Chapter 47 – Take a Walk

April 12, 2012

Mayor Combs’ overwhelming victory in the mayoral race seems to have improved his spirits, according Marie. Plans are for him to come home from KU Med Center by the weekend. His doctors have told him not do any town business for at least three months. Marie says that she’s going to make sure that happens. “I’ve put a hold on his email account and Grace Morton has been instructed to give Sally Oswald any mail that comes to City Hall.” Mayor Combs doesn’t stand a chance of doing anything but resting with Marie, Grace and Sally looking after him!

In his absence, Sally Oswald presided at the special Town Council meeting Tuesday night. The meeting had been called to fill the vacancy on the body which was created when neither Billy Thornton nor Ralph Thompson received any votes in the municipal election. Both were in attendance and everyone expected one of them to be chosen when lots were cast. However, they both decided to withdraw their names from consideration and Sue Brady was appointed on a unanimous vote.

Grace Morton heard from her son, Larry, who lives in Munich, Germany, that he will be in the U.S. in a week for a walk in Seattle. Larry is the current All-EU champion in competitive walking. Grace said that she and Bill are planning to meet Larry in Seattle, whom they haven’t seen in almost a year.

Dorothy and Don Norman celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Sunday with a reception and dinner at The Convent, hosted by their children, Amy and Stan Goodwin of Little Rock, and Henry and Pat Norman of Oklahoma City. Dorothy and Don will be further celebrating when they leave on their Danube River cruise in October, a present from their family and friends.

Gloria Davis, a student of Hazel Bradford’s in the class of 1966, visited from Warrensburg, MO. Dr. Davis is a professor of linguistics at UCM.

The dog that was in the audience for the debate between Billy Thornton and Ralph Thompson, and was later taken to Dr. Cramer’s, was identified as belonging to Sid Northridge who lives in Fremont. Mr. Northridge was called and the dog was returned to him. There was no indication how the dog managed to get the twelve miles from Fremont to Walnut Shade. Or why.

Dr. Cramer heard from Gerald Keen, the veterinarian from whom he bought the Walnut Shade practice. Dr. Keen is now retired and living with his son and daughter-in-law in Phoenix.

Michelle Clemons says that they will be having guests from France in a couple of weeks. The couple heard about their B & B from Rachel Watkins, who is met them when she was doing her research on a church in Eze, just outside Nice. Good work, Rachel! Transatlantic promotion!

Not that they are competing, but Jason Glenn says that The Convent will have visitors from Barcelona in June. He didn’t indicate how they heard about the B & B. Perhaps Rachel was visiting Spain?

Lillian Reeves, Jessica Cunningham’s mother, has been ill for the past couple of weeks. We hope she feels better soon.

Rev. Derby was in Tulsa last week attending a meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Eddy and Jeff Barnett spent Saturday and Sunday in Columbia visiting Stephanie at Mizzou. Eddy says that they ate their way through town, stopping at Bouche’s for cheeseburgers, Shakespeare’s for pizza and the Heidelberg for breakfast on Sunday morning.

I tried that once in Manhattan, and twenty pounds heavier, here…

I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

There were a few people in town a bit perturbed at Ralph Thompson and Billy Thornton for what Al Higgs called their “shenanigans” in the election. I talked to Ralph and Billy on Wednesday about it and they both said they were sincere in their initial decisions to run for the Council, but when neither of them got any votes, they figured the most prudent thing to do was both withdraw, otherwise whoever was chosen would be serving a “tainted term” (Ralph’s phrase). For the record, I’ve never heard Ralph say anything close to something being “tainted.” Where in the world did that come from?

Anyway, except for Al and a couple of others, it seems most people in town are relieved that neither will be serving on the Council. There is hope for democracy and common sense after all.

~.~

Race walking has been an Olympic sport since 1908, having first appeared as part of a decathlon four years before. But walking, just plain old everyday walking, has been around for, well for as long as people stood up on their hind legs, as the saying goes. Why do we walk? Well, to get from point A to point B, of course; for exercise; to enjoy the outdoors with our family or friends or animals; to enjoy the outdoors by ourselves; to see and be seen; because we get bored sitting in front of the TV or computer screen; because someone tells us “take a hike.”

Walking is the stuff of literature, poetry, music, movies, art, religion, legend. Mark Twain once described golf as a good walk spoiled and that is certainly one way to look at both golf and walking.  James Joyce gained fame and a good deal of notoriety for his description of Bloom’s walk around Dublin in Ulysses. Thoreau traipsed through the woods around Walden Pond, seeking solitude and a simple life, which after a while grew boring and he walked back to Concord and the society he disdained. Rousseau was a solitary walker, though he did his walking in the heart of Paris, and two centuries later, Virginia Woolf used the same streets as an excuse to imagine what was going on in the heads of those around her.

