Kansas, Kansas, Kansas.
This is a bit of a struggle for me because I hate to be negative about places I have been fortunate enough to go and visit. But Kansas was – well let’s just say it was challenging.
And I have a few theories as to why this may have been – but for now I will tell the story and let you come to your own conclusions.
Audience participation. How very modern.
6 days after joining the crew in Colorado, I found myself alone in the support car (Penny) speeding towards the state line. I use speeding here as a relative term – anything above running pace counted as speeding on this trip. Those of you picturing me recklessly testing the full ooomph of the beautiful car we were given can stop that immediately – it took me at least another week to build up that kind of confidence.
No, on the day we reached Kansas I was very new to the whole concept of driving on the right and I spent most of my driving time annoying the locals by moving too slowly. That being said, I was having a whale of a time. Here I was, in the middle of the USA, in a fancy car, music blaring, peeking around each bend looking for my first state crossing. It was all extremely exciting.
A very short while into my anticipatory drive, I was treated to a state sign – and pulled over for a quick selfie (naturally). I was a little disappointed at the low key sign that Kansas had chosen as a border marker (Colorado’s was significantly larger and much more aesthetically pleasing), but chose not to judge a state by its sign. Kansas was, of course, the setting for the Wizard of Oz, so after taking a selfie, I clicked my heels together, jumped back into the car and headed off to see just what Kansas was made of.
Corn, Sorghum and Silage.
That is what Kansas is made of.
Fields and fields of crops, the occasional tower to store the crops, and a lot of big trucks for transporting the crops. Occasionally, we came across a cattle farm (predominantly dairy farms) but once I had seen one I found myself wishing not to see another. Coming from a country where animal rights have always been relatively good (recent controversies aside), the conditions under which cattle are farmed in Kansas was really quite shocking. These cows never see grass. They spend their lives cooped up in a metal pen, with a mud floor and with silage as the only dietary option. The situation was made worse when a farmer (who was proud of the business he was running) declared that milk production here was non-stop. Cows would be marched through the factory, milked (if that is the correct term), returned to their pen for a nibble of silage, and then marched back through the factory again. It seemed completely and utterly cruel. Some of my readers will state that these are cows – they have no consious thoughts and that the needs of the people should come first – but this is (in my opinion) just another example of how greedy we (as a species) have become, and how mass-production is our ugly solution to satisfy this greed.
That being said – I still consume dairy products – so I don’t have a leg to stand on really.
After a few days of driving along flat roads, looking at seemingly endless fields of crops, I decided it was time to find out a bit more about what they were growing, and why it seemed to be that the majority hadn’t been harvested on time, and was now standing brown and apparently dead for miles on end. What I found out was really quite disturbing. The majority of farmland in Kansas is used to grow crops (mostly Sorghum wheat) which is destined for cattle feed. I once heard that a large proportion (around 70%) of American agricultural land is used to provide food for the cattle they eat rather than the people themselves. Further research back home has taught me that if American’s altered their diet to consume only grass fed cattle, all Americans would still be able to consume their RDA of meat and dairy protein, and it would provide enough grain to feed up to 800 million people.
In a country where (in 2012) 48 million went hungry this seems insane. Especially when you consider this is one of the richest countries on the planet.
And now I have told you all this, your eyes have probably glazed over and (even if you are trying) it is probably very hard to grasp the scale of this wastage. But, when you are out there, driving for days through seemingly endless fields of wasted crop, you are able to gain a little perspective. Kansas is known as ‘The Wheat State’ (pretty accurate) and even ‘The Breadbasket of the World’ (less accurate). In reality – it should be known as ‘The Protein Factory’.
And yes, I have reduced my meat and dairy intake because of it.
And yes, I will be sitting on my high horse about that one.
ENOUGH negativity and back to the run. Once you put all that stuff about animal rights, human hunger and societal greed out of your mind, Kansas must have been alright…?
As always there were some good bits. We met some lovely people. People who were extremely proud to welcome us to their home towns – and this I love. There is something about being on the road which forces you to speak to people – and in turn seems to make people act with a particular warmth towards you. It is as if we save our best selves for visitors – wanting to show them our way of doing things and give a good impression for them to take away with them. At least, that is how it has worked in my experience.
As always, there was always Jan’s cooking to look forward to, and on the days where Jan was given a day off – there was the uncertainty of Jenny’s cooking which added a bit of risk to the day. It was also around this time that I stopped being scared of the crew – we were all getting to know each other and the more I learned about the people I was sharing a beautifully confined space with, the more I was amazed and inspired. Somehow, Mimi had gathered together a group of insanely talented people to form her crew. Everyone had their own story, their own reason for being there (aside from the helping Mimi achieve her dream thing) and it made for a wonderful mix. And dare I say it a bloomin’ efficient group of people.
And then there was Mimi of course. Mimi was still running aroind 57 miles a day, smiling most of the time and showing no signs of cracking. She had to battle gale force winds on a daily basis in Kansas, she was regularly thrown off the road by those big trucks we talked about earlier, and she even had to face a good trolling from people online who seemed to have nothing better to do than type rude words into the keyboard. Yet all this time Mimi would get up every day and give it her all. This being particularly noted when on day 25 – at lunch time – we were able to pop a cork on a bottle of alcohol free champagne (fizzy grape juice I guess) and toast to reaching the half way mark. Mimi had now run over 1400 miles in just 25 days. This really brought the team together and gave some perspective. We could now start counting down instead of up (though not in front of Mimi – there was still an awful long way to go!) and suddenly New York seemed to be within touching distance. A very long touching distance.
Other highlights included a visit from Jenny’s brand new puppy Bexar (and Matt too of course) who really brought a real lift to the team. I mean, you can’t beat a puppy.
We also went through Pawnee Rock – apparently a major landmark in Kansas. I also found an 8 finger Kitkat (which of course I shared – I gave one to Tim and ate the other seven), we made fake cocktails (sparkling water with a strawberry on the glass) and Mimi and I also came across a toilet randomly located on the side of the road.
Yes, Kansas was long and dreary and challenging, but there were definitely some good bits too. That being said, I don’t think anyone on the team would be sad about leaving, and the border to Missouri couldn’t come soon enough!