Day 42: Montgomery, AL + Atlanta, GA by Wookie Kim

I'd spent last night catching up with law school friends in Montgomery. Today would be a busy day. Not only would I be spending the morning exploring downtown Montgomery and visiting the Equal Justice Initiative, but I would also be tracking down a park in which to run before meeting up and staying with a friend in Atlanta. I knew I didn't have that many miles to drive, but was wary of big-city traffic on the approach to Atlanta.

The morning began with a trip to the Equal Justice Initiative--one of the nation's most inspiring criminal justice and human rights non-profits. Jeanne S., who'd hosted me last night, was a law fellow at EJI.

I felt like I'd come full circle. Bryan Stevenson, EJI's founder, had been the first person I'd been inspired by in law school. On day one, he'd come to talk to us fresh first-years about the power of a law degree--how he'd graduated from Harvard Law School and began working in the Deep South to stand up for those who most needed help. Almost four years later, I went to a talk of his in Baltimore, where he discussed his powerful new memoir, Just Mercy.  I spoke to him afterwards and told him about how he'd left an impression on me back in 2011. He chuckled and was glad to hear I was doing well. Now I was visiting the hub from which he had accomplished so much on behalf of so many.

Jeanne greeted me when I arrived at the office, which is in a nondescript building in downtown Montgomery. 

She gave me a tour of the EJI office. I immediately noticed that EJI used its space effectively. Instead of leaving the hallway walls blank, EJI put up portraits of past clients and newspaper clippings of victories. As I walked around the building, I felt like I was on a tour of landmark moments in criminal justice history. That made sense; much of the EJI's recent work has focused on history, and specifically the history of racial injustice and slavery in this country. To that end, the EJI had, for example, created a racial injustice calendar and released a report on the 4,000 lynchings that had occurred during the Jim Crow Era. I saw this emphasis on history on every wall of the office.

Of course, I couldn't leave without seeing Jeanne's own office. It was a little messy, but that could only be a sign that she was hard at work, fighting the good fight.

Before I knew it, it was time to leave. I didn't want to take any more of Jeanne's time. And I also new I had other things to see in Montgomery before heading out to Atlanta.

Outside the EJI office, I saw more of EJI's marks. As part of its campaign to raise historical awareness of slavery and racial injustice in our country, the organization had erected signs in various parts of the city. It turned out that the area I was in had once been used as warehouses for enslaved people.

If there was one (other) thing I was here in Montgomery to see, it was Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. This is the church that MLK led, and the church from which he coordinated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the defining catalyst events of the civil rights era. I was here to visit the mecca. It was grand.

Given that I was in downtown Montgomery, and it was beautiful out, I decided I'd continue walking around. I next proceeded for the Alabama State Capitol, which stood only a block away from Dr. King's church. The capitol steps had served as the pulpit from which MLK had ended the Selma to Montgomery march. 

It was a picture-perfect day. I snapped lots of photos, including several of the Capitol building.

I also took one last glance at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. And then I was off for Atlanta!

I wasn't heading straight there though. I wanted to stop by a National Park Service site before entering the city. My plan today was to run inside Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Atlanta's northern suburbs. Specifically, I wanted to run the Kolb's Farm Loop, which would take me through meadows, creeks, and forests that had once served as a Civil War battlefield.

The run itself was neither long nor strenuous. But I was beginning to feel the accumulated fatigue of the trip. My legs felt heavy, and I took more breaks than on even some of the harder runs I'd done this trip. There were also times when I was forced to stop, such as when this stag literally stood in my path.

All along the loop, there were markers at the various locations where Union soldiers had skirmished with Confederate. I had the same thoughts I'd had when visiting other Civil War battlefields: How did soldiers even manage fighting in this terrain? How absolutely terrifying must it have been to be fighting in these woods/meadows/creeks? 

It was a hot day, and I was sweaty, dehydrated mess afterwards. It was also past sunset, and I needed to make it into Atlanta and recuperate before meeting up with my high school friend, Lizzie M., who'd graciously agreed to host me despite returning from a business trip late that evening. On the recommendation of a friend from Atlanta, I parked my sweaty bum down at Porter Beer Bar in the Little Five Points neighborhood. It felt incredibly weird to be in a big--really big--city again. I indulged in a few beers (but not too many to make me tipsy) and downed a greasy burger. Burgers and me have been good friends this summer.

