Lakin to Coolidge

I spent roughly a week in Texas and was surprised how easily I meshed back into the routine of things. I never felt restless or out of place but rather a sense of belonging. I’d spent the majority of my life in this neighborhood and I reclaimed hope in the idea that I wouldn’t be a jumbled mess after I reached the Pacific Ocean. I looked forward to returning to the trail and when my parents notioned at maybe staying two weeks I was quick to share my intention of only one. I swapped out some of my gear and decided to ditch other things, in hopes of a losing pack weight. I realized one of my favorite parts about walking was that I got to enter people’s lives in what sometimes was the most opportune moment, which gave me a sense of purpose.  So, Saturday morning my mother and I embarked on the 8 hour drive back to Kansas. I had never been more grateful for the love and compassion she radiated.

My first day back on the ADT felt odd. My feet were on the ground but my head was in the clouds. Was this all a dream? Before I’d left the hotel room I couldn’t help but create a metaphor for the fly that was trapped in the room. It could see the outside world, freedom and life, yet the window and walls were acting as barriers. The metaphor was for a person’s life except the walls were self-built mental obstacles. As I left the outskirts of Lakin, a guy pulled over and asked me if I wanted a ride to the Colorado line, 45 miles away. This was my way out! Yet, I couldn’t allow myself to set the tone of taking the easy way out. I felt I had a vendetta against Kansas and needed to walk out of the state, with my head high. Throughout the day, four more people had offered me a ride and a motorcyclist and sheriff stopped to check on me. Out of my five months of walking, I’d never had so many people offer me rides or have a state trooper and sheriff stop for me. The state trooper asked if I needed anything along with giving me helpful information about resources in Kansas. He told me about a church organization that set aside funds to help travelers with a place to stay and that I should check it out. I was very pleased with the interaction and now had something to look forward to that evening. I watched him drive away and promptly flick his red and blue lights on as he did a u-turn and pulled over a speeding individual, next to my walking path. I looked in the windshield of the individual pulled over and saw a composed face. I kept walking and passed the state trooper, he had the biggest grin. He was such a happy individual and that energy was just contagious. The town I had originally planned on stopping at turned out to be a mile off the highway and it didn’t look too promising. I decided to keep moving and then I saw a sign that said. “Now Entering Mountain Time.” Holy crap, I was excited to see that! It was my second time zone change I walked into and it gave me an extra hour of walking. Plus, I felt that much closer to the mountains! After 27 miles I finally walked into Syracuse and saw a parked RV with the logo “Sundance.” That was my trail name and I had an overwhelming feeling that I was being welcomed back to the trail. I meandered down Main Street in search of the sheriff’s office, to do the paperwork for a place to stay via the generosity of the church organization, and saw that everything was closed. It was 5pm on a Sunday and the street was deserted. I sat near the library and scanned the nooks and crannies for a place to set up my tent, a bit disappointed. I sat there eating popcorn, once again at a loss of where to go, when I asked the guy walking his dog about the location of the sheriff’s office, it wasn’t marked well. He wasn’t from the area but told me he’d just seen a deputy go inside. I had an inch of hope. I walked up to the door and it was unlocked but would anyone be at the desk? I went inside and called, “Hello?” I stood there and stared into the transparent glass. I could see a figure walking around in the back so I waited. I didn’t know if she heard me but I saw her finally head through the door towards me. I explained the situation and the sheriff working was the same one that had driven out of town to see if I needed anything. I did the paperwork and he made a few calls. He told me that the last time someone took advantage of this resource they destroyed the motel room and left evidence of drugs. He vouched for me to the motel owner and I promised I wouldn’t let him down. I was eternally grateful and appreciative to have a safe, comfortable place to sleep.

