There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,A race that can’t stay still;So they break the hearts of kith and kin,And they roam the world at will.They range the field and they rove the flood,And they climb the mountain’s crest;Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,And they don’t know how to rest.
Dale Walker is a nomad with a thirst for freedom and the wanderer lifestyle. He’s currently 51 years old. He grew up in a small town in Iowa with three brothers and four sisters. He has an interesting story to tell about his adventurous youth and philosophy of life.
Hi Dale Walker. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview for me.
As you have already told me, you ran away from home at the age of 12 and made it 100 miles before getting caught and spending a night in jail. What motivated you to run away from home that day? Did you have problems at home?
No, there were no problems at home. I simply wanted to be a child star and set out for Hollywood. I bought a bus ticket only as far as Omaha, Nebraska so the local ticket agent wouldn’t know my ultimate destination. I planned to buy the ticket to California from Omaha. Fortunately though, I was detained before I got that far.
What was it like spending a night in jail at 12 years old?
The night in jail was supposed to be an object lesson. I was still close enough to home and it was early enough in the day that my parents could have come to get me right away. It was a small town jail with only one cell and there were no other prisoners. They fed me supper, I slept, then my mom picked me up the next morning.
So your parents picked you up and what happened next?
There was no punishment. My parents understood that kids will be kids. I just went on with my life, taking up a job at a cafe.My life got a lot more complicated later that year though. My sister died in a tragic car accident two days before Christmas. She was only sixteen. The last time I had seen her alive, she had introduced me to marijuana. She told me to quit smoking cigarettes but never stop smoking weed. Then a few days later, she was gone. Makes me sad to write about her even now, forty years later. It affected me quite deeply. I was pretty much on my own after that. My parents had their own grief to deal with and gave me free reign to handle mine. Mom told me later that she thought I blamed God.By the next summer, I’d fought my way into the cool kids clique. They wouldn’t let me hang out until I challenged George Fritz to a fight. He knew how to fight and I didn’t. He kept punching me and I’d fall down but I always got back up. Finally he said, “Please don’t get back up.”
I replied, “I’m getting back up.” That made me one of them.
Then I met Mark Woods. He was older, 20 or so, and had been to Altamont where he’d overdosed on LSD. He lived with his mom and all he had to do was mow the lawn. He subcontracted that chore out to me though and paid me with an album, an issue of High Times, and a joint. That’s when I learned there was a true counterculture. High Times reported on it and the albums, such as CSNY’s Four Way Street and Black Sabbath’s Bloody Sabbath, gave me a feel for it. I’d smoke the joint, read the magazine, and listen to the music.
I took a lot of drugs then, uppers, downers, and LSD. I grew my hair out and became a freak. I made friends with other misfits and we raised hell. We got drunk, stole cars, and broke into buildings. We cruised around on the gravel roads and raided deserted farmsteads for gasoline. During this whole time, I was still working and saving money. Then I got caught.
I was sent to a juvenile detention center for a three week evaluation. I had a few more run ins with the law after that, but I mostly spent this time getting new girlfriends and hanging out with friends. I was a popular guy.
I’m very sorry to hear about your sister. You left again at 15 and hitchhiked for 7 years. Where exactly were you hitchhiking and did you ever visit home again during this time?
My first trip was back to Florida to see some girls I’d met at Disney. They didn’t like me anymore though and I ended up on the street in Fort Lauderdale. I slept under the Las Olas Street bridge. I got a job at a state park the second day I was there and rented a place. I threw a party almost right away. I wanted to thank all the street people who had helped me that first week. I let a guy move in with me but he was a prostitute and a junkie and I couldn’t abide that so kicked him out.
That’s when I met Roger. He was the first of many true nomads that I would meet in my life. Roger spent ten years living in Century Park in Nashville and had spent the last year living as Jesus on the beach. He had the look. He supported himself picking magic mushrooms and selling them on the beach. I often call this phase of my life “Magic mushrooms with Jesus.”
That was the summer I turned 16. I went back home later that year but no longer fit (if I ever had) and shortly left again. This time for Seattle. Over the next five years, I hitched to 48 states, 9 provinces of Canada, and even to Mexico. I went back home many times and even went to college for a semester. By then though, the road knew my name and kept calling for me.
