It Begins | The Long Journey Podcast
This is Jason Jamar and the Long Journey Podcast, detailing my travels across America as I share thrilling stories from my 16-month backpacking trek from California to Maine and my eight-month kayak voyage from Maine to Texas.
On September 20, 1999, I embarked on a two-and-a-half-year journey. A trek on foot over 4,000 miles from San Diego, CA, to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada – just across the international bridge from Calais, ME.
It Begins | The Long Journey Podcast
This is the Long Journey Podcast, with Jason Jamar detailing my travels across America as I share thrilling stories from my 16-month backpacking adventure from California to Maine and my eight-month kayak voyage from Maine to Texas.
September 20, 1999.
Elevation: Sea Level
Sunrise: 6:36am Sunset: 6:49pm
Moon Phase: Waxing Gibbous
Location: La Jolla, San Diego, CA
The morning began with breakfast at my friend’s home, United States Marine Corps Sgt. Marvin Medlock. He and his family lived in San Diego, and up to three weeks ago, so did I – at least until I had completed my enlistment.
Sgt. Medlock and I both were assigned to the 3rd Marine Air Wing stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. I had arrived the night before via a 37-hour ride on a Greyhound bus from my hometown of Marble Falls, TX. Marvin put me up for the night and then drove me down to the pier at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, La Jolla, San Diego, California, so I might begin my walk.
It was exhilarating to be here on the western shore, looking into the east, finally starting my adventure.
I had planned, prayed, prepared food, studied maps, and cached supplies and water in key locations for months. I had worked hard to be debt free and to save money to travel. I purchased a pack, camping equipment, a laptop, and a digital camera. I mapped my route and made lists and more lists. Lots of lists. I would need lists of gear and equipment, lists of mileage between supply caches, lists of contacts of people to seek out along the way, and lists of local dial-up numbers to get online as I traveled across the country.
Because back in 1999, high-speed internet was hardly available, dial-up was the way to surf the net. There were only two nationwide Internet Service Providers at the time, and thanks to a generous sponsor, I was using Prodigy.
I was ready, yet to say I wasn’t anxious about what was ahead would be a lie. Who I would meet, and what adventures lay waiting on the other side of this beach. What would my new life be? Had I prepared enough? Had I planned enough? Had I made enough lists? What would I learn about this nation and its people? Would it be better than what the 24-hour news cycle reported? What about myself? Would this challenge of my mettle prove too much? Did I have what it takes to make it to Maine?
I walked down to the water. The waves crashed around my feet. Resolutely, I stared East towards the rising sun. The feelings I had at this moment reminded me of a line from one of my favorite movies. A line that is spoken by “Red” in the Shawshank Redemption, when he was free from prison and about to begin his journey to find his friend Andy:
“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”
I asked the Lord for safety and protection, and I felt with all of my heart that I would arrive at my destination. I just had no idea how long it would take or how much I would be changed by the journey’s conclusion.
I asked a passing gentleman on the beach to take a picture to mark the occasion. Then with the first step in the Pacific, I began.
But the first step out of the ocean, in the shadow of the Scripps Pier, really wasn’t the beginning, it had started many months ago, and the fact that I was embarking on a hike across America was pretty grand, but that I could walk at all, now that was truly amazing!
In October of ’98, I was less than a year from starting my little hike. The movie Antz had been top of the box office for a couple of weeks but would be topped by A Bug’s Life 6 weeks later. Astronaut John Glenn, who had been the First American to orbit the earth, was about to become the oldest person in space at 77 years of age – it would be 23 years in Oct. 2021 when Capt. Kirk (ahem, William Shatner) would top that at age 90!
I had been planning the trip for several months. A month prior, I had driven the route from California to Marble Falls, Texas, taking careful and copious notes about what lay ahead.
But now, I was back in Southern California with my unit. We were stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, long since closed, as it was on the BRAC list, short for Base Realignment and Closure, a decision made four years before I would be stationed there in 1996. The BRAC was a program to realign military assets in the wake of the Cold War. We were deployed in an approx. 2000 square mile area of Southern California and Arizona, conducting what was the largest operation our unit had engaged in since the first Gulf War.
My job in the Corps was data communications; basically, my platoon was a bunch of buff nerds. During this operation, I was part of a small team, like several other small teams, that had set up LANs (local area networks) that were integral in a much larger WAN (wide area network), all connected via microwave and satellite communications. Important logistics traffic and information passed through our data networks.
