Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 37 to 43, all of Kansas and deep into Colorado

Day 37 Pittsburg to Toronto
Pittsburg has been great and my bike is feeling brand new after its thorough service. The drive train is silky smooth and silent. Toronto was a fair distance, close to 80 miles away but looked to have a good number of camp sites surrounding a lake in a state park. We took a slight detour for a few miles on a gravel road which tested my bikes skinned tires before we got back onto Tarmac. We rode with Christian, a Swede that I had been in contact via the ACA cycle website. We made good time until another patch of gravel and then having to walk our bikes around construction of a bridge. We consoled ourselves to massive ice creams in Chanute where Ben elected to stop for a couple of hours to beat the heat of the day. I myself stopped in Benedict for a snack and stretch break whilst Norah and Christian pushed on. It's fun to ride alone and I made the last 22 miles to Toronto by 7. A surprisingly good brownie in the Italian restaurant and then we pitched our tents in the nearest campsite (which was deserted) and which ended up not costing a dollar.

Day 38 Toronto to Newton
Christian and Norah kicked on ahead so I took my time. Today's target was a total of 98 miles, including a section 38 miles long with no shops/services. Also today was the first day that cross winds from the south took effect. Gusts between 20 - 30mph can destabilize a bike loaded with panniers so caution is required, especially when large trucks pass within a couple of feet and seriously disturbed airflow. Breakfast in Eureka where a random man with duct tape on his boots gave me a novelty belly button brush (?!). Afterwards a nasty section riding on the narrow shoulder of highway 54. 19 miles of being knocked about by the wind and scary trucks. Happy to be off that. Lunch at Rosalia where Linda made me a burger with meat from her farm (no soy additives apparently) and told me about her grandsons prize winning goats. Stocked up in Cassoday with extra liquid for the barren stretch after chatting to Ken the Ford model A owner who was in nearby Wichita for a convention on the 80 year old vehicles. Last stretch was mentally and physically tough, the wind slowed me down a lot but eventually made it to Newton around 8. Checked into a Best Western on the outskirts of town as a reward for roughing it out and getting to Newton.

Day 39 Newton to Nickerson
Felt great after a sleeping in a luxurious queen bed and going for a quick swim the night before. I wanted to get to Nickerson today which was the last town before another section with no services. Total of 46.5 miles so should be relatively easy. Started well with a quick gas station stop for coffee and snack bars (bottled Starbucks cappuccino packing 200+ calories). Then 10 miles onto the small town of Buhler were I had a fantastic hummus sandwich with a pot of black tea at the Mustard Seed cafe. This was the first vegetarian sandwich (on good bread) that I have had in weeks. Kansas is proving to me to have a higher standard of food than the previous 4 states with much more fresh produce options available. I signed their guest book and then finished at my destination at 4. Met Ben who had come from Hutchinson and we grabbed dinner in the local Sunshine diner (goulash followed by peanut butter pie and ice cream for me). Met two East bound riders, Thomas and Corey, and we all pitched tents in the city park near the local grain elevator. These structures heat and store the wheat grain that is being harvested all over this part of the state. They are very noisy but luckily it either shut down over night or I drifted to sleep with its hum in the background.

Day 40 Nickerson to Larned
This was a killer day. One of the hardest. Strong cross winds gusting to 30mph or more again. The first stretch of 58 miles with no services on route was going to be hard going. Coffee and provisions bought at the gas station (after Ben had stopped talking to two local brothers) and off by 7.15. First couple of hours were manageable with low wind and heat. Around 10 both started to climb. We alternated drafting to keep our speed up. A positive was that the roads were pretty empty. We went off route to Seward with 19 miles to go for a water and rest stop around 11.30. We were pretty beat but the local diner welcomed us, fed us and refilled our bottles. It also had wifi so we ended up wasting an hour there. We plucked up the motivation to carry on through to Larned and in the face of strong winds we arrived around 3.30. On the way in I passed my first cattle feeding lot, possibly even worse smelling than road kill. Norah had run over a dog earlier in the day and come off her bike breaking her helmet so was already there in Scraps coffee shop. We chilled there for a while recuperating, Ben decided to push on and I retired to the city park to set camp. I wasn't keen to ride further today. Cyclists get in free at the city swimming pool so I went in for a few lengths to loosen up. A great place and good vibe. I set up my tent under the pavilion and talked to a family about the trip (and they offered me ice cream that I didn't refuse). Later on Eric who I'd met in Chester came in and camped at the park too.

