“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Saturday - Horton to the Missouri River

The consensus in our group was that the accommodations for the tenters were primitive enough that we were truly camping. Tent city was set up in a low-lying area below the public swimming pool. We were to use the pool's showers and toilet. (No plural for the toilet--there was only one.) After a shower and a short dip in the pool I decided I'd walk the 4 blocks to the school rather than use these facilities again. I heard reports that the toilet plugged up sometime before morning.
Horton was our lunch stop for the BAK last year. I visited a store I found last year called "The Electric City Emporium". They have an assortment of odds and ends, from tools to party supplies. I found a figurine of a turtle playing an accordion. It's perfect for a "white elephant" gift.
I met up with some of the group I met last year. They were on their way to dinner & I went with them. We found a hole in the wall cafe. It was called "The Hole in the Wall". The food was pretty good. I took a risk and ordered steak. You never know how talented the cook is. Can he cook your steak the way you ordered it? It wasn't overdone, so I was pleased. "Medium rare" usually gives the cook a wide enough target to hit.
Back at tent city the night was noisy. A band played a few blocks away, making it hard to get to sleep. At 10:30 I heard the singer say they were going to take a short break. I thought, "I've got about 15 minutes to get to sleep before they start up again." But someone must have given them the word to turn the volume down. They were much quieter in their second set.
At 4 a.m. I woke up to an owl hooting. It was a pleasant way to be awakened. I hiked to the school to shave. I found that there are no lines for the toilets and sinks at 4 a.m. When I got back to my tent I decided to sleep a little longer. We only had 28 miles to the Missouri river. I didn't need to get an early start. Suddenly a dog chorus let loose a howl like I've never heard before. It sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, that is if the choir were made up of dogs. I was glad it only lasted a minute or so.
BAK provided breakfast for us: Chris Cakes. They bill themselves as "pancakes with attitude". They specialize in tossing pancakes. When I went back for seconds I merely held my plate and the woman tossed 3 pancakes from 8' away and hit my plate perfectly with each one.
The Missouri river was a flood stage so the city of Atchison said we shouldn't go to the river and dip our tires in the water. Most of the riders did it anyway. I'm sure they were worried about liability issues if someone happened to fall in. The water did look treacherous, so we were careful.
A lot of people talk to me as if they think biking across Kansas is a long, slow trip. But when I get to the end, the week went fast. I'm glad to be home, but part of me feels as if it was over too quickly. Even traveling at under 15 mph I find that there are a lot of sights I miss. As I say goodbye to folks I'm sure I'll see a lot of them next year. There will be a new roads to travel, new sights to see, and new people to meet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Friday - Sabetha to Horton

After riding 155 miles in 2 days, I expected the 47 mile for this day to be easier. I didn't feel as if I had to push myself. There were plenty of hills, but they were manageable. Even though I took my time I still ended up at the lunch town by 10 am.
Hiawatha was our lunch stop. There was a SAG on the west side of town. I got my water bottles filled and went in search of an early lunch. It had been years since I was last in Hiawatha. I had forgotten how dreary a town it is. It seems to be a town without a soul. The business district looked bleak and utilitarian. No cafe nor restaurant was to be seen there. I found a Sonic, a Subway and Pizza Hut on the far edge of town. It was too early for Pizza Hut to be open. So I ordered a hamburger at Sonic. I figured I could take the risk because whatever I ate would be burned up before it had a chance to give my stomach fits. My usual term for Sonic burgers is "gut bomb". I later found that I missed a great cafe just down the road from the Sonic.
I had read about the Davis memorial in our route guide. John Davis built it for his wife, Sarah, who died in 1930. Eleven life-sized Italian marble statues depict the stages of John and Sarah's life. I found the memorial a very sad place. John must have loved his wife because the memorial shows his grief at losing her. But none of their statues show them in close proximity to each other. The depiction of them as a younger couple has them sitting at opposite ends of a bench. The others have them looking at each other from opposite sides of their graves. I was left wondering what they had really been like. The memorial was built before John's death. Why had he arranged their likenesses in this manner? I wished I could ask him.
After more miles of hills I had a 2-mile downhill run into the town of Robinson. Here was a main street with soul. Businesses on main street were well past their heyday, if they ever had one. I saw riders coming out of one of the buildings with "bomb pops", frozen sugar water on a stick. I went inside and saw that this was not quite a grocery store. It wasn't even quite a convenience store. There was on shelving unit running down the middle of the store and a couple of freezers and coolers against the wall. It was a place to buy milk or eggs when you ran out and didn't want to make the drive to Hiawatha or Horton. A woman was at the checkout counter "scooping" ice cream out of a square cardboard container with a fork. I stepped up and asked for an ice cream cone as well. I asked her, "How much?". She said she was asking for 50 cents but that people had been giving her a dollar. I told her I'd give her a dollar if she piled my cone high. She asked me to hold the box while she dug with the fork.
I sat on the curb and ate my ice cream. I chatted with others who had stopped and watched riders go on by. I didn't expect it and it seemed an unlikely place, but this was my moment. When I think back on BAK 2008, this is the moment I'll remember first: eating ice cream on the curb of a bucolic little town no one ever travels to. I think this is the real joy of riding the BAK, encountering these moments, however fleeting, when everything feels right with the world and you can just be in that moment and nothing else intrudes. These moments are blessings to be savored and remembered.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thursday - Washington to Sabetha

