a Kansas walkabout

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Passing through Scott County on Monday, Henry Fortunato nears the end of his six-week walking excursion around Kansas.

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Passing through Scott County on Monday, Henry Fortunato nears the end of his six-week walking excursion around Kansas.

By Rod Haxton, editor

Fortunato is experiencing people, places

A vacation for Henry Fortunato isn’t complicated.

With a walking stick and a backpack, he can “walk out my front door, make a left and I’m on my way to something unique and wonderful in my adopted state,” says the Overland Park resident.

Fortunato’s version of a Kansas walkabout began almost six weeks ago at his front door and will conclude this week at Mt. Sunflower in Wallace County.

In between, Fortunato was able to experience Kansas and its people at a pace that most can’t comprehend.

“I derive tremendous satisfaction from self-locomotion over long distances,” says the 58-year-old director of public affairs for the Kansas City Public Library.

Averaging three-miles-per hour while walking for about eight hours per day, Fortunato is able to enjoy the “human angle” that comes from seeing the state at a much slower pace.

“Everything is a blur when you travel by car,” says Fortunato, who doesn’t have a driver’s license, but is able to use public transportation and walking to get to his job each day.

“When you travel at three-miles-per-hour you see everything. You have these chance encounters. You experience places up close and you see the land.”

Those chance encounters included an overnight stay at a bed and breakfast in Wilson in which the owners directed him to their friend, Charles Evans, in Scott City. Another acquaintance suggested that if he were to pass through the Dighton area he should visit the Vance and Louise Ehmke farm, which he did.

“That happens all the time,” says Fortunato, who has often been invited into the homes of these new acquaintances to stay overnight while on his journey.

 

‘A Walking State’

As an avid walker, Fortunato has taken numerous 3-5 day excursions over the years. His longest, prior to this one, was a 13-day walk from his home to downtown Wichita.

“I’ve got this vision for Kansas,” says Fortunato while staying overnight in Scott City on Monday. “Kansas could become a walking state.”

He says that so many backroads are well-maintained which makes them ideal as walking trails once they were properly mapped.

“You could spend a three to four day walking vacation, visit historic sites, stay in good hotels, sample great restaurants where you wouldn’t normally stop and have a very healthy excursion,” he says. “There are all kinds of walking vacations in Britain. There’s no reason it can’t happen here.”

Rather than just talk the talk, however, Fortunato felt he should literally walk the walk.

He has passed through cities, large and small, over the past 5-1/2 weeks, going as far south as Greensburg where he was able to see how the town has begun to recover from a devastating tornado, in addition to visiting the Big Well.

“I didn’t want this to be a parallel I70 route. I wanted to touch as many iconic places as possible,” he says. “I wanted to parallel at least a portion of the Santa Fe Trail and, of course, Dodge City is a pretty iconic place.”

Fortunato keeps his travel options flexible and instead of heading west from Dodge City he decided to travel north.

At that time, the Long Island, N.Y., native was joined by a longtime friend from New York who walked with him from Dodge City to Jetmore. They arrived in Jetmore in time to watch a high school football game.

“You gain an appreciation as to how important things like that are to a community and how it brings a community together,” he observed.

Shortly upon returning to New York, his friend sent an e-mail: “Hen, I miss Kansas,” was the message.

“I asked him if he thought that was unique to Kansas or if he would have felt the same about any state he had just visited,” notes Fortunato. “He said that for years he couldn’t understand what I saw in Kansas and why I decided to call it home. He said, ‘Now I get it.’”

While he doesn’t have anything planned at the moment, Fortunato will continue his tradition of fall walkabouts again next year. However, it will likely be of the 7-10 day variety.

“It will be in Kansas, undoubtedly, but I don’t know where,” he says.

In addition to giving talks in November about his Kansas hike, Fortunato would like to eventually write a book.

“The best part about this has been the people I meet, the people who become friends and the encounters with strangers - the ones who stop and ask if I need a ride to the guy who tossed me an orange (KDOT) vest to wear so that people would be able to see me easier. This is what makes the walk so compelling to me.

“My son refers to me as a naturalized Kansan,” jokes Fortunato. “After doing something like this it’s easy to see why I’ve made Kansas my home.”

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