Day 36: Elated: Ness City, KS to Scott City, KS

56 miles (90 km) – Total so far: 1,897 miles (3,053 km)
After a restful and complete night of sleep, I woke up energetic looking to log 75 miles, putting yesterday’s rainy mess physically and figuratively behind me. I left earlier than I had been recently, but not crazy early. The first indication that my plans for the day were going to be transformed to something better than anticipated was the Cuppa Joe coffee shop that halted my ride only 0.13 miles in.Back in January when I was planning this trip, I imagined a languorous start to each morning. I’d have a strong cup of coffee at the local cafe, maybe a home made pastry. I’d chat with the waitress, or a local farmer, or the proprietor about their lives and my trip. As that conversation wound down, I’d pull out a good book and linger for a time before reluctantly setting out to cover some distance for the day. Today, almost 2,000 miles and just four days short of half way, I finally experienced what I had expected would be a daily occurrence. It was every bit as wonderful, and ordinary, and pleasant as I had hoped.

Cuppa Joe in Ness City, KS
Cuppa Joe in Ness City, KS 
A perfect Cinnamon roll in Ness City, KS
A perfect Cinnamon roll in Ness City, KS
Around the fifth cup, I let the pull of the road overcome my desire to waste the whole day here. I ambled out of the store (after a quick stop in the loo, as Paul and Terry might say). Today, all five of the Valkyries (more on that later) were on roughly the same schedule. Throughout the day every permutation of conversational participants gradually found their way of occurring. I learned a little more about each of the other four guys I spent the day with.
This building, known as "The Skyscraper of the West" was one of the tallest buildings in the west in the late 1800s.
This building, known as “The Skyscraper of the West” was one of the tallest buildings in the west in the late 1800s.

 The riding was absolutely perfect: mid 70s with light wind that lackadaisically switched direction with an enthusiasm as lackluster as my own had been to leave the coffee shop. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a hill on the horizon. A sense of boredom would have been impossible to cultivate after yesterday’s craziness, and besides with great conversation the miles coasted by. Rather than push on to my original destination, I decided to savor the companionship and stop at the hostel in Scott City with the other four guys.

A great day for a ride!
A great day for a ride! 
Jerry assesses the danger of the Native American silhouettes on the horizon.
Jerry assesses the danger of the John Wayne-like silhouettes on the horizon. 
A combine graveyard -- East of Dighton, KS
A combine graveyard — East of Dighton, KS 
Jerry in front of the combine graveyard -- East of Dighton, KS
Jerry in front of the combine graveyard — East of Dighton, KS
Just past halfway we stopped in Dighton for lunch. The fact that halfway and lunch just happened to be at the same time was another little perfection for the day. We enjoyed our burgers, salads, philly sandwiches, fries, sodas, and most importantly fried okra. Again, we lingered for a little while. There was no sense of rush all day. Later on, after lunch, I asked each of the guy’s what their bike’s name was. One wouldn’t ask if their bikes had names. Of course they do:

Lord Montague of Fitzrovia (Terry)
Burly Chassis (Paul)
Pokey (Jonathan)
Whifferdill (Jerry)
Persesphone (Mike)

The Valkyries' steeds. --at Dighton, KS
The Valkyries’ steeds. –at Dighton, KS

Towards the end of the ride, Jonathan, or I should say, Officer Hoy, told me he might need to pull me over for riding a low rider and blaring rap music. I retorted with an emphatic, “You’ll never catch me now, copper!” and gunned the engine to get away. The slow motion chase that ensued turned out to be a hidden bucket list item that I hadn’t known existed until I had already experienced it.

Somewhere in the final 5 miles of the road, by tacit agreement, we lost all sense of caution and road in a dense pack, taking up the whole lane and letting the drivers figure out how to get around us rather than squeezing into the shoulder every 90 seconds. As we rolled into town, someone said ‘They know we’re coming! You can see them closing all the shutters and locking the doors’. Jonathan suggested I play Flight of the Valkyries at full blast as our roving band of toughs entered town. I was only too happy to comply this time.

John and Jerry whiz past -- Near Scott City, KS
John and Jerry whiz past — Near Scott City, KS

Today’s perfection couldn’t have been possible without yesterday’s challenges. We wouldn’t have all opted for the motel as was clearly necessary after such a grueling day. I wouldn’t have lingered as long in the morning, nor been content with such short mileage. We would have found the landscape somewhat boring. This contrast is critical for the enjoyment of a trip like this. The good days and the bad.

Having said that, I think it is too easy to romanticize away the bad moments of the trip (or perhaps I’m actually describing a metaphor for life here). Yesterday did suck. Today’s high didn’t matter one bit to me while I was suffering through the rain yesterday. No amount of “You’ll be glad you came through this tomorrow” would have comforted me. Though, I did appreciate the empathy I received by folks who texted me with recognition of how hard the day was.

For anyone thinking about doing a trip like this, or hiking the AT or PCT, or whatever… I’d say this: The bad days (or uphills) are truly bad. And they exist. And the only appropriate response is to experience the grief and uncomfortableness of them and get through them. At other times, the good days (or downhills) are really good. And they should be enjoyed without a care for what might come tomorrow.

I won’t say that I’m glad yesterday sucked so that I could contrast it to today. I won’t say that on balance the good days balance out the bad ones. I will say this: I’m learning to take each day by itself for what it is in the moment. And for that reason the trip as a whole is becoming a success.

Published by Mike Evans

Founder of Founded GrubHub in 2004. Rode my bike across the US. Wrote a sci-fi novel.

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