Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Category Archives: Kansas

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Clinton, Missouri

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.

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Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Larned, Kansas

Riding the ACA TransAmerica Bicycle Route

I got hit today. It was not severe and I was not hurt–I was just clipped by a white minivan’s rear review mirror. But I was very shaken up and really really angry. I was just a few miles outside of Larned at the start of what was going to be a long day. Instead, I had a very short and scary day that ended in Larned right where it began.

I had not planned on staying in Larned at all. This stretch of Kansas has long patches of nothing. Towns that are really just crossroads and miles and miles without any kind of service. It is nothing as bad as the desert–there is water–but it is pretty solitary. I had a great time riding up and over the Pawnee Watershed hills and later made a stop of at the NPS Fort Larned park, because, history. Storms the night before had disrupted my sleep, but even so it seemed warmed out. At 1:30 it turned out it was 104, so that explains the warm feeling. When I rode into Fort Larned I was pretty glad of the shade and cold water. When I rode into Larned proper about 7 miles later the allure of a town was too much to resist. Not that I have been really roughing it all that much. Kansas is dotted with good facilities every 60 miles or so. Over the past few night I stayed in the great gym in Scott City and camped out next to the old High School in Bazine thanks to the nice family that now own it, live in it, and welcome cyclists. But between these wonderful watering holes there is not much. It seems that most riders follow the same path and land on the same lily pads. 

When I got to Larned I learned of the afforbale motel right close by and I succumbed. Soon, I had grocery shopped, cooked, eaten, bathed, and was falling asleep by 9pm. Up by 5 or so today, granolaed, and back on the road soon thereafter. I went a few miles south of town stopped only by a small traffic jam caused by a loading grain train blocking the Main Street. South of town the route runs along Rt 19–a fairly narrow road graced, as it happens, with no shoulder. The white line more or less marks the edge of paving. The next thing I noticed was that the speed limits was 65–and that struck me as a bit  fast even though the road is arrow straight. Right away a roadrunner ran across my path. I think I saw one once before in Arizona but not as close as this. Yesterday I saw a dead coyote by the side of the road, but I have little evidence to implicate this particular bird. The charm of RT 19 I think is that it is lightly trafficked, and indeed, I think only one or two cars passed me before the white minivan. His mirror hit me mid-arm and did not even knock me down. I saw the van speeding off hugging the white line. He made no effort to stop–even though the impact had slammed the mirror back on the door. The road was empty so the minivan had all the room in the world to avoid me. I sceamed and fumed to no avail. I tried to flag down the next car, although I am not sure just why–I think I was just panicked a bit. At any rate, the car just pulled into the oncoming lane and ignored me. Some people are awful. I collected my wits for a bit and made sure I was not actually hurt. I was facing  about 50 miles of nothing eastward, and so I thought it best to head back to Larned in case there was a real problem. Only on my way back did it dawn on me to call the police–hit and run is still a crime. Of course I was probably too late for the sheriffs to have found the van. Nevertheless, once the cars had made it past the train, the sheriffs past me rushing down Rt 19. One doubled back and check in. Deputy Perez suggested I see the EMS team. At first I did not think it was called for, but as we talked I decided to let him call them. Sometimes adreneline can cover pain and I did not want to trust my judgement. The EMS guys did not see anything worrying, and soon Deputy Perez gave me a lift back to the motel–Room three left just as I left it. I filled out some report forms and went back to sleep to silence the anxiety. 

Larned was not in my plans, but I was clearly parts of it’s. I found the local coffeeshop/scrapbook suppply store/tuxedo rental and here I sit watching the cattle trucks and the grain trucks pass by. Burgers and buns, burgers and buns–albeit in their most unprocesed state.  Things here are oddly expensive–and 16 dollars seemed a lot to pay for head shearing–maybe for a full shave–but not just the machine. A store here advertises used c-pap “so clean machines” but most of the store fronts are empty. The streets are largely paved in brick, which is charming, but a bit rattley. I will leave tomorrow at dawn though–“so clean” after a bath tonight. 

In 1700 through, this place was a paradise. The land sits between the Pawnee and the Arkansas Rivers meaning endless water. The soil is fertile–hence all the trucks carting proto-burger buns, and in the old days, the burgers themselves roved in large herds on the plains beyond the rivers. It was easy to get your meat and three veg, and quaff a stiff drink of Colorado snow melt. They tell me that a few miles from here there are surviving ruts from the Santa Fe Trail which ran right through here. But for the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, each wagon on the trail was a speeding white minivan, swatting everything it could with its massive rearview mirrors. I got off easy. 

Man Plans, God Laughs Tour, 2017. Ordway Co. to Tribune Ks.  

Riding the ACA Trans America Bicycle Route.

