Why do people ride cross-country on a bike?
It is not easy! It takes physical and mental preparation. My butt hurts. Some roads are steep. You may get lost, even with all the electronic devices we have today, and you're not guaranteed a single in remote America. It's hot. It's humid in the east. There are head winds...only sometimes does it swing around to be a tail wind, and then riding is sweet. It's really, really hot above heat-reflecting asphalt. Those starting in the West in April or May suffered rain, sleet, ice, and snow conditions at the higher altitudes. Starting this year in the East, riders found themselves in a prolonged heat wave of temperatures consistently in the high 90s and reaching into the 100s. Kentucky is known for bike-rattlin' dogs. Kansas anticipates strong winds and lots of trucks serving the agriculture and small oil industries.
It's the best way to experience the country, to meet its people, most riders responded when asked why they are out here.
- Smell fresh cut hay...or the waste lagoon while passing much too slowly by the cattle feed lots (enough to make one a vegan),
- Hear morning bird's call, kids playing at the nearby ball park...or the rumble of the eighteen wheeler coming up from behind,
|Blackie watching the mid summer sunrise|
- See things we just don't take off to do in a car (i.e. visiting the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in LaCross, KS where thousands of different patented designs of barbed wire are on display that vied for market. Mostly one succeeded, the one you all recognize, patented by Joseph F. Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois in 1874. It changed the west, altering the open-range ranchers initially thought were their right. But it didn't take long for ranchers to recognize that barbed wire containment also allowed them to selectively control breeding of their herds improving their stock.)...or the hundreds of dead birds along the road,
- Feel the fresh, cool morning breeze...or the six hour later blast from hell,
- Taste good cooking like at Cookies in Golden City, MO, where the meats are roasting at the grille as you enter and if you order ham, he cuts it off the bone. Food is prepared from scratch and there are a dozen in-house made pies. "Would you loke ice cream with that?" "Good idea."
There are not many things I can say that would bring me back to Kansas. It has been harvest season for wheat and haying operations. When one area is harvested the big equipment moves farther down the road to the next farm. This means that on moving day there are many trucks on the road. This may be unpleasant, but by and large the truckers give way to bicyclists and pull over into the opposite lane. When wind conditions are right, meaning the oncoming trucks ride with a strong wind pushing an even stronger wall of air before them, I must use a large rubber band to hold my map in place so the trucks don't blow it off. I am grateful for the consideration these drivers give the cyclists. Today at a road stop, the farm implement driver was waiting for me with a cold bottle of water. My trail angel.
The four U of Pennsylvania riders I encountered on my first day back on route in Illinois are still together with me and others at the city parks we have been camping in. I may leap frog them at convenience stops or restaurants along the way, and sometimes have lunch or dinner with them. I also meet with other riders at camps along the way.
There is a bike race of the 4,200 mile long TransAm route that started on June 4 from Astoria, OR. There is no reward or prize. There is no media on hand at the finish in Yorktown, VA; just family and friends. The race this year had a dramatic finish on June 23, when after being pressured from behind the ride leader continued riding for 50 hours without a break. Finally around Charlottesville, VA, he had to take a short nap. When waking, still a bit groggy, the lead rider Steffan Streich of Lesbis, Greece, without the support of his out-of-service-area GIS and the confused directions from a local, headed off in the wrong direction where after riding ten miles he ran into his strongest competitor, Lael Wilcox from Ankorage, AK. Steffan turned around and for a while they rode together. Steffan asked, "So, do you want to finish together?" Lael said, "No..." She rode ahead and became the first female to win this race. She rode 4,200 miles coast to coast in eighteen days, ten minutes. I'm impressed.
I have seen and talked with a few of the racers while crossing Kansas. They have very little gear. Gear and bike will weigh about 30-35 pounds. My setup for touring weighs in at 90 pounds. Otherwise, I'd be done by now.
This year for the first time, eight riders started from Yorktown heading west. I don't know where the leaders crossed, but today (near Pueblo, CO on 6-24-16,) I met a couple, mid 60s in age, from New Zealand on the west bound portion. They were the last of the WB riders, the caboose. They were riding twice as far as I intended to do today.
What do riders do to pass the time while on a bike for 6-10 hours every day? When the miles feel extra long, and the sun fieriously hot, and the scenery a little redundant.
Some have music to listen to.
Some ride together to better talk.
Some find a meditative state of thought and contemplate the deeper things of life.
Some estimate the distance to the next farming community they see in the distance, marked by the grain silos. (They can be visible over eight miles away.) I usually under estimate, hoping it really won't take an hour to arrive at something I can already see.
Keenan says he just "Cries".
It won't be the first time I have stated this, but one big reason to ride cross country is to meet people throughout the country. Almost anytime I am off the bicycle, I or a local can easily start a conversation. It's very pleasant. The number of instances that people give of themselves for the benefit of the bicyclists touring through their community is heartwarming. Kansas has been no different. To list a few...
Pastor Joe. Concluding my first day in Kansas, in the blip of a village Benedict, I roll into town slowly cruising about what is hard to call a town. A car a distance behind me begins to toot its horn to get my attention. Turning around, I see the driver motion me to follow him. Joe welcomes bicyclists to stay in his humble home or camp in the small, broken grass and dirt yard between his home and adjacent church. I am the only bicyclist this afternoon, so I get the extra bedroom for the night.
Joe immediately shows me where to store my bike and says "Come on, I'll take you to the store," where he gives me a Bai natural restoring drink and an ice cream treat, as he does for every bicyclist that stops at this small, rural, country store set up in an old house stocked with natural and healthful goods.
Joe lives on a very limited income, perhaps about $900 per month, yet, while I bath in his over-sized tub, he prepares a dinner of grilled chicken, garden green beans, garden lamb's quarters greens, warms up a very dense his-own-personal-recipe bread, and strawberries.
Joe follows what is known as Messianic Judiasm. He has renovated his church for this cause and in this very small community, he is attempting to gain converts. It doesn't seem surprising that initially he received opposition to this, but over the years he has gained respect in the community with his store and the odd jobs he does. We were up well past 11:00 pm talking during dinner on these things.
In the morning, Eli who had rolled in after dark and set her tent up between the house and church joined us for breakfast. Afterwards, as she and I packed up, Joe had us follow him to the store so Eli could receive her biker portion of Bai and ice cream.
I had intended to write about others that give of themselves and offer such kindness to these riders of the road, but time runs short and I am already in Colorado with new experiences. The kindness of strangers truly is an amazing aspect of humanity.
Below are general photos of Kansas.
|Arkansas River...it is a much larger River up stream in CO|
|Moon setting after mid summer eve|
|Moon setting after mid summer eve|
|Kansas flat fields of wheat|
|Colorado within a few miles of the Kansas border|
|Colorado fields of mountains|
...and a sense of things to come!
|Pikes Peak back lite by setting sun|
STATS @ KANSAS
543.3 miles @ 7 days
77.6 miles per day average and 42.34 ride hours
9,084' accumulative climbing
STATS TOTAL (including Virginia)
1219.5 miles @ 17 days
71.7 miles per day average and 97.84 ride hours
38,968' accumulative climbing