Walt Whitman might be the most famous American walker, besides Twain and Thoreau. Walking gave Whitman a chance to think, observe and appreciate the world around him, something that must have been a relief after his experiences in the Civil War. Oddly enough, someone we associate most with traveling by car, Jack Kerouac, was great walker. He likened it to the practice of Zen, and also rebellion, two things he knew a lot about.

“Think what a great world revolution will take place when … [there are] millions of guys all over the world with rucksacks on their backs tramping around the back country.”

If you want to really know what walking is all about, though, just put on a little music and it will all be right there: I Walk the Line, Walking in Memphis, Walk Away Renee, Walk Like a Man, Walking in the Rain, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Walk Between the Raindrops, Walk On By, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, Walk Like an Egyptian, Love Walked In, Walk on the Wild Side, Walk of Life, Baby Elephant Walk, Sleepwalk, Walk Right In, Lambeth Walk… Ah, the list could go on, but you get the idea. And the idea is that just about every conceivable kind of walk is sung about by pop, rock, jazz, rap, gospel, ragtime, contemporary, and classical artists.

Artists have been painting pictures of walkers since the beginning of painting. Those cave paintings found on every continent depict people walking, often times in pursuit of their next meal, but clearly out, putting one foot in front of the other. And photographers are especially good at creating images of people walking; think the Beatles crossing Abby Road, or Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment.

Where would religion be without the walk that Moses and the Hebrews took to the promised land?  Or Jesus walking on the water? Buddha became Buddha after a long walk. “If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain” probably describes a bit of a walk, right?

Walks have been, and are, a part of the Native American experience, both good and bad. The Trail of Tears is the name given to the 1838 removal of the Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muscogee nations from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern U.S. to what was called Indian Territory, including Kansas and Oklahoma. Similarly, the Long Walk of the Navaho was a forced march of tribes from Arizona to eastern New Mexico in the 1860s. On the other hand, freely walking was thought to be a way to cleanse oneself and become close to the Great Spirit.

Now, I recite all of this not as a cultural lesson, but by way of introduction to the walking of one of Walnut Shades’ sports notables, Larry Morton. People around here remember Larry as a standout track and field performer. Name a distance and Larry probably holds not only a Miller County record for it but a state title. Everybody in Kansas knows Jim Ryun for his accomplishments in running the mile, but few know that Larry beat Jim’s times in all the other distances. Unless you are a running aficionado, you probably have forgotten about Larry because he gave up running in favor of walking when he graduated from high school and went away to Rutgers to college. I talked to Larry a few months ago when he was passing through town on his way to a “walk” in Santa Fe.

“I was on a full scholarship to run track at Rutgers, but in our first race against our arch rivals, Princeton, I tore my meniscus. As part of the rehab process, I had to walk ten miles a day and I discovered that I liked walking more than I liked running,” Larry began. “I used to walk from the campus and cross over the Raritan River on the Albany Street Bridge. I’d pick up River Road or Johnson Drive and walk along the river until I could cross back over on I-287. I used to like to walk through Ukrainian Village and occasionally go over to Six Mile Run State Park. I usually walked early in the morning, before class when there were only runners or people with dogs. I used to see my teammates out running and they’d give me a hard time about ‘just walking,’ but the spring of my sophomore year, I learned about competitive walking in Europe and thought that sounded like a fun way to see another country.”

Larry explained that the competitive walking he had discovered was not race walking, that heel-and-toe stride you see in the Olympics, but walking for distance and endurance. It was a throwback to the “pedestrianism” that had started in England in the 1800s when the aristocrats started betting against each other that their footmen could walk the farthest and the longest. It caught on in the United States in the late 1800s when “professional” competitions were organized by people like P.T. Barnum in large indoor stadiums.

“Walnut Shade played a minor role in one of these matches,” Larry continued. “There was a walker during the 1860s named Edward Payson Weston, a reporter for the New York Herald newspaper, who bet that he could walk from Portland, Maine, to Chicago in 30 days. He won the bet and during a night of celebration there, apparently wagered that he could walk from Chicago to San Francisco in 60 days. His route brought him through St. Louis and Kansas City and across the wagon train trails to Walnut Shade. He got to town about supper time. Lucian Bradford gave him a bed for the night and breakfast the next morning, and he continued his journey. Just outside Salina, Weston stumbled and broke his right leg. That was the end of his walk across the continent.”

“You went to Europe in 2006, is that right?” I asked.

