Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm in Colorado! - Sheridan Lake, CO

The last day of riding in Kansas was typical-pleasant. Hot, dry, blue skies, flat land. I rode alone all day, reflecting on my experiences in Kansas. The entire projection of my journey changed here - my first day in the state I met Ryan and Michelle by happy chance. We don't ride together, and we probably won't always end up in the same place every night, but we're a group none the less. Because of them I've connected moreso with others we've met along the way. Alex is still with us, with his quiet intensity, openness, and guitar music at night. His path diverges at Pueblo, but it looks like we're a party of four until then!

I reached the border itself right before sunset. The Colorado state sign is a landmark in and of itself. Michelle and Ryan caught up with me there, and took a bunch of goofy pictures of us climbing on it. We rode away from one last beautiful Kansas sunset into... a Colorado sunset! That night, we all eventually met up in Sheridan Lake, where a church allows cyclists to spend the night. We all pitched in for a spaghetti dinner, and slept on the carpet as it began to rain outside.

Moving at an average speed of 7mph, time zones seem a bit silly unless I'm a few days past the sign. There just isn't enough of a -difference- yet.

Thank you Kansas. Hello Colorado....

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kansas Thunderstorm - Scott City, KS

I found my first goathead(also known by such charming names as 'puncturevine" and 'devil's thorn') clinging to my sidewall this morning. It hadn't done any damage yet, but I'm sure plenty more will do the job. My trailer tires seem particularly well suited towards picking up road hazards. I'm looking forward to switching them out in Ordway. I've also started to spot prickly pear cactii along the road. These look pretty nasty, but they tend to keep to themselves. They have an edible fruit, but none looked ripe yet. Some varieties have tasty 'pads', but these particular specimens seemed a bit too snotty-textured to eat.

Everyone else passed me by early in the day, so there was a distinct lack of shennanigans on the ride. We camped in a little park with a remarkable playground in Scott City. I tried to cook a bit of prickly pear cactus, and verified its snottyness. The clouds had been gathering throughout the day, and it became clear that quite a storm was on the way. The air turned heavy. It smelled like wet soil and rain, with a different energy in the wind. Michelle and I cheered it on for a while once the lightening became visible in the distance. It came slowly, though, and we where all pretty tired. It blew and poured and thundered all night, but there was plenty of room for the two hammock and tent under the picnic shelter.

Cyclist's bane: the Goasthead.

I thought these guys just lived in city dumpsters!

Me llama Llama

Unripe cactus fruit.

Cats, accepting an offering of tuna.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ness City, KS

As though the taco feast last night wasn't enough, early this morning Alex, Ryan, Michelle and I where served a pancake and egg breakfast. Unknown to us, a boyscout troop had rented out one of the park shelters(It was a big park). Someone took note of the four cyclists(Jesse and Royal left super early again) down by the duck pond and they brougth us their breakfast leftovers. Apparently young boys don't have the appetites they used to, because the leftovers where more then enough to fill us calorie-intensive travelers up.

I was next to head out, still nice and early. Today presented a modest little bit of climbing, as the route traverses the Flint Hills region. This is the largest tract of bluegrass prairie on the continent, and it's still flat enough to see a car approaching five minutes before it passes you. I used to think getting out into the farmland of Minnesota was 'open country'. Here, the land is green and soft and the gentle rolling hills go on to the horizon. Within the massive, unobstructed dome of the sky, there is not a single cloud.

Ducks, preparing for a long day of eating and chattering.

Heading out of Larned; The Central States Boy Scout Museum. must have been why all those boyscouts where around...

Wide open Kansas

By midday, with the sun at full force, the heat started to near the point of intolerability. Ryan, Michelle, and then Alex and I all met up near a highway rest stop. Indoors, it was slightly cooler, and there was a bathroom to wash off in. Alex has broken a spoke, and we all gathered around to watch him fix it. His bike is having a hard time dealing with his speed and trailer-load. He just might be sticking with us until Pueblo, now. As the sun moved on and the heat let up just a little bit, I got back on the road. Michelle and Ryan left soon after, but Alex stayed longer for the acoustics. I try hard to get moving before everyone else to compensate for being the slowest rider of the bunch. With the long August days, I have no trouble keeping up with the daily milage, I'm just the last to arrive at the end of the day. Being crazy fast, Alex has a lot of flexibility and free time!

