I suppose that every long-term cycling tourist gets stuck somewhere waiting for a bicycle part to arrive. We got stuck in Dodge City, Kansas. There are no bicycle shops in Dodge City. Mail takes 3-5 business days. Living in a campground has its own set of challenges, most of which are circumvented by owning an RV. But when all you have is a tent, it can be a challenge, especially if the sun is hot, the wind is strong, and occasionally the rain releases with full force… such is the climate of Dodge City in July.
Because of the overbearing heat, every day since we have arrived we have left the campground at around ten or eleven and walked to Burger King, about a mile and a half away. There, in a brightly lit dining room with large windows we sit with our back to the main street and work on our blog. All lot of times we just end up watching movies.
During the past two weeks, looking over the screen of my computer, I have watched hundreds of people of all shapes and sizes and ages eat french fries and hamburgers. Watching these people eat, I wonder about their lives, and how they consider their food here. Do they know its bad for them? Do they feel guilty for eating it? Or do they find it nutritious? A grossly overweight Mexican woman scolds her two-year old for not eating his chicken nuggets. The boy can’t talk yet but he is crying. A thin, eighty year old man with sunken eye sockets, sagging cheeks, and bloodshot eyes slowly eats a hamburger by himself. A young employee with heavy eye makeup shares a meal with her boyfriend who has come in to see her.
A wall of yellow cardboard crowns sits between us and the counter. People wear them as they eat, mostly kids but some adults as well.
We tried to go into McDonald’s one day. The décor was old and some of the employees were even older. But the thing that made us leave were the flies which were attracted to my ankles which I hadn’t washed so well I guess. I killed dozens of them, clapping my hands an inch above their heads, scaring them up into the compression of my hands. Astounded by their bravery I watched them fly over the ground littered with their dead brothers and sisters to brazenly land on my sandal or leg where one of them had just been struck down minutes earlier. Others fly down to inspect a dead brother or sister, squashed and contorted, possibly to feast on some part of their fraternal remains. I feel no remorse when I feel their soft little bodies mashed into my palms, their wings torn and their bellies popping and oozing brown goo.
Outside at the campground the flies bite. There are more biting insects in Kansas than any other state, Rasham reads on the Internet. The bloodsucking flies come by day and the mosquitos come at night. On the ninth day I injured one such that its abdomen and third legs were torn off. Its wings were pinched together but the fly appeared completely coherent and ran around on the table as if it was uninjured. In an effort to try to generate some compassion for these small bloodsucking insects I began to research them but the close up shots I found on the internet only seemed to magnify their ugliness and taciturn peculiarity. I marvel at how far I’ve digressed from my meditation practice. ”May All beings be happy.” I think, as I mash another one. I wonder what they are eating off my skin, but the curiosity does not measure up to the frustration of the incessant sensation of them landing on me. I must have killed about fifty that day. We think and talk about the flies all the time; and the day that we will leave. “Look at all the one’s I’ve killed.” I say. “Honey I can see.” She says. “They’re all over the floor.”
But we get some major work done on the blog. We have totally updated our past cycling routes with interactive maps and better organization. We have updated our gear list with pictures and different sections. We have created a whole new Cooking on the Road section with tips, tricks and recipes. And finally we have begun an archive of touring blogs by location. Rasham also got an article published in elephant journal which you can read below by clicking on the picture.
When we stopped moving the inertia slowly crept up on us, taking a week or so to make its way inside the body and mind. We began to feel unsettled, stagnant and restless. It is over 100° every day and the heat is like a depressant, slowing the mind and body. It becomes difficult to think and act, to imagine what isn’t necessary. I begin to stay up later and later, relishing the hours when it isn’t hot, to the detriment of my sleep. The wind blows hard every day. One day I buy a block of ice and we lay on it on the grass until it is gone.
On the way home from Burger King, across the railroad tracks but before the bridge that crosses a dry river there is the best part of Dodge City. It’s a small family owned business called Mi Ranchito Tortillaria. They make tortillas, chips, salsa and white tubs of something called “crema” which tastes like the best sour cream ever made. One day we forgot to bring cash and the guy behind the counter let us walk out with our stuff, saying we could pay tomorrow. `
When we got back to our campground one day a fellow bicyclist was camping next to us. A 55-year-old with a pension for smoking, she had ridden there from Pennsylvania hauling an enormous self designed trailer. During the winter she had boarded up at a homeless shelter for vets in Kansas City and worked at a meat-packing plant to earn money for the continuation of her ride. She had a broken spoke and I was able to replace it with a spare she had and true her wheel a little bit so she offered to get some groceries for us to all make dinner with the following evening. We did. and although it doesn’t look appetizing on this dirty table, it was delicious.