At around 10 p.m., Lizzie texted to say that she was almost home. I made my way over to her house. It had been a while, so we spent a good bit of time catching up. But seeing as she had another flight to catch in the morning (#consultantlife), and that I had a similarly long day of travel ahead of me tomorrow, we called it a night pretty quickly. In the span of about 12 hours, I'd seen two good friends, visited one of the most inspiring legal non-profits I know, and gotten in a solid trail run. I was content.

Day 41: Selma + Montgomery, AL by Wookie Kim

There's not as much nature to see in the deep south. One would accordingly expect there to be fewer NPS sites in the area. But one surprising thing I've learned is the breadth of historical sites that the NPS protects. A lot of these are in the south.

Despite its wondrous waters, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas seemed to emphasize the social history of the region--the story of the shifting relationship humans have had with the land, rather than just the land itself. And yesterday, I'd seen Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, which preserved the symbolism of the locus of our first effort to integrate public schools post-Brown

Today would be the third in a string of days seeing such historical sites. Finally making it into Alabama, I ran part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which memorializes the 54-mile march made in 1965 by 4,000 African Americans who were fighting for the right to vote.

I was grateful to have had the opportunity to catch up with my good friend, Nathan B., who had hosted me the night before in Jackson, Mississippi. I was perhaps even more grateful for the chance to see Manny, who missed me just as much as I'd missed him. Nathan was off to work before I woke up, and instead I woke up to see Manny staring at me, and then playing with my phone and laptop.

I hit the road at 9:30 a.m., which was far later than I'd hoped to hit the road (self-discipline goes down the drain when I'm staying with friends in cities). I followed a truck that reminded me of my friend (his last name is prominently displayed), and made the push for Selma.

I could easily tell when I'd made it to Selma. The Edmund Pettus Bridge--that symbol of the civil rights era--was right there in front of me. It was a picture-perfect day. Hot and humid, but glorious nonetheless.

As usual, I made my way to the NPS visitor center in downtown Selma. It had only been built a couple years ago, and was still a work in progress, but I was able to find the answer to a question I'd had for the past few days: how much of a trail was the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail? The Ranger confirmed one of my fears: there was no actual "trail"--the National Historic Trail was simply U.S. Route 80. And that highway, I learned, had no sidewalk and practically no shoulder. This made me a bit nervous, but I wasn't about to do something different. I set out to run on the National Historic Trail.

I began at the Brown Chapel AME Church. This is where the marchers began. But it was more than that; for a period of time, this church served as the homebase for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In front of the chapel were various markers dedicated to Dr. MLK.  I explored the site, checked all my gear, and set off to run towards Montgomery.

A mile into my run, I was on the Selma side of the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The Bridge, and the gentle Alabama River flowing beneath it, seemed exceptionally serene. Who would've thought that this was the site of "Bloody Sunday" almost exactly 50 years ago? As I reflected on that history, I crossed the bridge.

On the other side, I recognized the location where the stand-off between marchers and police turned violent. Too much blood had been spilled here on March 7, 1965.

There were more plaques and memorials on this side of the bridge. I also saw Selma's welcome sign.

One wouldn't really be able to tell from the surroundings the history of the place. It all felt a little bit drab, as if someone had done a half-assed job of memorializing what had happened here.

And then I began the real run. I was on U.S. 80, and I was headed to "Campsite 1", the farm where the marchers ended the first of their five days of marching. I wish I could say it was an uplifting, energizing run. In reality, I was kind of scared for my life. The road had no sidewalk, and practically no shoulder. And the cars were whizzing by at 60 miles per hour. Any time I saw a car in the outside lane, I stepped off the foot-wide shoulder and onto the bumpy thick grass. While running, I tried to imagine the courage it took for those marchers to begin--let alone complete--that march. Those marchers had far scarier things to confront than speeding cars.

