Random thoughts while on a 2,000-mile hike in New Zealand led Kansas resident John Kraft to spending a few nights in the Yankton area over the Labor Day weekend.
OK, so Kraft, 30, who lives outside of Gridley, Kansas, didn’t exactly head for Yankton after finishing hiking the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. In fact, he really didn’t think of Yankton at all.
He’s actually following the path of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition (1804-1806), and that placed him in Vermillion last week and in Yankton Saturday through Tuesday.
Pulling a cart that he named Steve 2.0, Kraft is hoping to get as far as Montana before the snows of winter begin flying.
“Realistically, I just hope I can get to Garrison Dam (North Dakota) or a bit farther,” he observed during his holiday-weekend break.
He spent last Tuesday through Friday in the Vermillion area, then headed for Yankton, arriving late Saturday afternoon for a rare indoor stay at a motel. The next morning, he walked out to and through the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area, eventually ending at a private residence where he stayed until an early Tuesday morning departure saw him walking to Highway 50 and then turning west.
“Everything is somewhat improvised,” Kraft said, describing the way he is traveling. “I drew up a planned route when I was preparing for the trip, and for the most part I’ve stuck to it.” But he’s made a few detours along the way, and noted that he does not confine himself to any specific timetable.
“In fact, I’ve walked over 700 miles to get here, and honestly, I’ve only added about 30 miles to my original plan,” he added.
A 2012 graduate of Emporia State College in Kansas, where he earned a degree in Ecology and Biodiversity, Kraft holds a master’s degree in Biology from Kansas State.
After having been in college for over four years, Kraft felt the itch to go on an adventure. In November 2016, he took a 20-hour trip to Aukland, New Zealand, and set out on the Te Araroa Trail, which travels through the entirety of New Zealand. He began in the northernmost point of the north island of the country and walked 2,000-plus miles to the south tip of the southern island. He ended his trek in late April.
It was during that hike that the seed to make the Lewis & Clark walk began to blossom.
“I liked the personal development that I gained during that time,” Kraft noted. “It made me happy — being out there, overcoming challenges that the trail presented, meeting new people, learning about new places — it simply made me feel happy. And I started thinking, ‘How can I extend this experience?’”
The idea of traversing the trail Lewis & Clark made during their expedition to explore the western part of America didn’t hit him right away.
“I listened to the book ‘Undaunted Courage,’ which is a condensed version of the journals of Lewis & Clark, and that planted the seed for this trip,” he said.
Once he got home, he got a job with a company that researched grazing habits in the farming industry, and he began plotting out his cross-country trip.
One of the things he knew he’d need was something other than a back pack to carry the supplies he would need for a long venture. With help of an uncle, he built a cart he could pull.
Steve 2.0, or “S2” as he calls it, serves all his needs. S2 has two different methods with which Kraft can pull it. They used unicycle tires and bicycle hand brakes (“It can be quite hard to simply stop it when going downhill, so brakes were needed”) and it has space for a large cooler and a case for his clothing and personal items.
“Oh, and most importantly, it has a hula girl bobblehead,” he chuckled.
The trek began March 19 from St. Louis. He got as far as St. Joseph, Missouri, before suspending his trek so he could work for a whitewater rafting guide service in California from May to July. He returned and kept going, traveling through Iowa and eventually crossing into South Dakota last week.
Also, when he started the trip, he had a “co-captain,” his 12-year-old English setter, Belle. But about three weeks ago, Belle started showing signs of stress from the continual heat, so Kraft sent her home to stay with his parents.
His plans are to get to Montana by winter, at which point he will return to Kansas, in a house that has no running water or electricity, and probably go to California to do more whitewater raft guiding. He will resume the trek the next spring. He plans to walk as far as Orofino, Idaho, then switch from his cart to canoe and follow the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers to reach the Pacific Ocean.
He said he plans to spend some time visiting places in Washington and Oregon before “turning around and heading back,” just like Lewis & Clark.
His return trip may include following Clark’s deviation. During the expedition’s return trek, Clark and Lewis split their group, with Lewis retracing the route they had taken when heading west and Clark following the Yellowstone River for a southerly loop. They regrouped in Montana and finished the rest of the trip together.
Kraft noted that he is planning to use more water travel on the return trip, canoeing the same three rivers his journey west utilized to begin with, and once he reaches the headwaters of the Missouri River, will canoe the remainder of the trip to St. Louis.
He estimates his trip will total somewhere around 6,500 miles when he’s done.
Kraft pointed out that along the way, people have offered him money as a way to help them. Since he has enough money for the entire trip, he decided to funnel donations to an organization that is dear to his heart: Sky’s the Limit, an organization that benefits troubled adolescents by utilizing wilderness treks and survival activities to help them heal from their troubles, which may include addiction, difficulties at home or in school or run-ins with the law.
He stated that he has found such personal satisfaction in doing the things he’s done or is doing, such as this trip. Kraft, who said he suffers from depression, stated, “I just want to give back because the same thing that helps me can help these young people. I taught myself the skills to cope with my mental health issues, but through Sky’s the Limit, those kids have people who are trained with outdoor and wilderness skills to show them how to get to the same place I am at now.”
Kraft said if anyone is interested in donating, Sky’s the Limit has a website. He has a web address through which people can donate on behalf of his trip. That web address can be found on Kraft’s Facebook page. Kraft also tells his friends about his progress on his Facebook page.
Flexibility is a key word Kraft uses during this cross-country trek.
“I’m probably fooling myself that two summers will prove to be time enough to finish this trip,” Kraft observed with a smile, “but I’m open to adding a third summer — heck, even a fourth.”
And with that, he looked up the road, and began walking, throwing one last wave back as he steamed toward the Pacific Ocean.