Later a man named Darren arrived who was working at a trade show going on in the city. An entrepreneur on his third or fourth venture, Darren sold dip mix packets, a blend of spices that one could mix with one’s choice of a base to make a dip for chips. He gave us some dip mix and we added it to the crema and sampled it that night. He told us about a church we could sleep in 100 miles down the road.
Our home here is small we cleaned it for this picture. Finally my part arrives. We can hardly contain our excitement!
But alas, I ordered the wrong sized bolt. The larger one is the broken one.
I go online and order the right one that day, but we are in serious jeopardy of not making it to St. Louis on time. We look into other options and discover that car rental in town doesn’t allow one way rentals and I can’t ride the train without an ID (which I lost in Albuquerque). In addition. even if I had an ID, the train station in Dodge City can’t accept bikes or checked luggage. OH THE IRONY OF BEING STUCK IN DODGE CITY!! Luckily I find a website that can express mail the part I need and Mom express mails me my passport just in case. We spend our last few days making jalapeno poppers and roasting veggies and sweet potatoes.
A few days before we leave it rains heavily. All of Kansas is happy for the rain including the birds whom were singing all afternoon.
But the lake which gave “Watersports Campground” its name showed no signs of returning, having disappeared following a drought two years earlier. This city has a lot of good people and a long and infamous history, but as it looks like the part and my passport will arrive today, we are happy to get the hell out of Dodge!
And Now… Some words from Rasham about Living in an RV Park
Broke-down in Dodge City, Kansas: living in an RV trailer park
If there’s one thing bike touring guarantees it’s repeated exposure to new environments, areas that are often times never a first choice, but an only choice, and therefore the right one.
In other words, I never thought I’d call an RV park in Dodge City Kansas “home”.
When we first pedaled in and established camp amidst a sea of trailers and trucks, in my mind a rapid proliferation of preconceptions regarding the RV kind, a fettered stream of images inspired by Hollywood’s portrayal of a desperate and dirty breed, mean and poor, rolled over my eyes like the San Francisco fog I so often in the sweltering heat of Midwestern America miss.
Thus, the first night found me surprised when our across the way neighbor, a 33-year Louisiana born woman and mother of four, Shea, casually invited us to her RV porch for an outdoor dinner. With the boudin on the grill she passed to her husband and guests frozen strawberry daiquiris while smoking a cigarette, handling the youngest, a blazing blond girl called Jaycee, less than two years in age, with a kind of mature harshness, the way one would handle a teething lion cub. When the spicy Cajun sausages had been fire licked to perfection, she served them to us smilingly, and once I had my first taste of the most delicious thing, she spoke freely about the circumstances of her life, as if we had been friends since High School. After devouring my first ever boudin, she stole my plate to replenish its savory contents, all the while continuing to speak with her swaggering southern drawl, telling of the five bedroom house left behind in Texas, the trailer that they had purchased with FEMA money granted after Katrina, and her husband’s welding profession that has taken them from one state to another in search of work.
Colt interrupts every now and then, a petite 8-year old with balls of brass, as much a man as his chain-smoking father whose hands are stained the color of coal, to tell his mama that the baby has her finger in the socket again, or that she’s taken off across the gravel way to sip escaping well water from the sprinkler in the ground, or that she’s found one of daddy’s cigarette butts carelessly littered beneath the picnic table and is attempting to swallow the still abounding smoke. Mama Shea springs into action every time, giving the girl a swift slap on the butt; but baby doesn’t mind the punishment, her bulging diaper absorbing most of the blow; she scrambles on brand new legs over to Katai as soon as she’s released. The two-month old puppy tied to the underbelly of the trailer, son of Red, (the barkiest dog of all in Watersports Trailer Park & Campground), and the baby girl are a sight to behold; the screams from baby and pup seem to originate from a single source, the cacophonous fountain of youth.