My morning started off with great conversation with an older gentleman over breakfast. He lived in Nevada but was in Kansas tending to his farm. It felt good having a conversation. I didn’t have questions flowing out of me or even good answers to respond to his but the effort was there. As I walked along the highway at least twenty cyclists must’ve passed me. They were jubilant and said hello while zooming past. I admired the numbers in which they biked together, tactfully using aerodynamics to be energy efficient. They worked as a team. It gave me excitement but it didn’t sustain while this other countering emotion rose within me. My breath quickened and my heart rate increased. Walking just didn’t seem right anymore. I didn’t want to be there and two phrases filled my head. The first, “If you wake up enough days in a row and aren’t happy with the situation, then something needs to change,” and the second being, “In the morning ask yourself if you want to walk or not and if the answer is no then don’t walk.” When I first read these words of advice they made sense but in practice they didn’t seem practical. I needed to walk to keep moving but I didn’t want to anymore. I found a shady spot next to the railroad and sat down. Several tears rolled down my cheeks but I wasn’t overly emotional. My thoughts circled around quitting. When I first started walking there was nothing else I really had to do, no other choices, but as I walked through my journey I’d seen and experienced things I wanted for myself. I wanted a community of people surrounding me that I could adventure with and rely on. I wanted some form of structure and stability. I wanted to learn about mental health so I could help people help themselves. All these things I wanted and none of them I could have while I kept walking. I wasn’t being present minded and that began my downfall. I was arguing with myself. What would be the consequences of quitting? What would they be if I kept walking? I knew one thing and that was I was determined to get to Holly (the first town I’d come to in Colorado). I was three miles from Coolidge and five from the Colorado state line. For the hour walking to Coolidge, I determined how I’d break the news to everyone. I thought about how I could word my failure into a success story and I was okay with that. It would’ve been like an underdog story where lessons were learned but they still didn’t manage to defeat the undefeated team. I would’ve used this failure as a learning experience all while knowing if I quit I wouldn’t return. I was okay with that too. Whilst all this was circling in my thoughts I knew there was one thing I could do to salvage my journey. I had met a guy Jonah aka DudeTrek last summer and he’d walked across the country in 2013. When I’d talked to him about his experiences walking he’d mentioned he had almost quit in Utah and that was what I was curious about. I wanted to know what changed his mind. The catch was, would this world traveler and adventurer (someone difficult to get a hold of) answer his phone? I had prayed for direction and I knew if he answered the phone it would be my sign. I arrived in Coolidge and settled myself at a shady picnic table and made the call to Jonah. It rang a few times and then went to a voicemail in spanish. I decided to try calling a high school friend, Keya, who was always filled with words of wisdom. Yet, as I told her about my thoughts on quitting I found myself hearing but not really listening to what she had to say. “I won’t let you quit,” she voiced passionately. I knew though, the only person that could make me keep walking was me and the majority of myself had decided to quit. I couldn’t call my parents to get me because I’d just been picked up and then brought back to Kansas. I’d have to look to my grandparents in north eastern Colorado to rescue me from my sinking ship. Then, mid-phone call with Keya my phone showed Jonah was calling me back. I let it ring through and waited for a fitting moment to tell Keya I’d call her back. I called Jonah again, wondering if it would even be him on the other end. This time he picked up! His voice was cheery as always and I tried to explain the situation while keeping my voice steady. He didn’t tell me to quit or not to quit rather he shared what was ahead of me and related to what I was feeling. I’d been feeling like I was floating in a third dimension separate from the world around me yet somehow still interacting with it. He reaffirmed things I already knew about the beauty of the mountains and the awesome people I’d continue to meet. As for what had kept him from quitting in Utah, he’d made a phone call to the Delaware state coordinator and received advice himself, “Never quit on a rainy day,” he was told. I asked Jonah how to fend off these sinking feelings because we both knew it would return. The more philosophical approach was to realize how strong one’s mental fortitude would be after all was said and done. Mentally, I would be a rock and nothing would tear me down. The practical approach would be to list my gratefuls. By saying the things I was grateful for I could redirect my thoughts towards a positive outlook. Even with this advice he kept it real with me. He confirmed my fears. It wouldn’t get better in Colorado. In fact, it would get worse and more desert like in the south eastern part of the state. With this knowledge, I decided to walk the two miles into Colorado knowing that I was willing to keep fighting.

Canton to Garden City

What am I doing here? This vast expansiveness has filled me with emptiness. I feel like I’m on a never ending death march. The towns I pass through are little oasises for life yet when I reach them at the end of the day, loneliness is what fills me. I walk for shade. I walk for water. The Kansans are kind and helpful people but they are weary. Everyone is more than willing to help but I have to ask for it. Sometimes, I don’t remember how. I know how to ask for water but how do you ask for good company?

