Leading up to the launch of my memoir Hangry: A Startup Journey, each month I’m releasing a state-by-state recap.
For the original post, click on any Day number heading.
Day 29: Everton, MO to Pittsburg, KS
My housemates last night, John and Jerry, got started a little later than me, so I cruised out of town solo. The rolling hills are flattening out as I approach Kansas. One of the last river valleys in Missouri was the site of a former water mill. I spent a little bit of time exploring the beautiful creek bed.
As I hit the plains, the farms get bigger and so did the farm equipment. Just past the farm equipment, I met another Eastbound cyclist, and like all the Eastbounders so far, he was desperately trying to hit the coast by a particular date. Makes sense since they are out in front of the pack, it will be interesting to see the more chill-paced folks in the coming weeks.
Any touring cyclist knows Cooky’s Cafe in Golden City, MO is a must-stop. I was in a serious cycling groove, not wanting to stop, but know I’d regret skipping it. Let’s just say it would have been a travesty of epic proportions to skip this place. The beef brisket sandwich was good, but the fresh strawberry pie with freshly whipped cream was. The. Best. Pie. I. Ever. Had.
Baking sun, 90-degree weather, headwinds, and high humidity didn’t bother me much today. I happily sang along to my music and churned through over 30 miles without my feet coming off the pedals once. My mile-eating-ride finally put Missouri behind me and Kansas under my wheels.
I liked Missouri. Good state. Good people. Beautiful views.
Day 30: Pittsburg to Chanute
Back on the trail and chilling out at the campsite proved to be the reintroduction to biking culture I had been hoping to get. The venue for last night’s bonding was a free campsite for cyclists provided by the town of Pittsburg, KS. Paul and Terry rolled up to join myself, Jess, and Tuan. The five of us spent time routing our future days and reminiscing about our trip so far. Lots of conversation about tough hills, chasing dogs, friendly people, and polite drivers.
Kansas will be sweet flat lands and fast rides, right? Actually not. Turns out the first 70 miles of Kansas looked a whole lot like the last two days of Missouri. Rolling hills. Big farms. The sun was out, and the wind was picking up. I haven’t been too worried about the wind – I trained in Chicago and have a recumbent – but a steady 15 mph headwind, varying SW to W, turns out to be a bit of a drag. snicker snicker
Despite the wind, there were definitely some highlights, including a Vietnam-era helicopter. The latter half of the ride became oppressively hot as the metaphorical mercury topped 90, with humidity hanging in the air. With a threatening thunderstorm looming, we opted for a motel than a campsite, where we were duly warned about the dangers of Kansas wind.
Day 31: Chanute to Beaumont
Last night getting into Chanute, I suggested to Jess and Tuan that we opt for a motel rather than a campsite. There were some impending thunderstorms overnight and, sure, our tents probably could have handled them, but we thought it wise to sit it out if we didn’t have to be wet and bedraggled.
Sure enough, at 8:00am the next morning the heavens were apocalyptically torn asunder. Once we finally got going at around noon, we experienced some really cool cycling. Kansas had the smell of a fresh scrubbing.
I’m on to Wichita for some much-needed rest. My lovely, amazing, and beautiful wife is flying in for a couple of days to reconnect. She is a queen among women. This trip to Wichita is off-route, so I said goodbye to my traveling friends and launched into a Google-mapped path, leading down nerve-racking US highways.
With my late start, I opted for a historical hotel in Beaumont, KS. The Beaumont Hotel was founded in 1879, where it was once a stage-coach stop. Now it caters to aviators, an incredibly unique niche, and as demonstrated by the runway next to the hotel. Persephone had a spot though sidled up to the drinking trough while I went to see about a room.
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Day 32: Beaumont to Wichita
The bed at the Beaumont Hotel must have been stuffed with angel feathers. I slept a full 10 hours last night, over an hour past dawn. My body has adjusted to a regular natural rhythm, so I don’t set an alarm. Tiptoeing out of the hotel silently, I gathered my gear and got rolling.
The first 30 miles were fogged in. Road signs would appear out of the mist about 50 feet in front of me and then recede into nothingness. I couldn’t tell if I was on an incline or a decline. Even Google Maps was unhelpful with only one bar. As far as I could tell, the world ended fifty feet in every direction.
The fog lifted and US highway 400 merged with US highway 77. Crap, more traffic! The shoulder narrowed and I felt squeezed. Then a military convoy rolled up USING THE SHOULDER! I found a spot to squeeze off to the side and let them pass. I ended up ditching the interstate-like highway to find a bailout route to Wichita.
As I arrive in town, I detour from going straight to the hotel to Heartland Bike Shop. On the way, I passed the first Starbucks in 1,600 miles. While enjoying a wonderfully refreshing coffee, I chatted with Mike, a local cyclist, about Colorado. He shared some great tips for when I get there. His eyes sparkled as he recalled Breckinridge.
