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Day 48 – August 6: Larned, KS to Wichita, KS, Chapter 1 of two chapters ends

Distance: 0 miles
Total distance: 1,950 miles (My odometer reads 2,064 miles, but that includes random riding around. The Total distance I’ve been posting is only the distance between destinations.)
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 0 feet
Weather: 97 degrees, sunny

I walked down the street to the U-Haul dealer and arrived at 8:30 AM. It was a small building with one trailer in the dirt parking lot. The sign said they opened at 8:30 AM, but the door was locked and the place looked closed.

I called their cell phone number and spoke with a woman. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We’re out of state right now. You might try Great Bend.” Great Bend was a town 30 miles away. I could easily ride there.

I walked back to the motel, looked up the U-Haul in Great Bend and called the dealer. No trucks were available. I called the national U-Haul number and made a reservation. Someone would call me back in an hour and tell me where the nearest truck was available. If nobody called, I was to call a state phone number.

1 1/2 hours later I called the state phone number. No trucks were available in the area that day, but one would be available in three days in Great Bend. I reserved it.

It was almost noon, check-out time, so I thought I’d stay another day in Larned before riding to Great Bend. I casually told my story of trying to get out of town to Bev at the front desk.

“You’re just trying to get to Wichita?” she asked.

“Yes, with my bike. I’d be happy to pay for a ride.”

“I’d drive you myself if my husband wasn’t working, but we have an employee here who has an aunt in Wichita. Let me call her. She might be interested in driving you.”

“Great, thanks!”

I came back from lunch and Bev said the employee would be glad to drive me to Wichita. Twenty minutes later I was loading my bike into a car. The employee’s name was Carissa and her little sister was along for the ride.

I thanked Bev and she said, “I wouldn’t have arranged this if I hadn’t trusted you.” I told her she would see me again.

On the two-hour 128-mile drive the three of us talked about life in Larned. Carissa told the story of one bicyclist who arrived at the motel badly dehydrated, overheated, and looking like he needed medical attention. He refused to go to the hospital, so Carissa and Bev put him in a bathtub with cool water and brought him fluids. He recovered.

As we drove down the table-flat freeway, the cement roadway looked odd streaming toward us at 70 miles per hour.

Using my computer in the car, I looked for a motel. It took a few calls to find one with an available room. I also called a few bike shops and found one that would box up my bike by the next day. That done, I bought a plane ticket home.

Though I didn’t achieve my goal of finishing the route this year, I plan to come back and finish it as soon as my work schedule will allow — hopefully next year.

I achieved some of my goals such as meeting the people in the heartland of America, seeing less-traveled parts of our country, and getting to a good place to resume my trip.

Thanks to all who offered me well wishes and prayers, including those who gave me shelter, food, a favor, and a smile. I was overwhelmed by your kindness.

As I’ve experienced before when traveling, what I’ll cherish most are the memories of everyone I met along the way.

See you from the shoulder.

The grasslands of Kansas

Day 47 – August 5: Larned, KS, my trip ends for now

Distance: 0 miles
Total distance: 1,950 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 0 feet
Weather: 98 degrees, sunny

I woke up late and stayed in bed. I had recovered from not feeling well a few days earlier, but still felt less than one hundred percent. Rest day. I went to the laundromat, had lunch, and worked on my blog.

That night, I decided to end my trip. It was an easy decision. I needed to get home and take care of a few things. My mother would be glad.

There were no places to rent a car, so I looked online for nearby U-Haul dealers and surprisingly found one two blocks away. I’d get up the next morning, walk down the street, rent a truck, drive my bike to Wichita, Kansas, have a bike shop pack up my bike, and fly home.

I fell asleep that night looking forward to getting home, but still thinking about the cycling route ahead.

Day 46 – August 4: Nickerson, KS to Larned, KS, a lonely 58-mile stretch of road

Distance: 59 miles
Total distance: 1,950 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 100 feet
Weather: 98 degrees, sunny

I left Hedrick’s Bed and Breakfast at 7:30 AM and rode to the only business Kathy said would be open at that hour, a gas station mini-mart. I stood in the parking lot and had an egg and ham sandwich that had been resting on the food heater and an orange juice.

As a few pickup trucks pulled in, I ate half of the sandwich and threw the rest away. Some of the men asked where I was headed. We briefly chatted and they wished me good luck. The sun was shining.

