Area native publishes chronicle of 20,000-mile world journey
Earnest hopes to take another world trip for a sequel in 2015.
BY SCOTT AUST
Back in the summer of 1965, young Kent Earnest was looking for something.
The 18-year-old Holcomb High School graduate had just finished his first year at Garden City Community College and felt something was missing.
Just a few years earlier, his brother had died in a car accident, followed soon by a baby sister's death, which was just a few years after the Clutter family murders shocked the community.
"Those three things shook me," Earnest, now 65 and living in Centerville, Ohio, said during a phone interview Thursday. "I was going through a turmoil. That all happened in my formative years. It's right there in the book where I say, 'When my brother was killed, my mom and dad turned to God. When my sister died, my dad turned to whisky.' It made it really tough in my household."
Earnest's longing for spiritual answers led him on a 20,000-mile journey, hitchhiking by car, ship and train, to the Holy Land, Middle East and North Africa. He details that journey in a new book, his first, called, "Summer of '65: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Teenage World Traveler."
Earnest said by deciding to take the journey, he was looking for an "epiphany," essentially demanding to know, "what the hell has God wrought? That was kind of the motivation."
Published by Strategic Book Publishing, the 242-page book was released Sept. 6.
According to the book's back jacket, "... the narrative is much deeper than a simple travel story based on a limited budget. It's about people, places, and events, as well as the broad range of emotions Kent felt when he encountered the unexpected. Unlike ordinary trips, this adventure was chock full of frequent and remarkable surprises."
Part travelogue, part memoir, Earnest said the book is mostly filled with stories of his adventures — places he's seen, people he's met.
"I got caught in a couple of fatal accidents over there. Got thrown in jail in Beirut. I went through countries that you couldn't go to now without an armed bodyguard," he said.
Earnest was born in Garden City to Larry and Geraldine Earnest and grew up in Holcomb. His father served as Holcomb's postmaster for 20 years until 1982, when he died shortly after retiring. His mother died in 1990.
Earnest graduated from Holcomb High School in 1964 and GCCC in 1966. On his return trip, he traveled through North Africa and Canada before beginning his second year of college.
After graduating from GCCC, Earnest joined the U.S. Army and went to Vietnam. In 1973, he earned a bachelor's degree in American History from Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., then returned to Holcomb and owned and operated Earnest Retail Liquor from 1975 to 1988. He has lived in Ohio since 1989 and is a retired technical writer/editor and businessman who enjoys world travel, national politics, and University of Kansas basketball.
Currently unmarried, Earnest has five children from two previous marriages. Two daughters, Autumn Fowler and Amber Crist, live in Garden City; a son, Brett Earnest, lives in Ohio; and two stepdaughters from a second marriage, Brandy Rohrer and Tammy Strunks, who also live in Ohio.
"I have four queens and a king," he said.
After hearing about her dad's Holy Land trip over the years, Crist said she looks forward to reading his stories in book form.
"I'm extremely ecstatic for him, and very happy," she said. "We've heard so many stories about that trip."
Crist, who shares her dad's love of travel, going on trips to places such as Africa, Hawaii and the Bahamas, can't imagine doing anything like that when she was 18.
"Oh my gosh, no. Anybody that can do that, hitch hike all the way to the Holy Land, is unbelievable," she said. "He's been to all the continents, hundreds of countries."
Earnest gets back to the Garden City area every few years to see some of his classmates from high school and college who still live in the area.
Earnest said the 1965 trip sparked a lifelong love of travel. Over the past 48 years, he has visited all 50 states and traveled to seven continents. The top places for him have been seeing the Swiss Alps, Amazon River and Antarctica.
"There have been many, many other things that have been impressive — the Serengeti plains where you can see zebras, wildebeests, lions and elephants and nobody's trying to kill them. But the Amazon River was most impressive, and Antarctica is right behind it," Earnest said. "It's so pristine. You can look out there and think to yourself, ... No man has ever walked over there, or stood on that mountain or hilltop. It's that pristine."
Earnest spent last winter in Costa Rica, away from email, cell phones and the Internet, writing the book's manuscript using the diary he kept during the '65 trip.
"I don't know whose idea it was, mine or a teacher's or somebody's, but that diary had been kept in my safe for 48 years," he said. "I simply put it off (writing the book) until I had time to do it. Now that I'm retired, I had the time to write it."
Depending on how well his eyesight holds up, Earnest already is planning a sequel. In 2015, he plans to take a trip to the Philippines to see where his dad served in World War II, then Korea, China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Borneo, New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand and Ecuador.
"I'll write the book when I get back. It's going to be called, 'The Summer of '15: the Last Great Adventure of a Lifetime of World Travel,'" he said. "It will be bigger and longer than the book that's out now. It will be a sequel, if I live that long and can see that long."
Earnest explained that he has had a couple of eye surgeries in recent years due to a macular problem, and will be undergoing another procedure soon.
"I can see out the window and going down the road, but I can't read, and it's driving me crazy," he said.
Earnest's book is available on Amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble, and can be ordered through Hastings. Copies of the book also will be available at the Finney County Library.