The BAK followed Hwy 36 for much of the route this year. As we got farther east the traffic increased. That often meant hugging the 18" of asphalt to the right of the white line as traffic whizzed by a few feet away. Some drivers don't even bother to move to the far side of the lane, so you have to pay attention. This resulted in less looking at the sights unless I pulled over and stopped.
Marysville was the first town, 22 miles distant. I planned to stop there and see a few things of interest. A youth group had an ice cream sale and I stopped for a bowl. It was home made and very good. I stopped at the Pony Express museum. It was poorly done and not worth the time nor the $3. The Koester house was my next stop. The yard is a beautiful sanctuary filled with statues and featuring a fountain. The house is a Victorian style filled with period antiques and decorations. In the back, by the carriage house, I found an old bicycle. The brake worked by pulling a lever that pushed a rod down on the front tire. I saw another museum as I rode out of town, but I had 50 more miles to go and had to pass it up.
Lunch was in Seneca, another 25 miles away. The winds and hills took their toll and I started to bonk about 6 miles from town. I pulled out a ziploc bag of trail mix and ate most of it. That gave me enough energy to go on. There was pie for sale on the west edge of town. I decided to eat dessert first. Further into town a civic group had bierocks for sale. I had 2 and was still hungry. Vallentinos pizza was next door so I went to the buffet and had 4 slices of pizza, a chicken breast and mashed potatoes and gravy. I was finally satiated.
Sabetha, our overnight stop, had music and food downtown. They blocked off the streets and shuttled us from the school. Again, I ate well. I burn about 3600 calories a day, so whatever I eat is used up in a hurry. Some have said that this tour should be called "Eating Across Kansas".

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday - Beloit to Washington

Our modern lifestyle insulates us from the effects of nature. My travel journal last year was filled with entries about the terrain and the wind. Driving a car, these are not big factors. But when you are self-propelled, these become front and center in your life.
We had wind in camp at Beloit. It blew dad & mom's tent hard enough to snap one of the fiberglass poles. I'm glad Jay had a backup tent. It was smaller, but we were able to keep dad & mom from having to sleep in the car. We moved the Expedition and the trailer to provide a bit of a wind break and watched as a thunderstorm skirted by off to the south.
The wind blew hard all night and was still blowing in the morning. We faced our longest day of riding: 84 miles. Our first leg went north to Jewell, so riding with a 30 mph tailwind was a breeze. I was glad to see a woman selling cinnamon rolls at the edge of town. I hadn't eaten enough breakfast so was hungry. I ate two. We turned east and everyone struggled with the wind. Our lunch stop was 65 miles out, so I made sure to stop at the SAGs and eat. I also had trail mix and jerky with me.
Lots of people SAGed in after a few miles of facing the wind and the hills. Vans and trailers stuffed with bikes passed me on the road. I realized the wind had less effect on me when late in the afternoon I was passing people. I rarely pass people. But the wind wore everyone down so they were riding slower than me.
I arrived at Washington to find a note on dad & mom's car saying that we were advised to all sleep in the gym. There were storms coming with hail and damaging winds. These were the storms that brought tornadoes to Manhattan and Chapman. Dad and mom had secured a place for us on the gym floor.
After dinner we went to the parking lot to eat the pie and dad & mom had purchased that afternoon. As we sat in our chairs enjoying the strawberry/rhubarb pie, some of the boy scout troop came with a box of pie slices, selling the leftovers from dinner. He walked up to our group and said, "Do you want to buy some pie?" We told him we already had pie. Josh told him it was strawberry/rhubarb. The boy replied, "Wow! That's a lot better than what we've got. All we have is apple and cherry." We all had a good laugh.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Statistics

Here are the stats I kept for the week:

Total distance ridden: 502.87
Total time on the bike: 40:20:12
Average speed: 12.4
Maximum speed: 36.5

