Walk across the 13th District: Part 3

Published 10:14 am Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dan Barrett walked 100 miles across the district in his recent run for Congress.  The following is the last of a three part account by Dan about his experiences during the walk and campaign. 

After the humidity and heat of the walk’s first week, the following Monday started wonderfully crisp and cool. With temperatures in the 40s, I even needed a sweater. It was great to be back home in Davie County and nice to be greeted by honks and waves.

Kathleen joined me in Mocksville. A friend who met Kathleen for the first time told me I had “married up,” and I had to agree.  Kathleen and I visited at the Davie County Chamber of Commerce, around the courthouse, and in downtown businesses. We then had a delicious lunch at Restaurant 101 and talked with friends. When it was time to hit the road again, I headed down Hwy. 601 to Greasy Corner before turning right. After visiting at Jerusalem Fire Department, I reached Cooleemee by the end of the day.

The next morning, it rained “cats and dogs.”  However, I enjoyed the respite the weather afforded and met with Cooleemee officials at Town Hall. We headed over to the pharmacy to visit with a group of Coolemee men who meet there just about every morning.  Donuts, coffee and conversation were on the menu.   We reminisced about the mill and remembered those who had gone on before, including Hayden Beck who anchored the men’s group for so many years.

I then had the opportunity to sit in on a kindergarten class at Coolemee Elementary School. It was amazing to see how well the children read. I saw first hand the importance of excellent teachers and teachers’ assistants.   

Walking to Woodleaf was like a step down memory lane. My uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Hobert Bost (now deceased) lived on a cattle farm off Park Road.  It was surreal to be walking the route I used to drive to visit them. At the Woodleaf BP Station, I shared a coffee and chatted with a gentleman who was a history buff. We exchanged stories about our forbearers who fought in the Civil War.

After Woodleaf, the walk began to seem like hard work. While I had walked 50 miles, I was still only halfway done and I was getting physically worn down. I was also getting discouraged because my walk did not seem to be catching on like I had hoped. The walk’s success was somewhat dependent on “earned media” (media coverage). After initial favorable press, media coverage seemed to dry up once we reached Rowan County.

Making things more discouraging, several folks mistook me for Ted Budd, another candidate in the race. Everyone wanted to know my position on the Second Amendment and whether I was an “outsider.” It made me realize that television advertising on Ted’s behalf was having a huge effect.

Pushing aside the negative thoughts, I just put one foot in front of the other. I had chosen my path, and I would stick with it. Helping distract me were the beautiful countryside vistas. In one field, a donkey was as curious about me as I was about him. After we brayed at each other in greeting, I moved on.

The next day, we entered Davidson County in a misty rain where I walked down Old Linwood Road towards Lexington. At the Linwood Fire Department, all the firefighters were out on a call except for Kenneth, who the other firefighters called “Rosebud.” Kenneth showed me one of the old fire trucks they still maintain.

After miles of walking, I reached the Lexington city limits. I headed downhill, and ventured into what appeared to be a tough-looking neighborhood.  Needless to say, I walked fairly quickly through this part of town.  When talking about my route, the Davidson County Sheriff later advised me to avoid that area; I told him fortunately, I had already made it through. I was perplexed when I encountered a one lane tunnel with a sign advising motorists to honk before they drove through. How was I going to get through the tunnel safely? I was beat, and the rain was picking up, so we decided to call it a day.

The next day, Nick suggested I bypass the tunnel and drive to the other side, but I wanted the walk to be continuous.  We then developed and executed a plan: Nick drove the car ahead of me, honked, and I ran through behind him, unscathed.

Walking up Cotton Grove Road, I stopped in and visited volunteers at the Davidson County Rescue Squad. Their rescue squad is one of the oldest in the state, serving county residents since 1941. They no longer receive county funding, so depend on fundraising and donations from non-profits.  The station I visited, Station 6, focuses on convalescent non-emergency transport.

Lexington has a picturesque downtown. One of my favorite stops was The Candy Factory, which was chock full of sweets of every kind. As I entered, wonderful smells wafted up and transported me back in time. I promised that Kathleen and I would visit again as customers after the campaign was over.

While leaving from the Davidson County Government Building, I ran into Rep. John Blust, a fellow competitor in the Congressional race. I had known John for nearly 30 years; we used to play against each other in recreation basketball. John wondered why I was walking out in the country, as well as through towns; I told him I had promised to walk 100 miles, and that was just part of the deal.

