I parked my trusty Honda Accord in the shade of an Eastern Red Cedar 50 yards from the sandy shoreline of Cedar Bluffs Reservoir. To the south, limestone cliffs tower over the water. To the north, cottonwood trees along the shore quickly give way to native prairie and fields of harvested wheat. The sun set over the water as I set up my tent. I paused to take in the brilliant shades of orange and blue that framed the glassy surface of the lake.
It was August 11, and this would be my second 24-hour walk attempt in Kansas. The first try in June was a failure. I threw in the snot-and-sweat-soaked towel after 11 hours. I was getting over a gnarly cold and probably shouldn’t have been walking in the first place, but wanted to give it the ‘ole college try. I hated to quit, but “discretion is the better part of valor” as my dad says. I simply had nothing left to give after 30 miles of walking.
The fact I hadn’t reached my goal the first time around really stuck in my craw. Initially, I planned on tackling Kansas again in the fall when temperatures are cooler and the cottonwood trees burst with color. But I ended up with a free 48 hours after a landscaping gig got cancelled. Heat be damned, I wanted to go for it.
After a restless night of sleep, I started pushing PJ – my noble three-wheeled-steed – at 8 AM, bound and determined to travel gravel back roads for 24 hours.
The landscape was different in August than it was earlier in the summer. In June, the native was lush. Blooming prairie sunflowers, purple coneflowers, and wild white indigo added splashes of color to the green grasses swaying in the breeze. Now, a dry summer left the prairie brown, parched, and dusty, other than a few plots of healthy sorghum and corn.
PJ and I ticked off miles, reaching 10 in three hours, 20 in six, and 40 by sunset. The 98 degree heat was sweltering (sending the neighborhood cows to whatever shade they could find), but low humidity made it a manageable, dry heat. A strong southerly wind added a little relief.
A nearly full moon rose shortly after dark, illuminating the road and eliminating my need to use a headlamp. I eclipsed 50 miles at the 17 hour mark. Fatigue set in and I needed an energy boost. I popped off my shirt, Dennis Reynolds style, and cranked up “Werewolves of London,” singing along and howling at the moon to pass the time.
60 miles in with three hours to go, I faded fast. Every step on the uneven rocky roads sent a shot of pain through my feet. My legs felt like cement and my mind was playing tricks on me. Bushes blowing in the breeze looked like demonic antelope. An occasional sound from behind had me convinced I was being followed. Sleep deprivation and exhaustion can have strange effects.
I wanted to stop. My sleeping bag called to me like a muse in the night, begging me to lay down. I reached my breaking point, thinking I had nothing left to give, much like I had on my previous 24-hour attempt in the Sunflower State. After all, nobody cared whether I walked 50, 60, or 70 miles. This was my adventure. I could stop anytime. I could even slink into my sleeping bag and nap for an hour, start walking again, and slowly plod through another few miles. My will and preparation got me this far, but I reached the end of what I was capable of.
With every labored step, I debated how to tackle the last three hours. Stopping, or even slowing down, felt like a half measure. I got brutally honest with myself and reflected on the last six months of my life. In a lot of areas, I wasn’t giving my all. I was only partially dedicated to my book. I put forth minimal to moderate effort in relationships. I went to the gym regularly but wasn’t exactly pushing myself. Other than my recovery from alcoholism, it had been a while since I was “all in” on something. I was generally happy, but wasn’t striving for more. In that moment, I had a choice. I could quit and continue with the theme of half measures, or I could go all in. Those three remaining hours were an opportunity to give all of my heart and soul to the task at hand.
But how could I muster the energy and strength to keep going? My gas tank was running on fumes. Then, something inside of me called out to my Higher Power.
“Give me strength. I give it all to You.”
The words came out slowly and without any thought. I repeated the simple prayer over and over. My voice became progressively louder and more passionate with each recital. Within thirty seconds, I was yelling.
Goosebumps covered my entire body as tears welled in my eyes. A shot of unexplained energy pulsed through my body and my pace quickened. I went from depleted to energized. A feeling of warmth, light, and love engulfed me as I ambled through the moonlit prairie. I was in the midst of a spiritual experience. I powered through the next two hours in a state of pure spiritual euphoria.
With an hour left on the clock, I did the unthinkable (for me anyway). I “jogged.” It was a slow, clunky process. I moved more like an inebriated donkey than a gallant steed, but pushed through the pain that coursed through my body. I repeated the Serenity Prayer and clung to the moment, turning off any thoughts regarding the past or future. I was immersed in the struggle, my Higher Power fueling every excruciating, exhausted step. I relished every moment.
By the time the clock struck 8 AM and 24 hours were up, I traveled 70.2 miles. I collapsed on a rock for a reflective moment. I wanted to comprehend what had just happened.
In those moments of despair and exhaustion, I was able to tap into a spiritual energy that wasn’t of me. It was patiently waiting, deep inside. But I had to seek it, and ask for help. I am convinced with all my heart that energy lies within every one of us, untapped and ready for use. And, from my perspective, it’s there to apply to facets of life that are outside the realm of arduous physical endeavors.
In those trying moments of this walk, I felt like I reached an important moment in my life. A turning point, perhaps. During my walks across the country and other physical challenges, I’ve certainly pushed myself to extreme physical limits, but I have never sought that untapped reservoir of spiritual possibility. Those last three hours of effort were not of me. My will took me 60 miles. Something much bigger and more powerful fueled and guided the last 10.
Spirituality is unique to the individual and it’s not my intention to push my beliefs on anyone. All I can relay is my experience. This one was powerful, enlightening, and moving. My hope is that this story encourages you to question where you are in your spiritual journey. What lies inside of you, waiting to be tapped? How far can that spiritual energy take you, and how can you apply that to everyday challenges? The next time you’re faced with a big roadblock or hurdle, I implore you to tap in, instead of tapping out. You may be amazed by the results.
Three Favorite Pictures
Sunflower 24-Hour Stats
Miles – 70.2
Steps – 140,000 (ish)
Shirtless, Howling-at-the-Full-Moon Miles – 22
Song of the Walk – Getting Started, Sam Fender
Ounces of Peanut Butter – 24
Rattlesnake Bites – 0
Blisters – 3
Shoe Changes – 2
Shooting Stars – 8 (Thanks Perseid Meteor Shower!)
Gallons of Water – 3.5
Kansans that Offered Rides – 3
With love and gratitude, Ben
3 thoughts on “Sunflower 24-Hour”
Sure glad you got your Higher Power involved. Was my thought as I was reading this. Amen!
Thanks Ben for the update…wonderful commentary and photos!
Thank you Ben for sharing! We would love to walk with you and truly we are with you from South Dakota. Life gets tough and we rely on faith and friends to cheer us on. Walk on!