Maggie Finefrock’s tale of the trails begins a quarter-mile from her home on the south edge of Kansas City.
She even found a foot crossing below the Lewis & Clark Viaduct spanning the mouth of the Kaw River. Farther north, Line Creek Trail was a blessing.
Relying as much as she could on trails dedicated to pedestrians or bicyclists, with cars at a safe distance, Finefrock in three days reached Tiffany Springs Market Center in the Northland, only a few miles southeast of Kansas City International Airport.
Her “Map My Walk” phone app recorded the trek at 42 miles, roughly 99,300 steps.
The victory wasn’t so much in completing the hike but in planning the best route to attempt it.
“It took me a year or two just to research how these trails hooked up,” said Finefrock, 64. “Or if they hooked up.”
She wants to try again this year, from north to south. And with summer approaching, Finefrock encourages area residents to consider their own journeys.
Before beginners try hoofing all the way across a car-happy city with more square miles than it needs, she advised that they train and scout their routes. They may start by wandering half a day among the lush labyrinth of trails in metro parks, along creeks and hidden below busy bridges.
“Seeing this city at 3 mph instead of driving through at 45 mph, you notice so many things that you hadn’t before,” said Finefrock, who is an author, Peace Corps activist and founder of the Learning Project, an international outreach organization.
Something else happens at 3 mph, she said: “Kansas City is full of fascinating people you would not meet whizzing by.”
In 2013, Finefrock spent several months walking across Spain, hundreds of miles, as part of an annual pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Her group bedded down in hostels and host households.
A Kansas City couple she met on that trek later launched a local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, which plans monthly hikes around the city, followed by group conversation. Mailings go to 194 members.
“Why do people walk? Everyone has a different reason,” said Nancy Furse, a chapter coordinator. “You ask some and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know. Why do I walk?’
“For a lot it truly is like a calling. … It’s in your blood.”
Finefrock’s hankering to hike the length of Kansas City at first ran into frustrations. In searching for all manner of pathways banning motor vehicles — so-called “dedicated” pedestrian, bicycle, mountain bike and equestrian trails, not mere sidewalks — she found maps to be sketchy, out of date or contradicting one another.
She got from the Mid-America Regional Council a fold-out guide, Greater Kansas City Regional Trails & Bikeways, versions of which also are available online. But Finefrock never did figure out how to traverse a mile-long stretch of Holmes Road in south Kansas City or cross into the Northland from Kansas City, Kan., without marching close to street traffic.
Some challenges were met by setting aside the maps and scouting locations on her own.
Exploring Riverfront Heritage Trail near downtown Kansas City — you’ll see markers if you look for them — she discovered parks, playgrounds, elaborate murals and swimming areas all new to her.
And at the regional FBI Headquarters, 1300 Summit St.: Who knew there were hiking trails? A 12-foot-wide cobblestone walkway even spanned the I-670 interchange that the FBI building overlooks from a bluff.
“Going across Kansas City, one of the tough things to figure out is where to cross the freeways,” she said.
It takes attentive eyes and a little time.
Sometimes a paved foot trail is right off the shoulder, as she found along Missouri 152 heading to Tiffany Springs Market Center.
‘I’m going to KCI!’
So on that warm September weekend, Finefrock backpacked 14 pounds of water, food, clothing and first aid, arranged two nights’ lodging and clutched a pair of metal walking sticks.
Strangers she met along the route:
▪ Two men in Minor Park who offered to drive her when Finefrock declared two miles into the journey: “I’m going to KCI!”
▪ Mary, whom she met resting in a park near 99th and Holmes. They shared food and water before Finefrock walked a mile of busy roadside — the longest non-trail portion of the trip — before reaching the Trolley Trail.
▪ Lee, a guy on a bench in Kansas City, Kan. “He steered me in the right direction,” she said.
▪ Alicia and family, who sat with Finefrock at a cafe after the weary walker bought pies for the house.
She found no pedestrian crossing along U.S. 69 over the Missouri, so Finefrock phoned her son to drive her across. She stayed that night at the Argosy Casino Hotel & Spa, elevating her stressed feet in bed. (The evening before, a midtown friend had provided a room.)
In the 21 months since, regional trail systems have continued to find connections, said Aaron Bartlett, senior transportation planner at the Mid-America Regional Council. He said “dedicated shared-use paths,” or a trail at least 8 feet wide for walking and bicycling, are common inclusions in designs for road projects or bridge repairs.
Recent improvements to the U.S. 69 span over the Missouri include a separate pathway for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We want to have a complete, connected system across the region,” said Bartlett, adding that every bicyclist or pedestrian separated from the roadway “means one less car out in traffic.”
Finefrock was reminded at the end of her walk how traffic still rules.
From the Tiffany Springs district, she couldn’t find a dedicated trail across an I-29 interchange or on to the airport.
Her path, much of it scenic, hit a dead end at an NTB tire and repair shop.