Through the night the sounds of thunder paraded the sky and rain poured over the landscape. Although the storm brought cooler temperatures and overcast skies, it lead to a humid morning. As I continued on the rail trail it began to become overgrown and unkept, a forgotten passageway. My shoes and socks became soaked from the beads of water clinging to the grass blades. The conditions gave way to an abundance of mosquitoes and flies. Their relentlessness wore me. I could not pause to rest without being swarmed and if my pace slowed they’d catch me. I pushed myself physically to get from town to town and only saw one person, a mountain biker. He’d rounded the corner right as I flopped to the ground forcing myself to take a breather and take care of my feet. Due to my soaked socks and shoes, I walked sockless for a few miles to allow my feet and shoes to dry out. Unfortunately, my shoes began to rub my ankles and the top of my feet raw. Luckily though, my shoes had dried out enough to allow me to put on my dry pair of socks. But, there was another problem. My lower back and butt were stinging as I walked and when I looked to see what was wrong all I saw were raw patches of skin. The humidity and sweat had caused chafing from my pack and shorts but there wasn’t much I could do so I kept going. I finally hobbled into town but instead of relief I found anxiety. “Where do I go now?” I saw a sign for a meat processing plant and figured I could get water. I went inside and talked to the owner, Phil, who was concerned with me being alone but offered to help. The options of camping at the park or on his property didn’t sit well with him so we settled on me staying in his storage barn. He didn’t want people to bother me and he thought about what it would be like if his daughters were in the same position. He gave me a one pound bag of raw beef for dinner. I was obliged but knew I’d have a few hurdles to overcome when cooking it. You see, when I make my camping meals there never tends to be much sanitation and now I would have cow blood and grease on everything. I didn’t want salmonella or e. coli so my greatest ploy was to avoid touching the raw meat as much as possible with as little as possible. I dumped the meat into my pot and poked at it until it began to brown. My pot was 3/4 full and I could barely stir the meat let alone see if it was completely cooking. I poked at it and then dug a hole to allow stirring and this continued until I was certain all the pink was gone. I sat there eating my unseasoned beef wrapped in tortillas and was overcome by loneliness. “What do I do now?” I cleaned up the grease as best as possible and figured I’d have to wait until I found a public bathroom to clean my pot. I stretched on my sleeping pad and stared at the spider webs surrounding me. I started to grow nauseous but I knew it wasn’t from the beef. I was stressed, anxious, and had been in the humidity all day. All I could do was wait until morning.
I parted with the rail trail and said goodbye to the shade. I had 18 miles of highway walking ahead of me before I could rest. Halfway through the distance, I decided to take a midol capsule but not for the reason you’re thinking. I had been told that it helps with pain relief in joints which I was having plenty of due to the concrete I was walking on for six plus hours day after day. To my surprise, each capsule also had 60mg of caffeine and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing while walking. I noticed my pace quickened and a spike in energy. Joyful noises erupted from me while I walked effortlessly but the heat never subsided. I made it into town and although my joints didn’t feel awful, I started to get a headache. It was time for me to find shade or air conditioning. Thanks to Dawn, a lovely trail angel, I had direction once I got into town, she bought me lunch at the local restaurant. I forced myself to keep walking until I arrived and then I became a discombobulated mess. I walked into a room where two waitresses were folding silverware and they looked at me confused. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to know what questions I was suppose to ask but finally the words, “A woman called about a hiker arriving,” exited my mouth and I saw the light bulb turn on for the one waitress. She came back with a gift card and told me I needed to go through the other double doors to get into the dining area. I left and wandered into the dining room where I quickly became overwhelmed with all the decisions I needed to make. Where to sit? What to drink? What to eat? Where’s the bathroom? I was purely functioning off the first thing that popped into my head. Once my delicious food arrived I began asking around about possible camping spots and the consensus was the pool. I remembered then about the hosting website, warmshowers and promptly looked at the map. There was a host in the area! Hot dog, I could shower, sleep in a bed, and talk to people! I called the host, Paul, and bam, I had a place to stay. After I got to the house, I conversed with Paul and his wife on their back porch and learned about the other people they’d hosted and what it was like to be foster parents for ten years. I wanted to continue to talk to them but I began to feel exhausted. They were understanding when I went to lie down to nap but I couldn’t help feeling that I was being rude. Even so, my nap was not restful. I eventually gave up on getting rest and called my friend, Steve. I had a mini breakdown. I could feel my fears overwhelming me and the night before I couldn’t sleep because I could see how messed up Kansas was making me and how purposeless I’d feel after I finished walking. I saw how I wouldn’t fit into society. Now, it was almost time for dinner and I had nothing but a nauseous feeling in my stomach.