At 4am my death march continued. After eating breakfast I still felt famished but the glow of the fireflies glittering the horizon above the wheat fields distracted me. I was surrounded by the predawn darkness and the sound of the oil rig’s click, click, click filled the air. The sun began to rise and as other’s began their day, I fought to continue mine. When I stopped walking I would zone out and tingling would begin to fill my limbs. I could feel my body becoming dead weight and my legs unable to bear the burden of me and my pack. I braced myself with my trekking poles, ready for the loss of my equilibrium. My body was quitting on me. I took a glucose tablet, hoping it would help, and kept going. Reaching McPherson would be my saving grace, I just had to get there. Once I got into town I called a woman, Jill, out of the blue and asked if she could host me. At her earliest convenience she came and picked me up from the nearby church where I’d been discovered sitting on the lawn. The pastor told me I could wait inside for Jill and in the mean time he asked me questions about my walk and introduced me to everyone that walked by. There was something about the way he asked his questions that told me he wanted more than a surface level response. So, I gave him the long versions. The long versions that helped me remember what I was doing and why. Jill came and got me and immediately took me to breakfast at her favorite cafe. She really felt like an angel. I ate a pecan, blueberry pancake that was the size of my face and all my troubles dissolved. She took me back to her home and showed me where I could rest. I slept the entire afternoon and only briefly woke up to feel the tingling, heavy weight of my arms. My body still needed more rest. In the evening, I went with Jill and her three granddaughters to go watch Wonder Woman and for the evening I was part of the family. From Jill I learned that I had an entire lifetime to live adventurously. That may sound silly but everyone tells me to “do it while you’re young,” as if the option to be spontaneous and adventurous only has a limited time span. With Jill, I saw her hunger for life sustained even though her body didn’t work as well as it did in her younger days. It gave me hope and made me wonder, “What’s next?”

I started walking at 6am and I felt good. I followed a gravel road the entire day and ended up at my 20 mile mark by noon. I sat under the shade of a tree and looked at my map. “What now?” The day was cool and I suddenly decided I didn’t want to waste the day. “I’m going to keep going,” I rashly decided. Ten more miles down the road and a total of eleven hours of walking, I walked through the doors of a Dairy Queen. That had been my motivation for the day, a salted caramel blizzard. While in there, a man told me about a spot for camping and showers and with that I reluctantly hobbled through town to find this spot. What a great relief it was once I got there.

I awoke at 4:45am and felt awful. Despite being dead tired I still woke up several times through the night. I had planned to do another thirty mile day but I had overestimated myself. It almost started to feel like an out of body experience as I took each step. At one point, I focused too much on that sensation and for a split second tingling soared through my entire body. What was happening to me? The chocolate chip granola bars I’d munch on began to make my stomach upset yet hunger grew within me. The dirt roads became sand pits, making it twice as hard to walk through, and then the trees disappeared. The landscape was fill with dead crops and flooded fields. My level of frustration with Kansas was increasing but I tried to tell my self to take it section by section. I listened to music and sang out loud along the country roads and occasionally stopped to serenade the herd of cattle I stumbled upon. After about 20 miles I knew I had to stop. My body wouldn’t tolerate another ten. I sat under a tree at the edge of town to rest. I couldn’t help but think how Kansas felt like a twilight zone. A car drove up the drive way to the property I was sitting on and a man, bent from the hip at a 90 degree angle, walked up to me and asked if I needed anything. He said he didn’t mind me setting up my tent but that there was a RV spot at the edge of town with bathrooms and showers. So I wandered a mile in that direction and scanned the park for its facilities. A pool with children screaming with glee were across the field and a man in a truck told me I could ask to use the pool showers. I made my way to the pool and got the okay before walking into the locker room with my stinky self and gear. Little girls ran through laughing until they saw me. Then, they looked terrified. I tried to crack a friendly smile as I hurried to the corner with a shower. I examined my worn body and pulled the stickers from my socks. My heels were blistering and my back was still being rubbed raw from my pack. I just had to make it four more days and then I could take a rest day.

