Kansas is somewhat of a hidden gem of cycling. What make it a gem are the friendly people and commonly placed small towns, many of which are remarkably charming with brick streets, old churches, public parks and outdoor swimming pools. Although the west is extremely flat, most of eastern Kansas is rolling hills and with this topographical change also comes a marked change in humidity and climate, as the east is wet, green and covered in trees while the west is dry prairie land.
Soon out of Dodge City, passed the gut-wrenching redolence of a large slaughterhouse and many low-end motels, the climate changed from arid flatland to a lush, lime-green countryside of rolling hills, tree partitioned fields and sweltering humidity. The change seemed to happen within the span of a few miles, near a town called Kinsley, which incidentally vaunted a large sign, proudly demonstrating that this was midway USA, 1,561 miles from both San Francisco and New York. This settled our ongoing query about how indirect our route had actually been by dipping into Arizona and New Mexico by delivering a difference of 269 miles from 1,830 miles we had traveled up to this point.
That night we slept behind a large metal shed by the side of the road, watching a cascade of lightning strikes silently flash under some dark clouds in the distance.
In the morning a few miles took us into the small town of Lewis where we got some small breakfast sandwiches from the only open shop in town. The large and multifaceted space was owned by an ex-Enron employee who had lost about a million when the company imploded. Although he still had the same job, the company was called something else now. He settled in this small town, coming from Wisconsin, and sat and talked to us about the high pressure gas pipeline explosions that vaporized the unlucky and careless diggers (and their machines) who broke the lines. His job was to make sure this doesn’t happen. “The company doesn’t let us carry pictures but I got some from another company and I always show them to people before they dig because they don’t really understand what it means if they break that line.” He said.
That evening a storm came and drenched us all the while pushing us through the rain with strong tailwinds.
We collapsed at a diner in south Hutchinson, soaked and happily ahead of schedule and ordered some all-day and very affordable breakfast before heading up to the church. The church, was the Zion Lutheran Church where Darren, the man we had stayed with in Dodge City, was a member.
They had an active “Bike Hostel” in the basement, which had showers, a kitchen, a bathroom and two beds on a stage that wasn’t being used for any other purpose. Darren had arranged for us to get in earlier and we entered to find two Scottish cyclists and another man who they had met along the way and was driving and inexplicably acting as their sag wagon. All three had a genuine kind-heartedness about them and we listened to them pray together before every meal. It was Saturday evening and we probably would have attended the service with them the next morning if we hadn’t been in such a rush to get to The Farm in time to see Grandma and uncle and aunt, David and Shauna. In the morning we got to ride through “Hutch” as the locals call it. The town had its own beauty, in the overcast summer morning, brought out by the many brick streets, trees and public spaces. Newton, which we passed through next had a similar feel.
That evening we rolled into a town called Florence. Many young residence were crowded around a four-wheeler on the middle of main street. Some of them rode BMX bikes, and after a young girl took off on the four-wheeler they quickly turned their attention to us. After some perfunctory questions about what we were doing, a mud splattered young man of probably 12, sounding equally perfunctory asked if we were looking for a place to camp. We said we were and with a small gesture for us to follow him, he took off down a side street. In a few blocks we had left the pavement and escorted by an entourage of 10 to 12-year-olds passed a sign that indicated we were entering a tree farm. At the end of the trail was a large concrete structure, a flat, open area covered in grass, fire pit, and large concrete structure on the side of an oozing river, perhaps a device for controlling the water flow many years before.
The boys showed me the concrete structure. To get on top, they explained, you either had to pull yourself up a five foot wall on one side, or go around inside the structure and climb fifteen feet up a ladder and through a hole on the top. Over half of the boys were covered in mud. “How did you get so muddy?” Rasham asked. “4-wheelin’” one replied. After a lot more questions, the ones that had stayed, Dakota, Allen, Sebastian and Brok, took off down the trail. Our little grove literally buzzed with insect life.
We are trying to B-line it to a town in Missouri called Clinton, and as the long days pile up and the roads become more hilly and sometimes gravelled, our muscles want to move less and less Our last night in Kansas we spend in a park in Waverly and shop at the only store in town across the street.
Our last view of Kansas was a power plant, strangely majestic visible across a large lake. That evening we passed into Missouri. Cycling across Kansas took 7 days of riding (not including, of course, our two weeks stuck in Dodge City).