“Have you seen a man walking by here with a ten foot Jesus cross over his shoulder recently?” I asked a young girl in light blue nursing fatigues.
I had just turned off on RT 1, immediately over the Connecticut border with Rhode Island: ground zero in my search for Tom Helling — the man who is walking across the USA with a full sized cross over his shoulder.
“No, I think that would be something I would remember seeing,” the young nurse answered with a laugh.
I thanked her politely and began looking for someone else in the street to ask. But the nurse redoubled on her walk by me, turned and asked a very poignant question:
“You were serious by asking that question, weren’t you?”
No, I just thought that it would just be a really good pick up line . . .
And so the first day of searching for Tom Helling and the Cross Walk continued down RT 1 into Connecticut. I focused my inquiries on people selling cigarettes, as I have regularly found street side cigarette vendors to be the best people to ask directions from in any country of the world. So I searched for gas stations and quicky marts . . . and then ask the people working counters if they happened to see a man walking by with a ten foot Jesus cross over his shoulder any time in the recent past.
Most of the recipients of my questions look at me as though they could not figure out if I was putting them on or if I really was so odd as to go around asking such a question seriously.
Needless to say, most of these cigarette vendors were not much help. If they had spotted Helling and his giant cross, they would remember it.
They, apparently, had not.
I felt like Henry Morton Stanley searching in the African bush for Livingstone. Only Stanley found Livingstone the first place he looked for him . . . I did not have such luck finding Tom Helling. Though Stanley did have to travel unbeaten paths through the hinterland of Africa, fight hostile tribes, overcome a dozen sicknesses, and walk a thousand miles. . . whereas I just drove my Subaru 350 miles down highway 95 to Connecticut.
I think we are even.
After traveling more than 20 miles into Connecticut with neither sign nor a confirmed sighting of Helling, I turned around and began working my way back towards Rhode Island. At this juncture, I felt that it was important to get a confirmed sighting to base my search off of — even if that meant backtracking.
I reentered Rhode Island, pulled up to a Mobil On the Run gas station, and stormed in through the door. There was a long line leading up to the man behind the counter. I half heatedly leafed through the local paper to see if any of the reporters had caught wind of the Cross Walk, I read the cashiers name tag: Glenn, his name was Glenn. Good to know.
I eventually waited out my way to the front of the line — Americans actually wait in line, which is probably one of their weirder habits. But soon enough I was talking face to face with Glenn.
“I just have a question.”
“Ok, go ahead,” Gleen helpfully encouraged me.
“You haven’t seen a guy walking by here with a a ten foot Jesus cross over his shoulder, have you?”
“Yes,” Glenn answered matter of factly, “I saw him on my way to work yesterday morning.”
“Really?” I questioned. I wanted to be sure that I was not the one being put on now.
“So you saw him on Sunday morning?”
“Maybe it was Saturday, yeah it was Saturday morning. He was walking towards . . . ”
In my excitement I did not confidently get the location that Helling was reputedly walking towards, but it sounded something like “Granite Hill.”
So I wrote “Granite Hill” down in my notebook, thanked Glenn, and carried on in my search for Tom Helling, the man walking across the USA with the giant Jesus cross.
I looked at my road atlas, but could not find any sign of a “Granite Hill” anywhere on it.
Maybe he meant Groton Hill, I thought to myself. It seemed to make sense, as I was just outside of Groton.
So I searched for Groton Hill, and when I could not find it, I figured that it was just some local nickname for some insignificant little hill in Groton.
I continued on my search down Rt 1. No sign of Helling, and a problem:
Rt 1 meets up with Interstate 95 as it crosses over a bridge. I went over the bridge and determined that it would be very difficult for a man to have walked on the interstate over it — even with complete faith in the Lord.
So here was the situation: did Helling manpower it on the interstate over the only bridge spanning the thin bay, or did he walk north and go around the bay?
The answer to this question was critical to my success in finding Helling. If he went north and around the bay, that means that he could be on pretty much any road going west. Success in my journey was based primarily on the premise that Helling would not stray from Rt 1.
If Helling stayed on Rt 1, I know that I could find him — somehow, someway. If he walked around the bay, then the challenge of my mission expodentiated a dozen fold.
I kept going on Rt 1. I stuck to the plan. No Helling. The day began to grow late, I grew weary from sitting in a car all day long. I scoped out a decent place to sleep for the night — inside of my Subaru hatchback in a hotel parking lot — and made way for a mall.
I needed a place to walk — a place to find the internet. After setting up in the food court, I began pouring over other road maps of Connecticut.
To my despair, I found a town called “Quaker Hill” at the apex of the bay.
Helling, it seems, took the long way around . . .
The search for the Cross Walk will continue into day 2. I am now bobbing for a solitary apple in a barrel that just became over filled with lemons.
Read how this journey in search of Tom Helling and the Cross Walk began at, A Cross America: Spiritually Intoxicated Ex Addict Walks from Maine to Mexico
Read more feature stories at, Backpack Journalism