(Photo supplied by Nick and Sara)
The Long Way Home
Sometimes the longest trail always leads back home.
By Michele Boy
A lifelong Kendall resident, Sara Grusing Kviatkofsky returned home plus one—her husband—Nick Kviatkofsky. Sara was born in the tiny town of Kendall, on the line between Hamilton and Kearny counties in Southwest Kansas. She graduated from Lakin High School, and then pursued her degree in Social Work at Texas State University. While there, Sara met her husband at a boxing class in Austin. Shortly after their graduation in 2007, they married.
While most people look to settle down after finishing college, Nick and Sara took a more adventurous path. For two months, they lived in Santiago de Chile. “My dream was to teach English but it was summer there, so people were away on vacation. Also, it wasn't safe,” says Sara.
In February 2008, they began hiking throughout South America: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. And as most Kansans will tell you, no matter how far you go, you are never far from home. You always see a Kansas friend on your travels. For Sara, it was a classmate on a trail in South America. “I was hiking through Columbia. As I hiked in, a group was hiking out. I looked up and said, ‘Jeff?’ He was one year ahead of me in school. There we were in the middle of the jungle. It was hilarious,” laughs Sara.
In February 2009, Nick and Sara had the opportunity to hike the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. For the ease of travel, Sara shaved her head. They met wonderful people and hiked about 20 miles a day, resting approximately 16 days in all. As they got to the Northeast, they hit a string of bad luck. “First Nick got Lyme disease. Then I did as well. After a few days, I picked up Giardia [an infection of the small intestine].”
These days, the dreams of hiking have been replaced by the chance to talk about her experiences. “I dream to inspire children. I recently spoke at the Pierceville-Plymell School [nine miles south of Garden City], sent the children postcards, and kept them up to date with my blog. I want to inspire kids to live their dream.”
And it doesn’t have to be just hiking. Sara wants them to follow their passions while keeping debt minimal. Nick and Sara have no rent, their car is paid in full, and they keep their bills low. Of course, the school children are far more interested in the various dangers involved with hiking, especially hiking the Appalachian Trail. "The kids cared more about bears,” Sara laughed. “They want to know if we saw any and if they attacked us.”
Sara returned home in August, after they had reached Mount Katahdin, the end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and the beginning of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). Nick had a dream to finish the IAT that ended in Canada, so he proceeded on. “It was very lonely at first without Sara,” said Nick. “We had been together every day and now I was alone. I saw maybe two people the whole time.”
After another month of hiking and climbing, Nick hitchhiked his way throughout Canada and back into the United States. “Hitchhiking has really gotten a bad rap. I met so many great people. They offered me food, rides, a place to stay. Before this trip, I had really lost my faith in humanity. You hear depressing news stories and see people ripping each other off. But when I got out on the trail, it reaffirmed my faith. There are really tons of great people and only a few bad ones,” said Nick.
“It was a great opportunity for us to acknowledge and recognize what we value in life. Time is the best gift you can give anyone,” said Sara.
Today, Sara works at Valley State Bank in Syracuse. “Growing up, I didn’t spend much time in Syracuse and I didn’t know anyone. But in just the short time I have been here, people are so open, honest, and friendly. I really love it.”
And she has no plans to leave. “Southwest Kansas will always be my home. I feel a special connection with the people around here. When you talk to someone and you both know where things are, who this family is, it really means something. Common experiences build a strong foundation,” said Sara.
Nick is currently processing cattle and doing odd jobs on the Grusing ranch while he looks for full time work. “I grew up in a small rural town of 700 people. Lucas, Texas, has become a suburb of Dallas, population 8,000. I don’t recognize it anymore. Here, I love all the space. I can walk out the back door and go shooting.”