After about 90 minutes, I made it to Campsite 1. I'd covered the distance the marchers had covered in their first day. But now I had to turn around and head back (I didn't have the time or the support crew to do the full 54-mile run to Montgomery).

Even though the sun was setting, the heat and humidity seemed only to get worse. I'd underestimated the weather, and had completely drained my Camelbak. On the way back, I'd have my own (hydration) struggle. The last 2-3 miles back into Selma involved cramping, and the onset of lightheadedness. But I eventually made it back. I passed by what appeared to be a student mural of some kind, with a message that I couldn't agree with more.

As I crossed back over the Edmund Pettis Bridge, I looked back one last time.

By now, the sun was really about to set. The serenity of the Alabama created a mirror that amplified the beauty of this day's sunset.

As I returned to Selma, the Bridge glowed red as the setting sun's rays hit it from a very low angle. It was beautiful.

I was absolutely parched, and absolutely famished. Thankfully, I was off to meet (and stay with) another law school classmate, Jeanne S., this time in Montgomery. I hustled into town, where we (including another law school classmate, Jonathan A.) caught up over pizza and beers. Both Jeanne and Jon were working at the Equal Justice Initiative, one of the most important civil rights organizations of our time.

Running the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail today wasn't the most exciting or scenic experience, but it was one of the more meaningful. And it was great to be able to talk about that experience with two classmates who were continuing to fight the good fight--day in, day out. Physically, I was sapped; mentally, I was rejuvenated.

Day 40: Little Rock, AR + Jackson, MS by Wookie Kim

Today was a rest day--but only for my legs.

I had an excellent night's rest at the Barnhardt's Airbnb out in Hot Springs Village. Their backyard let me take in the sun and the cool morning air. Their cat also said hello.

I made my way back into the town of Hot Springs to get the traditional bathhouse experience, which I'd just missed yesterday. Bathhouse Row was very quiet when I arrived. A couple was taking a morning stroll.

I headed right for the Buckstaff Bathhouse, the only bathhouse that still offered the traditional experience. For $75, I could relive that experience by getting a bath and massage. Obviously, I had to do it.

Unfortunately, cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited inside, for obvious reasons. But the experience is best described with one word: weird. Throughout your bathing experience, you're guided by an attendant, who follows you around and tells you what to do. All of this happens, of course, while you're completely naked.

The treatment began with a soak in one of the traditional hot tubs. It looked very grand--for something from the 1920s (let's just say I was a little worried about hygiene...). My attendant turned on the faucet, which immediately released a powerful stream of hot springs water. He ladled a little cup and pushed it to my mouth. "Try it." It tasted like hot water. The water continued to fill the tub. "Now lay back." I laid back and relaxed (read: tried to). 15 minutes later, the attendant returned. "Sit up." I sat up. He pulled out a loofah and started vigorously scrubbed my back. "Okay, let's go."

The attendant led me from one tub to the next. This time I was in what was called a Sitz tub. Imagine a small utility sink. Imagine that sink being the perfect size--for just your behind. Imagine being completely naked and having someone tell you to stick your behind into that sink. And then imagine that person, towering over you, reach behind your behind for a knob, release very hot water, and then ask, "let me know when it's uncomfortable." ("Right now, sir.") I (or, my behind) sat in the Sitz bath for another 10 minutes. Those were 10 incredibly awkward minutes. (Here's what a big Sitz bath looks like.)

My attendant led me to the next contraption--the "steam room." I put that in quotes because that phrase is generous for what I was put into. This was a tiny hot box with a rickety metal door on the front. It was really hot inside. I sat there, counting the seconds, wondering how long I'd be inside. As I roasted, I glanced at the door handle and wondered if it were possible to open it from the inside. It got hotter and hotter, but I had no idea how much longer I had left. At some point, the attendant returned and pulled me out. I was a little delirious.

My attendant next tossed me onto a table. He wrapped my body with very hot towels and then covered those towels with a sheet. Now, I was a living hot towel mummy. The first 30 seconds were really hot, but by the time the towels had cooled off slightly, the mummification process was tolerable, even pleasant. I may have even nodded off for a bit here.