My team was temporally located at the Headquarters building for Marine Air Support Squadron 3 in the 32 Area of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, about an hour north of San Deigo.
In this building, we were given a small utility room to set up all of our data communication equipment. Honestly, to compare this room to a cramped, stuffy, dingy little broom closet would be a disservice to dingy little broom closets everywhere. (Okay, it was bigger than a broom closet, but not by much, and the room itself didn’t have ventilation.)
We set up our equipment and went online with the rest of our unit. This proved satisfactory as long as we were using non-secure communications; however, as soon as we switched to secure communications, all of our networks stopped “talking” to one another. Keep in mind that this was the late 90s, so software and hardware have changed dramatically. Either way, the important thing; we could not communicate! This was a big deal. A big deal because Marines were conducting live fire with artillery, tanks, fixed wing, and rotary wing, they relied on effective and secure communication to accomplish their jobs safely.
A basic Marine philosophy in approaching warfare is to engage, respond, and project; the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a temporary construct as the mission determines, is where the “rubber meets the road,” philosophically speaking.
The objective of this MAGTF was to keep a continual stream of bombardment upon a target, perfectly coordinated between all the elements listed above. The communication element of that group is crucial.
For four days straight, we were up continuously, around the clock. We had to resolve the communications issues. Finally, success! Having established secure communications, we were granted permission to get the rest we desperately needed. I chose to sleep just outside the back door of this building because of the thought of one more moment in that dingy broom closet without climate control, the sound of heat sync fans alternately running, and the flashing of so many little lights. I had had it.
The weather was amazing outside, and the night air was crisp. This night I would sleep under the stars.
A bit about the 32 Area: the Headquarters building was one of several buildings within a compound behind a fence with gate guards. (I think the extra security was just for this training operation, as I don’t believe that gates, guards, or fences typically surrounded this facility.) If memory serves, the main entrance to this compound was to the southeast. The H.Q. building is oriented to the Southwest, with a large parking lot to the front and right side of the building. A small paved area to the left side of the building was separated from the southwest parking lot by a median, landscaped with small shrubs and flowers. That median ran directly from the building to the northwest to a grassy berm that ran north-south about 15 yards from the left side of the Headquarters building. There were three or four small connex boxes just to this side of the berm, making the small paved area a great deal smaller. On the other side of the berm was a north-south paved road that went to the crest of the hill, where a large air traffic radar stood, rotating continuously.
Down the hill to the south were the motor pool, armory, and a couple of other buildings, along with another gated access to the compound. The only way to access the small paved area to the left of the H.Q. building was a narrow driveway to the north connected to the road on the other side of the berm.
We had been the only ones to drive in the small paved lot to the left of the building the whole week; it wasn’t a road, and we would generally park our Humvee here next to the door to access our broom closet data center.
This night we parked our Humvee in the main parking lot. They didn’t generally want tactical vehicles in the main parking during regular working hours, but I think someone had made a snack run and returned after the other gate was closed. So I threw my sleeping bag down, parallel to the building, by the back door, underneath a large light just so no one would trip over me. Despite lying directly on the asphalt, I immediately slipped into the deepest slumber, and it was excellent. Everything was right with the world (you know, as excellent as it can be sleeping on the pavement. It shows how low the bar is, the more exhausted you are.
Excruciating pain shot through my legs! I was disoriented by the roar of the large diesel engine. My eyes strained to see a massive bumper directly over my head as a Marine Corps 5-ton was crushing my legs. My first thought: “They ran over me! I can’t believe they ran over me!” The next,” Jason, you can forget about walking across the United States; you will never walk again!
It was 5:30 in the morning, so it was still very dark outside. A group of Marines bound for the rifle range had taken a shortcut through this small paved lot between the row of connex boxes and the left side of the H.Q. building. They cut hard and fast, almost hitting the building with the front bumper.
The front tire, driver’s side, on the 5-ton (we call them 5 tons because they are rated to carry 5 tons worth of cargo. Actually, they weigh in excess of 8.5 tons.) ran over both of my legs, with the double-axle, or double tires just missing my feet. In the course of the night, I had shifted in my sleep and was now perpendicular to the building with my head against the wall. The width of the tires was the exact length of my shins. An inch higher or an inch lower, I would have had crushed knees or ankles. You have to keep in mind I hadn’t slept in 4 days. So, I was out, and I never heard the truck as it roared into this back lot. In the instant that it hit my legs, I was completely relaxed.
