Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
As opposed to every other day on the plains thus far, there was headwind on the way out of Great Bend. A lot of it.
A few hours later, not having moved much after listening to a thundering in my ears all morning, I looked around and noticed something. The sky had gotten dark. In basically every direction. This didn't bode well. Before it became a more dire issue, I moved my phone and wallet from my handlebar bag to my waterproof panniers.
Not much later, it started to rain, hard. Well, it felt hard. In reality, there wasn't an enormous amount of rain falling from the sky, but it hit everything with a high velocity due to the wind; the kind of rain that stings. I thought back on the previous few days. I'll gladly take heat and tailwind over rain and headwind.
After 24 sunny days in a row, I shouldn't complain. By comparison, it took 61 days of hiking on the Appalachian Trail before I saw my 24th day without rain.
Shortly before making it to a town that was roughly the halfway point on the day, the rain stopped. I might've started drying out before getting there, but every time a truck passed, the misty spray from their tires got me wet again. But I guess it was lifting water off the road, so at least those would get dry faster.
I spied a Dollar General, went inside, and spent $1 on a pack of cookies. More accurately, I went inside and walked around aimlessly for 10 minutes because I wanted to warm up and dry out, and after that much time, I felt like I should buy something. It was worth the dollar.
For the rest of the day, less wind, though it was still there. The rain cleared up and it became a pleasant, though cloudy day. Hills appeared for the first time in Kansas. Not mountains, but rolling hills, and the roads make no effort to go around. Regardless of any hills in the way, roads go in straight lines, straight up and down the hills if necessary.
In mid-afternoon, I arrived in town and hung out in a large city park until my host got off work. Finally got a chance to catch up in journals, which it seems I never do. Headed over to his place after 5:00, well outside of town.
Dale is a widower, and his son and daughter-in-law, Marcus and Rachel, live with him, along with a hyperactive but well-behaved 95-pound golden retriever. After showering, they took me out to a Chinese buffet. Food I don't get to eat often, neither on tour nor at home, because my town doesn't have any Asian restaurants.
Dale took me on a full tour of Salida on the way home, including his work, his church, his college alma mater, and the high school Rachel went to. We also stopped by Marcus and Rachel's new house, under remodeling. They were finishing up some painting. With luck, they'd be able to move in a month or two.
After getting home, Dale and I showed each other a couple cool bike touring videos. We'd both had dessert at the Chinese buffet, but he still offered a dessert of oatmeal raisin cookies and chocolate milk. Couldn't say no. I still wonder though, why aren't oatmeal chocolate chip cookies a thing?
In the morning, eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits. LOTS of biscuits. I "only" had two, was tempted to have more just to try more of the jams available, but was still a little full from the night before. On top of that, Dale sent me off with a banana and an orange. The day's ride began on a stomach thoroughly satisfied.
It was clear out again. The weather report had predicted no wind whatsoever, but there it was again. More of a crosswind than anything, but slightly in front, mostly from the left.
An hour into the day, in a small town, I found a bench to sit on while I put on sunscreen. A truck pulled up.
"Where ya comin' from?"
I explained the ride to him, and when he asked if I was doing it for charity, I explained that part too. He promptly pulled out $40 and handed it to me.
"That's good, what you're doin'. You ever seen that movie, 'Stand and Deliver'? Those kids had nothin', but you give 'em somethin' to do and they'll surprise you."
I thanked him and gave him a wristband. Fundraising hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped. I was never particularly good at it, and I'm probably getting worse.
Like yesterday, an unexpected amount of hills, especially closer to Manhattan. Again, the main reason being the road continues in a straight line regardless of what's in the way. At the end of the day, GPS data confirmed that today, in Kansas, had about as much climbing as an average day in Colorado. Probably more, in fact, because GPS units are notoriously ineffective at picking up on small variations in altitude. A big climb it'll notice, but several small climbs, less so. Either way, it was all either climbing or descending; no flat spots to be found.
Upon arrival in Manhattan, I went up and around the town, simply so I'd have to ride through the Kansas State University campus to get to my host. Limestone dominates this campus.
The football stadium looks something like a cross between a castle and a dentist's office. They almost pulled off a cool, unique look, but didn't quite make it look right.