Day 41 Larned to Scott City
I started the day riding with Norah around 6.30 and the winds were behind us so we made great time. The Great Plains are super flat, so a tail wind allows you to really fly even with a heavily loaded touring bike. The first 62 miles to Ness City went in a flash. The only issue was finding food on the way there (it was a Sunday so most places in these small towns were closed). It was 12.30 so we went into the Cactus Club for their lunch buffet. Perfect - massive plate of rice, chicken, pulled pork please. Ness City was actually my original goal for the day but it had taken little time to get here. Norah pushed on whilst I digested my lunch for another 30 mins. Tail wind all the way so I kept going, through Dighton at 4 (where I passed Paatvi a Finnish west bounder), eventually to Scott City at 6.30 where I called it quits (still 119.5 miles travelled). I checked out the city park and then an RV site before deciding to stay at the local Athletics club. Bill let me in and for $12 I could sleep in the office where the trophies for local kids are kept next to a TV. Hot showers also available! Spent a while in the laundromat before settling to sleep on the carpet. My can of WD40 leaked onto my sleeping bag liner so I may have slept due to mild solvent inhalation.

Day 42 Scott City to Sheridan Lake (Colorado)
This day was spent riding completely solo. If I thought I had had hard days they paled in the face of this one. Head winds for half the day wiped me out. Some of it my own fault for getting out late (around 7.30) and then having a leisurely breakfast for an hour in Leoti. By the time I was on the road again at 10.30 the winds were against me. Slow going all the way to the town of Tribune 21.5 miles away (took 2.5 hours) and then to Sheridan Lake (27.5 miles). Frustration got the better of my patience at two points during that section and I physically shouted abuse as I peddled in one of my lower gears punching into the wind. As the land is flat you can see miles into the distance. When it takes an hour to travel 6 miles, that grain elevator is barely getting closer, and your back and knees are straining it can be really tough to keep the willpower to keep going. Around 6 the winds started to subside just as I hit my target. The pastor in the town allows cyclists to sleep in the church. Vonnie and her daughter Victoria showed me around the place which I had to myself. A pizza from the gas station and some other snacks perked me up and I read till 9 to relax my mind and prepare for tomorrow.

Day 43 Sheridan Lake to Pueblo
The earliest start of the tour today at 5am. I wanted to avoid a day like the one before if possible. Getting out early before any winds picked up and being able to get some good mileage in before lunch seemed the prudent approach. Almost immediately the environment had started to change from agricultural fields to scrub land. The bright azure sky and the barren landscape was beautiful in the early morning. I travelled the 28 miles to the town of Eads before getting a cooked breakfast By 8.30. Slight cross wind but nothing terrible. I carried on and made it to Haswell by 11 to stop at the gas station for more food and water refills. The heat picked up to over 90 and I had 35.5 mile stretch to the next available water source (cafe in Sugar City). Managed to get through without running out of water by 3 and stopped for meatloaf and iced tea. At 4 I decided to keep going, hopefully to Pueblo which was still 55 miles distant, a tough ask before nightfall. The winds were favorable though so I kept going, stopping once for a water refill in a liquor store, getting into Pueblo at sunset. Brutal day, total 135 miles and 15 hours. Knees and back feeling sore. Straight into a motel ($50 a night) and to sleep. Rest day earn't I think after this week!

The Great Plains have been both a grueling challenge and some amazing long mileage days. Mostly I will remember the good nature of the Kansas people. Especially those that stopped their cars on the road to ask if I was ok (when taking quick snack breaks). A very pleasant state to cycle in - apart from the wind if its against you!