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It’s All Uphill From Here! Or…Kansas, Exit Stage Left.


(Toast!)


Mid to Late November 2023


What a long strange trip it’s been.

We’re a few days from the Colorado state line, an arbitrary but tangible demarcation of progress. From the East to the Midwest, the Plains, and now about to start the climb to the Continental Divide.

Actually, we just stepped across the mythic 100th Meridian, a real milestone.

This is the imaginary line running longitudinally through North America. It carries all the weight of dividing the Eastern US from the West. It was the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase, the border between the US and Mexico after 1821. And, west of this line, precipitation dramatically drops off, and irrigation becomes much more of a thing.


So, what’s been happening?

Kansas has been somewhat of a blur really. It’s, mileage-wise, the biggest obstacle (read “opportunity”) of the walk so far, at 450 miles or so.

Just about every state surprises us in some way.

Honestly? I wasn’t looking forward to Kansas. Even some Kansans we ran into on bikes on the Katy Trail in Missouri, when asked about their home state, “What route would you suggest?” replied, “Around!”


But, it’s been fine. More than fine actually.

We’ve had our highs and lows here of course. It’s not Kansas’s fault that the weather is turning to shit. It’s November after all.

I would point to a couple of positives:

#1-the roads.

As I’ve probably mentioned once or twice, the walking options can make or break our day. There’s a two-lane highway just below our route that would be shorter and more convenient to camping, but there is ZERO shoulder and there are convoys of trucks day and night.

Or, a few miles to the north, there are dirt roads that go due west, on which we might encounter one vehicle per hour or two.

These dirt roads are incredible. Well-maintained, smooth, and very lonely.

On Thanksgiving day I did a 20 mile trot and only two vehicles went past me. And, I went by only ONE house! And that one was actually a ¼ mile down a side road. There were a couple of abandoned places that looked like maybe Dorothy’s Aunt Em and Uncle Henry once lived there.


(The long and non-winding road)


And that brings me to…

#2-the people. One of the two vehicles that I saw on the 42 mile-long, dusty, road the other day was maybe the fifth truck that had slowed to a stop next to me in the past couple of days to ask if I was okay (Julie gets even more attention of course.)

Henry and Vanessa Reed had seen me pass their house on the Guy Reed Rd. (hope they didn’t see me pee just past their yard) and came to check out the oddity of a pedestrian on a road that really doesn’t even exist on a paper map.



Okay, this gives me an opportunity to re-tell one of my favorite, semi-relevant, stories yet again.


Back in the 1900’s my pal, Jay Lee was running the Paavo Nurmi Marathon outside of Hurley WI. He was doing well, somewhere in the top 5, just past the 17mile mark maybe.

As he passed by a string of typical Finnish farm houses, he saw a woman walking out to her mailbox. She clapped for him as he approached, and he shouted out to her, “What place am I in?”

She replied, “Pence! Pence Wisconsin!”

We laughed like hell every time Jay told that story.

But, it gets better.

When I turned 40, I ran Paavo Nurmi as a long training run mostly, and unexpectedly found myself doing really well. I was chasing the race leader and feeling fine.

I passed the “Welcome to Pence!” sign as I ran along the blacktop road, melting in the August sun.

I saw a woman walking down her driveway toward her mailbox.

Something in me knew this was one of those moments of grand convergence, and that I couldn’t waste this opportunity for some sort of minor immortality.

I saw the woman pull open the mailbox and bend down to peer in.

I saw the bit of disappointment at finding it empty (this is one reason I still like to send postcards or letters, or just dumb shit to people in the mail.)

She straightened up and turned to watch my approach.

I knew 100% it was her.

“What place am I in?” I shouted.

There was a moment of confused hesitation and then she mutedly said, “Pence… Pence, Wisconsin.”


Okay, back to Henry and Vanessa…

We established that I was okay. I wasn’t broke down, nor an wandering inmate from the state psychiatric hospital in Larned—down on the highway.

Then Henry asked me if I’d ever heard of Michael Posner.

Yes! Yes, I had. In fact I listened to a Rich Roll podcast about him a few weeks earlier. He’s a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who walked across the country, climbed a bunch of big peaks like Mt. Everest.

Henry said, “Yeah, he came walking right by here too. Is this like the usual route?”


Missouri had the Katy Trail.