Aside from that, the university gardens and the main quad, particularly the library, were the highlights of the campus. I didn't think to go into the library, but after my host showed a picture, I wish I had. It looks like a scene from Harry Potter.
And the KSU drumline was rehearsing! Only doing some percussion drills, not any kind of performance material, but still cool to watch.
Carol is probably around my age, had previously been in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, and works as a librarian at Kansas State, a job I'd probably enjoy. At the very least, I like libraries and I like keeping things in an ordered system. I understand librarian is becoming more and more of an information technology job, but considering my experience building websites and screwing with databases, even better.
Not long after I'd showered, another cyclist arrived, Ian, from Ireland. I couldn't pick out his accent for a while; it almost sounded more Scottish to me, but I'm bad with accents. Ian was a vegan and Carol, though not a vegan, seemed to be right on his wavelength. They left for a co-op grocery store, where they bought a bunch of ingredients I didn't recognize, nor had even heard of. I stayed behind, did laundry, and tried to catch up in my journal.
When they returned, what a feast! Millet, beans, squash, about a dozen spring rolls, and I whipped up some eggs with peppers and onions. Carol supplied the eggs, given to her by friends that keep chickens. Good to have a dinner of nothing but fresh food, heavy on the veggies. On tour, that's hard to get.
After a nearly-as-big and just-as-healthy breakfast, I set off ahead of Ian. We were both going to Lawrence, but since I was leaving first and his bike was more loaded down (in fact, it looked like a hot mess), there was a good chance we wouldn't see each other today.
An hour into the day, I found myself in a small town with a large, nice city park and took the opportunity to take a break and put on sunscreen. Predictably, its name was Veterans Memorial Park.
Nearly every small town out here has a veterans memorial, if not an entire city park dedicated to them. I'm curious why there's never a monument to the founders of the city, or the firefighters that saved it from that obe devastating fire, or the railroad workers that brought in new business, or the farmers, or the natives without whose aid the first European settlers would've died in their first winter. Nope, veterans. They're the only people worth remembering. Combine that with how we Revere athletes and entertainers and it's clear that ours is a culture of hero worship. They could just as easily name it "Blood Donors Park"; they save at least as many lives.
In the western half of the state, wheat was everywhere, and it was about harvest time, explaining the plethora of trucks rumbling up and down every road. Kansas, I've been informed, is the nation's largest producer of wheat nearly every year, unless there's some kind of disaster, like a drought or a disease that wipes out the crops. The wheat has since given way to corn. It's not harvest time yet, so the roads have gotten quieter.
On the Appalachian Trail, you could tell what state you were in by looking at how cars were decorated. After three of them, you'd see at least one bumper sticker, flag, or silimar swag proudly displaying the home state university. First the Bulldogs, then the Tar Heels, Volunteers, Hokies, Nittany Lions, and it kinda stopped there. A little bit of Yankees and Red Sox after that, but not nearly as widespread.
After seeing none of that for half the country, Kansas State flags and banners appeared, then KU, Chiefs, and Royals. Beginning at about the same time, half the small towns are now decorated in the high school's colors, with the mascot on the water tower and sometimes the "welcome to" sign. We're in that part of the country again.
I could've bypassed Topeka, and since riding in towns is always a drag, I would've if it wasn't the state capital. Capitol buildings are too cool to pass up, and Kansas has a good one. Unfortunately, just like in Carson City, it was closed on Sundays. I don't see the harm in letting the public walk around in the main foyer and the rotunda, but I guess someone does.
Unexpectedly, I stumbled across the location of the Brown vs. Board of Education court decision. I'd forgotten that happened in Kansas, much less Topeka. Outside was a group of cyclists going for a Sunday ride. They gave me some tips for getting out of Topeka on a bike path, eventually intended to reach all the way from Topeka to Lawrence. They also offered to buy lunch. After that breakfast, I still wasn't even hungry. I declined. Nice folks.
The bike path was a good one, mostly straight, all by itself in the woods. Starting from downtown, you immediately couldn't tell you were in a town anymore. Anything that makes you feel less like you're riding through a city is a big improvement. Kudos, Topeka.
