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= 131 Miles; People Met = 38 The morning was pleasant as we hiked towards Kansas. At our first break past the Kansas border, at the post office in Coolidge, Kirsten came up to us to let us know of an impending storm. Clouds started accumulating throughout the afternoon as we were being introduced to Kansas wind. How would it compare with the wind in the desert? We wanted to camp by trees that night, but as evening approached the prospects started looking slim for camping anywhere among the private, open farmland surrounding us. Barbed wire and cows obstructed our choices. Fortunately, a farmer stopped to talk with us. Rusty housed ADT hikers Jerry and Karen the year before. We heard about Jerry and Karen as we hiked through Colorado. In fact, they stayed with the Andersens in Holly as we had the night before. Rusty informed us that they had lined up others to stay with in Kansas as well, with one host helping them line up another along their route, similar to what Pat Palmer did for us with the Andersens. Rusty apologized to us for not housing us like he did with Jerry and Karen. We did not expect to be housed mind you, Rusty just wished he could do for us what he did for others, but he was leaving extremely early the next morning. He described to us how we could get to a plot of his land with trees, and he sent messages out to his help we were coming. We found a small patch of trees and put our tent up under one of them. In retrospect we would have been better off camping on the lee side of some dense shrubs we spotted earlier. Instead, I staked and battened down the tent as best I could. We got through supper before the storm arrived. When the storm came that night there was no rain, just wind. Because southwest Kansas only received 5 inches of rain for the first ten months that year, what we experienced that night was a Depression era dust storm. The wind bent the tent poles near to snapping, but that was not the worst part. The next morning a layer of dust coated everything inside the tent. Our mouth, nose and ears felt gritty as well.
Not until we started hiking the next morning did the rain start, though we arrived at the town of Syracuse in time to avoid most of the rain. After that, our walk on River Road, along the Arkansas River (now called ArKANsas River), was met with sunshine and hardly any wind. In fact, not even the desert skies were as absolutely cloudless as these first days in Kansas. The question “What wind?” kept coming to mind. Two things jumped out at us shortly after entering Kansas. Redwing blackbirds were everywhere, congregating in huge flocks. When they flew off they appeared as undulating swarms of bees. The other thing was singular but no less conspicuous. Every Kansas town featured a huge, white silo that you could see for miles, shortly after leaving a previous town. Thus the walk through Kansas was a continual walk from silo to silo. The colorful cottonwoods kept up their golden appearance, leading me to fancy that we would avoid the drab colors of late autumn in New England, through what some might call the drab countryside of Kansas. Usually the River Road was dirt, turned to pavement only when near a town, and usually we were near enough to the river to be enjoying those trees. However, the river itself was decreasing in volume as we headed downstream, to the point of going dry before we reached Garden City. The day before we reached Dodge City we encountered another big storm, for which we took a rest day. Our first ten days in Kansas brought us only two storms with a little over two inches of rain. This was a dry spell compared to our summer in the mountain areas of the desert states, yet in ten days we received 40% of the rainfall that the area had received the previous ten months. We wondered if we could become professional rainmakers when the trip was over. Ky was back with us as we started our hike through Kansas. Since we were on roads through the whole state, for the vast majority of that time we would be slack packing from one town to the next, meeting Ky at the end of the day. One would think I would be delighted with slack packing, but for me I have backpacked so many miles a full pack is my security blanket. Also, a backpack actually provides some measure of shelter while walking. One usually is drier and has less windchill with a full pack than
without. Still, my knees held up incredibly well throughout the hike and carrying twenty pounds slack packing at times, rather than fifty bounds backpacking always, no doubt had much to do with that.
