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On the road to adventure

Former KC bartender explores America one step at a time

News editor

If Coneburg Inn had given a prize Friday to the diner who traveled the farthest to get there, Mike Leighnor might well have won.

He walked more than 1,100 miles in 10 weeks from Georgia for a burger and a couple of beers. Counting just the 30 miles he walked Friday from Elmdale to Peabody still might have made him a winner.

However, Peabody was never a final destination; rather, it was a waypoint on a walk across America that began in Savannah, Georgia.

“I started on April Fools Day,” Leighnor said. “Only the foolish do this kind of stuff.”

The 35-year-old Leighnor, who grew up outside of Goddard and lives in Kansas City, comes across as more of an adventurer than a fool, in light of some of his past exploits:

  • He hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine three years ago.
  • As a University of Kansas student, he learned Chinese, something he later parlayed into a year in China teaching oral English and working on a student exchange program at a university.
  • He worked on a California Conservation Corps/Americorps team improving backcountry trails in Klamath National Forest.
  • He spent a year working and living in New Zealand.

An ultra-distance runner, Leighnor planned to run across the country until a hip injury caused him to alter his plans.

Unlike the riders who came through Peabody on a cross-country trek to raise awareness about thoroughbreds, Leighnor has no cause other than adventure.

“The first entry of my blog is ranting about that I already know who I am,” he said. “I’m not going to be some hippie walking down the road with a guitar looking for myself. I just want to do it for the hell of it. What’s life without adventure? What’s adventure without danger?”

Leighnor dialed up danger on a narrow, busy road with no shoulders the day he started the walk from an island outside of Savannah, Georgia, pushing a three-wheeled cart loaded with his tent and supplies.

“There were so many cars coming to the beach,” he said. “I had my little cart and I didn’t have any signs on it yet. Someone actually called the police saying, ‘We’ve got a crazy guy out there pushing a kid in a cart along the highway.’”

The cart contained only his supplies.

That officer and others along the way have understood what he’s doing and have treated him well, Leighnor said.

The same can’t be said for a driver outside of Nashville, who tried to run him down.

“On that day walking into the city, I nearly got killed,” Leighnor said. “A purple van intentionally swerved over into the shoulder and into the grass tying to hit me. I pushed my cart away and I tucked and rolled into the ditch just in time.”

Nashville did provide a high point, when his girlfriend, Madeline, came from Kansas City to see him.

“We actually started dating the week before I left,” Leighnor said. “I’ve worked with her for two years, and I confessed my feelings on one drunken night, and things went from there. She’s come to see me four times before I got to Kansas City.”

Leighnor said he really started enjoying the walk once he got to Missouri.

“Once you’re past the Mississippi, people become nicer,” he said. “Kansas has put everywhere else to shame. There hasn’t been a day gone by where people haven’t stopped to talk. I spent maybe an hour yesterday just talking to people.”

Leighnor hasn’t had problems finding places to camp. Thursday he spent the night camped in the yard of the Elmdale post office.

“The post office was really nice, except for the trains going by every 15 to 20 minutes, blasting their horns right there,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘Oh my god, it’s not going to stop, is it?’”

After camping Friday at Peabody City Park, Leighnor headed for Hutchinson, a stop with personal significance.

“My grandparents are buried there, and I missed one of their funerals,” he said. “I was in New Zealand at the time and didn’t have the funds to come back. I grew up like a mile away from them, so I just wanted to see where they’re buried and pay my respects.”

His girlfriend was to walk with him on the stretch from Hutchinson to Alamosa, Colorado, and then the pair has a two-week trip to Ireland planned before Leighnor resumes his walk toward the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the West Coast.

“I’m seeing America,” he said. “The more we industrialize things, the more it disappears. That’s why I did the Appalachian Trail, that’s why I want to do the Pacific Coast Trail, and that’s why I want to do the Continental Divide.”

Last modified June 14, 2017

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