After a day and a half of driving up and down Connecticut’s eastern fringes of RT 1, searching for Thomas Helling — who is currently on a cross bearing pedestrian journey from Maine to Mexico — I realized that my methods were a touch futile.
Driving down the highway at highway speed was to turn my search into a needle in a haystack sort of operation. I needed to slow down, I needed to walk slow.
So I took my tag line seriously, and began walking. To find a man on a walking journey across the USA, I should go on foot myself.
So I redefined my search criteria to a much smaller corridor. I poured over the maps of Rt 1 as it passed through Rhode Island and into Connecticut and made a discovery:
The previous day I had received a confirmed sighting of the man with the giant cross. A guy working the counter at a gas station said that he saw Tom walking towards a town that sounded something like “Granite Hill.”
I made the mistake of not confirming this location with him and spelling out this location, and when I returned to looking at my map, I realized that there was no sign of such place as Granite Hill in Connecticut . . . but there was a Quaker Hill.
Given that I did not fully understand the gas station attendant’s pronunciation of the place where he said he spotted Helling compiled with the fact that the town of Quaker Hill could very well have been on the path — if he took the long way around a bay to avoid walking on an interstate highway — I determined that it made sense that “Granite Hill” could have been Quaker Hill.
But, as I looked over the maps a day later to hone in on the parameters for an intensified pedestrian survey, I noticed that there was a town in Rhode Island just off of Rt 1 called “Green Hill.”
In my haste, I took it for granted that the gas station attendant had spotted Tom in Connecticut. I did not take it into consideration that Helling was still in Rhode Island, as this would have put him a couple of days behind the time that he previously predicted that he would be entering Connecticut.
I then laughed at my iron headed presumptuousness: people walking across a continent generally do not make appointments. When traveling in such a slow and intuitive style, it is very easy to be stalled for days in places that you previously planned on breezing through.
So I took Green Hill to be the place where Helling was spotted by the gas station attendant on Saturday morning. It was now 11 AM on Wednesday. I reigned in my search parameters to be from Mystic, Connecticut to the Rhode Island border.
And thus I began to walk.
As I walked through the town of Mystic, I questioned everyone out on the street who appeared to be local, and I walked into every store, restaurant, or gas station that had an open view of Rt 1, which was the main street of their town:
“By any chance have you noticed a man walking by here with a giant Jesus cross,” I asked over and over again to blank stares and confused smirks . . .
. . . and over and over again the blank stares and confused smirks answered in the negative. I walked on.
I was now fully out of the town of Mystic and on my way towards the Rhode Island border. My inquiry methods grew more concentrated as I exited the town: I knocked on every business door, and asked everyone that I encountered if they had seen the man with the giant cross.
Finally, I turned up a lead: a young, freckled faced gas station attendant confirmed that he had saw a man who met the description.
“Have you seen a man with a giant cross walking down this road?” I inquired.
“Do you mean today?” he retorted.
How many other days do men with giant crosses walk through these parts?
“Yes, today or any time recently.” I replied with excitement.
“Yeah, I saw a guy with a big cross that was on a wheel last night, around 5 or 6 just past Westerly.”
Helling had just entered Connecticut the night before. I had grossly overestimated the ground that he had covered by at least 30 kilometers.
The parameters for my search were now very highly refined. I could confidently reason that Helling was within a dozen kilometer length of space.
I ran back to my car: now that I had such a recent confirmed sighting, I figured that I could canvass this stretch of highway over and over again until my search came to fruition.
I drove down to the farthest distance of my new search parameter — Groton, Connecticut — and then drove back through Mystic, heading towards the location where Helling was last sighted.
Just as I passed by the gas station where the freckled faced boy gave me by best lead, I saw IT:
Just as I topped a hill, I saw The Cross.
It was still rolling just as smoothly as it was the first time I met with Helling on the side of the highway way up in Maine, nearly two months before.
I slammed on my brakes and pulled over to the side of the highway, jumped out of the car, and ran towards Tom.
He was smiling.
“Is that Wade?” he called out as I came into greeting range.
“Tom!” I yelled, my entire body was bouncing.
We shook hands, patted each other on the shoulders, and talked fast about what had happened since we parted on that highway in Maine.
Tom was still smiling the same wide open sort of smile that I remember him wearing on the first day of his journey. From this smile — now shinning on a more sunburnt and weathered face — I knew that The Road had treated him well.
“God has been watching over me,” Tom spoke joyously.
I believed him.
Wade and Tom in Connecticut.
An article about my first meeting with Tom and the Cross Walk — A Cross America: Spiritually Intoxicated Ex Addict Walks from Maine to Mexico