Paul walked with me to the edge of town and I began another day of monotonous walking. I’d look at my feet as I walked and have to remind myself to look up at the surrounding landscape. All I could do was make observations and then assumptions. What I gathered was that trees led to shade which meant people and people resulted in water. The clusters of trees that I’d see in the distance would mean a few things: a house/farm building, a river, or they were windbreaks which often appeared to be property lines. I could see the beauty of Kansas in the golden wheat fields, the slow moving life that is missed when driving on the highways, and the hills (yes, hills and in fact Kansas is one giant inclined plane increasing in elevation all the way to Colorado). My highlight of the day had to have been seeing a turtle finish crossing the highway. It was my inspiration for the day. I began my way through a cluster of homes that was meant to be a town and I saw a man walking his dog. I yelled out to him, “Do you live here? Can I refill my water?” He was more than happy to help me out and rushed to put his dog inside so that he could help me. I had stumbled upon Rex and Peggy’s home and they were wonderful people. They gave me water to drink, a bathroom to use, and a bench to sit on while I waited out the heat of the day. They were great listeners and so lovely to converse with! I wanted to ask if I could just stay there and camp on their lawn but I had six more miles until my destination. I continued but despite the humidity and insistent gnats that kept flying up my nose, I felt rejuvenated.
After walking for a couple hours I went through a small town and saw a man and a woman doing yard work. I saw a water spigot and yelled to them, “Do you mind if I get some water?” The woman looked around confused. I yelled, “Behind you.” She had no idea where my voice was coming from but she finally spotted me. She told me I could try it but didn’t know if it was turned on. It wasn’t, so she took me to the front of the house to use that one. She ended up letting me use the bathroom, get cold water from inside, and rest on her porch until I was ready to keep going. She was so wonderful and her kindness was the highlight of my day! I wondered why I kept meeting all these incredible people during the day and never found them when I made it to my destination. I began to see the stereotypical Kansas as I headed south and then west: flat, shadeless, and ever expanding. Gnats bombarded me and flew up my nose. If I couldn’t immediately blow them out then I could feel them struggling, regretting their decision. Well, I tried getting one out while walking and I scratched the inside of my nose. Blood started dripping out of my nostril and found its way onto my sleeve. “Great, this is what I need,” I thought. I used my buff to help clot it and it stopped after a couple of minutes. I eventually arrived at another town and part of me wanted to keep pushing forward another nine miles but the temperature was peaking. I knew that if I kept going I’d get heat stroke, so I refrained. Never before had twenty miles felt so unsatisfying. I found myself under a pavilion near a baseball field at the edge of town. I wanted to cry. I wanted people and I wanted interaction. Well, turned out a baseball game was scheduled for the evening and people started showing up to set up. Now, I had people but I was still alone. It almost felt worse. The evening grew on and more people showed up but no one cared that I was there. They ignored me. I wanted to walk over to them and ask about the event to display my humanity but I felt like they viewed me as a creepy person at the park. Even if they didn’t view me that way, my level of social awkwardness had skyrocketed. I would wait in silence until they all left at 10pm and then I’d wake up at 4am to start it all over again.
