After walking six miles down the trail with me, Dee said goodbye. It had been a wonderful experience to meet and walk with another strong-willed female in the hiking world and even better to have someone that could relate to the various adverse statements surrounding gender, age, and appearance. I was now off to meet my next host, Chris and his family. I abandoned the bike trail and moved to the streets to use the signs to navigate. My GPS was acting finicky and I had to rely on my own navigational skills to find my way through the city. I finished walking across a crosswalk and then heard, “Amanda!” I looked around trying to determine the origin of the voice. Up ahead on my right, I saw arms flailing out a car window and then, “It’s Chris and Shannon!” They veered into a parking lot and I threw my pack in the trunk and jumped in the car. They told me they were running late for their daughter’s 23rd birthday dinner and that I was welcome to join. After an entire day of eating granola bars, an actual meal sounded delightful so I went with the flow and met the family and friends. I’ve found the moments when I get to partake in family endeavors are the most rewarding. In those moments, I get to be a part of something bigger than myself. I get to see the love that radiates from the people around me.
After two days of rest, a season of Game of Thrones watched, and a new appreciation for mulberries, I continued on my journey. I knew I was going to have hurdles to overcome in Kansas but today I took my time as I walked. I encountered a mulberry tree and started plucking them away and popping them into my mouth. I scoured through the leaves finding the ripest ones while trying to avoid knocking others onto the ground. I felt a childlike bliss and in those moments I had no worries in the world. When I got into town I felt strangely drained. Although there was still plenty of shade, my body was in a bit of shock from the humid heat. Keke and her baby, Rex, would be hosting me for the night but they had a wedding to attend. In the mean time, I hung out at the Busker Festival in the downtown area. It still had a few acts going on and I got to witness the last show, Pogo Fred who does extreme pogo sticking and holds multiple world records. I enjoyed the performance but as I continued to wander around I began to feel overwhelmed. The noises, the people, and the unfamiliarity all over-loaded my senses. I needed to get away from it. I found my way to the park and laid in the shady grass and there I waited for Keke to come and get me.
I was dropped off at the edge of town after breakfast and began walking on the gridded black top and gravel roads. The shade was minimal and I traveled up and down the many hills of eastern Kansas. I’d pass puddles of water and it finally occurred to me that I should utilize them. Not to drink but to dampen my hat and buff, a versatile piece of cloth that you wear on your neck or head. The puddle was brown and filled with bacteria and fungus but I wasn’t focused on that. I saw it as an opportunity. I had been doing my best to keep up with my hydration but that was irrelevant in the humidity. I needed a way to cool my body down and this was the best solution I could think of without expending my drinkable water. As the sun continued to race across the sky, I finally decided that I needed to fuel my body with peanut butter and jelly wraps. I found shade under a tree next to the road and began to munch away when a truck pulled up next to me. I briefly told the guy about my walk but he didn’t seem to care. He was verbose and not much of a listener. I was automatically wary of him and it didn’t help that he was caught up on the fact that I was out there alone. He told me about the murder rates in Kansas City and how dangerous everything was but eventually he decided it was time for him to continue on his way. Before he left though, he tried to give me a miniature baseball bat and a knife but I made sure to tell him I already had what I needed.
I reviewed the ADT route and was quite disappointed with it. It was entirely highway walking and the only decent thing about that would be that people were constantly near me. But, that in itself was a double edged sword. I’d have to be aware of the cars zooming by and I wouldn’t be able to peacefully pee anywhere. In addition to that, there tend to be less shade along the highways and the continuous concrete walking quickly wears on my joints. With all of this in mind, I walked out of town. I happened to check my email after a few miles and I saw that the Kansas coordinator had responded to the email I’d sent him. He informed me that there was a rail trail, Flint Hills Nature Trail, that I could jump on in Ottawa. “What?!” I thought to myself, “I walked right past it on my way out of town and didn’t even realize it.” There was no turning back for me so I decided I’d catch it in the next town. The problem was that it didn’t exist on Google Maps yet and the information surrounding it was sparse. I would have to blindly follow it until I got to the more established sections. A few hundred feet in front of me I found a gravel path that was encompassed by trees and bushes. It reminded me of the Katy Trail in Missouri so I assumed it was the Flint Hills Nature Trail. There was no signage but I decided to follow it anyways. I could keep tabs on where I was via Google Maps and hoped that eventually I’d find a sign telling me what I was following. The shade was heavenly and I found more mulberry trees. The crushed gravel beneath me softened the impact on my knees and hips as I walked. Tired, hungry, and almost out of water I finally made it to the Vassar State Park Campground. The clouds above me looked like cotton candy but to the left it was a dark abyss. Rain sprinkled down while the sun shined bright in the sky. I hid in my tent waiting for the angry sky to bear a tornado. The winds blew at my tent with no mercy and I realized that my tent was only a curtain of comfort. It would do nothing to protect me from a storm. There was a bathroom shelter I could go to if I needed but that wasn’t much comfort to me. “What is this weather?” I thought. Thunder rumbled around me and I waited for the lightning. But I never saw it. At this point, I whole heartedly believed everything in Kansas was trying to kill me and this wasn’t even an actual storm.
After surviving the night, I made it to my next town in a hurry. There was going to be a care package waiting for me from a lovely trail angel, Dawn, that I was excited about but what really had me moving was a black wall in the sky. As I got to the outskirts of town, people told me there was golf ball sized hail coming and that I should find shelter. I pushed myself to get to the library before the storm hit. There I could rest, rehydrate, and pick up my care package. I sat in a chair in the corner, away from everyone, to spare them of my wild stench. I tried to make a logistical plan for my next move but quickly was becoming overwhelmed. I convinced myself I couldn’t stay in the town and opted to do nine more miles to the next town (the storm had passed). I walked up to the librarian to ask her a question before I left and she asked what I was doing. I was confused. I thought the librarian I’d spoken with earlier had told her. Through our conversation I ended up asking if there was anywhere I could set up my tent for the night and she began making phone calls to the various churches in the area. Turns out her mother, Donna, was able to get me set up in the apartment her church has for missionaries. Before I made my way there, Donna took me to eat at the local cafe and then to church with her. She had the happiest smile I’d ever seen. As the evening wore on I settled in the apartment and I had some over hanging thoughts: 1) There is no mold that fits every situation perfectly. This includes relationships, lifestyle, appearance, etc. The world is incredibly diverse and that staying open minded is key. 2) Don’t do things out of fear 3) Everything in Kansas was trying to kill me- tornadoes, lightning, hail, dehydration, heat stroke, bugs, etc.