Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dust in the Wind

I can't remember if it was "Dust in the Wind" or "Carry On My Wayward Son", but both of my jerk friends, Eric and Jeff, tried to implant songs by the group Kansas in my head now that I am indeed in Kansas.  Instead of having those tracks loop endlessly through my brain though, I have been listening to the radio which is an interesting blend of pop music like Katy Perry and Rhianna, country music, daily religious sermons, and announcers explaining why folks shouldn't burn down Kansas with their fireworks in the middle of a wildfire alert.  It's been amusing.  Except for the 75% of the time that I cannot tune in any station with my cheap noise box.  Then I just listen to the wind.  Which indeed has dust in it.

The name of the game in Kansas is certainly wind.  Sometimes you're gritting your teeth trying to keep forward momentum while being buffeted by wind gusts.  Other times you are cruising at nearly 20mph and don't realize that you've been riding a tailwind for an hour.  Fortunately there are few turns to make or miss in Kansas so zoning out doesn't have dire consequences.  Most of the time though, there's this annoying cross wind from the south west.  Enough to slow you down.  Enough to push you towards the edge of the road constantly.  No help whatsoever.  Most folks I run into are just rolling with the punches.  A couple of folks vent their frustrations.  When I asked one young guy how the riding was, he just lowered his head into his hands with resigned dejection.  I didn't press the issue.

Thoughts on Kansas vary wildly.  One Kansan, Chuck, who was talking to me about my ride and generously bought me breakfast in Chanute said something to the effect that "eastern Kansas is beautiful and there's plenty to look at but western Kansas is just flat and boring".  One rider told me that he felt that "Kansas is just a state that is in the way of where you want to go".  A man who had previously owned a bicycle shop said that "most cross country riders agree that the locals are the nicest but hate Kansas for the wind and lack of scenery".  Oh man, why does Kansas keep getting such a bad rap?  I guess since I have no itinerary or place to get to and my goal on this trip was to enjoy the areas that I ride through and meet people, I have gotten a different picture.

I think that eastern Kansas is absolutely beautiful with the rolling Flint Hills, the bluestem grasses, the herds of grazing cattle and the charming folks who populate it.  And I've driven across western Kansas a few times so I know what I am in for.  Last year when I was roadtripping, I purposefully spent two or three days in Kansas just to force myself to take in and appreciate the state.  There is plenty of natural beauty here.  And where traditional natural beauty doesn't exist, the starkness of the flat pastoral landscapes has a beauty of its own.  Don't laugh.  Plenty of people love the desert for the nothingness out there.  Either way, I still have about 400 miles or more of beautiful starkness to ride through so I can contemplate my theory further.

I think this was from Farmington, MO, but you get the idea.  I think it's been over 100 every day for the past week at least.
At some point in western Missouri, the shifting for my rear derailleur got really sloppy.  When I stopped in Pittsburgh, KS to have it checked out, the mechanic pulled broken pieces out of my shifter mechanism (the indexing ring and the dust cover).  He said that he had never seen a bar end shifter break like that before and this was later echoed by many other folks that I told.  Great.  He tightened it up and it's working fine in friction mode.  Hope it'll get me 400 miles to Pueblo, CO.  The mechanic was the crew chief for a two time Race Across America winner so I trust his judgement.
I have an odd fascination with older motels.  I don't know why.  Not crappy motels.  Old motels.  I've got a story about a crappy motel on this trip that maybe I'll tell sometime.
Yeah, so just head straight for like 40 miles.  Stop at the first town you see.
The owners of this restaurant in Eureka, KS made creative use of an old bowling alley.  Not only was it a diner, but they also had an American & Chinese buffet.  Another cyclist and I pondered why they kept the name "Cherokee Lanes" when upon investigation we found that there was no bowling any longer.  I dunno.  I like it though.  That also reminds me of the terrible soft drink "Cherokee Red".  I thought it had been outlawed years ago.  Somehow I found it down in a Seneca Rocks, WV convenience store.  I bought some to remind myself what sugar and red food dye taste like.  Youthful bliss.
This children's playground set reminded me of my old house.  For those of you that don't know what I am talking about, I painted the first floor of my house in an UNO color scheme: red, yellow, blue, green.  The front door was painted to look like a wild card.  People would scoff at the idea until they saw it whereupon they agreed it was awesome.
Hanging out with Jade, John and Tamar who used Meetup to put a group together to ride from Boston to San Francisco.  Eureka, KS
See?  Kansas isn't totally flat or devoid of scenery.  These are the Flint Hills of the eastern half of the state.
I did not know that.  Cassoday is a town that you need to stop in before riding a 40 miles stretch with nothing along it.  Tomorrow I'm going to ride a 60 miles stretch of limited civilization.  Just wait for Wyoming...
Breakfast in Newton, KS.  I ran into Steve on the left at the town park where we camped for the night.  He's goes on  a several week tour every year.  When he retires in a couple of years he's going to be a "vagabond on bike for 3 or 4 years".  Remember Flo?  I met him just outside of Washington DC and hadn't seen him again since then!  He shaved off all of his hair in Virginia because of the heat.
I'm fairly certain I would run into Dr. Evil or James Bond there.  Hutchinson, KS
The Zion Lutheran Church has been permitting cyclists to sleep in their basement since before I was born.  There are a couple of beds, a kitchen, a shower, an industrial coffee maker, digital TVs with DVDs and more.  Yeah, I took a couple of days off here to relax.  Hutchinson, KS
Very much alive and well and having the time of my life!
Got to see the fireworks in Hutchinson.  One important difference in Kansas than in Pennsylvania with respect to fireworks:  they are legal.  This means that each homeowner goes out and buys huge fireworks and puts on a show that rivals most small towns in PA.  Now multiply that by 100.  And add the town's fireworks.  360 degrees of pure mayhem.  It was actually pretty exciting (and disorienting) biking around at night.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I have been dreaming of insulated water bottles for the past 300 miles.  At long last, Harley's hooked me up.  This may further prolong my complete desiccation.


  1. Tom, you have a unique perspective from which to view life, and a great attitude for the journey you are on. I really enjoy the vignettes interspersed with scenes shot from the seat capturing images and stories the rest of the world races right on by.


    1. Thanks Mike! Another thing that is always in the back of my mind is that you rode much of the same miles in the past. It's fascinating that we have that mutual experience, but at the same time they are much different. I have a laptop, a cell phone, a highly detailed map, and most everyone is quite receptive to cyclists. I appreciate my conveniences, but it also makes me jealous/curious about how it was when you did the ride.

      You're travelling alongside me in my thoughts each day! Today when it was 102 and I was cycling into a headwind, I actually thought of you riding with me and cracking jokes with one another to take the edge off.


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