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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk

Day 11: Newton Centre to Boston Common

Today: 13916 steps/11.61 km/7.21 mi/2h 21m
Total: 425868 steps/381.29 km/236.92 mi/74h 0m

I wake up for this short last leg of the walk, and it's my back that's complaining, more than my toe. And it does not want to deal with stairs. It's 14 stairs down from the bedroom -- 14 stairs that I have walked thousands of times, usually hurriedly, in almost half a century. Today, for the first time, I lean left on the banister, step down with my left foot, and then put my right foot on the same step while clutching the banister, repeating this pattern until I reach the bottom. I have written songs in less time than it takes me to descend the staircase.

The dog, Streaker, greets me at the bottom. I am barefoot, because I am on my way to retrieve the clean clothes from the dryer in the basement. I don't believe I have been barefoot on the ground floor of the house as an adult. Streaker loves it, and he comes over to lick my feet, particularly the injured little toe. How does he know? Does he have a nurturing sense and want to cure what ails me?

I make it down to the basement (in all fairness, my dad has offered to get the clothes for me) and remove the tiny batch from the same dryer that still works after almost 50 years. Are any machines still built to last like that?

I ponder my aching back. My backpack hasn't been particularly heavy. The contents -- just over eight pounds -- when I left New York were as follows:

1. Four short-sleeve shirts, four pairs of socks, and four pairs of underwear -- plus a fifth set, which I wore that first day.

2. A bathing suit that looks like a normal pair of shorts, to alternate with the actual pair of shorts I wore the first day.

3. A thin sweater.

4. Toiletries: an electric toothbrush, a tiny tube of toothpaste, a razor, a tiny tube of shaving cream (saved from an airline amenity kit), and floss. And a few individually packaged wet wipes.

5. A stick of deodorant.

6. My laptop computer, its charger, and a tiny mouse. These constitute just over half the weight.

7. Two extra phone batteries and a charging holder for one, so I can leave a battery charging when I'm out to dinner with my phone. I do not understand why phones no longer have swappable batteries, and as long as my LG V20 keeps working or can be replaced with the same four-year-old model, that is the phone I will use. No feature on any new phone comes close to making up for the stupidity of removing this ability. MapMyWalk has been a fairly decent app for this trip, but it's a power hog, especially with NPR playing and frequent visits to the camera app and Google Maps. Usually I'd swap batteries at lunch, but if I walked more than six hours in a stretch, I'd need to swap mid-walk.

8. An envelope with all my routes printed out. I often referred to Google Maps on my phone as I walked, but sometimes it was handier to read them off paper.

9. A sealable bag with disposable masks.

10. A sealable bag with around a dozen Band-Aids. I've thrown in a couple of Band-Aids on almost all trips for over 20 years, and I think I've used about two of them. This time I've used all but two.

11. A Casio digital watch. This is in addition to the two watches I wear while walking, one a TicWatch smartwatch and the other a TicBand fitness tracker. The smartwatch almost got cut from the plans -- it has an unreliable charging attachment, but it's useful enough that I decided to bear with it. The Casio is the only one whose wake-up alarm I trust, though.

12. The charging cable for the TicWatch, the charging cable for the LG devices, and a plug that accepts both of them. (The TicBand fits directly into the plug.) On arrival at each hotel, I'd immediately start charging something, then switch things around throughout the evening, and everything would be ready to go by the next morning.

13. Three disposable plastic bags from supermarkets. One holds what's left of clean clothes, one holds dirty clothes, and the third holds the toiletries. I can use one of these bags for months, for various purposes; I use them for garbage bags at home, and I've been hoarding them now that New York bans grocery stores from giving them out. The paper bags they sell instead are inferior in every way: less durable, useless when wet, and impossible to sling over your arm. The cloth ones they want to sell you are too bulky and of no help if I've decided on a whim to buy something and don't have one with me. I'm grateful that my produce store on Ninth Avenue is exempt from the new requirements because it's categorized as a farmer's market, so as long as I'm buying healthful food I can get handy bags, too. I appreciate the detriment to the planet caused by plastic, but these bag bans do not incent me to use less plastic. If they're to mandate a replacement, they need a replacement that works.

Along the way I've inherited a small bottle of homemade hand sanitizer that Jodi was kind enough to give me, and I've got two energy bars from the grab-and-go breakfast at the second Doubletree. I'm an optimist and like to think that my backpack's weight should be lessening because I've used up toothpaste and deodorant -- of course that can't be a significant amount. But the weight shouldn't have increased as much as my back is trying to persuade me it has.

