Well over halfway done!
Here we are in Pittsburg (no ‘h’), Kansas, just a stone’s throw from the Missouri border. They say that our minds trick us into remembering our most recent experiences as being representative of the entire experience — good or bad. Based on that assumption, I might have fond memories of Kansas as green, hilly and just nicely warm and breezy. But as I recall my week in Kansas, the facts must show that it is almost completely flat; almost always windy; and most certainly blazing hot!
“What do you like about living in Kansas?” I’d ask people who make this place their home. “Well, it’s cheap,” said one man from Hutchinson. It’s true. The gas here, at just over $2 a litre is the cheapest I’ve seen. And for the most part, camping is free — more about that in a bit.
“Well,” thought a couple of gals at the checkout in Tribune, “it’s flat. You can see storms coming from a long ways away.”
“So you can take cover?” I asked. “No! So we can get out and shoot video!”
The last tornado of this year touched down in Kansas on May 24th, and with the hot weather, I suspected we might see another one. I tried to anticipate what we might do should a twister hit.
In one campsite, the instructions were clearly posted. “Take shelter in the vault toilets. They are not tornado-proof, but they are able to withstand winds of 120 mph. Hmmmm. What a way to go — blown over in an outhouse!
My first introduction to Kansas could have been a disaster (I know, this is what you’ve all been waiting for). A guy in a pickup truck coming towards me flashes his lights and waves me over. “See that big bull snake in the road just ahead?” he asked. I did. “Will he bite?” I asked. “Hell, yeah!” says the driver, his passenger nodding in vigorous agreement. “If I were you, I’d ride on this side of the road to get by him.”
So I did . . . very slowly. As it happened, a car passed me and ran right over the snake. SQUIRRKK. Dead. Another potential disaster averted. I’ll spare you the photo I took of the fatality on the road. And, it turns out, the guys were wrong. Bull snakes are constrictors, not biters. This guy might have tried to wrap himself around my leg (which would have been scary, but not fatal).
Unfortunately, cyclists see a lot of road-killed animals — deer, birds, raccoons and turtles. One morning, riding Highway 96, I saw no fewer than three ornamental box turtles trying to cross the highway.It was early enough that there wasn’t much traffic, so I picked them up and put them back into the grass. I believe they are a protected species in Kansas, but many people would take them home as pets.I hope these three grow to live lo-o-o-ng lives, as intended.
Other creatures were not nearly so endearing. There are millions of mosquitoes, flies, midges and ticks in Kansas, the worst of which for me was a “bomber” biting fly. These guys would follow me while I’m riding and bite me on the backs of my legs. I could see their shadows, flying in formation behind me as I rode, and would vigorously swing my arm back and forth behind me and pedal as fast as I could to avoid getting bitten.
Near-Mutiny of the Support Crew!
I was making good progress through the state. I had logged four 100+ mile days. Because of the aforementioned bugs — and the oppressive heat , my support crew had been staying in the van, doing whatever they could to keep cool and bite-free. When the air-conditioning overheated (if that is possible), and Myrna’s stomach started acting up, she pulled over and told me to “get my *#*!ing bike in the van,” my emotional intelligence sensed a meltdown. (Duh!) “But there’s just five miles to go to our next stop!” She had already been there and found it severely wanting, in terms of shade and amenities. “Fine,” she said, and peeled off down the road.
As I mentioned, camping in Kansas is almost always free. There are so many tiny towns that are happy to have you stay in their “city” parks or at their travellers’ rest stops. For those who enjoy even a modicum of privacy or amenities, heck, even cleanliness, these places would not be for you! But I think they’re a great part of the adventure. In Eads, the Travellers Rest Stop was full of interesting historical information. In Leoti, we became part of a birthday party for one-year-old Jose. In Nickerson, we parked in the shade by the ball diamond. Very soon, we had front-row seats to a girls’ softball game, and I took advantage of the kids’ splash park to have an outdoor shower! In Cassoday, the “prairie chicken capital of the world,” we had the whole park to ourselves, complete with gazebo and swings.
What I wouldn’t give for a lake to swim in!
It seems that all the streams and lakes through this part of Kansas are dried up or well on their way to that place. Therefore, I looked forward to a night camping in the Cross Winds State Park near Toronto Lake! (That’s right, Toronto, Kansas!) On the map the lake looked to b e a good size, and I figured if there was a state park there, there would surely be swimming. Well, the water was the about color of mushroom soup, and it was tepid, but I was determined to go in. I kept my eyes and my mouth closed and my sandals on, and swam to the boat dock, then quickly showered to wash off whatever I may have picked up in there. All part of the adventure!
People I met in Kansas
It’s a long, lonely road through Kansas and as Willy would say, a real mental test rather than physical. Everyone I have met on my journey through this state, though, has been friendly, helpful and optimistic. Here is a collection of the cyclists I met: Don the fire fighter from Santa Rosa, California, starting retirement with a ‘new job;’ Ken and Terry, the business partners from Idaho Falls, riding the TransAmerica race, but not really racing –more like bonding; Charlie from Washington, DC, riding solo on his recumbent to escape the craziness that is DC in an election year; and Carl, the medical student from Arizona who is doing the TransAm in his “last free summer.”
Headed to Missouri!
Last night we stayed in the city RV Park in Pittsburg. The phone kept putting out a siren warning of a “severe flood alert” for the area. It was quite a storm, but no tornado. I will be happy to have a rest day here — maybe even visit a Starbucks! Then I will be happy to leave Kansas and cross the border to Missouri. I’m looking forward to the hills of the Ozarks and the crystal clear waters that await us there.
Til next week. Keep well. I love you all!