Tuesday - Smith Center to Beloit

Our lunch stop was in Cawker City, home of the largest ball of sisal twine in the world. Other cities have balls of rubber bands, yarn or string, but Cawker City has bailing twine. Frank Stoeber's effort to save his scraps of twine back in 1953 has become the central attraction for the town. Businesses are named along with the twine theme. But when I hit town I was more interested in the quality and quantity of food to be found there.
I passed by Jay Bird's Chicken & RV Park on the way into town. It looked like a dive, so I asked a pair of riders exiting whether the food was good. They said it was. I stated my intent to ride on into town and see what else was there. They informed me they had done the same thing.
I parked my bike next to a 6' plywood sign with a painted on chicken that looked a lot like Foghorn Leghorn. As I entered the building I was sure the health inspectors in Johnson county would never allow such a place to operate. It wasn't dirty, but a back window had been put in and the 2x4 studs were never covered over with sheetrock. On my right was a wall about shoulder high. I looked over and directly below were chicken pieces sitting in a tub and covered with breading. A man about my age ran the cash register and cooked and took care of filling the salad and food bar in the 12 x 16 dining room. A young man worked the grill. They both handled the pressure well. Of course, we were used to waiting. We often overwhelm small town businesses who aren't used to the kind of crowd the BAK brings.
The fryer was bubbling with hot oil and full of chicken. The owner informed us that white meat was 20 minutes from being done. Several of us told him we would wait. We stood off to the side and talked among ourselves and with the new people coming in the door. Finally our white meat was cooked and we received just the chicken on our plates. We had to serve ourselves the side dishes of green beans, mashed potatoes & gravy. It was the tastiest lunch I had the whole week.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Norton to Smith Center

Every so often the perfect day comes along. It was 53 degrees when I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m. The wind was light from the west. I hit the road shortly after sunrise and quickly decided that I needed another layer. I went back for a long sleeve cotton tee shirt.
Before I knew it my odometer said 4.5 miles. The tailwind was pushing me along. The hills were easy, and the downhills seemed longer than the uphills. The soft light of the morning sun gave a glow to the hills, trees and valleys. After a few miles of hills, Highway 36 came alongside a railroad track and was level for 15 miles. All of us breezed along with little effort.
I realized I was going to roll into Phillipsburg waaay before lunchtime, so I stopped often and took pictures and enjoyed the beauty of the land.
Phillipsburg is known as the cow/calf capital of the world. They have a lot of cow/calf pairs in that area. I didn't particularly notice any in the fields, but they say that this is true. At the west edge of town is a museum and reconstruction of Fort Bissell. The fort was a stockade built by the townspeople to be a sanctuary in case of Indian attacks. It was not a military fort. The buldings were filled with historical artifacts. I was surprised that all of their displays were just laying on tables and touchable. I picked up some items to get a better look.
I tried unsuccessfully to find a place in town offering the Phillipsburger, a special hamburger recipe shared among the restaurants in town. Several church groups had set up food stands in the square on the courthouse lawn.
The afternoon grew warm with the sun beating down in a cloudless sky. I rode into Smith Center by 2:30, set up my tent and enjoyed an adult beverage.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

State Line to Norton

We arrived at St. Francis in the late afternoon. After unpacking the trailer, unloading the bikes, and setting up tents, it was evening by the time we headed out to the Colorado border, 12 miles away (according to the map). Jay Maske and his family are with us and sharing expenses for the transportation. All of us figured on an hour trip out and back and so didn't think more than a bottle or two of water would be needed. We didn't count on the uphill climb all the way to the border, nor the headwinds. By the time we reached the border--14 miles by our odometers--we were almost out of water. At least the ride back was downhill. But after a few miles we found that we were in the zone old folks talk about that is uphill both ways. I was pedaling uphill and looked in my rear view mirror and it appeared it was uphill in that direction as well. We laughed, nursed our remaining water, and rode on. We rolled into town and found a Pizza Hut and chowed down.
The first two days of the BAK we settled quickly into the normal routine: ride, eat, ride, eat, eat, sleep. I'm making new acquaitnences and seeing friends from last year. Atwood and Oberlin have interesting museums. It has been nice having dad and mom drive our trailer to haul our gear. Last year we were all at a 2-bag limit.
It's interesting to see how the towns we visit react to all of us. Most of them don't realized the impact 800 people have when we roll into a town of 1200. We are like locusts. We come, eat everything in sight and then move on to the next town. Some of the restaraunts have handled the crush calmly. Others have been quite frazzled. Pictures, stats and more details will come after the ride is over. I'll post more updates as time permits.