Anyway, now that I've had an excuse to rant about phone batteries and plastic-bag bans under the guise of presuming people are interested in what I've carried, let's resume the walk. Today I get to leave the backpack at my parents' house, of course, because I'll return to spend the night. So I head out the door just after noon on another gloriously sunny day, free of any burden on my back. The back surely appreciates that, although it -- and my toe -- still remind me of the past week and a half for the first half-mile or so.

I head down the street and turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, and immediately there are dozens of joggers. Commonwealth is a broad avenue with a grassy median separating the main two-direction roadway from a one-way carriageway. The carriageway sees little traffic; it's here that people are running, and it's where I walk.

There's a lonely playing card on the ground at the edge of the median. I've long loved card games and used to collect decks from airlines; there are a few hundred packs in my parents' attic. When I was 15 I found a queen of spades on the ground by the Newton Centre light-rail station, and I brought it home. Anyone who plays the game hearts -- and I played a lot of it back then -- knows that the queen of spades is the worst card you can get. I thought nothing of picking up that card; it looked forlorn and unhappy and in need of some love. I'm not superstitious, but the next morning I broke my finger. In the evening I tore up the queen of spades.

Today it's the benign two of diamonds, and I'm content to leave it. Just ahead, at a few steps beyond 2,000, the median becomes the Boston College light-rail branch, and I wait for a train to pull into the terminal. A Boston College bus comes by, its destination sign alternating between "Commonwealth Avenue" and "Beat Northwestern." There are no sports, but I'm surprised the students are back at school. At the side of the road, a happy-looking black dog is being trained.

My plan, at my dad's encouragement, is to follow the marathon route into Boston for its last six miles and then continue to the Boston Common. I turn onto Chestnut Hill Avenue and, a block later, reach Beacon Street and the end of the Cleveland Circle light-rail branch at step 3,000.

I turn left on Beacon, itself a wide roadway with train tracks separating the two directions of traffic. I enter Brookline, whose handsome townhouses are interspersed with restaurants and doctors' offices. The Barcelona Wine Bar is hopping for Labor Day brunch; there are more people waiting for a table than I saw in 28 miles of walking between Portland and Mansfield Center on...Wednesday? Thursday? The long days went by so fast.

Every few blocks I see an information board. On one side are facts about Brookline: It had two stops on the Underground Railroad, it contains a building relocated from the 1893 World's Fair, and so on. On the other side is a digital display with news, weather, the arrival times of the next trains, and a "What's on your mind?" section. People can text in their responses, and once approved, they'll show up on the boards along Beacon Street.

The display shows the three most recent responses, and judging from the timing, the board isn't very popular. The oldest and least pithy is from last night, and it reads "good night." Today we've had "Lindsay <3 Matt" and "Happy birthday Victoria! Love you so much <3." I think, what the heck, and I text in "Finishing up an 11-day walk from New York City to Boston. Beautiful day!" It's approved a few minutes later, and I see it when I get to the next board, just before the rail line heads underground toward Kenmore Square.

This is about as far as I've walked from my parents' house before -- I've gone on foot to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game. Today there's no game, and of course I couldn't attend even if there were. But I do see the giant "Black Lives Matter" mural on the side of the park, and I'm encouraged by this support of the movement. I'm less happy to see that the Eastern Standard restaurant, just before the 10,000-step mark, has closed; in place of the outdoor tables are homeless people sleeping under the awning.

Beacon and Commonwealth intersect at Kenmore. I'm now back on Commonwealth; I turn onto Hereford and then left on Boylston to trace the marathon route. Stone markers and bronze spires pay tribute to the three people killed near the finish line of the 2013 marathon. At Copley Square, I reach step 12,000, and there's a homeless man sitting on the ground. His cardboard signs say "What Would Jesus Do?" and "Today Is My 40th Birthday." He gets a buck, not because I think the sign is truthful, but because I want to believe that I've interacted with two 40th birthdays on this trip.

At step 13,000, I'm in the Public Garden, and I have just one more street to cross before the journey is over. I slow down. Do I want it to end? What comes to mind from the past 11 days? Plodding along Pumpkin Hill Road with blistered feet. Staring down trucks on highways with no sidewalks. But also meeting a birthday girl and a hospice worker, collecting meals from produce stands, walking an old rail route, discovering the underappreciated beauty of northeastern Connecticut, and plenty else.