Mama Shea doesn’t keep an eye on Jaycee as I think a mother would; she’s there just before the doom but up until that fatal moment baby is allowed to run free, skinning knees and scratching hands and face, learning lessons the hard way but learning nonetheless.
It’s a kind of hands off parenting, I’m observing; one day as Colt and I were kicking a soccer ball around with Nehemiah, a Haitian-born Coloradan landed in Dodge by way of selling Direct TV installations at the rodeo, Shea rolls up in the family car, husband and baby aboard, and screams over the screeching wind, “Colt! You comin’ or stayin’?”. Colt yells back, “stayin’ mama!”. She takes off, leaving her son behind in the care of her new neighbors and the rest of the trailer park population.
I initially felt a deep sense of pity for Colt. What kind of childhood is this? His parents allow him a berth so wide it can be perceived as explicit disinterest, a direct lack of attention paid to their blossoming young boy. He must feel an orphan in his own trailer, I thought. And then I got to knowin’ him. I got around to opening my eyes to see what was really going on.
Colt joins me in my daily yoga practice, showing off his too large for an 8-year-old’s muscles and challenging my strength and skill in a game of ‘Can You Do This?’. I try to ask the hard-to-ask questions while we’re experimenting with arm balances, waiting to uncover the darkness this kind of life has undoubtedly induced, but all he talks about is how mean his older sister is, and how his mama bought him a blow up swimming pool, and if I want an ice pop later. He’s a totally normal, well spoken, perceptive and extremely sociable kid. Later, while Trenton and I are entertaining our newest neighbor, a spice mix salesman from Hutchinson, over chips and exquisitely flavored dip, Colt plops down and strikes up a conversation. I most certainly was not that kind of 8-year-old.
The advantage of being raised in a trailer park, I slowly conclude, is the repeated exposure to travelers, who, for the most part, are eager to learn their neighbors’ stories, or in the least harbor a quiet respect for one another, united by a common passion for an on-the-road lifestyle, in which meeting new people is the highest of all the many perks. These people bring along with their RVs and trailers, trucks and tents, a like-minded love and respect for the simple life, for the art of staying afloat during tough times, and a special kindness that comes with turning your back on the city to park your bed under a tree at night. These people, hearts lighter with the lesser loads of travel, are the village that is raising this boy.
In the two weeks we’ve been stranded in Dodge City, Kansas, I’ve had the pleasure of playing Big Sister to one of Watersports’ youngest, teaching him an array of yoga postures, explaining vegetarianism, and showing him how to start a fire in a BioLite. And I’ve watched others come and go, taking a loving interest in him by demonstrating soccer skills, explaining parts on a motorcycle, catching fireflies, throwing a football, gathering wood for campfires; just today en route to our favorite wifi spot I passed him as he stood barefoot in the bed of a truck. “You working today Colt?” I hollered. “They let me dig some of the pipeline out, “he says. I smile, thinking of all the life this boy has lived, and the well-cultured man of experience he will someday become. And I know that his mama has a darn good reason for letting him run wild in the park, that she, through her own experiences and travels, has had a feast-full of what I am only now, through bike touring, beginning to wrap my heart around; the truth that a village can be trusted, even with the greatest responsibility of raising well-to-do kids. She’s not too far behind him, after all, as I hear her famous call from a distance, her voice beautifully southern and rich with love: “Colt, boy, come’n get yer lunch!”
My understanding of the goings on in a trailer park are shattered through this experience, and rebuilt through the generosity and kindness of long-term residents like Colt and Mama Shea, and all the others working to live in this way, and those who have worked to live this way, and those, like me and Trent, who take time to experience life this way. Because of the many who have selflessly offered an invitation for a meal or a quick conversation, the energy surrounding this place is much better than Dodge City’s downtown; these people are not victims of circumstance, as I had previously believed; they have chosen this life, and whether out of financial need or a need for a change of pace their grills are up in flames every weekend, yapping dogs at their heels, the fingers of undying Kansas city winds caressing the golden locks of little girls as they outrun the fabric of their skirts and the little boys that chase them, barefoot and dancing. As the hot red sun sets the quiet that rolls over Dodge City’s outskirts makes me smile; I am reminded again of the San Francisco fog, I so often, in the sweltering heat of Midwestern America miss.