19. Moving Across Kansas

We’ve been in Kansas a week now, having crossed the border from Missouri just south of Pittsburg, KS, on Friday, June 11. It’s my first visit to this state; Shelly’s been here before but has no strong memories of it.

Vast fields of corn, soy beans, and wheat.  Gentle, rolling terrain.  Wind turbines and oil derricks interspersed with wheat and corn.  Kind generous people.  Motorists who follow the state law requiring them to pass bicyclists at a distance of at least three feet.  Unseasonably hot temperatures.  Strong headwinds blowing hot air directly at us, making us feel like we are riding in a blast furnace.  One of the most violent thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced (from the safety of a restaurant).  Peace and quiet. Those are the varying impressions I’ve had of the state during our ride across the state so far. 

The flattening of the terrain around us has been a welcome relief from no-flat-roads-in-southern-Missouri.  We’ve transitioned from riding through the forests of the Ozark region of southern Missouri, with the trees engulfing us and mostly limiting our view to the corridor of  road directly before us, to the wide open vistas of Kansas, where we have a 360-degree, the-horizon-is-the-limit view of the world around us. 

To me, Kansas has been liberating, energizing, mesmerizing and meditative.

But not always. Today, Kansas brought Shelly and me to our knees. The latter part of our ride, 25 mph headwinds and 100 degree heat beat us up physically and mentally, our 60-mile ride finally ending at 1:30 p.m., before the temperature continued to climb to 104 or so.

Here are some of the highlights of our first seven days in Kansas:

On a relatively remote stretch of road northwest of Girard on Saturday, June 12, we came across the oasis named Immanuel Lutheran Church.  The church leaves its activity center open to TransAmerica bicyclists, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  There, bicyclists can shower, prepare a meal in the kitchen, and spend the night.  Or, as in our case, just take a short mid-day break in the comfort of an air-conditioned room, use the restrooms, refill water bottles, and enjoy a variety of beverages and snacks set out in the kitchen.

Later that evening in Chanute, we and four other cyclists enjoyed the hospitality of Warmshowers host Rick (and his three Schnauzers, Emmet, Sterling and Willa). Three of the other riders (all from Georgia) were westbound for Astoria, OR, and the fourth (from Colorado) was headed east for Yorktown, VA.  Hosting six cyclists was a personal record for Rick.  We six cyclists and Rick enjoyed a delicious lasagne dinner Rick had prepared.  The next morning, Rick provided breakfast for us all. Thank you so much, Rick!

Following thirteen straight days of riding, we took a day off Monday, June 14, in Toronto (pop. 282). We spent Sunday and Monday nights at the Sassy Sisters Inn (www.sassysistersinn.com). The Inn is an old church which the sisters converted into a bed and breakfast.  It consists of a large common area, a dining room, a kitchen and two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and shower.  It is designed to hold up to two sets of guests, but Shelly and I had the place to ourselves during our stay.  It was the perfect place to rest: no internet access; no cell phone service; and really nothing else to do other than rest and relax.  

Today, we left Newton in the dark at 5:30 a.m. We had a 60-miler before us, and the weather forecast was for temperatures reaching 105.  We left early to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures.  By the time we took a break at about 9:00 a.m. at the quaint Mustard Seed Cafe in Buhler, 30 miles into our ride, the temperature had already climbed to 86.  It only got worse from there, climbing past 100.  Six miles from our destination – an air-conditioned motel room in Sterling  – we were both spent, mentally and physically.  We were exhausted by the heat and the strong headwinds.  We laid our bikes in a ditch, and sought shelter from the hot sun in the shade of a tree on someone’s property. And here comes the good part . . .

The property owner approached us to make sure we were all right.  He offered have us come in his house to cool down, or at least use the water hose in his backyard to cool us off.  We declined, but had a nice conversation with him.  After he walked away, a motorist who had also stopped to check on us, moments before the property owner did so, returned to us and approached us with a bag.  He had driven all the way home to Sterling, retrieved some ice cold water bottles, and returned to give them to us.  He also told us that we were welcome to spend the night with him and his wife, and enjoy a dip in the lake they lived next to.  We declined, explaining we had a room reserved in Sterling.  Energized by the goodwill of these generous people, we hopped on our bikes and rode the final six miles to Sterling. 

We have met so many generous people on this trip, like these two men who offered us water, shelter and encouragement as we sat exhausted on the side of the road in blistering wind and heat. 

Today, we also met the current third-place racer in the TransAmerica Bike Race, who, like us, was taking a break at a gas station in Nickerson, KS.  Yes, there is a bicycle race occurring on the 4,200- mile TransAmerica Route.  The racers left Astoria, OR, on Sunday, June 6, heading for Yorktown, VA. 11 days later, the first two are in Missouri and the third in Kansas. Incredible. Yesterday, we exchanged waves with the second place rider further back east in Kansas.  (We missed the current first place rider in Kansas because we had detoured off route when he came by.)

Our route into and through Kansas so far has taken us from  Golden City MO to Pittsburg KS (39 miles); to Chanute (60); to Toronto (48); to El Dorado (61); to Newton (42); and today to Sterling (60). We still have a few days of riding before we enter Colorado. 

The last two days have been rough, mentally and physically, because of the heat, and the temperatures are forecast to continue hot, dulling our enthusiasm for the upcoming rides through remote, arid parts of western Kansas and eastern Colorado.  We again have thoughts of quitting and going home. We’ll see how we feel tomorrow. One day at a time . . .

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Linda Hill

    Hang in there you two. I’m envious in some respects of your journey knowing what it feels like to travel on a bicycle and how wonderful it is to enjoy the scenery passing by at a different pace. Enjoy the flatlands of Kansas… Colorado awaits. As we have traveled around the world, we are constantly surprised/pleased by how kind people are everywhere. One of the best pleasures of travel. Stay well and pedal on… Hugs to you both. Linda

  2. Margie & Larry

    (Sorry about the duplicate on #18…apparently we did make the cut, despite being warned otherwise.) How utterly exhausting and miserable with the heat and wind!! So now heat stroke is another lurking danger to add to the list. Be wise, stay safe! You have, indeed, had some wonderful encounters with people…both old and new friends. Plus, how remarkable to be absorbing the essence of each state’s geography as you pass through.

  3. Gail

    Been praying for you this week to be safe in the heat! You are both so strong and determined…..We love you just the way you are whether you come home early or finish long…hope you find many more kind people and places to keep 😎 cool

  4. Stu Smucker

    Jens and Shelly, this trip is so inspiring. You two rock. Great blogs and photos.

  5. Cherell

    I find myself checking many times throughout the day, every day, to see if there’s a post!!! You two are definitely my heroes!! And I agree with Stu, your trip is so inspiring, I could NEVER, and you two definitely ROCK!! Whether y’all go home sooner than later, you can definitely pat yourselves on the back and say “What a damn good trip!!! Boy we’re good!!!”

  6. Pam

    This post gave me goosebumps several times. The amazing, generous, caring and interesting folks you are interacting with along the way…wow!

  7. Bob P.

    The open views through Kansas must be beautiful. Hang in there. You guys are amazing!

  8. Karen Perkins

    Driving through Kansas from Pennsylvania to our new home in Colorado in 1968, my dad said, “You can see two days ahead of you in Kansas.” Your trip is so fascinating!

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