Wind. That is the defining thing out here. It colors every action and defines every moment. There are short gusts, sudden blasts, curling sweeps, hot waves, and cooling zephyrs. Most of all though, there is a constant barrage of headwind pressing against a rider’s desire to go forward. This Mid-western Mistral never really stops–it just presses and presses. It is my constant irritating companion and the sound of its demanding hiss for attention never leaves my sad ears. Sometimes I imagine it as small horse jockey. He is wearing a grarish livery of purple and yellow checks and has his two-toned horsey helmet strapped on tight. He has his little hands clamped hard onto the flats of my handlebars, and he is leaning in towards me, pushing me back with all of his might. His feet are flat to on the ground and as I ride forward despite his pushing, the heels of his riding boots scrap backwards along the pavement leaving little scratch marks and trails of gravel. All day long he stares angrily up at me. Oh, and he is screaming at me too. Sometimes I take a break for a drink or just to enjoy the shade. But when I come back to the bike, the jockey has rearranged himself. For the next few miles, he is going to lay flat on his stomach behind the bike and grasp my rear rack and make me pull him along. I don’t think he minds much how he does it–as long as he is slowing me down. At one bend in the road, near a non-place delightfully named Chivington for the man who oversaw the attrocities committed in 1864 at Sand Creek a few miles to the north, I managed to give the jockey the slip. The road reoriented, and for a moment the Jockey was off his post. He was still there, screaming at me the whole time, but for a mile or so he was sort of hanging onto the left end of my handlebar. Suddenly, my speed jumped up. In no time I was overpedaling and had to shift up three or four gears. The ground was flat but my speed increased even as I felt my effort actually lessen. From the usual 11mph (my depressing Spinal Tap joke–this only goes to 11) I sailed to 13, then 15, then 17mph. The Jockey was still there and screaming, but he was less intense and I could see he was having a hard time giving me a hard time. But then the road turned again, he found his footing once more, we resumed the position of our all-day battle.

The trucks have a role to play in this too. It is harvest time in this part of Color-ansas, and huge vehicles are shooting to and fro. The horizon is often dotted with lines of giant combine machines strolling along looking like backward mechanical brontosauruses. I see their drivers at every convenience store I stop at–dusty young men in baseball caps mostly, who seem to be in endless good cheer razzing one another and eating snacks. Some trucks carry the grain hither and thither to the silos that are the only buildings breaking the horizon. In Colorado, they also mark towns–but in Kansas they are more frequent and often just sit along rail lines. Other trucks though carry huge farm machines between fields. These are simply enourmous 18 wheelers plus a second trailer bearing 6 more, and are heralded and followed by warning SUVs. The machines have to move between fields because their owners’ livings depend not on the owning of land, but on the operating the machines to harvest it. Teams of harvesters move between towns and fields as needed as well, sometimes staying a day, other times a week or more. My hostel in Tribune is now home to two teams who are in the fields all day and just go to sleep at night. One of their number though seems to be on his own. He just sorts of haunts common room watching Shrek, or sits glumly outside watching the horizon while his fellows work. He has a new cast on his forearm–a clue perhaps to his seemingly unwanted leisure.

But there is no leisure when the trucks speed by on the road. Their effect differs depending on which way they are headed. The ones coming towards me are the worst. Their arrival is preceded by a momentary silence and then, all of a sudden, the Jockey has five or six friends with him. For a second or two, they are all over me. One jockey wearing black and white stripes is pulling my bike to the right while another all in orange satin, is doing all he can to pull me leftward. The two tug and sway and the bike feels all skittish and unstable. I have to remember each time a truck is coming to get low in the drops and brace for the Jockeys. Meanwhile one dressed in a red top with light blue jodhpurs jumps onto my shoulders and grabs my helmet jerking my head side to side–he kicks my chest with his feet. One time, a jockey in a yellow and green kit tried to grab at any loose items I had on my racks and throw them into the grass, all the while kicking at my panniers. But, blessing of blessings, once the truck passes and the attendant SUV zips by with its dopler-shifted “f*** Youuuuuuuuuuuuuu” trailing in the distance behind me, the new Jockeys all vanish just as fast as they showed up, and I am left alone with my usual friend screaming at me as always.

It is slightly different when a truck comes up from behind me. These of course, present more danger to me than do the ones in the oncoming lane. They are closer–and that is scary enough–but they also once in a while pick up some road refuse and throw it at me. One rock hit me smack in the middle of my back and I had to stop for a moment to recover. If I am going to be hit, it will be by a driver trying to get to the same town as I am. But, my deadly friends have an odd effect on the Jockey.  I have two mirrors so I generally know when things are coming up–larger than they may appear in the reflection. The first thing that happens when a truck gets close is that my Jockey lets go for a moment. On top of that, there is a hot wind that pushes from behind and for a second it is as if everything is lighter than air–no jockey, no loaded bike, just a pushing hot blast. The local drivers know there will be cyclists on the road and they are all adept and thoughtful in giving us plenty of room. Most occupy the oncoming lane as they fly by. This much appreciated consideration has an effect beyond putting safe distance between us. As the truck passes and the Jockey is for the moment disoriented, there is a moment when the full size of the vehicle actually blocks the wind entirely and it is as if I am drafting the truck. The Jockey is, for a second, gone. It is a welcome respite and almost makes up for the mortal terror of having to share the road with these beasts. But, it is a tiny a respite, and as soon as the truck farts its way away, the Jockey is back. He slaps me in the face for thinking that there may be some possibility of a life without him. How dare I dream, how dare I hope. “I am the Gulag and you are Ivan Denisovich, I am Alcatraz and you are my Birdman, I am French Guyana and you are Dreyfus!” he screams at me as he settles his little gloved hands back onto my bars, and the ride continues as before.

You can laugh now, you screaming harpie–but I will win. I will wake up earlier and earlier each day to ride as many miles I can while the Jockeys still snooze and take medication for their sore throats. If 5:30 am is not early enough, then tommorow I will try 4:30 am–whatever it takes to find the times when you are slacking. And as I get lower in altitude and deeper into Kansas, stable heat and greater humidity will sap your energy. Each mile I ride takes me a little bit closer to the place where your grip will finally fail you, and you will slip, and my wheels will roll right over you. I will back up and roll over you a second and a third time for good measure. And you too trucks. I know your routines now and can avoid the hours when you are most eager to get home. The harvest can’t go on forever. As long as I can make miles, I am winning.

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