I stocked up on extra water as there would be a 58-mile stretch with no services. It turned out to be the straightest, longest and most desolate road I had ridden. It was flat with a few homes. I saw only a few semi-trucks and white service trucks all day.

A large section of the road was a poor surface, paved but rougher than usual. There were thousands of acres of crops, and pastureland with cattle. I passed through the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. It was a marshy area with scenic vistas, but I saw no animals or people.

I pedaled and the land unrolled like a big green carpet. After a while the cattle all seemed like props.

The scene repeated itself: I’d ride by a group of cows and say, “Hey cow, hey cow,” and all of their heads would turn in my direction. Then more pasture and crops. Mercifully, the clouds blocked the sun for part of the way.

I arrived in Larned, population 4,236, in the heat of the day. I stopped at the first store I thought would sell something cold to drink.

The woman behind the counter looked in her late sixties and said, “You look like you really need this. Do you want to open it right here?”

“No thanks, I’m fine. I can wait until I get outside.”

I sat on the sidewalk in front of the store in the shade, next to rows of barbecues and rocking chairs, and drank two bottles of soda pop. A few people drove by and stared.

I called a couple of motels, mentioned I was on a bicycle, and chose the one where the woman offered me a discount. The room was clean and comfortable and I settled in.

There were no trees nearby so the cicadas didn’t sing to me that night, but when the air conditioning kicked on it made quite a roar.

The most desolate road I had ridden so far

Day 45 – August 3: Newton, KS to Nickerson, KS, zebras and camels

Distance: 52 miles
Total distance: 1,891 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 100 feet
Weather: 106 degrees, sunny

I left the motel at 8:00 AM. The forecast for a headwind was right and pedaling was more of a chore. Virginia and Kentucky have hills and Kansas has the wind.

I stopped in Buhler, population 1,358, for a quick lunch. I sat on a creaky wooden bench outside a small food store. A woman walked up and asked how far I was going. When I told her Seattle, Washington, she drew a breath and said, “God bless.”

I was about five miles from Nickerson and stopped for a break. Again, the heat was too much. I walked off the shoulder, down a small embankment, and laid down in the shade. Cars driving by could barely see me, but I thought it was a more concealed spot than the last time I laid on the side of the road.

Ten minutes later a young woman pulled over, got out of her car and asked if I was okay. I thanked her, but she stayed a few minutes — I think to make sure I was okay.

I arrived in Nickerson, population 1,194, under a broiling sun. The official high temperature for the day was 106, though it didn’t feel as hot as the day before.

The first business I saw was a do-it-yourself car wash with a soda pop machine outside. I stumbled on the sidewalk, as I was a little light-headed, and bought a cold drink. I sat on the concrete in the shade of the car wash bay. There were no customers.

The grocery store was around the corner, so I went there for a little food and something cold to drink besides soda pop. I sat on the pavement against the building on the shaded side and drank almost a 1/2 gallon of orange juice. A few people walked by and nodded.

I called Hedrick’s Bed and Breakfast, which I didn’t know was also a working exotic animal farm, and found out it was 3/4 mile back on the road I had arrived on. I started back and then pedaled a short distance on a dirt road and saw ostriches, zebras, camels and giraffes.

Kathy was behind the counter, introduced herself and briefed me on the farm. The room was clean and comfortable with murals of llamas on the wall.

It was the first place I had stayed where the cold water out of the tap was actually cold.

I asked Kathy about dinner. The two places to eat in town didn’t deliver, but she offered to drive me to the pizza restaurant to pick up a pizza, which I accepted. The cafe across the street from the small pizza place was closed as the owners were on vacation.

At 7:00 PM Kathy gave a tour of the farm. There were two families and me staying as guests, so we walked around and fed the animals as Kathy called them by name. She warned us not to feed the zebras as you might leave less one finger. There were pens and large areas for the animals to roam.

At 8:00 PM Kathy made cookies and served them to one of the families and I in the dining room that could probably seat 75 people. The two young daughters explored the large room while their parents and I chatted. We had a view of the camels and giraffes as they lazily strolled under the setting sun.

I fell asleep in my room grateful for the hospitality, air conditioning, and ceiling fan.

