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World traveler keeps rolling along

Managing editor

A 62-year-old Tokyo man is living his dream of traveling across the U.S. and telling people his story, a lifetime in the making.

Kenichi “Ken” Yamashita rolled through Marion County this past week, but not on a bicycle, the way he did 20 years ago with his son, Shoko.

His mode of transportation this time was in-line skates.

Yamashita began his journey April 9 from Santa Monica, Calif. His goal is to reach Cape Cod within six months, when his visa expires.

What is inspiring him to leave his job and family and rollerblade more than 3,000 miles in a strange country is gratitude.

A child when U.S. troops assisted in rebuilding his country after World War II, his gratitude continues even 60 years later.

“After World War II, the U.S. helped Japan with medicine and merchandise,” Yamashita said as he traveled on U.S. 77 north of Marion a week ago. “I want to send (a) message about (my) dream. Any man can have a dream. Dreams must come true.”

He especially wants to share his message with young people — the future of the world.

“(This is) not only their country but (they’re) responsible for (the) world,” he said.

Yamashita has been planning his trip for 20 years. He wanted more of a challenge than what he and his son experienced in 1990.

“(I) wanted to do it (in a) much more different way,” he said.

Averaging 25 to 35 miles per day, Yamashita uses a homemade brake resembling a hockey stick to slow his speed on hills and to be able to stop more quickly than he can with the brakes on his skates.

“When (my) bag is heavy, (I) go faster and faster down hills,” he said with a smile.

The backpack he carries weighs more than 60 pounds. When he rolled through Marion County he also had three bags of water. Taking breaks in shade of trees along the highway, Yamashita sends text messages to relatives in Tokyo, who post them on a Facebook page, “Run Uncle Yamashita.” Some posts are in Japanese. Some are in English.

Yamashita stayed in a Marion motel July 13. His goal was to reach Council Grove by evening of the next day.

As he traveled along the highway, motorists stopped to ask whether everything was OK.

“Many people ask if I’m all right,” Yamashita said. “You have great hospitality and kindness.”

He doesn’t fear for his safety and has not had any incidents that might have caused him to rethink his journey. Rollerblading requires him to stay away from interstates, so he is more visible to motorists and residents.

Kansas has been a challenge for him — not because of the heat but because of the humidity.

Yamashita said it was easier to travel across the Mohave Desert than it has been to traverse Kansas.

“Not sweat (in desert). Dry air,” he said.

According to his Facebook page, his biggest challenge before to crossing Kansas was traveling through the Colorado Rockies.

“I feel like my body and my mind is out of balance,” Yamashita said on his Facebook page. “I feel exhausted already before I even start to run.”

Before crossing a pass at an elevation of 9,450 feet, he rested for two days at a campsite in Fort Garland.

The journey has become a spiritual experience for Yamashita, a cook in a Red Cross Society Hospital in Tokyo.

“I want to spread (a) message about hope and gratitude,” he said. “Dream and hope and faith are (the) same.

Please help me to spread my praise and my message to (the) younger generation.”

Last modified July 22, 2010

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