• Storm evacuees biking their way Down East
     | September 29,2005

    MONTPELIER Kurt and Betty Jo Norton's bike trip through Vermont is not your typical tour through the state during foliage season.

    Instead of sleek biking shirts, they wear layers of clothes to keep warm. Instead of Camelpacks, they have large bags and a cart full of all of their belongings. And instead of a tour guide, they have their cat, Sam, and dog, Xena, with them.

    The Nortons are Hurricane Katrina evacuees who have been on an incredible monthlong journey from Pascagoula, Miss., to Bangor, Maine, in an effort to retrieve a Jeep they have in storage there. The two cut Christmas trees in Maine last fall, put their Jeep in storage, and hitched and walked back south. "We're just thankful we're alive and our pets are safe," said Betty Jo. She and Kurt were taking a brief break on the side of Route 2 in Marshfield Tuesday night, as cars and trucks whizzed by.

    Betty Jo needs a hysterectomy, and says there are collegiate hospitals in Mississippi that offer the operation at low cost, which is why they went back south from Maine. She is on a waiting list, but hasn't had the operation yet, she said.

    The two heard the warnings about Katrina, and headed 30 miles north, thinking that was far enough from the coast to escape the danger of the hurricane. After it passed, they went back to Pascagoula, where they found they had lost just about everything. They then set out on a journey to recover their Jeep.

    The two started biking in Mississippi, and in Kentucky, met someone who gave them an old car. They packed their bikes and pets in the car, and made it all the way to Ohio, where the gift car broke down. They then got back on their bikes, packing Xena and Sam aboard, strapped in all their belongings, and headed northeastward. They've been pedaling or walking their bikes since, save for the occasional ride from a passing motorist.

    "We salvaged this bicycle, that cart and her bicycle and a few crafts that we salvaged. We had a ton of crafts, and we only found three of them. They were literally sticking in a tree," said Kurt, clad in a "Biloxi Beach" sweatshirt.

    On flat ground they cover about 75 miles a day, but in hilly territory they do about 15 to 20, they said. "Depends on how many hills we have," Kurt said.

    Rides are hard to come by, and the two say they can only take long rides that it isn't worth it to take apart their bikes and load up all their stuff for a mere five miles or so. They carry a large plywood sign that reads "VIETNAM VET STRANDED BROKE WITH DOG CAT."

    "We had one ride, with a brother by the name of Larry, and it was a 40-mile ride and it was across the northern part of New York," Kurt said. "He was the only one we took a ride from because he's the only one we trusted."

    The two, who say they have put their faith in God to survive, have been staying in hotel rooms when they can afford it, but they've been doing a lot of camping when they can. It's tough to find a place where they can bring their pets, they said. Mostly, they sleep where they can, Kurt said.

    "We've been camping, and I've been taking showers in truck stops. Last night we were fortunate enough to get a room," Betty Jo said.

    Asked what they need most, Kurt said, "A ride would be nice."

    "If we get a ride, we get a ride I'm sure God's going to bring some miracles. He already has, you know?" Betty Jo said.

    People have been generous and some have donated 50-pound bags of dog food and other large items, Kurt said, but it's difficult to carry the large bags. Others have given them money, food and even harmonicas.

    Kurt said he has learned one thing for sure from the journey. "Nothing like a hurricane to bring you closer to God," he said. "That's a very true statement."

    "How can you blame God for something Mother Nature brought on?" Kurt said.

    "That man himself probably brought on with all the pollution and stuff," Betty Jo added. "You can tell we're in our last days with all these hurricanes and all these storms."

    The travelers are expected to be continuing their journey along Route 2 today.

    Contact Sky Barsch at sky.barsch@timesargus.com or 223-3335.

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