Kansas has the Flint Hills Trail and endless dirt roads.

These roads are sometimes 20-40 miles long, and you might not see a vehicle for 4 hours.

I mean, you can’t really beat that.

So, yeah, Henry, this IS the route to California!



(Giizhik does this for... oh, the first full mile of a walk)



“A Typical Dirt Road Encounter”


Scene—dusty, very expensive white pickup slows to a stop alongside me.

Rancher “Donald” —80’s, seed cap, clean-shaven except extremely bushy nose hair, which makes me think that his wife has probably passed on.


“We don’t usually see too many walkers around here.”

“Oh, yeah, my wife and I are walking across the country! We started in Maine.”

Donald, turning his ‘good ear’ in my direction “Huh?!”

“My wife and I are walking from Maine to California!”

“Oh! Okay… you’ve come a long way. I seen your car down the road a few miles there,” he shouts thrusting a thumb behind him.

“Yeah, my wife is up there walking.”

“HUH!?”

We go back and forth like this for a minute or two. He points at the four houses within eyesight and explains that he was born in that one, his wife was born in this one, he now lives in that there one yonder, and the other is where his father once lived. Then he closes with “Yup, we’re RANCHERS around here, so….”

“Okay, Donald, it was nice to meet you. Thank you for stopping.”

“Huh?”




Gratitude


We’re reminded often these days that, as we travel across Turtle Island, to recognize that we’re passing through traditional tribal lands, even if those people don’t presently live there. These past few hundred miles were through traditional Osage, Arapaho, Shoshone, and Cheyenne turf.

I learned the Arapaho words for “thank you”—Ho hóu. And sometimes when I’m out there on the high plains I’ll stop and, just a bit self-consciously, bellow those words to the four directions.

The Arapaho now live in Wyoming (Northern) or Oklahoma (Southern,) but, who knows, maybe someone can hear me, in some alternate plane.

Check out James Kaagegaabaw’s Thanksgiving message as he offers his take on the holiday as an Indigenous person.

You can retain control of your “emotional sovereignty” by choosing joy, gratitude, and unconditional love.

Mino giizhigad! It’s a good day!





Thanksgiving Day and Colorado (Livin’ on Mountain Time!)


We reset our clocks as we passed through the edge of Kansas and crossed the state line into Colorado, a state that we love and with which we have so much wonderful history! Even though the scenery, or weather, hasn’t changed much, we suddenly feel a bit at home.

As plant-based pedestrians, we welcome the increased organic options, fresh(er) fruits and veggies, and, yeah, a thousand different kinds of beer to choose from.

It’s thirsty work we’re doing here, folks.


(No animals were harmed in the creation of this super delicious pumpkin pie!)


That said, we walk past plenty of feedlots packed with frightened cows being loaded and unloaded for packing plants. Yeah, I get that most people here make their living at beefs, but I’m glad we don’t contribute to the meat economy.

The Buddhist concept of Ahimsa means “non-injury” and “non-killing” and seeks to avoid causing any harm to other living beings by deeds, words, or thoughts.

Why not? Why the hell not?


(This is real. We saw it.)

(Gratuitous vegan propaganda)


Talking with people about harm-reduction has been a bit of a challenge. Seems like eyes glaze over a bit when we bring up the subject. Only one guy, Austin—an off-duty cop who stopped to see if we were okay, engaged. He says that, though they do carry Narcan, their jurisdiction is so vast (they could get a call from 40 miles away) it’s useless by the time they get to the scene. He also said that, because the farm/ranch families are so tightknit, people just don’t talk about drug problems in the community, while also conceding that the problem (especially fentanyl) is very real and growing fast.


***

(Austin--a Bent County cop)


(Austin mentioned that they've even found fentanyl in Smarties! Oops...well, not these ones.)


It’s been hard for us to let go of our original plan to go through the San Luis Valley where there old friends and even older hot springs waiting. But we continue to battle frozen water in our little camper, and the prospect of road closures in the high passes of Colorado in December continue to nudge us SW. Though northern New Mexico is still pretty cold, at least the elevations and precipitation are lower.

(Note: We’ve finally decided on heading toward Alamosa CO and the lower San Luis Valley. From there we can ditch the camper and head home for our holiday respite with family.)


Julie’s mom, Cathy (who WE think is the world’s finest batik artist!) and her husband, Ken, live in Albuquerque and we hope to meet up with them somewhere convenient to the route.