Now it was time for the needle shower. This sounds a lot scarier than what it was. Basically, the needle shower is a 5.1 Dolby surround sound experience with water. I entered a shower stall surrounded by little nozzles all pointed inward and shooting hot spring water at high speeds. My attendant instructed me to stand in there and rinse off the soapy water.

After this, it was time to cool off and head to the massage room. A masseuse gave me a 20-minute Swedish massage. After beating up my body for the past weeks, the massage was perfect. 20 minutes later, I was done. I changed back into my street clothes and headed out of the bathhouse. There were large chairs outside, so I decided I need to visually memorialize the experience by sitting in one.

It was noon now, and I was back on Bathhouse Row. I decided I'd eat here before heading to my first destination for the day: Little Rock.

I found the Ohio Club, which happened to be the oldest bar in Arkansas. It was also a former true speakeasy (for a time, it was renamed the "Ohio Cigar Store") and a spot frequented by America's top mobsters. I kind of got that vibe on the inside. The hamburger was delicious.

And then I was off for Little Rock! My plan was to visit Little Rock Central High School, the locus of the first effort to desegregate our public schools after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board. I'd learned that the high school, which still operates today (in fact, my freshman year suitemate at Yale attended the school!), was managed as a National Historic Site by the NPS. It even had a sparkling new visitor center.

The exhibits were a powerful reminder of the civil rights struggles of the past. As a lawyer, I had a heightened interest in the exhibits. So I spent more time than I normally would inside.

I then headed outside to check out the school. Given that it was only 2 p.m., I expected to see no students. But I found that there were actually a bunch of students milling about outside. I asked one of them whether they were in school, and they said some students had early dismissal of some kind. It was strange to think about how this school had been the site of such an intense and symbolic stand-off--one that ultimately required federal government intervention (11,500 soldiers) to resolve. I wanted to see what the students thought of the school's history, so I approached a small group and asked them what they thought. They said it was cool to be at a school with such history, but that school was school. I asked them what they thought of the constant stream of tourists. They all agreed that they'd learned to tune out the visitors.

I walked around to the front entrance of the school. It was quieter on this side, and I caught a glimpse of the famous school from its grandest perspective.

And then I was off for Jackson, Mississippi! I had plans to stay with my friend, Nathan B., who had worked with me in the Baltimore courthouse this past year and was now working for a different judge in Jackson. After a couple hours, I crossed the Mississippi, that great dividing line for our country. I was now "east of the Mississippi." It all felt a bit symbolic.

Soon, I learned that I was driving through the small town of Greenville, MS in the Mississippi Delta. It was a fortuitous discovery, because I'd recently read John Barry's Rising Tide--which explored the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the (if not the) greatest natural disaster America has ever seen--with Nathan through a book club. I then made a beeline for Jackson, arriving just around 7 p.m.

After drinks with Nathan and some of his coworkers, we headed over to the Mayflower Cafe, which has a long history in Jackson, for dinner. Here, a law school classmate, Shad W., joined. I ate southern fried fish of some kind. It was delicious--exactly what I needed after a long day of driving.

From here, we proceeded to the roof of the King Edward Hotel, where Nathan lived. Nathan and Shad tried to point out the various neighborhoods and features of the city of Jackson. It all felt very small, and very southern. I let them talk, while I marveled at the giant letters from behind.

After catching up with Nathan, it was time for bed. Tomorrow would be another long day.

Day 39: Hot Springs National Park, AR by Wookie Kim

After an incredibly fast-paced and epic 10-day block, I was ready for a rest day. Thankfully, I was heading to the most rest-inducing parks in the country: Arkansas' Hot Springs National Park.

As the name suggests, the park protects a series of hot springs. Those hot springs had been a huge attraction since the late 19th century. Over time, as people learned about the rejuvenating powers of the pure water, the area became a haven for those with the most leisure time on hand--high society. The bathhouses that cropped up along historic Bathhouse Row weren't content with creating their own style; instead, they tried to emulate the grandeur of the European bathhouses that had been flourishing for quite some time. This led to a local arms race, where neighboring bathhouses competed over who could have the grandest of bathhouses.