Downtown Buhler, Kansas

Hedrick’s Bed and Breakfast

Day 44 – August 2: Newton, KS, rest day

Distance: 0 miles
Total distance: 1,839 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 0 feet
Weather: 105 degrees, sunny

I woke up late and not feeling well, so I decided to take a rest day. I walked to the truck stop behind the motel for breakfast and groceries. The food and service were good.

I did some laundry back at the motel, stayed inside the rest of the day, then went back to the truck stop for dinner. The high temperature was officially 105 degrees.

There was a hot wind blowing out of the northwest which would have been a headwind on the route, so I was glad I didn’t ride.

Day 43 – August 1: Eureka, KS to Newton, KS, three older gentlemen at the mini-mart

Distance: 78 miles
Total distance: 1,839 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 200 feet
Weather: 98 degrees, sunny

I left the motel at 8:30 AM and rode out to a warm morning. There would be a 38-mile stretch with no services, so I packed some extra water. That section of road was straight and there was a nice tailwind. I passed by pastures and farmland and only saw a few cars.

I rode by the Flint Hills in the morning, which someone told me is the largest area of natural grassland in America. There was little traffic on the highway and a good two-to-four foot shoulder. I stopped a few times to look across the rolling fields.

As far as I could see was a blanket of low, lush green grass. The only sound was a soft breeze moving over the land. Standing there was like drifting in a raft on the ocean.

I came upon a coyote pup nipping at a road kill, the only coyote I’d seen on the entire trip. It waited until I was within 30 feet before scurrying away.

I next rode through through a small town that was having a motorcycle rally. A biker told me they have it the first Sunday of every month. Another biker told me to be careful on the road with all of the motorcyclists.

Many motorcyclists sped by me as I pedaled, some alone and some in groups, with many giving me a wave. After miles of low rolling hills I arrived in Newton, population 17,190, in the heat.

I stopped at the first gas station mini-mart I saw and bought something cold to drink and an ice cream. I sat in one of two attached red plastic-chair booths. The other booth was occupied by two men who looked in their early seventies.

Within a few minutes another man arrived, greeted the two other men, and sat across from me in my booth. He looked in his early eighties. There were no introductions or hellos, they just started including me in their conversation.

As we all talked, the oldest man began to scratch his arm. The man sitting nearest to us in the other booth said, “Would you stop picking your arm?”

“If you don’t like it, then look away,” the oldest man replied. “There’s no law that says you have to watch.”

“What makes you think I give a shit?” answered the man.

We talked about local issues and the weather. A flatbed truck towing a trailer with a load of large rocks drove by.

“Look at that,” said the man sitting nearest to us. “Every load the rocks are getting bigger. Where do you think he’s getting all those rocks?”

“Probably from your place when you’re not around,” said the oldest man.

A man in his early twenties wearing aviator sunglasses walked by our booths. The man sitting nearest to us shook his head and said, “Look at that kid. He needs to smile.”

We continued chatting and then I bid them farewell. As I got to the door, the oldest man spoke across the store, “I wish I was young and full of it like you!”

I turned and smiled. “I’m not so young anymore.”

“Yeah, but you’re younger than me!” he replied. We waved and I stepped out into the sun.

I got a motel room and settled in. I ordered a pizza, then fell asleep to the idling semi-trucks parked at the truck stop behind the motel.

Scenes along the way

Day 42 – July 31: Chanute, KS to Eureka, KS, late departure

Distance: 66 miles
Total distance: 1,761 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 300 feet
Weather: 96 degrees, sunny

I woke up late, left the motel and stopped for a meal, then rolled out of town at 11:00 AM. The heat of the day was building.

The first section of the route was a highway with little traffic, then I turned on to a rural road that passed by farmland, a very small town where I saw no people, and a state park.

I stopped in Toronto, population 312, for some water and a break. There were no people to be seen except when I walked into the small corner store and the proprietor greeted me.

There was a water stain at the foot of the door where the air conditioner was leaking. Some of the shelves were empty. I sat at the window and drank a quart of V8 Juice and 16 ounces of orange juice. A local man stepped in and asked me how was it riding that “by-cycle?” The three of us chatted briefly.

I rode out of town and passed by a handful of homes and buildings, some of which looked abandoned. I saw nobody else.

I arrived at another corner store at an intersection to a highway and stopped in. The man behind the counter greeted me warmly and invited me to sit down and sign his cyclist guest book. His wife and a local woman having a cold drink were also there.