 I wandered into town after another early morning and spotted a group of guys in neon yellow t-shirts ahead of me. They looked like they were making a game plan for the day’s work and I didn’t want to interrupt. I tried to quietly mosey by but as soon as I was spotted the boss called out to me, “You should work for us! We walk all day!” I was immediately drawn to the positive energy and excitement. I responded, “Depends, what’s the job?” They were pipeline surveyers and mostly from Texas! Talking to them made my morning and I thought it ironic that it took Texans in Kansas to be the ones to acknowledge me. I left town feeling the love from my fellow Texans and then a guy stopped and asked if I needed a ride. I declined but as he drove off I thought to myself, “I have a commitment to suffering.” It seemed twisted. I wanted out of Kansas but I just declined a ride. The wind was 20+ mph and I walked horizontally to continue forward. A SUV pulled over in front of me and Victor and Yvonne offered me water and then a ride. I felt that I needed to walk the remainder of the way and I didn’t need anymore water but I did find out that Victor’s mother lived in the next town. I asked if I could set my tent up in her lawn for the night and he made the phone call to ask. I was extremely pleased to have a destination for the night! We exchanged phone numbers so he could direct me to the house once I got closer and then kept walking with the offer of a ride hanging in the air if I changed my mind. Three miles down the road I stopped to rest under a shady tree and saw I had a message from Victor. “Need anything from Walmart?” I couldn’t think of anything but I knew from the message they were going to come see me once I got to his mother’s place. I was excited. I had a good feeling about Victor and Yvonne and I wanted to talk more with them. As I sat under the shade tree, seven miles left, I wondered why I was wearing my body down. What did I have to prove? My joints hurt and I had a lot of walking to do before I could get out of Kansas. So, I sent the message for him to come pick me up and threw in the towel for the day. Victor and Yvonne ended up offering me a shower and their couch and with that I got to listen to their life stories. They were with Bikers for Christ and shared how accepting Christ into their lives had saved them. They were starting a biker church where they shared the word of God through love and acceptance. All the while, Yvonne made sure I had plenty of food to eat and everything else I needed. They told me I was now part of the family and then offered to drive me to Dodge City, 80 miles away. I couldn’t accept that. That was a huge distance! Then again, I could. Kansas was hot, windy, and harvest season was about to start and that’d bring huge dust clouds. I agreed to the ride and it was settled that after church in the morning we’d go on an adventure to Dodge City.

Victor and Yvonne took me to their regular church, their biker church wasn’t meeting that day, and they assured me it was filled with love and acceptance. The service started with songs and everyone stood up and sang the word of God. It was lively and everyone seemed so happy. At the end, I went to the front with Yvonne and Victor. We had a prayer circle and held hands with the pastor and a few of the other members to pray for my journey. The amount of love I felt in those moments was overwhelming and I could feel emotion rising within me and tears starting to form in my eyes. The drive to Dodge City was quick and we stopped at Pawnee Rock and the U.S. halfway sign in Kinsley. They were going to drop me off at a motel but Victor had to approve of it first. The first two looked deserted and sketchy so we went on to the next. Motel 6 was settled on. Victor walked me up to my room and I knew it was strange for him. He had dedicated his life to protecting people and now he was leaving me in a random motel in sketchy area. As he left I heard him check the door behind him to make sure it locked and then there was just me again. I was apprehensive about being in Dodge City. I stared out my motel window and worked up the courage to walk to the Dairy Queen across the street. I felt exposed walking through the empty parking lot but hunger won out.

