade them goodbye with a promise that I would return and rescue them.  And I did the very next day.  As soon as I was picked up by Melissa, our transport to our next host family, I said to her, “We have a stop to make first.” 


The Evil That Good Undo

I was such a naif back then, unworldly caught up unintentionally and unexpectedly in the deep and dark underworld of dogfighting.  I’d never heard of terms like ‘bait dogs’ until that day when Melissa and I pulled them out of that nightmare just as a group of men came out of a nearby trailer to stop us.  

We tore outta there with all of the pitpups in a cardboard box and momma in my lap and I think my middle finger found its way out the window though I may be glorifying it a bit.  

Miles later, Melissa explained to me that we weren’t rescuing dogs in distress – we were stealing them.  Dogs bought and sold like slave trade for the sole purpose of fighting for entertainment.  I had a lot of questions but they weren’t going to be answered that day. Maybe they still haven’t been.  

How can one steal a life trying to protect it?  How can one even claim ownership to a life?  

In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote, ‘To do a great right, do a little wrong.’

I’m nothing of a Shakespearean quote but I could not let a great wrong go unrighted.  


YBD’s Notes 1:  Part 2 of A Tale of Two Towns Coming up – Malvern PA.  Spending time at Hope Veterinary Specialists this weekend.  Or Sweaty Tom’s pits.  

YBD’s Notes 2:  All of the pitbull puppies we rescued that day found homes.  

YBD’s Notes 3:  Thanks Melissa
As I spoke about in a previous vignette about how if we weren’t tested that first two weeks on walk 1, it’s doubtful we would’ve made it.  That may seem counter-intuitive to some.  

You see most people will look for any reason to fail at things and they have a whole litany of excuses to justify it.  

A few, however, search for that one way, any way, to succeed.  It may take months.  Or years to find it but they do.  


We were trekking the Rails-Trails to DC in 2009 and I met a man who stopped us for a conversation for the ‘who, when, why, and what about the walk’.  I answered as honestly as I could about our mission and our cause and his hapless almost helpless response was, ‘You know, I’d love to do something like that.  But I have a family and a job and responsibilities.’

I suppressed the great growl within and merely responded, ‘What makes you think that I don’t?’  


I’ve met many people on our travels that would’ve, should’ve, and could’ve embarked on a grand adventure, traversed the AT, or climbed K2, and though I’m no scholar on the matter, my best guess is that why they didn’t or why they did and failed can be reduced down to one simple phrase.  


Colin Fletcher, the Godfather of modern backpacking wrote that within two weeks of an adventure, you’d know if you were going to succeed or fail.  I read his books before the launch of Walk 1 and they were only academic to me at the time.  

But in our lonely tent along the TX highways, I learned what he meant.  There was one night I asked myself what the hell was I doing there and why.  I was beat down and in a bad way because I began to see for the first time not the finish line but the thousands of miles til then. 

A few sponsors had bailed, we’d been battered by unrelenting storms, setbacks, and other challenges, too.  


There’s a moment at which faith crosses the threshold of self doubt and uncertainty and the only thing you need to decide is whether you have the will to continue.  There is no Glory without the Grind.  


YBD’s Notes 1:  No longer will I chapterize Book 2, The Ripple.  As I plan and prepare for WALK 2, the past and present story will unfold as it’s meant to, unscripted and non-linear.  

YBD’s Notes 2:  One should never give up on the aspiring to inspire in all walks of life.