Not far down the road, Ryan and Michelle rocketed past. Just a bit further, I find them on the highway shoulder with two new cyclists. They always find the cool stuff first! These two didn't seem to happy with Kansas so far. They'd just come out of Colorado and where leery of the idea of having to actually pedal all the time. We tried to cheer the up with stories of the great hospitality up ahead. They told us things could get more expensive in Colorado and beyond. I think to myself that they're looking in the wrong places. I do hope Kansas showed 'em it's good face in the end.

We had some relief from the sun, today, as it was rather cloudy. Still plenty hot, though. I stopped often for moody Kansas prairie photos. In Ness City, another relative of Ryan's welcomed us. Rosalie, a well traveled, worldly woman of wide and varied interests, put us up in a well outfitted trailer on her property. Showers, good food, and comfy beds for all! There was even mention of bacon in the morning...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

And We Become Four(Plus Two) - Larned, KS

I threw together a quick breakfast and packed up bright and early. Not nearly early enough to say 'good morning' to Royal or Jessie, who had hauled out by 5am. My trailer is riding a little lighter now. I ordered some 16x1.35 slick tires for it, which should help a bit, too. I'll be picking them up in Ordway, Colorado.

Getting out of Hutchinson wasn't as ugly as getting in. Before long I was surrounded by field and pasture again, with a few longhorn cattle. I ran across a couple heading east, but we didn't stop and talk. I rode past my first sunflower fields today, but the flowers where past season with brown, drooping heads. I'll just have to imagine them in bloom. It would have been nice to see the wheat fields, too, but they're long since harvested.

I took a rest along a long, peaceful stretch of road. As I sat in the grass and had a snack, I watched a vaguely bike-shaped object approach from afar. Eventually it resolved into a guy on a road bike pulling a heavily loaded bob trailer topped by a full sized guitar. Thus I met Alex; an awesome vagabond-esque cyclist heading to San Francisco. He's in a hurry to get back to the real world, and though he's no neon spandex cat, this guy likes to go far and fast. Tonight, though, we have the same destination.

Michelle and Ryan came up behind us soon, and we all managed to approximate our speeds to ride together in more or less of a pack for the next handful of miles. A sudden rain storm passed by, so quickly that the air barely had a chance to cool. The raindrops where hard and icy cold, but it made the plains even more beautiful when the rain passed and the water turned to steam in the hot sun.

Another strange plant - leaves like a Erygium, flower like a poppy.

Muted Kansas landscape

Riding in the rain with Michelle, Alex, and Ryan.

Ryan grew up in Kansas City, and his family is scattered across Kansas. A relative of his, also named Ryan, offered to take the three(No wait, four... oh cool Jesse and Royal showed up! six!) of us in at Larned. We decided to go easy on the guy and ended up staying at the super nice town park, so he brought us dinner instead. Dinner was a delicious taco feast with copious fixings, rice, and plenty of snacks to take along with us.

Food sweet food!

Ryan, the bringer of food sweet food.

All of us cyclists, blurry and in poor lighting.

Once the food was eaten, Ryan had gone home, and all the kids having a pool party nearby quieted down, Ryan(our Ryan, not the food dude. Did I mention he carries a small backpacker guitar? Cool people always have guitars, yanno.) and Alex got out their instruments and played. I'm so glad I ran into these people - traveling alone was good for contemplation, meditation, and writing long journal entries, but tonight was incredible just for the experience of spending time in the company of the many personality types who may find themselves sleeping in a park on a warm Kansas night.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rest Days in Hutchison, KS

Six of us staying at the hostel tonight - makes up for my two nights alone here. Jesse and Royal and flying down the TransAm like a pair of racin' fools. Michelle cooked up awesome fajitas, beer was had, and a good time by all. Thank you, Hutchinson!