The light from the street lamps gave way to a fog layering the horizon. Although beautiful I knew that would mean an extremely humid morning. I maneuvered in the darkness to pack up my tent and gathered the less than ideal cloudy water from the spigot. By 8am I’d walked ten miles and by 10am I forced myself to stop walking. There was 87% humidity and I was drenched by my sweat. There was no way my body could cool itself as the temperature kept rising. This left me with one choice. I had to find a house or business along the highway that had enough trees that could sustain shade for the entire day. The first house would only be shady in the morning so I continued to the next patch of trees a mile away. This one was perfect! There was a ditch in between the highway and the line of trees in front of the house/business where the shade was covering. I plopped down, laid out my sleeping pad, took off my shoes, and sprawled out so I could nap. Gnats, flies, and mosquitoes were abundant so I covered my face with my hat and buff. The gnats would crawl under the brim of my hat and I’d see them crawling in front of my eyes. I laid there and tried to relax but I knew someone would eventually discover me. It took two hours but the postwoman finally spotted me and alerted the neighbors that there was a girl in the ditch. As I laid there, I tried to lie in a peaceful, restful position so no one would be alarmed AND I waved to the postwoman as she drove by but about 20 minutes later I had an audience. I heard a voice and lifted my hat off my face and saw a man and a woman standing at the top of the ditch with a truck of three other people to their right. I got up and said, “Hello! I’m okay, I’m just resting in the shade.” The man walked toward me and I extended my hand and introduced myself. He told me they were debating on whether or not to call the police to make sure I was okay. I understood they were wary of me but I didn’t understand why they didn’t at least yell at me to see if I responded. Anyways, the police weren’t involved and everyone went about their business. A worker eventually came and gave me cold water and then the owner of the property stopped to talk to me after he got his mail. It felt good to have a stimulating conversation and to be able to share my story. His black lab came over and plopped on top of me trying to play. The dog was so happy and so loving! Next, an older woman came out of the house and gave me a bag of apples and granola bars. The gesture was so incredibly sweet! She told me I could keep moving between the trees to get comfortable and stay in the shade but I knew I’d have to get moving soon. I pulled up the hourly temperature forecast and saw that it wasn’t going to get better so I started walking. The humidity had decreased but the temperature was 93ºF and I had twelve miles left to walk. Where ever there was a hint of shade I was there and I acutely listened to my body. At this point, I was fighting my way to get into town before nightfall and without succumbing to heat exhaustion. I found a shrub, surrounded by thigh high grass, that produced sufficient shade as long as I hugged the base of it. I plopped my pack down and embraced the tiny bit of shade when I start to hear a motor. I didn’t think much of it because it was just a passing vehicle. I refrained from looking into the road to spot the source of the noise and just then a massive sprayer machine, the farm vehicle that looks like a monster truck, went zooming past me. My life literally flashed before my eyes. The person driving had no idea I was in the bush and if any part of that machine would’ve been off centered from the road I could’ve easily been obliterated. My rest of the walk into town was no longer focused on heat exhaustion but rather being obliterated. My mind simply wasn’t in a good space and as I got into town all I wanted was to quickly find a spot for my tent. I knocked on the door at one of the first homes I saw and the woman said I could set up at the church but the sheriff will probably talk to me. I wandered further into town and found a girl walking her dog and she told me there was a park at the edge of town that I might be able to set up at. I was so exhausted that I just wandered around trying to scope out a place for my tent. I found an abandoned elementary school and thought about that but I happened across a church and investigated the area. Between the inclined ramp to the entrance and the actual church building I found a nook where I could set up. It was perfect but excitement didn’t fill me. I entered the nook and sat there. I had fought my way to get into the town before dark even though there was nothing waiting for me. For the first time in my life I felt homeless. I was an invisible person and I felt like no one cared about me. I had no where to go and no one wanted me around. I quietly sobbed to myself until I no longer had the energy to do so. It would be a short night because I needed to start walking at 4am, there was no place for me in this town.