During the 20-mile drive to the stretch of road where he stopped the previous afternoon, Garfunkel discusses strategy. He knows that his combined left-right strides measure five feet. That's exactly 2,112 steps per mile. He knows (his master's degree in mathematics is being put to use on The Walk) that 46 left-right paces a minute translate into 2.6 mph.
Lipson pulls onto a secondary road and stops the car. At 8:45 a.m., Garfunkel lopes off in the direction of Scotia (pop. 318), which lies 11 miles closer to Oregon. He is weighed down by only a road map, a pair of reading glasses, a watch, which he frequently pulls out of his pocket to check, a Walkman and an eclectic selection of tapes, including Peter Gabriel, Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and poems of John Donne, read by Richard Burton.
A slight hill crests ahead. Garfunkel has no idea what is on the far side. Cornstalks may give way to fields of huge refrigeration tanks. The Grange could be dabbling in satanism. No matter. He is a prisoner of Walk Rule No. 1: No peeking. No exceptions! Whenever Lipson must drive him over a section of as-yet-un-walked road to get to their motel, Garfunkel rides with his eyes shut. Likewise, he will not fly in or out of an airport situated in untrod territory.
The rules are a reflection of Garfunkel's perfectionism. He is rock 'n' roll's Felix Unger. This is a man who keeps the 1,664-page Random House Dictionary of the English Language on his kitchen table to read (albeit from Z to A). He has a Rolodex filled with words and their definitions, hand-printed and cataloged by number. For instance, word No. 5,107 is crepuscule. For those who keep only salt and pepper on the kitchen table, it means "twilight."
Garfunkel says his journey through the dictionary is "a very similar thing to The Walk." Both are comprehensive in scope, dead serious in intent. Consequently, he has formulated Walk Rule No. 2: Keep moving. There is logic to that. Constant starting and stopping is a waste of energy. Garfunkel prefers locking into metabolic cruise control, letting gravity determine his speed—a notch slower going uphill, a notch faster coming down. In addition, The Walk was never envisioned as an opportunity to mingle with the masses. It isn't about socializing. It's about being the perfect stranger. "I'm just Mr. Question Mark," says Garfunkel with a shrug.
Left-right, left-right, left-right. Scotia draws closer.
Most folks would consider such a journey an exercise in marathon boredom. Garfunkel, however, has a supple mind and a self-described "lonerish" streak. Mr. Question Mark studies cloud formations and watches how the wind riffles through trees. He tries to imagine what shape the wind would be if it were visible. (Probably round and formidable, sort of Raymond Burrish.) He will pass a diner and take note of how long the smell of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich lingers (.2 of a mile).
In New Jersey, Garfunkel spent an inordinate amount of time staring at his feet, all for the cause of self-improvement. He had stuck flash cards filled with Russian phrases into the laces of his sneakers. He still sings in English, though, and the sound of silence on the Great Plains is broken when the urge strikes to belt out, say, an a cappella rendition of the Everly Brothers' "So Sad (to Watch Good Love Go Bad)."
"Herds of cows are mesmerized by me," says Garfunkel, marching on. Left-right, left-right, left-right. "I feel like Jesus, walking through a field. I try to do things that read in the cow world. One of them is this." He flaps his arms slowly, as if imitating a majestic bird on Quaaludes. "I work them like a politician," he says of his cow constituency. "If I look sincere, they look very sincere back to me."
Twenty million years before explorers, farmers and singers showed up, this region teemed with different forms of life. It boasted camels, saber-toothed tigers, dogs the size of bears, horned gophers and six-foot-tall pigs with similarly outsized tusks. The previous day's edition of The Grand Island Independent reported that as many as 10 mammoths per square mile may lie beneath Nebraska's fertile topsoil. The green terrain undulates unexpectedly, as if someone had tried to hide an elephant under a living-room carpet.