"Whatcha doing?" says one, who wears torn jeans and a construction worker's orange vest that glints in the blue beam from my forehead.
"Never seen anybody through here, before. You lost?"
"Don't think so. I'm headed toward Olathe, right?"
"Yup." The two men look at each other. Each has a beer in his hand. They shrug and chuckle giddily. "Well, pleasant walking to you." I nod and start off, but before I'm fifty feet up the road they call me back.
"Want a beer?"
I don't actually want a beer, no. I've never seen any appeal. (Nor am I of legal age, of course) But I do get lonely quite a bit, on the road, and I've pretty much decided to take whatever chances at conversation seemingly friendly people want to offer. So I head back.
They lead me out back of the house, where their wives are sitting at a picnic table, chatting loudly. Introductions are made and they fish out a Dr. Pepper from somewhere, and for an hour we sit and talk.
When I leave the house it's going on ten, and I only make it another couple of miles before pulling over, Olathe's bright lights just up the road, across the ditch and under a couple of big trees.
In the morning I start fairly early, get into Olathe and find some donuts and apple juice at a 7-11, and weave my way through the various, southern suburbs of Kansas City, toward Lee's Summit. Somewhere along the way I cross into Missouri, and after 26 days leave Kansas behind.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Sunflower State. The endless flatlands did, indeed, end. The feed lots came and went and I stayed a lot more comfortable than the cows. Eastern Colorado had more mosquitos, and more heat - by the time I got to Kansas it had cooled off. And I did, sure enough, see quite a few fields full of sunflowers. All in all, not as bad a state to walk across as I once thought it could be.
My uncle Lynn (father's side) and his wife Barbara live in the far south-east suburb called Lee's Summit. I don't remember the last time I was at their house - probably at a Thanksgiving, sometime. I find the house, now, with the help of a local. Just a few blocks away something goes wrong with my backpack and everything swings off to one side. I unstrap and as I'm trying to figure out what's wrong a little, red pickup pulls over and a window rolls down.
"Where you headed?"
Just up the street, I tell him, and he offers a ride. I figure that it's a good idea, and throw the backpack in his truck. Three or four streets later we turn onto fourteenth, and I recognize the house at the end of the row. Jefff with three f's is his name, and he drops me off and waits to make sure it's the right house. I ring the doorbell and when Barbara appears and welcomes me inside, Jefff hops out of his truck and wants to know my name, before driving away.
I've been here almost a week, now, and it's wonderful. I've taken more showers and eaten more home-cooked meals in the last several days than I have in a month. It's been good, too, to catch up with relatives I haven't seen in a long time. I've read four books, since I've been here - all Grisham novels - and each morning I get to read the newspaper and drink coffee. It's amazing, to me, how satisfying such little things have become.
But I'm leaving in the morning, heading back out on the road. If I didn't have any experience in leaving things behind I'd be scared to death.