There was a pep in my step as I left my hotel room in Andalusia. This was because I was fully rested and was on my way to Montgomery—Alabama’s state capital (originally Tuscaloosa). Now, I had been forewarned to exercise extra caution in Montgomery, especially in view of racial tensions. Although not all concerns are unfounded, there is much fearmongering and race hustling in the world today; and I needed to keep some perspective. A local black man south of Montgomery, only half-kiddingly, did tell Tank and me, “In Montgomery, y’all don’t need to do anything for something to happen.” We got a kick out of this but knew we still needed to be cautious.
Before reaching Montgomery, the weather had shifted to rain—first a soft drizzle, next a steady rain, and finally an hours-long downpour. Tank and I hopped from church to church, taking shelter under the rooflines of the chapel or church’s community buildings. The Baptist churches throughout rural Alabama and Florida’s Panhandle serve as a refuge to the weary hiker and provide reprieve from the elements. Since there were no lean-tos on the Alabama Roadwalk, the church porches sufficed. After much walking through farmlands and fighting off occasional dog packs, we came upon a major highway (US 331/South Court Street). Here there was a sprawling multi-pump fueling station called Z-Mart with a kitchen of hot foods in the back. After eating some fried catfish and getting a toffee-flavored cappuccino, the two of us jumped back on 331 and hightailed it north toward Montgomery.
Forecasts had called for heavy rainfall; and the predictions, in this case, were spot on. Just as south Montgomery came into view, rain came down in buckets. Taking a turn off trail to South Boulevard, we stopped in a local mart for some dinner items and then, completely drenched, dashed across the street to the nearest motel. All the gear was sopping wet! With the heater on full blast, the night was spent drying out gear and repacking backpacks for the next day’s walk through Montgomery. Although much screaming and shouting ensued throughout the night outside the door of the seedy motel room, no gunshots rang out!
The walk itself through Montgomery went fine, but I did catch myself walking hurriedly. There were some shady figures here and there but nothing that I deemed harmful. Having spent time in the ghettos of Philly and the Bronx, I’d seen much more contentious areas in my lifetime. Besides, I stuck to the designated route of main streets and went through in broad daylight. No guns were pulled. No knives were produced. Nothing of the sort. Maybe the assumed crooks and thugs didn’t want pepper gel sprayed on their eyeballs or whacked over the head with a trekking pole. Whatever the case, it was a peaceful walk; however, Tank did say that the whole episode took him out of his element, to which I agreed.
One recalls the history of racial segregation in the South yet recognizes the tremendous progress our nation has made from abolition to overturning Jim Crow laws. In the Letter From Birmingham Jail, the Baptist preacher Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote persuasively: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
As I passed through the city, I tried to wave to a few folks; but mostly, they just looked at me as if a Martian or maybe an off-course paratrooper from the nearby Gunter Air Force Base! It turned out to be a lovely afternoon with grand views of the Alabama capitol building and other remarkable public infrastructure. Even the brick-clad bungalows were thrilling to view as we passed. There was history in this place, and one could hear echoes from the past.
Well, now Montgomery had been checked off; and, within a few days, I would complete the Alabama Roadwalk and rejoin proper hiking trail, namely the Pinhoti Trail at Flagg Mountain.