Our first stop in Syracuse was at the library, which had a domino effect on the rest of our time spent in town. Head librarian Joyce purchased a copy of my book Systems out of Balance for the library, the second librarian to do so. Marcus, the publisher of the Syracuse Journal, came by to do a story on us. As a member of both the Lions and Rotary Club in town he set me up with a talk for both. The Lions Club talk took place at the Methodist church. Pastor John was a member of the Lions Club and invited us to spend the night at the church after the meeting. We also observed the Community Friendship Meal at the church, where people come together once a month for a good meal and leave donations to help people with their fuel bills. The following evening in Syracuse we stayed at the First Christian Church, where we learned about their bread program. A “mother” church in Colorado Springs collects major amounts of bread. The FCC in Syracuse is one of the satellite churches that picks up some of the bread and then delivers it to other satellite FCC churches such as in Lamar and Holly. Anyone can pick up a loaf of bread and are encouraged to do so, with the one stipulation that any bread picked up must be used and not wasted. The most memorable part of our stop at Syracuse involved Matt Gould, proprietor of The Loft. We went to visit Matt and his business as part of a Lions Club field trip. He is part of the important movement of young people coming back to small towns and urban neighborhoods to apply their entrepreneurial skills. Like so many of these young people Matt was fed up with corporate economics and urban life. He was a Syracuse native and decided while still in this thirties to “come back home.” A place like Syracuse offers property on the cheap for budding entrepreneurs, but the drawback is limited markets. A strategy in the face of existing limits in markets is to diversify, broaden the number of markets you draw income from, put your eggs in more than one basket. In Matt's case he bought a building on Main Street and created The Loft on the second floor. This housed both his hunting clients
and his photo gallery. He was still renovating the first floor, which would eventually become a restaurant that carried both the beer he brewed and the buffalo he and his Dad raised together. Altogether Matt created six income streams as a means of staying put in the community of his choice. What entrepreneurial initiative! I could not help but think back to another Matt we met, the Matt from Utah that railed against corporate America and then called me naive for suggesting he start his own business. Utah Matt was like the addict who resents his pusher. Kansas Matt refused to give the “pusher” business in the first place. Let me ask you this. If you could stock a town full of “Matts,” would you want them to be like “Utah Matt” or “Kansas Matt?” Do you want the citizens of your town to be utterly dependent on corporations or to take entrepreneurial initiative as proprietors while tackling life on their own terms? Which one of those types do you think would get more involved with the community? If your answer is “Kansas Matt,” then it stands to reason that you gear your community to attract the Kansas Matts and you are less concerned about accommodating the Utah Matts of the world, or the corporations that suckle them. In Grand Tower, Illinois we would see what happened to a community that did not heed this lesson. I had my biggest meltdown of the journey in Syracuse. This came on the heels of such wonderful hospitality along the Colorado plains, along with my most recent talks about the virtues of community to the Syracuse Lions and Rotary Clubs. Here I was going across the country preaching about community and kindness while saying good-bye to all the kind and gracious people I met. I felt like a hypocrite without my own community, where the kind deed of one is returned by the kind deed of another. In a younger day as a long distance backpacker I did not think twice about “mooching.” People gladly gave us food, exhibiting natural kindness to strangers, and we gladly accepted their offerings. On this journey people offered us so much food and other kindness we actually had to turn some of it down. What really bugged me was I could not offer kindness back in the normal spirit of community. Later on Testimonials would accumulate on my web site that claimed I was making a difference in people's lives
through the information in my talks, and the inspiration of hiking 5,000 miles, but that did not feel like I was doing my part in the spirit of community. How would I shake this feeling that I was a hypocrite preaching about community and kindness and then leaving town?
