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Ellsworth, KS 67439
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1/31/2007

The Walkin' Man

I turned the corner of Kansas Highways 4 and 14 last Friday morning to see a hitchhiker walking north. You dont often see someone out in the open in the middle of winter. So I just pulled up behind him and touched my horn. He turned around and danged if I didn t know him!  
 
Back on April 8 of 2006 I picked him up at exactly the same location. It was raining and he was sitting next to the highway covered with a sheet of light plastic. Well, we got all his stuff in the trunk of the car and headed north. I asked him his name and he offered me his hand and said he was Robert. He was quite a conversationalist telling me a little about his travels over the country and his interest in geology. He really liked the sandstone bluffs of Ellsworth County. He was concerned about the rain and asked about bridges in the area. I told him there was a bridge over Ash Creek just up ahead. Lank Rathbun lives just above the bridge at Rock Bottom Ranch. I knew Lank would be hospitable and take him in, but Robert insisted that he would be just fine under that bridge.  
 
I helped him get his things to the bridge. It was dry under there but the wind was cold and it didn t look all that comfortable to me. Robert insisted that it was just what he was looking for. I left him there but turned my car around heading for Rock Bottom Ranch. Lank met me at the door where I proceeded to tell him the tale of Robert The Walker. Lank said hed check on him in a little while. I was feeling a lot better about things as I drove over the bridge headed for Drovers in Ellsworth.  
 
The next afternoon Lank and Robert stopped in at Drovers Mercantile. Lank had talked Robert into pulling up stakes under that bridge and bunking at the Rock Bottom for the night. Now he was itching to get back to the road. We talked for a while and the conversation revealed a man who had his own demons. He was constantly worrying that he was being followed. Magical creatures roamed through his mind searching for his next camp. Robert saw no alternative but to keep walking. So Lank took him out north of town and he was gone.  
 
So imagine my surprise when on the bright, cold morning of January 26, 2007, Robert The Walker was again walking toward my car! We exchanged greetings and quickly loaded him up again. As we drove north he told me that he had stayed under a bridge west of the 4 and 14 intersection during the latest snow storm. Nights were in the single digits during that storm. Oh, he was fine. He liked to get under bridges that allowed him enough room to sit up, because it as awfully hard to eat if he couldnt sit up. I was amazed!  
 
As we passed Lanks place I mentioned that if he was close enough he could always drop in on Lank. He likes the company. Robert said little. He seems to like being alone. He said he had been thinking of going to southern Colorado but every time he started that way a big storm would cut him off. He was just making a big circle in central Kansas. He hadnt been to Ellsworth for a while so he decided to turn north. He thought he might go over to Lucas. He liked Brants Meat Market. He might just do that. 
 
I dropped him off at the grocery store in Ellsworth. He thought he might go to ALCO too while he was here. I heard later that evening that he was sitting by the curb at Pizza Hut.  
 
Three days later, Monday, January 29, I was headed north on Highway 14 when in the distance I saw a dark object moving along the edge of the road. At first I thought it might be a young cow out on the road. But no! As I drew closer I could see it was Robert The Walker steadily walking with his pack on his back and a plastic bag filled with staples in each hand. This time he was headed south. I waved but I dont think he really looked at me. He was on a trail to wherever the next bridge might be home for another night or two.  
 
So when yer driving along the road ya might just think for a moment as you cross those river bridges that you may be crossing paths with a mystery man on the trail to somewhere or perhaps nowhere. No one really knows except Robert The Walker. 
 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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