I walked 18 miles along the highway only stopping to pee. My right quad felt like it wanted to pull and my knee had a tweak in it. I made it into town before noon and ran errands: Doller General, Subway, Richie’s Cafe, Library, Post Office, and then the City Park. I tried finding wifi at the cafe but there was none so I sat in the air conditioned building and drank water. The waitress offered me fruit on the house and I wanted to leave a tip despite not getting anything. However, the woman refused. “But it is for you,” I said. She looked at me and said “Oh no, I can’t.” I felt a little defeated. I wanted to show my gratitude and didn’t know what else I could do. Next, I went to the library and there I found wifi. I wanted to work on my blog but I found myself unable to focus and tired. I sat in a chair for a while and tried to relax but I felt weird falling alseep with people around me. I decided I’d just go to the park and sit in the shade until nightfall. The temperature was going to be above 100°F but I figured I should try to acclimate in a controlled area (food, water, shade, people). However, I found myself harassed by flies and simply waiting. My only interaction was with an older couple that sat at a table across from me for a few minutes. But, they barely spoke english. Even so, I could see their kindness in their behavior and the few words they spoke to each other. When they left I looked at the route to Colorado, Utah, and Nevada and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. Anxiety rose within me. I was tired of walking highways. I was tired of having a limited window of time before the great plains turned into a furnace. I didn’t know what I was doing out there anymore. Why was I doing this? I was no longer the person I was when I started. Will these feelings disappear when I leave Kansas? I wasn’t sure. Then I dropped my bear spray on my toe. It filleted a chunk of skin off below my toe nail and I lost all composure. Tears rolled down my face and strange grieving noises exited me. I stared at my poor toe and watched the blood swell and then clot. At dusk I set up my tent under the pavillion and hid behind the picnic tables. I tried to hide in plain sight but failed when a kid went to throw away his trash. “Oh shit, there’s someone in there,” he exclaimed to his friend as he scurried away.

I woke up thirty minutes later than I would’ve liked and knew I’d be paying for it in the heat of the day. It got hot quick but I was thankful for the dirt under my feet. A guy, Tom, pulled over and talked to me a few minutes. He had walked the Santa Fe Trail as a history project and was excited to see someone else walking along it. He had gained a lot of spirituality and meditation time from the experience and I wanted to feel his enthusiasm for the plains but it didn’t come to me. He offered water and sunscreen before he continued his drive to his family reunion but I declined. I had a mile and a half left before my stopping point and despite feeling a tad over-heated and dry-mouthed I continued. I headed straight to the church but found a small playground/park area instead. There was water and shade so I decided that would be home for the evening. Across the street, a man sat in his yard under the shade of a tree. I went over to him to ask if it was alright to set my tent up at the park but I mostly wanted something to do and someone to talk to. He redirected me to the man with the answer, Vernal. I received vague directions to Vernal’s house and temporarily entertained the idea of finding him, again to have something to do, but I was tired of walking. So, I ended up hiding from the sun and wind by the volunteer fire department next to the park. I listened to a podcast, tried to sleep, killed flies, picked my scabs, and stared at the ground. My podcast told me that to have grit you have to have: interest, passion, purpose, and hope. How was I going to maintain grit when I was losing my purpose and hope? I had less than 100 miles to Colorado but would anything change? Later, while I made my “redneck MRE” a dog appeared from around the corner and was so excited it started knocking into everything. I thought a split second ahead and turned my stove off before he wiggled himself over my backpack and near my food. Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to see a rooster! The dog took off after it and they both promptly disappeared. After the few moments of excitement I continued making my food, which was not something I was excited about. It was beef stew potatoes that tasted mostly like salt and had zero texture. I unwillingly ate half of the bag and gave up on the rest. My morale sinking even lower. I needed to try to lift my spirits so I went over to the swing and tried to find the same bliss I did as a child. I posed the question to myself, “What makes swinging so much fun?” My only inclination was that it could make me feel like I was flying.