An answer came at our next major town stop in Garden City. We spent our first night at the Community Congregational Church, the first UCC church we encountered since California. The next day was Sunday and Pastor Mike Lake allowed me to give half the sermon and to perform “Humility, Faith and Courage” on guitar. In addition to my music they had their usual chamber group of stringed instruments performing. The members included Pastor Mike's wife Mary along with Debra and Dale Bolton. Pastor Mike arranged for us to stay with the Boltons for the next two evenings as we continued to slack pack in and out of Garden City over Halloween. Hosting people was a common occurrence for the Boltons; when I told other members of the church where we would be staying that evening they gave me a knowing look as if to say “Of course you are.” Debra Bolton was a Native American who earned a PhD and worked in Cooperative Extension at Kansas State University. Dale worked at the local public radio station. Our first evening at the Boltons they hosted a dinner party with a few of their good friends, including the Lakes. We learned a few things about Garden City and southwest Kansas over the course of the evening. The talk about southwest Kansas was initiated by our dust storm encounter a few evenings previous. Some of the guests spent their whole lives in the area, where their parents grew up as well. They shared stories of the difficulties their parents faced during the Dust Bowl era, stuffing every crack in the house they could find with wet cloths to keep out the dust. The dust still found a way in just as it did with our tent (which admittedly has a lot more “cracks” than a well built house). The hot topic in regards to Garden City was over class division. There were two main occupations in the area: farming and working for one of the meat packing plants. The WASPish ranchers
and farmers considered themselves the natives to Garden City, now being infiltrated by Mexicans coming to work at the meat packing plants This situation led to my second heated discussion of the journey, the first one having been with the liberal Mike from Colorado. This one was with conservative Mark from Garden City. He was not fond of our mission, with a mind towards blaming government and individuals in need of Housing, Health and Hunger solely, and absolving corporations and our economic system from their part in these problems. Mark mentioned something that I did not even react to at the time, but impacted the talks I gave for the rest of the journey. Upset with the growing presence of Mexicans in Garden City, yet giving them their due for working at the meat packing plants, Mark bemoaned the fact that Americans don't want to work any more. I did not argue this point, acquiesced to it in fact so as to avoid future argument, but stored his angst in my noggin for future reference. I filed it in the same space reserved for addressing the growing concern of conservatives we encountered over the OCCUPY movement, particularly their view that OCCUPY protestors must be shiftless individuals with too much time on their hands. I encountered the common complaint about OCCUPY enough to know that corporate media and think tanks had to be fueling this phenomenon. The grand diversity of human nature is such that we do not conform to the same issue, and the same take on an issue, unless media is doing the conforming for us. I knew of precisely three people who engaged in an OCCUPY protest: a clergy woman protested in Oakland; a former police officer and judge protested in Sacramento; and a technology expert protested in London. None of these sound like shiftless types now do they? Yet that was becoming the prevailing sentiment in a conservative part of the country. Hmmm. I wonder what media outlet in particular might have been feeding this? As for Americans in general not wanting to work any more, that played into research I had done for Systems out of Balance. Compared to the sixties and seventies Americans now are more likely to have everyone in a household working, and working full time. The recent unemployment increases still
left a far greater proportion of Americans working full time than occurred in the sixties, yet the average household is much further in debt. What prompted Mark's angst were Americans not flocking to work in all the available jobs at corporate meat-packing plants. Yet go tell Kansas Matt in nearby Syracuse, with six income streams, that he's not working hard enough. Indeed, he's more dedicated to hard work than the Utah Matt that is not only willing to work for corporations, but thinks he has to. In Mark's defense, I don't doubt he is being persuaded in his opinions by the same sources that place a media focus on OCCUPY protestors rather than OCCUPY issues. In both cases these were opinions that needed to be addressed. Americans are caught up in a total system that leads to increasing wealth disparity, more debt, more work … and less community engagement. These consequences in turn impact Housing, Health and Hunger. My future talks would share both the empirical and anecdotal information for a nation that is working harder, or at least much longer hours per household, while falling further in debt.