“Yes, that was the first time, that summer,” Larry said. “I found out that the center of the walking culture was in Munich. It’s a great city to walk in. There’s this parkway that circles the old city and all these radiating roads going off it. The city is just sort of a tangle of streets and alleys and places to explore. I found the headquarters of the competitive walking organization, Internationalen Vereinigung für Wettbewerbsfähigen Spaziergang, or IVWS, and got the scoop.”

And what a scoop it was! Larry explained that the IVWS sponsors four events during the year, much like the stages of the Tour de France, except that time is immaterial in the competition; the only caveat being that all four events must be completed within the six months allotted. If you are familiar with a Volksmarch, the IVWS events are like really, really, really long Volksmarches.

“I had missed the start of the first event, which began in April, so I was not eligible to enter the competition except as an observer. The second event was set to begin on June 1, so I signed up for that. I really had to idea what I was getting into,” Larry laughed, that laugh you give when you can’t believe that you just swallowed a bug. “The competition entry materials explained about the routes of the various events and things to expect along the way. For example, you are responsible for your own food and water and first aid supplies, in case you injure yourself away from a city. You have to arrange for any lodging you might need, though I learned that most competitors carry their lodging on their backs — a sleeping bag. All of the walk is along main highways, so you don’t need hiking boots, but reflective clothing is a must.”

“So how long are these events?” I asked, thinking that they might be a walk of a day or so.

“Event One, like all the events, starts in Munich and heads east to Zurich and Basel in Switzerland. Then it passes through Dijon, Lyon, and Bordeaux in France. From Bordeaux, it goes through Spain on the way to Lisbon and then to Gibraltar. The route follows the Mediterranean to Barcelona, Marseille, Monaco and Genoa. Then it heads through northern Italy to Innsbruck, Austria and finally back to Munich. That’s a total of 2,867 miles.” Larry looked a bit exhausted just describing it. But he then laid out the route of Event Two, the one he entered as a non-competitor.

“Each event only begins when all the participants from the previous event return or let the committee know that they have withdrawn. The first event began with fifty-six competitors and by May 27th, forty-three had returned, with the other thirteen having dropped out. The next event was scheduled to begin on June 1 and this one was much shorter, heading east to Prague, then north to Berlin, west to Hamburg and Amsterdam, south to Brussels, back east to Dusseldorf and Frankfurt, a bit south to Strasbourg and then east to Stuttgart and finally back to Munich. While that’s only 1,400 miles, it’s a bit more challenging than Event One because it goes through more of the forests of Germany, in particular.”

Larry says that he completed the course in twenty-seven days, well behind the winner of the event, who finished in nineteen days.

“I thought I was keeping a pretty good pace, but Henrick Carlson was averaging nearly seventy-five miles a day. That is twice the speed that most people walk and he was doing it in a sustained way.”

You could tell that Larry was impressed. He said that he wanted to stay and enter the third event, but he needed to get back to school, and after a short stop in Paris and then in London, he flew back to Kansas City and spent the rest of the summer in Walnut Shade before returning to Rutgers. He kept up his walks around New Brunswick during the school year, but ten miles a day seemed like “a walk in the park” after having done as much as fifty miles a day in Germany. Some weekends, though, he would walk to Manhattan, about thirty-five miles away, or to Philadelphia to visit an uncle.

“If I started out by six a.m., I could make it to Philadelphia by around eight in the evening. Uncle Gene thought I was an idiot. He’d say ‘You’re a damn fool walking all that way. I don’t even walk to the corner for a beer.’ But then he’d laugh and take me to the tavern on the corner and buy me a beer.” Larry seemed to have a bit of a catch in his throat when he talked about his uncle. “I haven’t been back since I graduated. Maybe I’ll do that after I do the walk in Santa Fe.”

The summer after his junior year at Rutgers, Larry went back to Europe and entered the third event, again as a spectator. This one traversed most of France and Switzerland, a distance of 1,845 miles. Since the event didn’t begin until August, he decided to also take a semester off and do the final event through eastern Europe, finishing just before the end of November.

“That one was the most formidable because it started just as the weather was beginning to turn cooler and ended when the daytime highs were only in the thirties. It was only a little over 1,200 miles, but it seemed like I was never going to finish or be warm again.”

Larry said that when he got back to the United States, he had a big decision to make. He had completed three of the four segments of the competition as an observer/spectator/non-competitor, but he had made a lot of friends, impressed the organizers and had decided that walking had gotten into his blood and head.

“Did I mention that there is prize money?” he asked, almost as an afterthought. “The winner of each event receives the equivalent of $25,000 and the overall winner gets an additional $25,000, so it’s possible to earn $125,000 for the competition.”

Not bad for taking a walk.

“So, I delayed the start of my senior year, but was able to take extra coursework during the winter semester. Rutgers was just beginning to offer on-line courses, so I managed to finish up during the breaks between events. I actually graduated while I was in Germany at the end of the first complete competition I entered.”

