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"This is the steepest incline of the last 200 miles," says Garfunkel, four miles into his day and 21 miles short of his goal. He is chugging uphill in first gear, arms swinging at his side, hat in hand. This marks the 500th day since he quit smoking. (Apparently, singing mathematicians count everything.) In the interim, a few compensatory pounds have crept onto his frame. That spindly build of his playground youth is disappearing. The legs no longer get enthused about three-on-three basketball. (Pity. Garfunkel's greatest sports moment came on the court: He claims to have once sunk 102 consecutive foul shots.) The choirboy face has matured. It would not look out of place in a pulpit. Appropriately, Garfunkel soon launches into a Saturday morning homily about the "human community."
"I like the fact that it's 9:30 now, for me, for everyone here," he says. Left-right, left-right, left-right. "Everybody around here, whatever else they're feeling, they're also feeling 9:30-hood." Left-right, left-right, left-right. "We're all feeling 9:30-hood, which is a very different thing from four o'clock. Saturday morning, if you've been up for a couple of hours, is one of the happiest times of the week. Do farmers feel it's a day off? I wonder if there are farmers right now not doing anything back-breaking but fixing something in the barn that they enjoy doing with their hands."
By 11 a.m. it is Garfunkel who needs fixing. The car is waiting for him on the outskirts of Scotia. He pauses to slather on sunblock and to slip into a pair of new size-9 sneakers that Lipson has picked up. Scotia reverberates with small-town racket: the whine of a power saw, the putt-putt of a distant tractor. An owl hoots. Birds chirp. In contrast to the many languishing communities Garfunkel has paraded through—tiny hamlets that looked "sadly departed from"—Scotia has a palpable vigor.
He resumes walking and passes by a sign that identifies Arthur Street. "James Joyce would have loved that," he says. "Joyce loved coincidence."
At 11:17, Garfunkel makes a second pit stop in Scotia, this time because of cramped toes. Two toddlers on a front-lawn swing set watch this strange man change from spotless sneakers into dirty ones. Adults must be weird people. "Where are you going?" one youngster yells.
"West," replies Garfunkel. Left-right, left-right, left-right.
"What is west?" the kid calls after him.
Ah, a cosmic question. Rousseau, one of Garfunkel's favorite philosophers, would have loved it. The American West has traditionally symbolized renewal and regeneration, the hope of a simpler tomorrow. There is an element of that in The Walk, although it would be metaphorical overstatement to say that Garfunkel's life is at a crossroads. He has already negotiated truly hazardous intersections—the dissolution of one marriage and one musical partnership, the suicide 11 years ago of a girlfriend—and is happily remarried, to Kim, and expecting a child. Still, to paraphrase a Paul Simon lyric, "How terribly strange to be 48."
"To get off the main track of your life so as to look at that life, to sort out some things," says Garfunkel, explaining one lure of The Walk. Left-right, left-right, left-right. He is on a dusty straightaway, bound for North Loup (pop. 441). Railroad tracks flank him on the right, a steel zipper holding hunks of Nebraska together. Cars and pickups whiz by. Everyone waves, Nebraska-style: a flick of the index finger resting on the steering wheel, an easy-does-it gesture.
"I think about what needs to be done," Garfunkel says. "Sometimes it takes the form of those clear fields—singing and acting. Sometimes it takes in a wider range of choices. I'm forced to be a constant philosopher in order to keep defining the meaning of my life."