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This past Friday, I finished my hike. The Great River Trail Trash Trek is complete! I walked roughly sixty-five miles (a few extra off trail) and picked up forty-three bags of trash. I feel good about my effort, and happy that I had the opportunity to take a week and explore this local resource.
I loved hiking the Great River Trail, but I can’t say that every moment brought a smile to my face. There were times that weren’t very fun; parts of the trail which were nothing more than the side of country roads, hours without shade, or stretches when I carried five or six full bags of garbage with me. Of course, the challenges are part of what these experiences are all about, and I never felt the urge to quit. I certainly had moments where I wanted to be done sooner, or capable of walking faster, but calling it quits never crossed my mind. Despite the unpleasant moments, the overall experience was incredibly positive and I enjoyed myself immensely.
I was surprised by unexpected kindness from strangers along the way. Many of the people that I interacted with expressed a sincere gratitude for my efforts. I didn’t plan the Trek to receive attention or recognition, but I can’t deny that I took great pleasure when I received kind words from people during my journey. Whenever I felt the most drained, such interactions always gave me enough of a boost to keep going just a little bit farther.
The kindness of strangers wasn’t limited to thanks you’s on the trail. A woman in Albany bought me dinner after hearing what I was up to. A photographer took my picture and spread the word about my goal. An employee at the Get-N-Go gas station in Rapids City bought me a Gatorade (and offered more) to help me along the way. A number of businesses along the way, like the Dollar General in Port Byron, graciously allowed me to use their dumpsters to dispose of trash. I’m very grateful for every kindness extended to me.
I must also express sincere thanks to everyone who helped and supported me: My friend Janet, who graciously drove me to the trailhead in Savanna; my friend Mike who came and collected full trash bags when I was worn out and couldn’t carry them any longer; my mother who helped me talk my own tired brain through my next moves when the plan didn’t go quite right; the gang at Plan for Adventure who graciously let me use their dumpster as I stopped for the day near downtown Moline; and everyone who followed along, gave support via social media, participated in my giveaway, and spent some time picking up litter wherever they found it.
Many thanks to all of you.
Most of all, I have to express gratitude to my wife, Clarissa. Yup, it’s time for a bit of the ole sappy stuff. Without her support and assistance, the Trek simply wouldn’t have happened. I’d have never planned it, would never have started it, and I certainly wouldn’t have finished it. When I deviated from my itinerary and needed picked up, dropped off the next morning, and then picked up again that night, she dutifully saw that I was everywhere I needed to be and then home again, without a single complaint. Then, on my last day and final leg of the hike, she came along and assisted me, then bought me dinner and drinks when it was all said and done. She’s a right lady, my wife, so many thanks to her for all that she’s done for me.
On my journey I suffered one bee sting, one red-winged blackbird attack, and several blisters, but no significant damage. I’m making no inferences about the quality of these products or those who consume them, but Bud Light and Pepsi were the bottles and cans most often discarded. Cigarette butts made up the majority of the trash that I saw during the hike. If I picked up every single butt I’d still be out there, perhaps indefinitely. Speaking of cigarettes, I accidentally lit one bag on fire after unknowingly collecting a still-lit butt. Hilarity ensued.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to relieve the Great River Trail of those forty-three bags worth of litter. What I picked up is only a fraction of what’s out there, I’m sure, but I’m hoping something more than just garbage collection happened along the way.
That’s why I stopped to talk with people, to have conversations, to explain what I was doing. Of course I wanted to remove as much trash as I could, but more importantly I wanted to facilitate the changing of attitudes, even if just in a few people. Maybe seeing me out there, talking to me, or reading this will convince one or two people to stop littering. Maybe one or two people will be inspired to take a small bag with them on their walks, runs, or rides and pick up just a few pieces of litter here or there to help out.
That’s my hope anyway. Because while I’m glad that those sixty-five miles have forty-three less bags of trash, changed minds have the potential to last longer and reach further than I can even imagine.
Thanks for taking part everyone. I can’t express my gratitude enough.