Off the Grid Riding Magic Trails
So many miles. Kansas is over now–not for the people who live there–no worries, they are all fine. But for me, it is now a memory. Kansas was the place I knew least about when I planned this adventure, and so it was the place I was most curious about. It has not disappointed. The landscape was so much more varied than I might have imagined. The people too have been wonderful–with of course one notable exception in a white minivan. But now that that I am a border ruffian and have fled the state, it seems a good moment to reflect. First some background though.
I had said that I did not need to have a real plan until I got to eastern Kansas. Until then I was free to imagine continuing on the ACA Trans Am to Yorktown, or turn right and head down to Florida on some mix of roads. There also was the possibility of heading north to ride the Katy Trail across Missouri and then cobble something together to get to Pittsburgh and then sleepwalk down the GAP and C&O to DC–old home week. Well, as it happens the Dago gang ran into some trouble, and I arranged to meet up with Xander in Newton and then head up to Chicago with him. That is the plan, and we met at Newton where he cooled his heels waiting for Captian Slow. Xander took up a berth with a wonderful Warm Showers family in the most amazing Victorian mansion-ette! I wish Rami had seen it–it would now be his most favorite home on earth. My slow progress afforded Xander time to learn the town, settle in, find a job, marry a nice local girl, run for office–the lot. I am not sure he really pursued all those possibilities. At any rate, we set off a few days back to finish off Kansas and hit the Katy Trail–the 260 mile rail trail that cuts across Missouri avoiding both cars and Ozark hills. The Katy is not on the ACA route, but many many people do the detour north to make use of the land’s longest bike path. We worked out a route to the trail head in Clinton that took us along a small rail trail called the Prairie Spirit Trail on our way–a sort of narrower practice run for the Katy. We only needed it for about 30 miles, but it made a great break from road shoulders.
So, here I am in Missouri, on my way to Chicago and ready to write things about Kanasas. First off, the land was very diverse. The western end was part of that vast plain that stretches out to the Rockies. But east and more east and it gradually became a more familiar farmscape. At one point there suddenly were lots of German names and we entered a Mennonite hot spot. It has been my experience that Mennonite-rooted communities are very friendly places, and indeed that was true in Kansas as well. The odd thing was that 70 miles farther east it was suddenly cowboys again–and not just cowboys, but cowboys in leather chaps and big spurs. In my order of the world, Cowboys were west of Mennonites–not EAST of them! The rules matter! Kansas was flat, but there always were rises and drops. As we got farther and farther east, the rises became more pronounced. Right at the border is became downright hilly. In fact, we rode through some very long climbs and crossed a ridge that would have been at home in Nevada. The reward was riding through the spine of the last surviving bit of tall grass prarie. We had one very hot afternoon in that prarie when we needed water. The town had no stores and we saw no pumps. There was a high school though, and someone had obliegingly blocked a door open with a bit of two-by-four. That was essentially an invitation, and in we went to fill bottles. That led to sitting down and that in turn led to nap time. At some point one of the two-by-four-dependent workers needed water, and he came down our nap hall and more or less stepped right over us. If our presence was a problem that was the chance to call attention to it. They did not, thus it was not. In the town of Buhler a nice fellow paid for my orange juice and blueberries and a local woman informed me that the recreation center let cyclists take showers for free. I was over there quickly and washed almost as quickly. That little break made what ended up being a 114 mile day a much happier affair. On our last night in Kansas we stayed with a wonderfully sweet family and had a lovely time chatting, joking, and cleaning bike chains. Kansas was a great.
The Warm Showers network has been amazingly helpful. We met such wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people in Eureka, Parker, and in Eads, Co. It takes a special person to want to be a Warm Showers host. Some are cycling enthusiasts themselves and welcoming others is a good way to payback for revived kindnesses. I know that I stop for every hiker I see trudging along Rt 7 on their way to get groceries in Great Barrington–it just feels wrong to not stop. Janet and Orvin in Newton certainly have done time on their bikes, but they also have a wonderful capacity for caring for others. Robyn in Eurka is one of these as well–a sweet and caring person with a strong care-taker edge. The Campbells in Parker were both cyclists and care givers–but in their case, the whole family was in on the game. They were a great source of information about the upcoming Katy Trail which they rode and knew well. All in all, travel like this is made managable by these sorts of trail angels. It is remarkable that so many people are willing to reach out and open their doors to sweaty road-dirty strangers. But then again, most of the people riding out here are, if not cut from exactly the same cloth, are at least trimmed and edged in similar fashion. Gillian in Eads said that when she opened her ranch to cyclists (in exchange for farm chores), her neighbors said she was crazy and that people would steal from her. She was suitably dismissive saying it was hard to imagine a cyclist trying to rides off with a television, or perhaps a goat. In fact, the only thing most cyclists are liable to steal is storage space for all the things they want to leave behind to lessen the load. On that score, I think I am finally done mailing back all the things I regret carting along–like my sleeping bag!
Trail angels like these generous people are part of what makes this so great. We live with this constant lie that we are somehow autonomous entities–that we rise and fall on our own merit alone. The truth is that we all are part of some vast hive and our successes are usually a mix of divine favor, luck, timing, and the kindness and labor of others. People who think otherwise are just a bit blind. They need to get out on the roads on a bike more often.