Roddy was another person we met at the dinner party who happened to be a trustee for the Sandsage Bison Range. Teddy Roosevelt implemented a goal to have a National Forest in every state. That did not work out so well for Kansas, and the bison range was on the site of former National Forest land. Roddy invited us to join him for a tour of the range when we were done hiking the next day and we took advantage of the opportunity to drive up close to these very large animals. Roddy cautioned us that we would be alright if we did not approach or bother them and we heeded his advice. The following evening at the Boltons we helped them celebrate Halloween by giving out toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters. Debra makes arrangements with dentists in the area to obtain the toothbrushes and they ran out of the 1600 they had on hand. Some kids looked disappointingly at the toothbrushes but I would say a surprising number actually thought toothbrushes were a cool idea. Debra Bolton was, in fact, full of many cool ideas. Her role with Cooperative Extension was
bridging the different factions of Garden City over common social goals, Mexican meat packer and WASP farmer working together to benefit the community. Many of the projects were health centered, such as discouraging smoking among the young and improving nutrition. Once again a community was focusing on some aspect of the Health issue that circumvented the losing battle with health insurance costs. Debra shared some interesting information about Mexican immigrants and nutrition. Immigrants come to this land for better opportunity to gain wealth. Yet nutritionally Mexicans have been better off in their homeland, with a steady diet of rice and beans, than with the abundance of fast foods they eat once they arrive here. I already knew that immigrants are not alone in this nutritional misfortune. Our country has three times the world diabetes average. We had both an entertaining and informative time with the Boltons, but the most important lesson of all was delivered by Mary Lake at the dinner party. I shared that I recently melted down in Syracuse, overwhelmed by the kindness people showed us across the country and the problem of having to always say good-bye to these kind folks. As a pastor's wife Mary knew well this feeling of frequent good-byes to people with whom you grow close. She gave us her secret; in final parting she tells someone: “Thanks for being in my life.” I tried her technique on Mary and husband Mike, on Debra and husband Dale, and it worked. I would continue to use Mary's “technique” for the rest of the journey.
I tend to equate the “wild west” with the mountain, canyon and desert states further west. When we went near Butch Cassidy's haunts in central Utah that was as I expected, outlaws hiding out in stark canyon lands. Sure, everyone has heard the phrase “Get out of Dodge,” but how do outlaws hide out on the open prairie. Coming into Dodge City brought the wild west theme back to us. As we neared the town there was a metal sculpture of cowboys in stampede. One felt compelled to shout out “Yee Haw!” upon mere sight of this action silhouette. Yet for us the real wild west history hit home in the town of Cimarron, where we spent a rest day riding out a storm.
We stayed at the Cimarron Hotel, perhaps in the same room that Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday once slept in. Much of the wild west décor of the hotel had been preserved, though now it served more as a somewhat charitable boarding home. We stayed there because of a connection established by the Boltons with owner Kathleen Holt. Unfortunately Kathleen was not there, though we did get a chance to speak with her via the phone. We learned that Eric Seaborg and the original ADT scouts also stayed at the Cimarron Hotel, playing board games while waiting out a Christmas storm. We were being steeped in history at several levels. Clark's Drug in town boasted a fifties style soda fountain that drew locals and tourists alike. Among two of the tourists were Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey during a famed cross-country trip. I say famed based on the words of others. I have not watched a complete Oprah show (nor any similar TV talks show). I've seen much more of Gayle King who used to be a news anchor on a Connecticut news station, back before the news was polluted by twenty-four hour news networks. Because of that I may have be one of only a few people who was delighted to hear that Gayle was by far the more pleasant customer in the eyes of Sandi the proprietor and soda fountain employees. I'm not bothered that an entertainment talk show host has a different broadcast persona than in reality. After all, they are responding to a demand for entertainment. Who cares what they really are like as long as they do their job of entertaining? I also do not doubt that at least some entertainment talk show hosts have the same pleasant persona online and off. More problematic to me is the idolization of news talk hosts. Since the advent of twenty-four hour “news,” networks increasingly resort to “entertainment” to sell the “news.” The more successful at entertaining a news talk show becomes, the more likely the host taps into our vanity, apprehensions, anger, etc. while at the same time charming us. The actual accuracy of the news content stripped of opinions and emotion is a secondary consideration. Twenty-four hour news stations is one of the worst things to happen to actual news reporting. While we were staying at the Cimarron Hotel I did another phoner with an Internet radio station
located in Cambridge, MA. They asked me the most obvious question I should expect to be asked: “What steps should a community take to improve involvement?' Well, duh! The answer to that should have been emblazoned on my frontal cortex. Off the cuff I tossed out some unhelpful tips like belonging to each other first and foremost and forsaking apprehension for courage. Both those answers are true, but not concrete enough for a community to respond with: “OK! Let's hop right on it!” My chief assignment for the rest of the journey was now in hand.