I headed out towards Thomasville by afternoon, with only a stop for a quick sandwich. Old Highway 29 was our route for most of the way. Big dump trucks kept rolling by, spraying debris and just about blowing me off the road. The mystery of where they were going was solved several miles down the road, as I passed the entrance to the Davidson County Landfill.

At the Pilot Fire Department on Old Hwy 29, I visited with firefighters who had just come on call for the weekend. They told me about Davidson County’s success in obtaining FEMA grants and how they were able to receive grants to pay 90% of the capital costs for new fire trucks. After 10 miles of walking, I reached the Thomasville City Limits.  I was spent, so it seemed like a good time to quit for the week.

Beginning the final week of the walk, an early stop was Rex Oil Co. When I told the lady working the front desk I was from Davie County, she told me she grew up in Cooleemee; her name was Mary Lynn Nance. She then called another employee to come up front and introduced me to Susan Seamon. Susan is the sister of Cooleemee Mayor Steve Corriher and manages Rex Oil’s convenience store in Mocksville. Other employees drifted in and I had a great visit.  After catching up on Davie County happenings, we discussed how wrongheaded federal tax policies and burdensome regulations hurt the ability of small businesses to grow and create good jobs.

Nick took my picture at the “Big Chair” in Thomasville, a monument to the furniture industry and those who had worked in it. It was a bittersweet moment, however, because I had just walked by shuttered, abandoned furniture plants. At the Thomasville Diner, customers lamented the federal trade policies they believed crippled the furniture and textile industries in the U.S. and cost so many jobs. By the end of the day, May 23, I made it to High Point and Guilford County.

The next morning, we got out early to beat the heat and make campaign commitments. At lunchtime, we cut our walk short so I could attend a speaking engagement with the Greensboro Republican Women. It felt odd to change out of my jeans, work shirt and boots for a suit and tie.   

May 25, the last day of the walk, promised to be another scorcher. I needed to finish the walk because early voting was slated to start the next day.  However, due to a county budget workshop, I did not start walking until 2 p.m. By the time I started, it was already over 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky or a hint of a breeze. After a couple of miles, I dropped in at a small shop called the Budding Artichoke. It was clear the owner had a different political philosophy than mine, but she was very nice and offered me a much needed bottle of water.

After four miles on the hot asphalt, Nick could see I was struggling. He suggested I walk the remaining miles on the Guilford Greenway, a series of hiking trails that circle Guilford County. This was a great idea, as the last five miles of the walk was shaded with trees, and I enjoyed scenic views of lakes, creeks, and marshes. Unlike highway walking, the critters I encountered here were quite alive. An owl hooted in greeting as I entered the woods. A lizard scampered across my path, squirrels shimmied up trees, and bull frogs bellowed in baritone harmony. It was all quite peaceful. I was almost sad when Nick told me I had walked nine miles, 101 miles total.


With the walking completed, we went back to the necessary business of the campaign. Throughout early voting and Election Day, volunteers and I worked as many of the polling sites as we could to meet voters. Many voters seemed to have heard of me and the 100 mile walk, and folks were telling us we had a good chance.

However, polling data indicated Ted Budd had a significant lead over me and everyone else in the field. Other candidates seemed to believe they were positioned to win. It was hard to know what to believe.

On Election Day, I worked the polls in Davie and Davidson counties. It was our belief that if I was to win, I needed my base to turn out in Davie with a strong showing in Davidson. My final two hours were spent at a little community building at a polling place in Arcadia in Davidson County, greeting voters and trying to win last minute votes.

As the evening coolness descended, and the last voters and poll workers departed, I was left alone. Looking up at the blue sky, my thoughts went back to my sister Betsy.

The events and emotions of the last few months finally flooded over me.

When the returns came in, I was very much disappointed we had not won, but felt good about the way the campaign was conducted. I listened to voters, and they listened to me. The walk was incredibly fulfilling. It was not enough to win, but it was enough. God has his own purpose for our lives, and it does not always match up with what we envision.

Congratulations to Ted Budd for his victory. I appreciate all my fellow competitors and their supporters who fought honorably and valiantly.  My life was greatly enriched by the friendships that were made and strengthened on this journey.