He said he’d had cyclists from forty countries visit his store. Upon hearing I was from Washington, his wife said she was from Darrington, Washington. The four of us talked for twenty minutes.

I pulled into Eureka, population 2,914, late in the day and found a $36 motel room. It was a beige one-story building.

Outside one of the rooms was a man sitting in a chair near two bicycles. He and his wife were from Ireland and riding eastbound. He had broken a spoke but thought he could make it to the nearest bike shop 100 miles away.

I offered him my temporary spoke repair kit, but he refused it. His wife came out of their room and we all exchanged route information. She asked if I’d seen any dogs.

They added that a woman traveling solo and eastbound was also at the motel, but I never saw her.

They planned to finish in Yorktown, Virginia, then rent a car and take a month to tour the United States, ending in Portland, Oregon where they had begun and had friends. They had no firm plans for their route back to Oregon.

In my room, above the mirror and over the sink, was a small control box for the air conditioner. The knobs, lettering, and wiring looked like it was made in 1950. The rest of the room appeared to be of similar vintage.

A few semi-trucks drove by on the road in front of the motel, but I’d learned that most of those small towns got quiet at night.

By 10:00 PM it was still warm outside, but the street was empty.

Scenes along the way

Day 41 – July 30: Pittsburg, KS to Chanute, KS, detour

Distance: 62 miles
Total distance: 1,695 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 400 feet
Weather: 95 degrees, sunny

I had breakfast and left the motel at 8:30 AM. It was the easiest day of pedaling to date. I’m sure the low elevation gain and rest day had something to do with it.

I think the cooling garter snake around my neck also helped. Despite the heat, the evaporative action keep it cool, so I assume it had some effect on keeping me cooler than otherwise.

Kansas gets strong winds and that’s what must keep the shoulders clean. I rode north on one wide freeway shoulder and didn’t see one piece of glass, metal, or even a pebble. It was the most pristine shoulder I had ridden on.

Every car gave me wide berth and I had a tailwind for six miles.

Fifteen miles of the route were unexpectedly blocked by road construction, so I had to take a detour which cost me four additional miles: 5 1/2 miles north on a freeway with a good shoulder and tailwind, then eleven miles due west on a freeway where people might have been less used to seeing cyclists. Traffic was light and everyone gave me room.

I arrived in Chanute, population 9,411, in the heat of the afternoon. I rode by the city park where camping was available, but opted for a motel.

That night I fell asleep glad that the most difficult hills were behind me. The Plains, Rockies, Pacific Ocean, and home lay ahead.

Scenes along the way

Day 40 – July 29: Pittsburg, KS, rest day

Distance: 0 miles
Total distance: 1,633 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 0 feet
Weather: 98 degrees, sunny

I woke up late and tired, so it wasn’t hard to call a rest day. I needed to run some errands anyway.

I had remembered reading about a product that is a neckerchief filled with water-absorbing crystals. Soaked in water and wearing it around your neck, the water slowly evaporates and the cooling effect supposedly cools your blood and lowers your heart rate. I thought it would be worth a try and found out Walmart sold them.

I walked a mile to Walmart and bought a neck-cooling kerchief and some chain lube. While there, I also got a nice Walmart haircut. I didn’t know you could get a haircut at Walmart.

The middle-aged woman who cut my hair said the previous winter had seen unusually bad ice storms and this summer had been unusually hot. “Global warming has something to do with it,” she said.

I had lunch and overheard my waitress telling her co-workers she was ready to find a new town. She was going to save money for a year, then move to a larger city. She mentioned Boston and Chicago. She was pretty, had medium length blond hair, and looked in her late twenties.

When she brought my lunch, I told her I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but she should consider Seattle because it was a great town. She had visited Seattle, said she had liked it and would consider it. It hadn’t been on her list. We chatted about her wish list for a city. I thought one more car on SR 520 wouldn’t hurt.

I walked back to the motel and soaked my neck-cooling kerchief. It plumped right up and being black and dark green, looked like a large garter snake hanging around my neck. I was looking forward to trying it while riding in the heat.

Day 39 – July 28: Ash Grove, MO to Pittsburg, KS, into Kansas, a brown dog and fishing in the river

Distance: 66 miles
Total distance: 1,633 miles
Distance from Yorktown, VA to home: 4,494 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Weather: morning 80 degrees sunny, afternoon 97 degrees sunny

I left the community center at 8:00 AM. There was a cool breeze blowing out of the southwest that was a headwind, but it was welcome.

