Sept 23 - Astoria, OR

Sept 23 – Astoria, OR

Astoria, OR

It happened at Milepost 4 of State Route 401.

Since arriving in the US on Sept 3, I have been walking south towards the Columbia River.  Today, I woke up late; I walked more than 22 miles yesterday and had suffered greatly over the last 4 or 5; with grey skies and insistent rain pounding on my tent, I woke up this morning hoping that today would turn into a day of rest.

But when I asked my host if I could spend another night on his farm, his response, while affirmitive, was less than warm.  After a morning spent debating between my heart and my feet, when noon rolled around, my heart won: I begrudgingly rolled up my tent and began the long walk south to mark what would be my final day in Washington.  By this point rain fell only intermittently but the clouds remained dark and soupy, and I was sure that, on this day, I wouldn’t see any sun.

I walked 6 or 7 miles through rolling hills before the road made its final descent towards the Columbia.  As I approached, I was offered brief visions of the long bridge that stretched across the river valley that were rescinded just as quickly by the low, dark clouds.   As the road met the shore and made a sweeping right turn to face the rivermouth, I suddenly found myself engulfed by an intense rainstorm with no shelter-lending structure around for miles.  Howling winds headed upriver off the Pacific thwarted my ideas of making any immediate progress.

I retreated to the nearby woods to find a little shelter and to consider my options.  It was late in the day, and while I had promised myself that I wouldn’t walk at night, I was also intent on avoiding taking a ride, and on walking the long bridge to Oregon under my own power.  I needed divine inspiration, some magical touch: a rain dance.  So I dug into my backpack and pulled out the harmonica that I had bought a day or two before I left.  Now, I’m brand new to the harmonica, and I only know two songs, and one of them is ”Mary Had a Little Lamb”, which seemed totally irrelevant to the situation at hand, but, fortunately, the other one is ”You Are My Sunshine”.  I started with a gentle rendition.

You are my sunshine.  My only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are grey.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you.

Please don’t take my sunshine away.

I looked up into the sky expectantly.  The rain came down just as hard.

Undaunted, I tried a second time, slower, with feeling.  You are my sunshine… Still, nothing.  But I was encouraged by the hopelessness of the situation.  And so I picked up the tempo, rolling one stanza into the next.  Faster, faster, with energy, with passion, I ran through the song over and over again.

Would you believe that on the 12th time through, the rain stopped?

I walked out to the road and looked at the sky.  A little patch of blue, barely bigger than an extended thumb, was visible in the sky.  20 minutes later, big portions of the sky were blue; the sun shone down on me.  I carried the sunshine with me for the next 4 miles to the bridge.  I took one look at the ”Pedestrians Prohibited” sign, smiled, and headed across the Columbia River.

There’s no doubt that I’ll make it to Mexico: I carry a magic harmonica.

It happened at Milepost 4 of State Route 401.