In the night, I was blessed by a white cat. As I slept I felt pressure on my head and saw a blob. I grabbed my glasses, strangely unalarmed, and saw the cat. It then reached up onto my tent and in fear of it creating a tear I said, “Back,” and it ran off. I was awoken by roosters in the light of day. I’d slept in because I only had 13 miles to walk but while I walked I sang and danced. I had a destination for the night, a homeless shelter called Emmaus House. I called and asked about the procedures for staying there. I’d have to go to the police station to get a background check but I needed to get to the house first to make lunch time. I knocked on the door and was greeted by a gentleman and two ladies. I had no idea what or where I was suppose to go inside the house. I wasn’t overwhelmed but rather uninformed. I couldn’t begin the entry process until I had the background check so I plopped my stuff pack in a corner, sat, and mimicked what the people around me were doing. I didn’t know who ran the place and who was staying there so I sat and waited for the food to be served. The gentleman, Chris, was sociable and I was able to talk with him about various adventures in New Mexico. The other guys were friendly but continued to watch TV. Lunch, three different types of beans and meat, was served and three guys came to sit at the table. Anyone could show up for the meals so now I was trying to figure out who was staying in the house. The guy on my left started to talk about hating to work and that he won’t work. I was a bit shocked at that mentality because I’m always doing something. I wanted to know more so I asked him what he liked to do. And his response was a vague, “Hangout.” The guy seemed like a nice enough guy but his body language shouted a complete lack of confidence. I could see he was one of the individuals that abused the welfare system. After I ate, I went to the police station to get the background check and while I waited I met two guys from Sudan that were reporting a lost wallet. They didn’t speak much english but I enjoyed the broken conversation. It made me realize how much I missed interacting with different cultures. When I got back to the shelter I went through the entry process and talked with the people that ran the house. They were lovely ladies but they shared that not everyone that stayed there was pleasant to interact with. In order to stay at the home you have to follow a select set of rules and each morning after breakfast you have to leave and apply for jobs. I felt out of place after I finished the entry process. Everyone was out applying for jobs and I wasn’t. I stayed in the women’s bunkroom until the evening grew nearer and then I emerged to find everyone gathering for dinner. People were joking with one another and a baby girl ran around. I began to feel comfortable and more like me. There was a couple with a dog outside, a couple that was there for dinner, a couple from San Antonio with their baby girl, and then Chris and me. It was this strange combination of people that turned into a makeshift family. No one was trying to impress one another and everyone just laughed. It gave me a strange sense of belonging.

I had very little sleep in the women’s bunkroom, which was in the basement. It was hot, stuffy, and the majority of the night it felt like things were crawling on me. Chris had wanted to walk with me so I waited for him before taking off. It was nice having someone to talk to while walking but it turned out I’m not a great multi-tasker. We’d be talking and I’d check the map only to realize we missed the turn. It definitely led to a couple extra miles. The roads going out of town barely had a shoulder which made walking along them difficult for one person let alone two. There was little wind and six miles in I already felt fatigued. This was most likely due to not eating breakfast. Chris and I hadn’t eaten because of our early start but we attempted to subside our hunger with granola bars. I knew too that Chris’s feet were hurting so before I even got into the next town, now two miles away, I’d decided I was done walking for the day. Once in town we went directly to the convenience store and got two corn dogs and waited for the nereby cafe, El Rancho, to open. There my anxiety level towards walking increased. I was having some sort of revelation but only in bits and pieces and I just became riddled with anxiety. “What if?” thoughts and uncertainty plagued me. Chris suggested we go to the park to figure things out and there we sat under the pavilion in the shade. I felt like I needed to make a rash decision but quitting wasn’t it. I needed to make a big decision but what? I was stuck with indecision while Chris waited patiently. I was stressing out and Chris started to feel the stress too. I decided I needed to make a few phone calls and with that it was decided that I needed a break. I quickly developed a plan: hitch back to Garden City with Chris and then find a way back to Texas. I figured walking with Chris had diverted my normal pattern of behavior of pushing through my anguish and continuing. That ended up being a good thing. I knew pushing through wasn’t working for me anymore and I needed a change, a big change. It was a wake up call for me. We found a ride back into Garden City at the gas station and were dropped off at the library. There, the third man that had eaten lunch with us the day before, George, came and sat at the table with me. I could only ever make out half of the sentences he said due to mumbling but I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations. I had asked him what he wanted to be when he was a kid and he said firefighter. Now, he was working at a Tyson food plant and I wondered what happened. “Life,” he said, “You start out wanting to do one thing and in the mean time you get distracted going in a different direction.” I realized how much of a luxory it was to work a job you’re passionate about. I found myself surrounded by people who were grateful to have a job regardless if they liked it or not. I wanted to ask George so many more questions but he had to leave for work. I sat there coloring a picture and rejoiced in the simplicity of the moment. Later, I found myself swimming laps at a hotel swimming pool and remembered how much I loved swimming underwater. The only problem was that with contacts I close my eyes underwater to keep them from popping out. So, I decided to take them out and swim in the depths of the pool, with my eyes open. I let the chlorinated water hit my eyes and a blurred peacefullness swept over me as my heart raced with the lack of oxygen. In those moments, I embraced my inner child. The following morning my mother drove eight hours to get me and take me back to Texas. Her love and dedication was impeccable and I don’t think I can ever thank her enough.