Ellis, a free-lance writer who is part Cherokee Indian, journeys on foot from Oklahoma to his hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama--symbolically retracing the 900-mile path his ancestors took on their forced odyssey out of the southern states in 1838. It had something to do with having recently turned 40; something to do with a vision he'd had while writing a play about one Cherokee's experience of the Trail of Tears; and something to do with the importance of feeling free to walk across America without fear of death by violence. Whatever the reasons, Ellis--a former motorcycle-gang member and a modern-day romantic--buses and hitches his way to the Cherokee Nation's capital of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, hoists his 50-pound pack, and starts off along the shoulder of a lonely rural road toward the Trail of Tears's origin and the 18,000 Cherokees' original home. Along the way, he reflects less on the fate of his ancestors who, unlike him, had to travel this route in the midst of a brutal winter and who died by the thousands of starvation, exposure, and disease than on his own renegade past in Alabama, New York, and Hollywood, and on the remarkably strange 20th-century folks he encounters along the way. From the wistful Texan who recounts the story of his abuse-ridden boyhood, to the Charles Manson look-alike charging along the road with a rock clutched in his fist, to the confused but nubile young member of a Missouri religious cult with whom Ellis falls briefly in lust--these are the inheritors of the Trail's violent legacy, and a stranger collection of people couldn't be invented. Arriving back in Fort Payne right on schedule, Ellis may have gained little new insight into his own past, but he brings home enough unusual experiences to chew on for 40 years to come. Peripatetic true confessions that hook the reader with their very ingenuousness--a genuine American tale.