In a split second, the tire began rolling over my legs; I tensed up at the pain and shock. So while my right leg was relaxed, my left leg tensed and thereby received more damage.
The truck continued, and just as it was jumping the median (you know, the one that has shrubs and flowers,) I heard a Marine in the back exclaim, “Hey, I think we ran over somebody or something!” By this point, I had jerked myself up as the truck passed. I must have been in shock because I didn’t yell out. I watched them drive on as I tried to unzip my sleeping bag. The truck never stopped, just as the driver never saw me. He also couldn’t hear the guy in the back. Later, in the investigation that followed, I found out that my sitting up so quickly after the accident made the Marine, who had exclaimed that we had hit someone, think I must have been okay and just let the incident go.
I sat there, knowing I had to get help, wondering how bad the damage was—my legs were on fire. Every time my heart beat, my legs throbbed. It felt as though thousands of needles stabbed through them at once, as if they had gone to sleep, only more intense. They also felt hot and wet, as though they were oozing blood. The pain in my right leg convinced me that my tibia and fibula were broken, my left leg felt like it was crushed, and the bones pulverized. I did not try to stand, assuming my legs wouldn’t support me. I unzipped my sleeping bag, which now had tire tread marks on it, and the asphalt I had also been lying on had rubber tread marks except where my bag had been. (I only know this because of the pictures the investigator took afterward.)
I dragged myself to the door just a few feet away and fumbled with it until it opened. I bellowed down the dark hallway for my friend, Sgt. Raymond Ciok. As I crawled down the hallway, I felt that surely I was leaving a trail of blood behind me; I strained back to check, but no dark red smear – that’s a good sign. Again I yelled for Ray at the top of my lungs. Another 30 feet down the hall and right to the hall with our broom closet data center. Several times, I screamed for Ray with all the energy I could muster as I continued dragging my useless legs behind me. Finally, I reached our room; here, the feeling I was in a bad dream was compounded not just for myself but also for Ray. I pushed the old wooden door ajar; it creaked like a door in a horror movie.
On the floor in the center of the room lies my friend Ray, ever so peaceful, illuminated with the fluorescent light from the hall, the rest of the room a dark cavern. Just as I had been awake for four days, so had Ray. And as I had not heard the truck, Ray had not heard me shouting his name.
“Ray!” I yowled as loud as I could.
“What!” Ray roared, startled from his slumber.
“I got run over by a 5-ton!” I managed through the pain.
“What!!?” said Ray, utter shock and terror in his eyes.
“I got run over by a 5-ton!”
I had only managed to crawl to the door and push it open. All Ray could see was my talking head on the floor, with the rest of my body blocked by the wall. He jumped into action and rushed to me. I could see on his face that he wasn’t sure what he would see once he got into the hall.
He got to me and quickly glanced down, assuring himself that all of me was there, that no entrails were dangling out and that my legs appeared to be intact.
“I’ll get help!” he exclaimed and raced down the hall to where the Duty Staff Non-Commissioned Officer on call was located. The ambulance was there within 15 to 20 minutes, and I was taken to the base hospital. My legs were black and blue and had swollen to three times their normal size. I suffered massive contusions.
Once at the hospital, the fun continued. They took x-rays to determine the extent of my injuries. They poked and prodded me to assess the level of damage. Miraculously, there were no broken bones. I had this one Navy Lieutenant who would not leave me alone about a urine sample. It was standard procedure to test my urine to make sure I wasn’t on any drugs during the accident.
But I didn’t need to go. So, she left me with a collection bottle that I could, you know, fill right there in my bed. Here’s the thing you spend your whole life training your body not to go while you are lying down; if you go while you are lying down, then it means you were dreaming and asleep, and now you have bigger problems. She kept coming back every fifteen minutes to half hour to collect my sample. I could not force myself to go while I lay in bed; I just couldn’t. Finally, after a couple of hours, she threatened to put a catheter in to get the sample. I flat-out told her she would not be performing such a procedure on me. At this, she grabbed her lapel to remind me that she was an officer and I was not. At this point, I did not care; the hell with rank, proper military etiquette, and honors. I would not have a catheter shoved up; you get the idea. And I told her I didn’t care about rank; this would not happen. She left in a huff. Gunnery Sgt. Clarke, our platoon Staff Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge, had come to see me in the hospital; tried to calm me down. I told him and another doctor that if I could stand, I could go, but I could not go here in this bed. They got me a wheelchair and helped me to a nearby restroom, where Gunny had to help me stand while I filled the container. Sorry Gunny.
