By: Esther Honig and Matt Hodapp
In the attic of his single story home on Kansas City’s east side, Charlie Mylie is packing for a trip. He has a single camo tarp and cord that he’ll use as a tent, white Converse sneakers for trekking, and an antique Kelty backpack to carry the rest of his essentials: book of Rumi poetry, a sleeping bag, canned tuna, beans, and ramen, as well as a map and compass to navigate.
After months of planning, this is the night before Mylie’s departure. He’s carefully considered the potential risks and daydreamed about the uncertainty of what he’ll find. He’s prepared for an adventure, a project he’s calling the “Big Inhale,” but rather than fly to a foreign country or seek solitude in the wilderness, Mylie says that for this trip, he’ll hardly go anywhere at all.
“It made perfect sense that I could always be 30 minutes from home,” he says. “But still go on a long journey, and be a tourist in our own town, which is hard.”
Mylie will walk the border of Kansas City, Missouri, all 212 miles. Depending on the distance he manages to cover each day, the trip could take him three or four weeks. Along the way he’ll camp, maybe grab a bite from a nearby diner, and clean up in the public restrooms. He hopes to discover the corners of Kansas City that he says few people actually consider when they imagine this sprawling metropolis.
“Loving the Royals, going to the Power & Light and First Friday is a very small part of our city,” he says. “There’s a challenge to love it in its fullest.”
This particular November the weather is unexpectedly pleasant. This is not the bone-chilling fall of last year. Without the summer heat, conditions could not be more ideal. To document this journey Mylie has packed a pair of disposable cameras, and as a professional artist he’ll be reflecting on the experience of each day through his drawing and writing. For Mylie this trip is as much a creative endeavor as it is civic engagement. As a resident for the last decade who boasts a great deal of pride for his city, Mylie wonders how this trip will expand his perspective on Kansas City.
“Will I love the city on its far weird unknown parts?” he asks. “I want to see what that city is, and the idea that there’s cows grazing in our city — like how does that affect our city and do we ever think about that?”
Once Mylie has filled his backpack with all of the necessities, he fastens the straps, and sets the pack aside. Now it’s time to sleep. As he walks, his friends will have the opportunity to join him for a couple a miles. But for the most part Mylie will be going at it alone.
November 3rd, 2015
Charlie Mylie has been on the trail for three days when I meet up with him one morning on the eastern shore of Longview Lake on the border of Lee’s Summit. It’s a wooded area tucked behind a community college and a golf course. If you ignore the apartment complex up the hill, it almost feels secluded. Then, around the corner comes Mylie, his backpack shifting and jingling as he walks.
His spirits are in good shape and he’s eager to eat breakfast. But rather than down a cup of cold oatmeal, we head to the McDonald’s up the street.
Already Mylie is full of stories. He’s made a point to hang out at the local bars and talk to people he encounters in his walk. He says he’s learned a lot about the cultural reputation of cities like Raytown and how people there interact with the border. For instance, take the man he met last night, John.
“He identifies as Raytown even though he lives in Kansas City,” says Mylie. “His daughters went to school in Raytown and he feels like Raytown has a small-town vibe and he relates to that.”
Once we arrive at the golden arches and Mylie has selected a McMuffin combo, we sit down to talk about what else has happened. So far he’s walked 50 miles and has done pretty well navigating by map and compass, though he says he did get lost once. His biggest revelation has come from the places he’s discovered, none of which are destinations he says he would visit otherwise.
“Things that I might want to go see or that I would be attracted to just aren’t on the border,” says Mylie. “It’s been a matter of stopping, even just for a few minutes, at a body of water or something that I think is beautiful and remembering to take it in …”
He’s trekked through strip malls and suburban developments, or walked for hours along shoulder-less highway. In these bleak surroundings he’s managed to discover a few gems, like the other day when he stumbled upon the historic Santa Fe trail off Blue Ridge road. The trail brought him to a cave with a small creek and for a moment he was transported somewhere secluded and quiet. He removed his shoes to dip his sore feet in the cool water and escaped the long walk that still lay ahead