Wind exposes world walker’s indentity |

Wind exposes world walker’s indentity

Polly Letofsky
Special to the Daily The wind blows fiercely in Kansas, making it tough for woman on a walk around the world to stay upright on the rolling plains.

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,, Kan. – “Hang on to your hat today,” the weatherman warned. “Even by Kansas standards, it’s going to be a gusty day!”Stupid wind. I hate wind. There’s not a single solitary thing you can do to combat it. In the winter cold, for example, all you’ve got to do is slip on a layer of polypropylene; for rain you’ve got Gore-Tex; for heat you drink cold water. But wind? Wind stinks. And blows. It pushes and pushes, and all you can do is plow through it like you’re trying to run a sprint in a swimming pool. And just then, like Mother Nature is having a good laugh at your expense – it lets up for a second, just a split second, and sends you tumbling all over yourself.I don’t have my head around what a 40- or 50-mph wind is, I just understand weatherman words like “gusting” and “blustery.” When I asked the a convenience store clerk how strong the winds were, she said, “I don’t know, but it’s REALLY windy.”Rat race refugeesIt was an 11-mile day today walking from Canton to McPherson. Usually that would be considered a dawdle day, but walking through winds this strong upgrades it to a very long, exhausting day. I took refuge inside every shop, café and public works building on Highway 56 just to get a respite from the wind, if even for a minute.The first stop was a little gift shop called The Front Porch. Catching my breath I told the curious owners that I hope they didn’t mind if I rested there for a while, I just had to get out of the wind. They said no problem, would you like a cup of tea?The owner’s name was Julie. She told me she’d just moved here from San Francisco. She and her husband were feeling eternally hurried in the big city and needed a change. So they packed up the car and their two teen-age sons and headed down the road to Florida. On the way they stopped to visit their in-laws here in McPherson and ended up staying.

I said that’s quite a move from anyone to uplift from San Francisco to McPherson, Kansas, let alone for two teen-age boys. How have they adapted?She said luckily both of them love it and have quickly made a lot of friends. She said McPherson really is a lovely town, one of the fastest growing towns in Kansas and one of the few small towns that seems to have successfully managed both a thriving Main Street and a Wal-Mart. The lawns are tidy and manicured, the community is tight and streets are safe. She said a big city park sits in the center of town where kids are free to ride their bikes and play basketball all day and well into the night. But neither can happen today, she said, or they’d be blown all the way to Dodge City.I hung around for over an hour fighting the thought that once I leave the Front Porch I’ll be hanging off the back of Bob flapping like a kite in the wind. Together we all peered out the window listening to the whistle banging against the glass. “How windy do you think it is out there?””I don’t know,” they said. “But it’s REALLY windy.”The Front Porch ladies helped me push open the door and off I flew down Highway 56 walking at a 45-degree angle. Antiques for idiotsKansas wind sure is stubborn – it doesn’t let up for a single minute. People had warned me about that, but the logical mind keeps thinking if I just pop indoors for a few minutes, it’ll surely pass quickly – like a summer rain – and life will be sunny and calm again. Nuh-uh! Honestly, it’s like pushing a two-ton tractor uphill and after a few blocks I gave up again and took shelter at the next building; an antiques market.Surely a stroll through the antiques market will be a sufficient amount of time for the wind to calm. So I killed some time strolling through the junky looking antique aisles having no idea what I was looking at. Wouldn’t that be great, I thought, to be able to look at a seemingly worthless clunky bracelet and know exactly where it was from and how much it was worth?It made me remember the family I stayed with in England who were antiques appraisers. The man told me that the Antiques Road Show was broadcast on Sunday nights so the toughest days at work were always Monday mornings. Streams of people would come in with grandma’s old goods tucked under their arms hoping to hit the jackpot, and when they got word that their treasures were worthless, he said, they’d get down right belligerent.I made a mental note: buy Complete Idiots Guide to Antiquing. Then I blew out the door back onto Highway 56.Next shelter was five blocks down to the electronics building. I could barely pull the door open against the wind but when it hit a certain angle it flew wide open and threw me inside onto the reception desk. “Hi. Whew. Sure is windy, huh? Listen, I’m just walking by and was wondering if I could sit in here out of the wind and eat my lunch?” The wide-eyed receptionist nodded silently and left me alone in the lobby to eat my yams and cottage cheese. And that was it. No more shelter for the six remaining miles to McPherson.Obvious globetrotterThe weatherman in my earphones said winds were reaching 52 mph this hour, and with that I had my point of measurement – 52 mph is the point when you feel like a smoothie in a blender.

For six miles the crosswinds pummeled me from the south. Then, every few minutes an endless convoy of 18-wheelers would blast by me one after another after another from the west, and with the two gusts colliding I felt trapped in a sort of gusting checkmate if that makes sense – picture me in a hula skirt on the dashboard of a car.It took every ounce of effort to stay on my feet and I had to hang onto Bob for life. He was my anchor, if I let go I might be blown right off the bridge and down onto Interstate 135. Then I spotted the Best Western and even though it was a mere hundred yards away I cursed like a sailor because it looked like miles away. The wind tore off my hat, took my earphones too and now I’m blinded by my hair whipping around my eyes while crossing the highway into the safety of the Best Western.The final battle was opening the door to the hotel. The man on the inside was pushing out while I was on the outside pulling. Together we pushed that door through the wind that was howling so fierce that all I could hear was the whistle piercing my ears. Finally the door flew open and kicked me into the lobby where I bounced off the brochure display and landed in a bedraggled heap in the middle of the floor.I caught my breath and stumbled to my feet quickly in an attempt to make a decent first impression on the people here who are donating a night’s stay. But it was too late.”Hi, you must be Polly!”I brushed the hair from my face. “Yes, how could you tell?””Well,” they hesitated, “you sort of look like you’ve been walking around the world.”

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