“How did you support yourself while you were in Europe, walking?” I had kind of missed this part of the story somehow. You’ve got to eat and buy walking shoes and probably replace a sleeping bad every now and then.

“Sponsorships,” Larry said, laughing. “We all look like NASCARs or the golfers with their Titleist shirts and Nike hats. I was sponsored the first year by Volvo, BASF, and New Balance. This year, I’ve picked up a couple more, including Polo, Mercedes and Royal Bank of Scotland. You’d think that two car companies wouldn’t want to sponsor the same person, but they don’t seem to care as long as their name is on you somewhere.”

For three years, Larry was among the top finishers, but his breakthrough came last year when he won the competition. For six months, he walks through Europe and for the other six months, he appears around the globe for his sponsors. After our talk, he flew to the southwest, did his walk in New Mexico through Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque and then flew to New Zealand for a walk from Auckland to Wellington. Now, he’s on his way to Seattle where he will spend a couple of days with his parents and do the Olympic Two Hundred before flying back to Europe to defend his title.

Larry has so inspired me that I wake up Jerry, my dog, a couple of times a day and we take a walk to the park or to the Post Office, even though I don’t get much mail these days. I wonder if I could get someone to sponsor me for these walks?

~.~

Over the last year, I’ve discovered from talking to my fellow correspondents around the county that Walnut Shade is not the only town that has that wonderful character who knows just enough about almost every subject to be able talk authoritatively but also manage to get most of the facts slightly wrong about almost everything. I think about the John Goodman character, Walter Sobchak, in The Big Lebowski or Kramer in Seinfeld. One of the things that makes characters like them endearing, and infuriating, is their ability to seem sensible while they are saying outrageous things. They also have a way of saying things that sort of make sense when they are saying them, but when you think about it later, they really don’t. For example, our local sage is Harry Morris, whom I’ve talked about before. In addition to being someone you can always rely upon for an opinion or pronouncement, he’s also a becoming-renown artist for his organic sculptures, with a show opening in Kansas City in a couple of weeks (“Those are just piles of trash, if you ask me,” says Billy Thornton. Yes, Billy, they are piles of trash, but very valuable piles of trash these days). A while back, I started writing down a few of Harry’s more memorable maxims. Herewith is a sampling.

When Harry is engaged in a conversation that he thinks is not getting to the point, he’ll say “Move your bananas to the belt,” meaning “move things along.” I think he picked that up at the IGA in Fremont where they have a couple of checkers who get upset if you don’t unload your cart as quickly as they think you should. Actually, it’s not a bad sentiment. Some people never get to the point.

Harry is fond of saying about someone who doesn’t quite know what’s going on around them: “He doesn’t have all his chairs under the table.” Sort of the equivalent of “a few bricks short of a load” or “a few cards shy of a deck.” But I’m really not sure what having all your chairs under the table would do for you. Heaven knows where Harry got that one.

We have a veteran in town who was a Marine and every time he comes into Shirley’s, Harry greets him with a hearty “Semper Fry.” The Marine just smiles.

We were talking about a celebration at The Convent a while back where champagne was served. “Ah, that’s just ginger ale that knows someone.” Hmmm.

Harry said a few weeks ago that he wanted to join Facebook, but that he didn’t really have any friends, so he wouldn’t have anyone to talk to on there. Harry has lots of friends. In fact, I don’t know anyone that isn’t his friend.

“People ask me why I rummage around in the trash dump and I just tell them that’s where the art is.”

“I thought about hiring Gary [the local “solid waste contractor”] to be my assistant, but he doesn’t know good trash from bad trash.”

“Someone asked me to explain my art, but when I did explain it to them, they still just thought it was junk. Junk is what they throw away. Art is what I pick up.”

One day, several of us were sitting in the Stop and Go, having a lengthy, but one of our ultimately nonsensical conversations, when Harry suddenly got very quiet. Someone asked him why he had stopped talking. Harry replied that he had gotten bored with what he was saying and decided to listen to the rest of us for a change. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you all. I just have to refill my bucket.”

I suppose all of us should refill our buckets now and then. Thanks for reminding us, Harry.

~.~

News from the past:

Topeka, December 27, 1906 — Mrs. Ethel Lambert, wife of Governor Harrison Lambert, died Christmas day after a long siege of the pneumonia. The people of Kansas share in the grief of their splendid governor in his great bereavement. Thankfully, their children are all grown.

Willow Springs, April 18, 1914 — Earl Potts finished constructing his chicken coop and installed twelve hens and a rooster in it on Monday. We are sorry to report that the tornado that touched down near there on Wednesday took the chicken coop and all but two of the chickens with it. Earl says he is determined to rebuild.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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