***

Finally, (and it’s now December 1st, or the day celebrated around the world as— “Jess’s Birthday”) we are holed-up nights in La Junta CO-- “The Junction.”

We’ve had some clear sightings of the Sangre de Christos on the western horizon—a couple of which I’ve had the privilege of looking down on these high plains from.

(Please excuse that clumsy sentence; my brain won’t let me fix it right now.)



(My birthday cake...thanks, Julie Louise! I'm putting those candles in the junk drawer until my 96th.)


Julie got us a HOTEL last night…our first of the trip. With a hot tub downstairs!

We’re just a bit too far from the nearest hot springs to justify the drive, so this is our compromise.

We drove over to the Yak and Yeti for my birthday dinner.

Get this: it is advertised as a brewery, with award-winning Nepalese/Indian/Tibetan food. PERFECT for us beer-swilling vegans!

Well, we go in and the woman behind the counter informs us that

a) they closed early because the bartender was sick (REALLY!?) and,

b) “Just a heads-up… the manager has completely redone the menu and now he’s serving AMERICAN-style food!” she said with complete delight.


We turned on our heels and headed to a local beanery where we glumly spooned down a lackluster cheese-less, chili-less, tasteless burrito. The margarita was delicious, I’ll give them that.

Post-birthday, I plan to hit the roads hard for a week to get in my final 100 miler training before we head back to Minnesota for our two-week holiday break. It’s a seven day walk/run to Alamosa.

(Lest you forget, or if I’ve not mentioned it, I’m entered in the Across the Years 100-mile run on New Years Eve/Day in Phoenix.)

Speaking of ultras… still no response from Bernd Heinrich.


***

Oh, books…

Kansas was really tough. There are a lot of poets from Kansas, but poetry, though I love it, doesn’t give me that sustained kind of attention that a good story can. I wasted an Audible credit on William Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch” just bc I felt like “I should read it.” It was just too raw and lacks an easy-to-follow narrative.

Instead I listened to more Richard Wagamese—a Canadian First-Nations writer whose writing I really love. He’s known mostly for his novel “Indian Horse” a story of a young Native man looking for redemption through hockey. I’ve plowed through 4-5 of his books this trip.

Similarly, I finished “Walk,” an account of Jonathon Stalls’s walk across the US to come to terms with his attempted suicide after coming out as a gay man to his parents.

I also put Dr. Will Bulsiewicz’s “Fiber Fueled,” Matt Frazier and Robert Cheeke’s “The Plant-Based Athlete” in the finished column. (Please listen to Dr. Will’s You Tube or podcast talks. The microbiome/food connection is incredible!)

Here are two…a long one and a short: On Rich Roll Here and from Dr. Will’s site…5 Power Foods

Now, in Colorado, I've already plowed through John Krakauer's "Classic Krakauer," and looking at maybe some Hunter S. Thompson. (I mean, is anyone actually from Colorado??)


Well, keep moving… And eat your sauerkraut!


Misc. Photos apropos to nothing...


(Just some good ol' boys havin' some fun)

(The first of MANY cattle guards)


(No comment)

(And, the sun sets on yet another blog post...)

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3 Comments


slvbarb498
Dec 05, 2023

I wrote a lengthy comment but because I wasn't signed in it didn't save. I'll try again. I love reading and laughing at your post!😁 Pence?! Are those stories really true?!🤣🤣🤣

Jonathan Stall has been here, and I heard him speak along with my very good friend and a friend of hers (about their Camino journeys) who walked the Camino starting 5 days after me last yr. (As I recall, Jonathan walked the Camino with his dad, but I could be mistaken.) That friend connected with Jonathan (which is why he came here to speak) and started a weekly walk in town. I haven't read his book.

Wow! I didn't know Julie's mom lives in Albuquerque. That's convenient.

Safe travels!…

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bill
Dec 03, 2023

I’m so happy I came across your most recent blog post this morning. I hope you will write a book about this epic experience BEFORE your 70th birthday. You have a gift….put it to use for the enjoyment and betterment of all humankind. Wishing you continued safe travels. Bill Arey

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artbyhaight
Dec 03, 2023

Just excellent, Jess! I really feel like I'm following along with your walking and your thinking. See you soon. --Cathy

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