Denim symphonies and the myth of flatness
Editor’s note: Vail resident Polly Letofsky has been on the road since she left town Aug. 1, 1999, on her mission to become the first woman to walk around the world and promote awareness of breast cancer. From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed to the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, India, Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and Ireland. She’s now back in the United States, having arrived in New York City and crossed New York State to the Canadian Border at Niagara Falls and made her way to her home state of Minnesota. She’s still catching up on some of her journals from the summer. She is expected to reach Vail at the end of July. You can follow along with Polly’s journey on her Web site, http://www.globalwalk.org.
LENEXA, Kan. – All right, who’s the wise guy who said Kansas was flat?
Holy criminy – up, down, up, down, all bloody day long. It’s like the whole state is in on the joke: “Tell Polly Kansas is flat. Pass it on.”
It’s that voice I curse at the top of every hill when I look out over another horizon of more rolling hills! “Where is all the flatness?” I wail.
Oh I know Kansas is flat. Somewhere. Time Magazine reported earlier this year that geologists, having fixed the mathematical value of perfect flatness at 1.000 and a pancake at .957, then Kansas, at .9997, is scientifically proven to be flatter than a pancake. Maybe it’ll start tomorrow. I’ll celebrate with a plate of pancakes.
Whining aside, I love it. This is my last state in my last country, my last four months in a five-year life-changing journey. It was a gorgeous moment walking into Kansas only one border from home with springtime in full flight.
The dogwood trees were blooming, the skies were sunny and blue and the 70-degree temperatures allowed me to ditch all my winter layers.
I’m not due at the Colorado border until the end of May so I’ll be taking my time across Kansas. I’ll have plenty of time to do my breast cancer work from town to town, even do some sight seeing which I haven’t had much time for in the past. In a word I’m treasuring my last miles.
Pie and tumbleweeeds
After about 5,000 hills, I made it to the Lenexa Days Inn, which so kindly put me up for the night. I got settled in, then asked the front desk clerks where to go to dinner.
On the way out I grabbed the Kansas Getaway Guide and said I’m going to learn everything there is to learn about Kansas. They both rubbed their bellies with a good laugh and said there aint nothin’ to know about Kansas. All you need to know is that it’s flat and boring.
I told them that I know it’s not flat and that I doubted very much it was boring. It’s probably full of great small towns looking every bit the Old West. Kansas, I’m sure, is the picture of apple pie and tumbleweeds, cowboys rustling the herd, Main Street saloons and tall grass prairies. I’m sure Kansas is great.
They were still laughing as I tucked the Kansas Getaway Guide under my arm and headed to dinner.
I was right.
At Paneras Cafe I spread out a map of Kansas and looked at my route. I’ve decided to follow the old Santa Fe Trail across southern Kansas and into Colorado. The Santa Fe Trail is the route that opened up trade between the U.S. and Mexico. I learned a bit of its history when the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Santa Fe Trail merged together for about 100 miles in Missouri.
For 60 years the Santa Fe Trail was the route between the U.S. and Mexico, and in turn a major thread in international trade routes. Traders would pile up their covered wagons with manufactured goods and supplies and make the eight-week trek from Missouri to Santa Fe.
The days were hot and long and boring plodding through the endless tall grass prairies. A mere glimpse of a buffalo or antelope was the thrill of their day. (No records show if there was ever any bitching about it not being as flat as they had been lead to believe.)
I had a great time thumbing through the Kansas Getaway Guide and I don’t know what those boys at the Days Inn were talking about.
You can stand in the town of Osborne and get a photo of yourself in the geodetic center of the U.S., then go 40-miles north to Lebanon and stand in the geographic center of the 48 states.
In Liberal you can go to the Land of Oz Museum and see for your very own self the flying house used in “Wizard of Oz.”
And that’s not all. Right along my route there seems to be a whole museum about prairies. That’s right, a prairie museum in the middle of the prairie. Where better in the world, huh?
Then there’s Dodge City, which, keeping the tradition of how cowboys on the trail lived almost exclusively on beans and coffee, promises to dish me up a big plate of Butt Bustin’ Beans. As an irony, Dodge City also takes top honors as windiest city in the country. I’m hoping the two aren’t related.
Call me crazy, I’ve always looked forward to crossing Kansas. I like the idea of seeing the Old West meet 21st century modernity.
For example, says here in the Kansas Getaway Guide that the Wichita Symphony Orchestra stages its concerts in blue jeans. Both audience and orchestra are required to wear denim while listening to world-class music. And that event alone endears me to the Sunflower State.
My first couple days here have been full of warm welcomes. Kansans have been stopping all over the road to give a donation or their best wishes of support. They’ll wave from a passing car and yell, hey there, we saw you on the TV news. Welcome to Kansas, you’ll love it – it’s flat!