I arrived at Heartland Bike Shop and told the shop owner Bryon what I was looking for: a 26-tooth, 5-bolt, 9-speed front chainring. This smaller front chainring would make steep ascents more manageable. I was doubtful he had it, but he went to the shop, grabbed a chainring, did a little more back and forth and measuring, and installed the new ring. The whole operation was about five minutes and a fricking miracle. This new chainring has 13.3% more mechanical advantage than the old one…which will make a huge difference on steep hills. Bring it Rockies!
Day 34: Wichita to Larned
Wichita is a charming little town or a thriving metropolis, depending on your perspective. I had been riding through small towns for five weeks, so for me it was a huge mass of humanity. To Christine, visiting from our haunt in Chicago, it was a quant city with a cool little festival going on. Regardless, my day was restful, and having Christine around helped me recharge mentally and in my motivation.
Getting out of Wichita was easy as Kansas pie – which is really great pie. I followed a bike trail for about 15 miles out of town. After the bike trail ended, the traffic remained gentle, the roads flat, and the wind tailing. Holy smokes, tailwinds in Kansas! I cranked through 60 miles in just over four hours.
A stop at the Sunshine Cafe in Nickerson led me to a journal they kept for cyclists. I could see I was just behind 6 cyclists that I know. In the hope of catching them, I made the decision to press on to the next town, which was 58 miles away. I had already done 62, but with a tailwind and the possibility of catching up with my new mates, I bolted down a piece of fresh strawberry pie and hopped out on the road, committing myself to a whopping 121-mile day. Wowza!
As we rolled into Larned, KS, it was clear there was a thunderstorm coming tonight. We could set-up in the city park with our tents, but we would likely be roused out to the local motel. Paul and Terry decided to try a church. The Church of the Nazarene helped us out tremendously.
Although we couldn’t stay there, they connected us to the Sheriff and got us a voucher for a motel. We realized later they likely paid for the hotel room, an amazing gesture from a group of people that wanted to care for us as we rode through town. After checking in, five stinky men stampeded over to the Pizza Hut. The consensus was that we ate about 15,000 calories worth of food between us.
Day 35: Larned to Ness City
The first 10 miles, Paul, Terry, Jonathan, Jerry, and I ran into a group of bikers doing ride across Kansas just outside our motel. A little later down the road, we visited Fort Larned, which was a real treat. The fort has a lot of original and replica buildings from the mid-1800s, when it was an important part of protecting the great wagon train migrations to the west and southwest, especially after the Civil War. Although our reasons for the journeys differ, I feel a kinship with them.
Wind. Not the playful zephyr that zipped us along yesterday. No, this was a driving, relentless monster to wrestle for five hours. At mile 10, I turned from west to north into the wind for 19 miles. They were grueling, grinding miles, heading into 20-25 mph winds. The cloud cover went from surly to angry, and I found myself riding under dark, oppressive clouds.
The fear in my gut disagreed with Radar, NOAA, and everybody else. They all said: no big deal. But only one other time in my life have I been scared of weather, and that was sailing a 50-foot boat in 30-foot waves during a thunderstorm in the Bermuda Triangle. My response today was the same then: I prayed fear-of-God prayers.
As the terror in me downgraded, I began to think about the situation seriously. The weather was clearly bad, but was it dangerous? No, but cars are. I began to get off the road to let every car pass. Was there any kind of shelter? No, this is Kansas and everything is flat. No towns either. My best option was to pedal like a monster, powering through the next three hours and get this ride behind me.
Making my way to Rush Center, I looked around for any kind of shelter, but the town was abandoned. I made my way left out of town, and immediately things got calmer. This was a mixed blessing as the clouds finally opened up and started drenching me. After 30 miles of 25-30 mph winds and rain, I kept pushing through, leaning at a 5-degree angle just to keep my equilibrium. With just two miles left, one particularly nasty gust almost pulled my bike out from under me, I considered walking. Instead, I opted to just get this damn ride over with.
Rolling into town, camping was out of the question. Fortunately, the Derrick Inn was open, and with a hot tup! After about a half an hour, the tension finally left my shoulders.
Day 36: Ness City to Scott City
After a restful and complete night sleep, I woke up energetic looking to log 75 miles. I stopped before getting started at the Cuppa Joe coffee shop. It was a picturesque morning, enjoying a good cup of coffee and pastry, conversation with the waitress, and read a bit in a good book. After the fifth cup, I let the pull of the road overcome my desire to waste the whole day here.
The riding was absolutely perfect: mid-70s with light wind that lackadaisical switched direction with lackluster enthusiasm. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a hill on the horizon. 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.
Along the ride, I asked the guys with their bike’s name was. One wouldn’t ask IF their bikes had names. Of course they do! Lord Montague of Fitsrovia (Terry), Burly Chassis (Paul), Pokey (Jonathan), Whifferdill (Jerry), and of course, Persephone (Mike).
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.
Today’s perfection couldn’t have been possible without yesterday’s challenges. We wouldn’t have opted for the motel. 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.
For anyone thinking about doing a trip like this, or hiking the AT or PCT or whatever…I’d say this: The bad days are truly bad. And they exist. The only appropriate response is to experience the grief and uncomfortableness of them and get through them. The good days are really good. They should be enjoyed without a care for what might come tomorrow.