December 7, 2006

48: Finding Godmersham (part 2 - hitchhike like a librarian)

At 1:40 I caught the train to Chilham. By 2:40, I was drenched, my hair soaked, my pants wet 4 inches deep, walking on a narrow slippery shoulder of an incredibly busy A road in the middle of the Kent countryside. I didn’t know that A roads were the main routes, until Margaret told me just a few minutes ago.

One of my most frequent prayers of late is that I will just not be an idiot. And I don’t mean the socially awkward, always saying the wrong things at the wrong time kind of idiot, though perhaps I should pray for that more as I have some talent in that area. I mean, the kind of proud ridiculous idiot who thinks highest of themselves and as a result whose life adds up to very little in the end. But this was idiocy of a whole other kind. About fifteen minutes into the experience, I knew that this was one of the dumbest things I had ever done, and begged God to please do something to get me off the side of the road, even though I often question His direct involvement in my life as a result of prayer. Today I believed.

It made sense when I started out. Chilham was the smallest train station I had seen yet. There were no cabs, not even a shack, no phone numbers posted on a sign anywhere. Everyone who got off the train with me disappeared. I started to walk in what seemed like the direction of town. I passed a tea shop and thought perhaps I shoud stop there to call a cab, but just beyond it was a signpost that said Godmersham. I remembered that Chilham was mentioned in the book I had, the one that describes all the Austen hikes. I looked it up there at the side of the road and found it was only two or three miles, but the writer recommended a back way through fields and I couldn’t figure that out. Better to stick to the road. It had stopped raining, although it was spitting a little. There was a marked walking path beside the road, even, so I set out. What is two or three miles on a walking path by a country road in spitting rain to reach a village no one has ever heard of? I could hear Marianne saying, It’s not going to rain. And anyway, it’s nothing I mind at all.

The walking trail quickly veered off to the left and I decided to follow the road instead. It started to rain again, harder, until it was raining so hard it seemed to be coming straight through my Goretex jacket, under which I was sweating from the exertion. I tried to keep my hood up to keep my head dry, but it cuts off my vision and eventually it just annoyed me so I took it down and let my head get soaked. The shoulder was gradually disappearing.

Fifteen minutes in, I knew it was a mistake. But I thought, how much further can it be? Fifteen more minutes, and the shoulder had completely disappeared so that I was walking in the road and jumping up on the bank between trees when I heard cars coming. Like a horrible sitcom every car that went by splashed me with water. The road curved so much and the cars were going so fast, I thought how easy it would be for a car to whip around a corner and hit me dead on. I was officially terrified. But now I was 30 minutes into the walk, and I know I can easily walk a mile in 15 minutes, so I thought it really couldn’t be that much further.

I slipped on the grass and my hand landed on nettles of some kind. All I could think was, what if I had slipped into the road? I passed a simple, expensive-looking house with handcrafted bronze gates. Feeling incredibly foolish, I rang the intercom, but the phone on the other end just rang and rang and no one picked up.

So when I made it to a little clearing, I did the only thing I could think of: I stuck out my thumb. Only I don’t know how to hitchhike the cool way, so I looked like a soaked crazy woman now having an incredibly bad hair day sticking out my thumb in the manner of a librarian and occasionally trying to wave cars down. No one stopped.

to be continued...


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