Hey, its that guy.

This is what six cyclist's gear in a basement looks like.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Culling the Gear - Hutchinson, KS


Triple digits again today. With the wind, it doesn't feel as downright hot as it did in Iowa, at least. The heat still catches up, though. to I felt sluggish and weighed down all day, sick and tired when I'd stop. The ride was short, at least - a shortcut off the TransAm, 33 miles along highway 50. It was characterless and dull, with none of the rolling green that I identify as 'typical Kansas', but I really just wanted to get to Hutchinson quickly.

Michelle and Ryan stayed back in Newton, today, visiting friends. I'm taking a rest day in Hutchinson, where we'll hopefully meet up. Cyclists get to stay in the Zion Lutheran Church, here, where a hostel has long been set up for them. A few mattresses in a curtained off area, showers, a kitchen, and notes left by decades of cyclists.

In the last few days, I've come upon an unexpected facet of traveling so heavily loaded. It's lonely. Everyone I've met has been faster than I. I'd still be nervous about riding with others, but I want to have that as an option. I want to be able to catch up with other touring cyclists. I know I can match the daily mileage of many other 'explorer' type cyclists, I've met and enjoyed that challenge on several occasions, but now I'd like to be able to stop along the way more, relax a bit, and get into town before dusk.

Having installed myself in the church hostel, I set about reducing my gear load. The three pounds of instant potato soup I've been carrying became one pound, in a baggy instead of canister. My powerade mix went into a baggy, the butter went into the trash(Most of the little packets where leaking anyway). With the reduced packaging, I could fit almost all my food into the bear barrel. I very briefly considered abandoning that.

After the food was culled down a bit, I turned to the trailer. Everything in it I felt I'd need, but maybe I could reorganize a bit to reduce bulk. Two clothing sacks instead of three would fit side-by-side, with no digging around to reach the buried third. The underwear bag was divided between the top and bottom bag. I almost left off there, with little accomplished.

Living with my parents in Plymouth, I had only a room to fill with junk, but fill it I did. Once every year or two, however, I'd get the impulse to go on a purge. Anything I did not foresee imminent use for, anything more sentimental than pertinent would be hauled out in a series of black trash bags. I'd feel guilty about trashing items that could have been sold or donated, but I also knew that if I waited to better dispose of them I'd lose my momentum and end up keeping most of it. It's funny how my expectations have shrunk to my current situation - nearly all I own of importance in the world fits on the back of a bike, but it's too much!

In the end I got rid of the extra food, a folding chair, a chafey chamois, an unflattering jersey, some really nice socks I never wear, a spare glove I found during Ragbrai, a bottle of dry lube, some tools I don't know how to use, the super-comfortable pants which I wore through the better part of last winter(Yes, Mom. Those pants), half a huge bottle of ibuprofen, one of two long-sleeved shirts, a few pairs of undies, a grease-stained bra, and a swimsuit bottom. This time there was no associated guilt, as I left the tools, gear, and non-underwear clothing in the hostel gear exchange for the use of other passing cyclists. For myself, I gained some tight, sleek biking shorts and new gloves. The extra space created in my trailer is astounding.

Newton Athletic Park in the morning.

Roadside find - a sealed package of cookies.

Downtown Hutchinson.

In the midst of a gear-culling.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Night Riding - Newton, KS


If this tour had a theme, it would have to-do with the heat. There have been maybe three days where it was actually comfortable to be outside in midday. Today, again, the heat index was well over 100 in the afternoon, and a 38 mile service gap at the end of todays route made for a long day.

In the end, it wasn't so bad. At 5pm, with 30-some miles covered, I left the Cassoday, the last town before the gap. The road was rough, then better, and the rolling hills where peaceful and meditative. I brought out my music player and speakers for the first time, since the radio would use up batteries I needed for my lights. I imagined storylines for songs. I cyclist-eyed potential stealth camping spots(Lots of them in highway-supply dumps). Riding at night in central Kansas is much nicer than Missouri or Iowa, where I emerged at camp covered in cobwebs, caterpillar silk, and bugs. Here it was hot, but dry and clear. No moths and gnats attacked my headlights.