But the bathhouses eventually grew out of fashion. Today, the bathhouses are basically historical relics. After Hot Springs became a national park, the NPS sought to preserve the bathhouses for future generations to see, but not to use. The area still had bathhouses--and many people still come here to use them--but they were almost exclusively of the modern-day variety (read: spas). There was, however, one holdover from that bygone era: the Buckstaff Bathhouse. This was the only bathhouse to still provide the "traditional" bathhouse experience that people had experienced over a hundred years ago.

I was determined to try out the traditional bathhouse experience at Buckstaff. But, to my dismay, I learned that it closed at 3 p.m. I'd arrived at 3:30 p.m., so had just missed my chance for the day. I then decided I'd change my plans. Instead of taking today as a rest day, I'd run part of the above-ground trails, and then wake up early the next day and stop by the bathhouse before hitting the road for Little Rock, AR, and Jackson, MS, my next two destinations.

Before setting out for the Sunset Trail, a 17-mile loop around the park, I toured the visitor center, which was in, and had preserved, the old Fordyce Bathhouse. It was funny thinking that this place was state-of-the-art back then. Yet all of the devices and contraptions in each of the rooms seemed utterly outmoded. In fact, some rooms looked more like torture chambers or interrogation rooms than bathing rooms.

The men's bathing area had some remnants of the "grand" era. In the center of the main room was a sculpture, and above it was a beautiful stained glass ceiling. The men's dressing room was nice, too.

Believe it or not, the "electrohydric bath" used to be a thing. It's exactly what it sounds like. As one commentator in 1874 described this treatment, "[t]he current set up between the body of the invalid and the hot water of the bath, must awaken new energies and arouse vitalities." I learned that no one had died from the electrohydric bath, but that bathhouses had at some point stopped giving them.

The tour of the bathhouse was also the first in which I saw the social history, and not merely natural history, that the NPS preserved. The hot springs are a unique and impressive geological feature, but the NPS has done a good job of promoting the way in which we humans have interacted with the springs over time.

I learned that, in their heyday, the bathhouses functioned very much like country clubs. Members of high society would gather here during the fall. And the bathhouses had more than just bath rooms. There were make-up rooms for women, game rooms for men, and sitting rooms where both could socialize.

The gymnasium was fun to see, too. Again, it looked a little bit like a room filled with torture devices and techniques. But really it was just an old-school gym. I envisioned members of the elite sweating away while punching away at the punching bags.

The most compelling exhibit was the one on segregation. The bathhouses of the early 20th century exemplified the cruel reality of Jim Crow America. Practically all of the bathhouse attendants then were African American. Despite the grueling effort they put into bathhouse work, they were not allowed to actually bathe in them. At some point, early African American entrepreneurs created their own black-only bathhouses, including, most notably, the Crystal Bathhouse.

This visit was also important because it helped remind me more generally of the relationship between the natural and human worlds. That is, the national parks are just as much about what we humans have done with land--and to people living on that land--than it is about protecting unique geological features. The visit also reminded me that the NPS has one of the hardest missions possible: to provide enjoyment to the present generation without impairing future generations' ability to enjoy the same.

Having had my fill of learning for the day, I headed out, just before sunset, for the Sunset Trail. I wanted to do an easy run and just get a sense of what the terrain looked like in Arkansas. I ended up doing a 7.5-mile run that wound through a dense forest to an area called Balanced Rock and then to the highest point in the park, Music Mountain. The terrain here was nothing close to epic. Epic America, I'd learned, was far to the west. But it was still soothing to run through forests and on easy dirt trails--both things I'm familiar with as an east coaster.

It was almost dark by the time I finished my run. I'd seen an ad for the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the world's first--and only--brewery to brew beer using hot springs water. I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to try beer made with hot springs water, so I headed there for a post-run dinner and drinking session.

It was getting late, and I'd booked an Airbnb with the Barnhardts out in Hot Springs Village, so, after determining that I couldn't notice any difference between beer brewed using hot springs water and beer brewed without using that water, I headed to meet my hosts and call it a night. I'd be up early to get my traditional bathhouse experience.