The story after Michigan continued into The Great Plains. A long stretch of land that gets a very low amount of rain a year, but enough to have tall grass grow and to not turn into a desert. This begins West of the Mississippi River and stretches all the way to where the Rocky Mountains start. Close to 1,000 miles of corn where in between James and Denver. This was a portion we all have been nervous about because it is going to be hot, humid, and no one has reached out to us about places to stay for this long stretch. The way it was mapped out worked well enough that each day was going to be a 20-32 miles walk, which was doable depending on how well James handled the heat.
The first day leaving Muscatine, Iowa started at 3:30 am to arrive at the next town. The low sits at 80 degrees so you are already drenched in sweat a mile in and the goal was to try and be done by 11-12pm. Finishing around 2 pm or later meant you would be outside at your weakest moment in 100+ degree weather. Dehydration was not the biggest concern since James always had the 10 gallons just in case, but heat exhaustion was. Since all of this land was dedicated to agricultural fields, there were no sources of shade to hide from the sun. In the end, the biggest challenge was getting ready to do it again tomorrow for 1,000 miles.
Each day was the hardest push James had to make. The goal was to start walking and not stop until he was done. The whole time was spent noticing how his body felt and reacting to being out in the sun. The close monitoring of his hydration levels made him feel more self-aware. Towards the last few miles, a switch happened where he had to seek shade fast. The feeling of being light-headed, unable to complete sentences or thoughts, and nausea was too much to bare and the only way to calm down was to find shade. During these moments, his heart would randomly start beating very fast. There was always some type of shade but there was little of it and sometimes it could be a few miles away. Shade sometimes meant laying in ditches to get under the tall shrubs or the buffer in between a few corn fields. Luckily everything worked out and The Great Plains were conquered.
Even with the remoteness, people came to check up on James every single day. Word spread quickly of his walk and people wanted to meet him. Many churches in Iowa wanted to house him and make sure he was taken care of at night. People in Nebraska helped him plan out his route and find places to stay as he continued from town to town. James continued to move quickly because a 108-degree heat wave was going to be happening for 4 days and he wanted to put himself in a good situation. He landed in McCook, Nebraska for the 4-day stretch where people quickly welcomed them to their small town making him feel like family. One day, in particular, he met with a few water rights lawyers cover the Republican River case.
With so much Agriculture, farmers need water to keep their crops healthy. When one farmer is managing 8,000 acres, the demand for water is constant. The Republican River is shared by Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. Kansas has been suing Nebraska because, by the time the river reaches them, it is completely dried up. According to water law, farmers in Kansas are required to receive a specific amount of water but recently have not been getting any risking their livelihood. The crops being used are demanding more water and the higher heat indexes are evaporating more water that marginal profit is being made across each state. Some have suggested the use of more groundwater but with such a high demand for water, can that be a sustainable solution. That also puts the people at risk because their drinking water comes from groundwater. Something has to occur focusing on water conservation or new agricultural practices or every state along the Republican River is going to suffer.
The very last portion of The Great Plains was spent in Eastern Colorado. The Colorado/Nebraska border was only 170 miles to Denver. Once the border was crossed, it still mimicked all of Nebraska and Iowa but the hope of the mountains and lower humidity continued the push forward. After the first few days walking in Eastern Colorado, the gradual increase in elevation was notices as well as faint outlines of the mountains to the west. Each day walking had an elevation gain of 550ft while zero declines. The build-up to being a mile high in Denver was very slow and gradual. In the end, no major issues occurred and James was able to make it safely into Denver. Next stop the mountains!