The road out of town was a highway with very low traffic. The few cars that passed gave me the full lane. It was rolling green pastures and farmland for miles. There were a few short hills that had steep grades.

I had just peaked a hill and passed a remote house. I always glanced at remote homes as I rode by because sometimes they had a loose dog. No dog this time, I thought.

I looked ahead and kept pedaling, when suddenly I heard pads on pavement. A medium-sized short-haired brown dog was trotting along five feet away, keeping pace, tongue hanging out in the heat. He hadn’t announced his presence and just wanted to join the ride. I slowed down and he did, too.

He followed me for 1/4 mile, then I heard a semi-truck coming from behind so I stopped and called him out of the road. As the semi-truck approached, the dog knew to jump in the grass. The truck swerved by and the dog came over and licked my leg.

I rode on, the dog followed and we chatted a little. I eventually told him, “No, time to go home.” He wouldn’t listen.

We came upon a man fixing a gate. My bike was very quiet in certain gears and the man didn’t hear us approaching. I sniffed to let him know we were there and he abruptly turned around. We greeted each other and the man called the dog, though I couldn’t hear the name.

I started down a long hill and the dog didn’t follow. It was the friendliest dog I’d yet to meet on the trip.

A while later, I rode on to an old bridge that had holes, exposed rebar and missing concrete. As I made my way across I heard voices from below, so I stopped and looked down at the river. Two people were fishing chest-deep in the water, near a small waterfall that was flowing next to an old ruined building.

I rode on for some miles. The day grew hot and there was no shade. I started up a short hill, made a bad shift, heard the pop and felt my pedals turn free. A broken chain.

I had a master link, but the thought crossed my mind that maybe the new chain wasn’t compatible. The bike mechanic said it was, but thinking back he seemed unsure.

There was no shoulder, so I walked along the road toward an open spot in the grass across the ditch, carrying my chain in one hand. I could always shorten the chain and drive a pin to reconnect it. One car drove by. I started to cross the ditch when a pickup truck stopped.

The driver rolled down his window and asked, “You alright?”

“Yeah, just a broken chain. Pretty sure I can fix it.”

“You sure?”

“Well,” I said. “If you drive by in two hours and I’m still here, maybe we can talk.”

“There’s a farm supply store a couple of miles up the road. Why don’t I drive you and you can fix it there? If there’s a problem, they might be able to help.”

“That’s a good idea, thanks.”

We loaded my bike into his pickup truck and he secured it with a bungee cord. His name was Todd and he looked about thirty years old. His family owned a restaurant some miles ahead that was frequented by bicyclists passing through.

We talked as acres of farmland sped by. I asked him about local crops. He said corn and soy beans were popular, and cucumbers used to be popular until a large company bought the local processing plant and stopped processing them.

He dropped me off at the farm supply store, which turned out to be the only business for miles around. I thanked him and we shook hands. I fixed the chain in five minutes in the parking lot.

I didn’t worry about the ride in the truck for a couple of miles affecting the legitimacy of my trip as a cycling-only trip. It was serendipity and the prudent thing to do. Besides, I had at least 45 miles in riding-around-lost mileage, so I had seen plenty of extra countryside.

I arrived in Pittsburg, population 19,243, in the heat. There were two bike shops in town and I wanted to ask about my chain. I didn’t want any surprises in a more remote area. I called one shop, talked with the mechanic, and rode to it.

The owner of the shop explained what likely happened. My bike (this is a bit technical), due to its longer chainstays, large cassette, and big chainring, required a chain that was 1 1/2 links plus a second master link longer than a standard chain. The mechanic at the other shop probably drove a pin to connect the extra links, instead of using a second master link.

Apparently, driving a pin makes a chain weaker.

The chain broke 1 1/2 links away from the master link, which supported the bike shop owner’s theory. He hadn’t seen my chain before he explained his theory.

I decided to buy another new chain from him. The chain I repaired was probably fine, but it could have been slightly bent or damaged when it broke, which could have caused another break later. No sense in taking the risk to save a few dollars.

After all that excitement, I got a motel room.

Ash Grove Community Center

Downtown Ash Grove

Everton City Park

My friend the brown dog

Fishing in the river

Cucumbers in the road


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