Once out of town, a straight shot to Lawrence that included rain, hills, and a random 2 km of no pavement. Like the day before, the GPS data showed about as much climbing as an average day in Colorado. On one hill, for the first time since California, I used Valeria's lowest gear. The only two states with a hill that steep have been California and Kansas.
I frequently stress that Texas Hill Country gas tough hills and is one of the hardest places to train. Next time you hear me say that, don't laugh. No, Kansas doesn't have mountains like Colorado, but when your hills are smaller, the roads don't avoid them. Subtler hills, like the ones in Eastern Kansas and Texas Hill Country, are often the hardest to ride.
Once in Lawrence, a town even Hillier than it's surroundings, I bypassed my hosts and made my way to the Kansas University campus. It was still a dreary day, so regardless of the buildings, it was hard to find it pretty (better pictures would come later). I definitely liked how most of the main buildings are on either side of a main strip. Walking class-to-class, or to the library, must be a snap. A very student-friendly campus layout.
Made my way back to my hosts, Matt and Katie, who remarked on my uncanny ability to predict when I'd arrive. Seems like you should get good at that after a while; there's not a lot else to pay attention to outside of how far you've gone and how long it's taken. They let me in, I had a shower, and just like that, dinner was about ready, even at an early hour. Salad and BLATs (BLTs with avocado). Again, nice to have fresh ingredients and lots of veggies.
And beer, too! Free State Brewery is evidently Kansas's first legal brewery since prohibition, opened in 1987. Yes, it took over 50 years. This led to a long discussion about liquor laws, especially local ones, typically the most ridiculous. Strange how we go to these lengths to regulate a product 70% of adults regularly use.
Matt got up early with me and whipped up a breakfast of oatmeal with berries and pecans, a bacon omelette, and made sure I got some fruit and lemonade before leaving. My lightweight touring setup isn't gonna matter if I keep staying with hosts like this.
Matt then escorted me on a better route out of his neighborhood than I ever would've found. I rode through the KU campus a second time, and since the sun was out, it was a lot prettier.
Kansas City was the shortest day thus far, to the point that it looked like a noon arrival was possible. Halfway there, it suddenly started raining, hard. I donned my jacket, and 10 minutes later, it had stopped. Jacket back off. The roads were still wet, causing my lower legs to get a lot of spray and stay cold. An annoyance I could deal with. Miraculously, my socks never soaked all the way through.
The clouds ahead were ominously dark, but the clouds behind were white. I held still for a moment and stared at the sky. They were moving the same direction I was. So I'd already gotten the storm, which was now in front of me and still moving away. Sure, I was headed that direction, but you can't outrun a storm on a bike. The sun eventually came out, and it started turning into a nice day.
For a while. The clouds reappeared, it rained two more times, and the temperature got downright chilly! At the four week mark, there have still been only three hot days. Incredible.
I managed to find a surprisingly bike-friendly route basically all the way to the center of the city, nearly all of it either in a bike lane or on a separate bike path. Wow, a bike route that's continuous, holds a straight line, and takes you where you want to go! Crazy idea. Normally, only roads do that.
At almost exactly noon, I arrived at the house of Matt and Kim, the couple I'd meet outside of Escalante, UT. It was now two weeks later. My beard has gotten thicker since then. I wonder if that threw them off at all.
Kim was looking after seven young children all afternoon, so Matt had the idea to take me out for some barbecue, then drop me off somewhere quiet while he went back to work. Good call. Kansas City barbecue ranks among the best. Missed out on having burnt ends, but some pulled pork, spare ribs, and brisket hit the spot. And man, oh man, the sauce! That's what Kansas City barbecue is all about, and even by that standard this was the good stuff. Thick, smoky, a tiny bit sweet, and with a kick to it. Texas barbecue almost never uses sauce, but if we could make some as good as this, it might change a few people's habit.
Later, I got to meet Matt and Kim's kids, Logan and Josie, both preschool aged and relatively quiet. Impressively, Matt and Kim were able to get the kids to entertain themselves, and we were able to have adult conversation without the evening revolving around the kids for over an hour at a time. A lot of parents can't pull that off. Had some Thai food for dinner, a nice step out of the ordinary, and had a good night's sleep on one of the comfier couches in memory.
Say what you want about the "flyover states". They have the best people.
from Western States