There are books, particularly travel books, where I hesitate to read the last chapter because I'm not ready for the journey to end. I'm still in the middle of a book about driving through China, started years ago, and I've lent my copy of "Visit Sunny Chernobyl" -- a hilarious travelogue about the world's most polluted places -- to a friend, so it will be some time before I know the final location.

It's time for this journey to wrap up, and it will do so quietly. My professional world is music and theatre, which has applause and bows. But unlike shows with audiences, books end unceremoniously: You come to the last word and you close the cover, alone.

And this walk will end the same way. There are throngs of picnickers in the Public Garden, hanging out by the pond and under the European horse chestnuts -- have I paused to read the tree labels before? -- and they are part of my experience, but my presence is unremarkable to them, as it should be. I cross Charles Street and stroll through the less densely populated Boston Common and up the hill toward the Massachusetts State House.

The dome is gleaming, as it should be. It has no opinion on my presence, either, but it serves its purpose: to anchor the city I've grown up next to, and to do it with historic flair and pride. The Duck Tours go by -- hybrid vehicles that drive along the streets and then float along the Charles River. The guide points out the State House and, across the street, the location of a monument damaged during recent tension between protesters and police. I take pictures of the dome, and then others step up and take theirs, and the rationale behind our actions is unknown to others.

I do want this moment to last, however, and it's time for a late lunch. More places are open than I expect on Labor Day, but only one comes to mind as the fitting place to sit down: Cheers, just a few minutes away, along the Public Garden. My dad has offered to collect me from the end of the walk, and I welcome his company at the meal; he shows up just as I finish a Bloody Mary, and then he and I clink beers and eat chili and a meatball sub, respectively.

Neither of us has been to Cheers before, although we know the old sitcom well. There's plenty of merchandise for sale, but all I want to take home is the menu, as I've been doing all along this summer. In my apartment is a folder loosely labeled "Programs" for each year since 1983 -- programs from concerts and shows, of course, but also museum leaflets, hiking brochures, ticket stubs, and other pages from outings. This year's folder is unusually thin, but with restaurants opting for single-use menus, I've been collecting those instead.

We get in the car and start heading home. "The car goes so fast," I say.

"In ten minutes, we'll cover what just took you two and a half hours."

I doze off. When we arrive at the house, I fall asleep on a lounge chair outside. When it gets chilly, I go in and fall asleep on the couch. When I wake up, I go upstairs and fall asleep on the bed. My body knows we have a dinner reservation at seven, though, so I'm up a few minutes before we need to leave.

I've left a pair of jeans here from my previous visit: I knew I wouldn't need pants during the walk but would want them for dining out. I start putting them on, and I whimper.

I'm dizzy. Everything is catching up. My mind had promised my body a rest, and now here I am awake and trying to move again. I drank water at Cheers, but also a Bloody Mary and a beer. My body is confused, and it's telling me to take it easy.

I can't stay upright. My dad hears my whimper and brings water. It revives me enough that I can step into my jeans and head downstairs. It's a seven-minute drive to Legal Sea Foods, and I'm pretty sure I sleep for part of that, too.

The water can't come fast enough. I drink a pint, and then another, before we've ordered, and I feel like myself again. My mom has clam chowder to start, and my dad and I want raw oysters. But they're out of them -- they haven't had them for a month, the waiter says. The same with the littleneck clams. Last night my parents watched a news report about the dwindling supply of oysters, especially wild ones in Florida. They're being farmed, but there aren't nearly enough to satisfy demand.

But the staff has handed us single-use menus, printed on Friday. If they've been a month without oysters and clams, why does the menu still start with a section called "On the Half Shell," mentioning exactly those two items? I'm quite certain "Bully Boy" is fixed by now.

They're not totally out of cold shellfish, however, and we enjoy shrimp cocktails while my mother lauds the chowder. Whatever Legal Sea Foods does have is always good, fresh, and dependable, as she says. Her main is a fish sandwich that's so tall a hippo couldn't get its mouth around it; my dad has fish and chips, and I have a swordfish steak.

The drive home feels fast. Cars really do go fast -- or it certainly seems so when you've been completing no more than four miles an hour for a week and a half.

And the drive home is also necessary. My body deserves its rest, and it shall have it tomorrow. But there is a time and a place for every pace, and I'm sure it won't be long before I'm looking up routes again, seeing where my feet might take me.

Go on to the epilogue