Michelle and Ryan had waited out the heat and wind(Did I mention the wind? It was 20mph+ from the south west, and pretty awful, it was)in Cassoday, as well, but in the church where I never saw them. Nearing Newton, I could see their LED headlights steadily gaining on me. We met up right before the outer sprawl of Newton, piled into a dairy queen, ate, and complained about jellied legs and sore asses. Camping tonight was at the Newton Athletic Park, which one may be tempted to think has showers, on account of being an Athletic Park, but it does not. Oh well.

Kansas pastels.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eureka, KS


Riding through Kansas is wonderful. Every day, the heat becomes drier and less harsh. Oh, it's still crazy hot out, but it's not sweat dripping stinking disgusting heat like in Iowa and Missouri. I'm not burning anymore, either. The sun has darkened my skin enough so that I'm feeling being resilient to the sun.

Rarely are the roadsides here mowed. In Illinois and Missouri, I saw too many mowers uglifying the highways. Now I can ride with the grass brushing my north-facing leg. Sunflowers are everywhere, along with Chicory, Queen Anne's Lace, tiny white daisies, creeping yellow flowers, now and then an otherworldly metallic blue Erygium.

Midway through the day, after leaving the lakeside park in Chanute, I sidetracked into the tiny town of Benedict looking for a snack. I circles around the town twice looking for the elusive 'Benedict Community Store' before spotting it - a little white and green shop with signs out front welcoming cyclists. The owner sold me a white watermelon, gave me a big cakey brownie, and warned me that the local water is radioactive(!?). After this, he gave me some bottled water. He lets cyclists camp behind his store, and is planning on installing pay showers.

Reaching today's destination of Eureka, I found the park right as rainclouds closed in. A woman at the pool let me in to take a shower, after which I set up my hammock under a picnic shelter and cooked dinner. Just as I was wondering if I'd be seeing them, Ryan and Michelle showed up after dark, having eaten in town.

A Canada goose, a farm goose, and a rooster by the lake.

Where did that rooster come from, anyway?

Sunflowers. Much, much better than mowed highway margins.

Eryngium leavenworthii. Not a purple pineapple.

I'm not sure what these are, but they're nice and clingy so I stuck them all around my trunk bag to liven it up.

The community store in Benedict.

Tree on a hill.

Shelter from the rain in Eureka.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Which I Gain a Fellowship - Chanute, KS


It's been another nice, sunny Kansas day of riding. The roads are lined with flowers and the air smells like straw and soil. I spent a lot of time on the roadside with my camera out, making this a nice short day.

The outskirts of Chanute turned to sprawling retail stores and fast food, which jarred with my peaceful ride. I can't complain too much, though, considering I fooded up at Walmart and used MacDonalds wifi. While puttering around on my laptop I got in a conversation with a hispanic man about riding through Mexico and Central America - he sounded like people do everywhere(ie: Watch out for the neighbors). Thinking about the cyclists I met in Girard, I looked up some info on the Tour De Fat. I thought back to my meeting with Faith and Robert, riding with thousands of other in Ragbrai, and wondered why I shouldn't just go for it.

That evening, I was setting up camp in at the Chanute city park when Michelle and Ryan, the cyclists from Girard, rolled in. I pretty much greeted them with "Hey, I'm going to Denver!". Lets see what happens next...

This is lambs quarters, a weedy plant which grows all over and can be used somewhat like spinach. The easiest way to identify it is by the powdery coating, particularly on the undersides of the leaves. Older plants can be tough and the leaves are best boiled.

Giraffe in Chanute.

Michelle studies my Colorado bike map.

Guarding the gear pile while my new friends go to Walmart. If anyone comes by and asks, I'll say it's all mine, and yes it's very heavy thank-you-very-much.