2006.09.27 Clayton arrives at the bridge

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

After all the running and walking was over Sunday morning at the Neal Singles 5K, a solitary pedestrian headed into town later that afternoon.

Inveterate walker Clayton Klein, 87, wrapped up his 417-mile journey that began in the Upper Peninsula town of Paradise, passed through the Lower Peninsula town of Hell, and finished in Morenci.

When Clayton walked the state a year ago, he traveled down M-52 to the state line. This year, after he sent an e-mail about his upcoming trip to newspapers across the state, I invited him to take a turn and end his journey south of Morenci. A walk across the historic truss bridge would offer a satisfying finish.

He took me up on the offer and Morenci was placed at the bottom of his itinerary. And that was the last I heard from him.

He started his walk Sept. 1, crossed the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day and kept heading south. His schedule stated he would leave the Bob Evans restaurant in Adrian about 8:30 a.m. Sept. 24 and head for Morenci and the state line.

I had no way of contacting him and I couldn’t hang out at the bridge all day waiting. Maybe he was off schedule, I thought, and wouldn’t even appear.

Around 1 p.m., I drove to the bridge with John Robertson, an out-of-town visitor who was here for the 5K run, just to try my luck. No one was in sight.

We had lunch, John left for home, and another set of 5K visitors, Jeff and Grace Johnston, announced they would like to take a walk before they got in their car and headed back home to Flint.

“Do you want to walk to the bridge to see if Clayton is here?” I asked, not too seriously.

That sounded good to them so off we went. Once again, there was no sign of the hiker, but what did we expect?

“Do you think he might carve his initials on the bridge?” Grace asked. “Clayton was here.”

I spotted something odd under the highway bridge so we went down to take a look. It was a toy that must have washed downstream.

We were standing down below when I noticed a man approaching on the sidewalk. I didn’t think it was Clayton. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but he just looked like anybody out for a stroll. All alone, ordinary clothing, no hiking staff.

“He looks like a dapper gentleman,” Grace said. “I think it’s him.”

We went back up on top and met the man about in the middle of the bridge.

“Is your name Clayton?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered, “and are you David Green?”

To think how close this had been to a completely uneventful end to his journey. We just happened to show up at the right time.

We walked with him into Ohio—he thought it was about a mile away instead of 50 yards—and read the old slab of granite that surveyors planted at the state line more than a century ago.

Grace asked the obvious question: Why do you do this?

“A couple reasons,” Clayton answered. “First of all, I really like to walk. Second is the charities.”

He likes to tell people about Hospice and the American Cancer Society. He doesn’t do fund raising and he doesn’t collect money. He just provides people with the proper addresses if they want to donate.

All Clayton had to do now was wait for his ride. His son and daughter were scheduled to pick him up sometime that afternoon. Clayton isn’t the kind of guy to carry a cell phone. He hadn’t spoken with his son since they were in Hell together a few days earlier. He just knew they would show up.

We walked back toward Main Street and he kept an eye open for a Ford mini-van.

We talked about walking in the rain (he doesn’t favor raincoats, they only make him wetter), about dogs (he’s never been bit, he just acts friendly and they accept him), and about his other adventures. He used to do a lot of travel by canoe, and his tale about almost getting gored by a musk ox in  the Northwest Territories is a good one.

Jeff and Grace had to get back home. I had to get some work done. We left Clayton at the corner of East and Main, pleased to make his acquaintance.

I looked over my shoulder once and saw him leaning up against a cable TV box in the yard where we left him.

I looked again later and he was gone.

– Sept. 27, 2006
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