I managed to get up and walk that day, albeit very slowly, with the aid of a walker. I was determined to walk from the hospital to the vehicle to take me back to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and my barracks room.
I remember that a Colonel, I think the Group CO came to visit me in the barracks to make sure I was alright and being well taken care of. He and the 1st Sgt were very keen on my pick of lottery numbers, hoping to cash in on my extreme good luck! I spent the weekend sleeping, knocked out on Vicodin.
My kids love to play “telephone” at the dinner table, you know, the game, a short phrase is whispered into the person’s ear next to you and whispered in turn all around the table until it gets back to you. Everyone finds out how close the final phrase is to the original: my roommate, Cpl. Wesley Andrews, who had been on a separate team that week, said that the Marine Corps version of “telephone” was played out that morning among the other sites.
First, the call went out that a marine had been run over that morning by a 5-ton and sadly didn’t make it. A half-hour later, an update, “it was Jamar who was run over.” Then another half-hour, “it was Jamar, and he lived but was in the hospital, and it didn’t look good.” A little later, ” It was Jamar, and it ran over both of his legs; looks like he’s going to make it, but he will never walk again. Then finally, later that afternoon, ” okay, it was both of his legs, but he is okay, and nothing was broken!”
The pain from getting run over was more than I had ever encountered. Now with a few years behind me, I would rank the pain just above kidney stones and just hair shy of a “man cold.”
The only sign today that anything ever happened is ripples or “tread marks” on my left shin muscle (Tibialis anterior) when I flex it. And a slight loss of feeling in that area of my legs. I was so thankful that it was not worse; within 2-1/2 weeks of the accident, I ran a physical fitness test.
There is another component to this story. I believe we are more than just flesh and blood; we are also spirit. I had become a Christian my senior year in high school and had been very excited and motivated about that fact, so much so that some of the guys called me church lady in boot camp. I just laughed and rolled with it.
Before I got run over, I had come to a spiritual low. I had been running away from God for months as if I could really get away, wanting just to be accepted by my peers. I could smile and act as though everything was fine, yet I was miserable on the inside and had gotten very depressed.
One of my goals for my trek across the United States was to work on my relationship with God. I had prayed the night before bedtime that God would do something to bring me back. So I got run over the following morning. My legs should have been pulverized; had I been lying in the other direction, I’d have been a chalk outline and a grease stain. God spared my legs that morning; I believe he allowed me to take my trip; however, it would be on His terms and not mine. You see, many people think it is incredible that I was able to walk across the country, but I am thankful that I can walk at all.
In the Marine Corps, we have a motto: Semper Fidelis – “always faithful.” Of course, a Marine somewhere with a fine sense of humor had put a twist on it for our unofficial secondary motto – Semper Gumby – always flexible, noting how well Marines overcome, adapt, and multitask. I was not sure I was what they had in mind, but my legs felt pretty Gumby after the accident.
Surviving the ordeal earned some extra respect from my band of brothers. How best do Marines express their regard, admiration, and general overall esteem for their fellow Marine’s miraculous recovery and relative indestructibility? Well, nicknames, of course – “Man of Steel,” “Super Man,” “Iron Man,” and everyone’s favorite, “Speed Bump.”
I left the beach at Scripps Pier and easily covered eight miles to what had been my home for the last ten months, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. I went by, paid a visit to my old platoon, and stayed the night in my old barracks room. I had only been out of it for about three weeks: my roommate before I left, Cpl. Andrews hadn’t been assigned a new roommate and was happy to let me bunk down for the night.
The next day, I went and got my Reservist I.D., then I started from MCAS Miramar and hiked a little over ten miles to a Subway in Poway. I had good reason to stop at this Subway besides just getting a foot long. My first cache of supplies was waiting for me there. Since camping in the middle of the city was not how I wanted to start the trip, I was able to call a friend for a lift back to Miramar for another night, and then they would give me a ride back to this same Subway in the morning to continue where I left off. Knowing that the next day I would be able to hike enough miles to be able to camp – then my trip would start for “real.”
Finally, getting out of the city and closer to the Pacific Crest Trail. The trip, now underway, gets a lot tougher than I had imagined. Plus, the extensive details of preparing and the motivation for backpacking across the United States.
You can find more details about The Long Journey Podcast at journeylong.com, and be sure to join my newsletter. Thank you. May you journey long.