28-Jun-2007 -- I regret to say that my policy of "Leave No Trace" was shattered at 38 North 101 West. I was about 25 miles west of the confluence, traveling with the windows cracked open as I have no air conditioning in my vehicle, when a particularly strong Kansas gust of wind blew one of my printed maps out the window and on toward the south. I had felt badly about it, but then upon further reflection, the grim reality hit: None of my confluence visits had truly been "Leave No Trace" when I almost invariably had been driving to them, using much fossil fuel in the process. On this particular late June day, I was definitely using any carbon credits I saved on all of those days when I had bicycled to work. The reason was because today was dedicated to discovering how many confluences I could visit. The total trip would run over 1,000 miles (1,600 km)! But then, remembering the conservationist's quote about the fact that to be able to be passionate about protecting the Earth, we have to get out there first and explore it, I felt a bit better....
I had begun the day at 2:22am in Colorado, and by 7:30am, had finished confluence #1, and by 10:30am, confluence #2. Now, winging my way toward confluence #3, I was badly behind schedule. I hoped to make up time here, as this promised to be close to the road. The sky was nearly clear, the day hot and windy, and nearly noontime by the time I neared Holcomb. I passed the radio tower that I expected to see, and turned south on the main road into Holcomb, which was surprisingly busy with traffic. I parked on the embankment near a dirt road that led due west, donned some sunblock, and set out.
Holcomb is a town that started, moved, and then was reborn. In 1878, the Santa Fe Railroad established a flag station here, named Sherlock, after the railroad's director. Sherlock was intended to be the prominent town in Finney County. However, the next year, the Garden City promoters offered all of the residents and businesses in Sherlock to move to Garden City, including buildings and belongings, free of charge. Most took the offer! Thirty years later, when the Garden City Company's Sugar Beet Factory was built at the west edge of Garden City, things began to turn around for Sherlock. In 1909, Holcomb was officially platted, named in honor of D.C. Holcomb, a local rancher. In 1959, the murders of the Clutter family near here was the basis for Truman Capote's novel In Cold Blood. Holcomb looks pretty prosperous these days, I noticed, and the population here, unlike other areas of the state, is increasing.
The road divided a wheat field to the south from a corn field to the north. Nothing was being irrigated on this particular day, and the earth was dry underneath my feet. After walking down the road for 10 minutes, I stood on the 101st Meridian. The corn to the north was about 2 feet (0.6 m) high, and I thought if I were to step carefully, the plants would not be damaged. Due in large part to the demand for corn from ethanol producers, corn is once again King in the high plains region, and I was literally in the thick of it. After 5 minutes of big steps over the corn, I arrived at the confluence.
The confluence lies on absolutely flat ground in the south-central part of a cornfield. It is in clear view of Holcomb and its high school. I wonder: Do the high school students here do well on tests because they feel centered? The most prominent feature in the area is definitely the tall radio tower, about 75 meters to the northwest of the confluence. I reflected on the difference between 38 North 102 West, which I had stood on just 2 hours before, and this confluence. What a difference irrigation makes! The temperature stood at 90 F (32 C), the skies clear, and it was quite windy. Although I could see traffic on US Highway 50 to the north, and on the road to Holcomb to the east, I saw no people during my confluence trek, no animals, and a few birds.
I had been to the 38th parallel numerous times before, in California, Utah, Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina. I had stood on the 101st Meridian West several times as well, here in Kansas, and in Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. I spent only 10 minutes at the confluence site, and as the total round trip hike time was only 40 minutes, I had made up some valuable time in my Confluence Day. Returning to my vehicle baking in the sun, I was ready to head due east to the today's Confluence Number 4 at 38 North 100 West. Would I make it?