My first car after all that hitching was a 2-ton dump truck, a 53 Chevy. It had been my best friend’s truck and his mother gave it to me after he was beat to death. Of course, I needed money for gas from then on. I had a little money from odd jobs and drove to Missouri. I met some tree-planters there and became a reforestation technician. Over the course of the next ten seasons, I planted more than a million trees. It was seasonal work and the money didn’t last all year so I also collected scrap metal and also relied on gratitude as I had hitchhiking. I also continued to travel everywhere. Missouri to North Carolina to Oregon to Arizona then back to Missouri. By then, I had a traveling companion, a woman who had hitched almost as much as me. We spent four years together.You mentioned to me that at some point you met the Dalai Lama. When and where did that happen and what did you take away from the experience?
This is a great story. I was hitching to Charlottesville to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson who had always been one of my heroes. I never made it to Monticello and instead, got a ride with someone going to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Tibetan Meditation Center in Charlottesville. This was just a few days before the Dalai Lama was to arrive in DC and the monks gave us invitations to a small reception to be held at the Tibetan Meditation Center in Washington DC. I stayed with my ride and his family. They had a commune in the mountains West of Staunton. We tried to see the Dalai Lama at the
Washingtom Cathedral but it was full to capacity when we arrived. The reception we were invited to was the following day and I spent the night camped in Rock Creek Park across from the meditation center.
Everyone was excited when the Dalai Lama arrived. I have a picture of that moment and the look of joy on every face is so profound. I didn’t really know much about him but he in some way recognized me. Just before his arrival, the monks had informed everyone waiting that His Holiness would not be doing the Kata greeting. He did it with me though.
The one thing I remember from his talk is when he said that he was no different from anyone else except that he’d had the benefit of training since he was a child. I fell asleep during his talk. There’s a whole thing about falling asleep in the presence of the Dalai Lama. In retrospect, it was like getting a years worth of inner smile training in a moment.
Eventually you met your wife and had two children. How much has your philosophy of life influenced how you raised your children? What did you do for a living while you were settled down?
Totaling a cop car made me a local and the old home-place was my reward.The mother of my children was a gypsy bellydancer when I met her and we had our children at home. Although we had a midwife there who actually delivered them, I’m the attending physician on their birth certificates. We raised them the natural way. Up on the mountain, they called people like us “wholesome people” because we were into natural
foods and the simple life.We moved off the mountain when they were little though and for many reasons. It was partly because of Y2K. I asked my neighbor if he was stocking up on food just in case. He said, “No, I have guns. My neighbors have food.” That’s when I decided to move us back to the Midwest.I worked in a factory then but before long became a scholar. I’ve earned a couple degrees. It made me smarter but it did not magically make me career oriented. I’ve had some rewarding jobs working with people experiencing homelessness and with people who suffer from mental disabilities. Now I’m just counting the days now until my youngest graduates and I can go back on the road. My kids now? One is a hippie just like me. She is an incredibly talented young woman with so much potential. I’m glad she had me and blessed that I had her. I think we saved each other. My mom left home at 15. I left home at 15. But she didn’t have to. God, that gives me tears to write that. I feel so trapped being housed when I could be free on the road but the blessing of spending this time with her trumps everything. I’m not made for this culture.
My other daughter is a beautiful young woman too. She’s more traditional but in a very non-traditional way. It’s taking her longer to mature than her younger sister but she is doing great. I love both my girls. Let me add that their mother and I separated when my little girl was just ten. The younger one stayed with me and the older lived with her mother. I’ve been a single dad all these years since.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
I’m liquidating and going back on the road. This time by bicycle. My daughter let me spread my wings last year. I traveled as much as in the old days. I made three or four hitchhiking trips, two long bicycle tours totaling more than a thousand miles, and several road trips. (I still have a car but not for long.) I put my understandings to the test
on these journeys and have a solid philosophy that works magic. I’m also now an elder of my tribe, I get a lot of respect and am well known.
Thank you for your time and sharing these details, Dale. You have had such an interesting and alternative life, living it exactly your way. I wish you all the best as you continue to wander.