Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gravel paradise

Sunday, July 7. Hope, KS to just north of Ellsworth, KS. 72 miles of riding in 6:11 hrs.

Bang the gong, ring the bell, strike up the band fore it’s time to celebrate cuz this was the day that broke the streak of over 100-degree days. Yup, we were at 12 straight days yesterday.  And damn what a difference a day makes.
         Got it rolling today at 6:30 AM, this due to us waiting for the “Dream Breakfast Buffet” that was a bomb! I love to fill up on that nutritious sausage and eggs and sausage gravy and all that junk. But all they had was sausage gravy and biscuits. So we kind of hung around for nothing. Judy drove out to where I ended yesterday in this little hamlet called Hope, and I was on gravel right out of the gate. It was Rt 700 which paralleled Rt 4 – a paved road – that Judy would drive to the town of Gypsum. Now Eastern KS had rain last night from a thunder storm (much needed rain for that matter) so the dust factor was gone. The gravel was firm and the weather was a cool 70-degrees. Felt just awesome to be so cool.
         So things were going pretty well on the gravel, with the road like straight as an arrow and just small undulations to climb. Nothing like the crazy steep stuff from the past few days of dirt. And I was feeling like I could get a really good day of dirt in what with the forecast being a high of like 93-95 for today. Then my cozy little world came crashing down – when the gravel turned to dirt. Suddenly the firm surface I was riding on became tacky, and I noticed my tires just getting bigger and bigger, as if they’d grown like twice they’re size. The layer of dust from the drought had gotten just tacky enough to stick to my tires and then build up, and up, and up, until the mud was so thick that it eventually got knocked off by the collar on the front shock for the brakes. It was just miserable. And I’d look back and see this set of tracks in the pseudo-dirt where the soil was being picked up and adhering to my tires.
         It got so bad that I was slowed down to about 8 mph and working my ass off to do that. Mud would build up so thick that when it got shredded off by that collar it would spray up in the air and just rain down dirt, gravel and mud particles everywhere. Now the first time this earthen stretch lasted about 2 miles and then the road went back to gravel, where I just had to clean all the mud off the tires to continue without being pelted to death with gravel stuck on all the mud. So yes, there was a second stretch of earthen road/tacky dirt followed by gravel. And then there was the long one, like 5+ miles of that shit. Have to admit I shouted out loud a string of expletives when I hit the third stretch. I mean I had hardened mud flying everywhere from my wheels. I was getting hit in the head, had it all over my legs, some pieces went down my jersey top, and my shoes were filling with gravel and big pieces of sand. It was a total pain in the ass.
         So I limped in to the town of Gypsum to meet Judy, just totally mudded out. Put down my good old bologna sandwiches, had a coke, a bottle of ice water and a quart of Powerade, and then took off for the next section Mentor. Got to admit that I was gun-shy at that point and I was telling myself that if the next section started with that frigging earthen road I’d get my ass back on pavement. But thankfully it was more of a sand road than anything, kind of like dbl track that went right through corn fields. I mean these roads are just crazy, some of them look like access roads to farmer’s fields, but they have county and township names and numbers. Some of them, hell you couldn’t even get a pick-up truck down them they’re so primitive. So this next pup war great, just dbl track sandy surface with no sticky mud. And I flew. It ended in the town of Mentor where the road turned to pavement for the last half mile.
         The third section for the day started off as pavement, and I had Judy just drive up ahead on this guy. We skirted around the city of Salina, and then headed up towards I-70 so Judy could get on the interstate while I rode gravel 1-2 miles south of her and paralleling I-70. We took Burnma Rd for a good 6-7 miles on pavement against a vicious headwind out of the northwest. Now Burma rd was closed right where it changed to gravel. So I ended up climbing down through this dry creekbed where the bridge had been washed away and bike-hiked it to the other side to continue. And that’s where the fun began. The riding was just off the charts amazing out there. I mean off in the distance I could see I-70 to my right, but I was just way the hell out in the plains alone, no traffic and very few farms. The landscape had turned to this large and endless swath of rangeland. We’d definitely made it to the Great Western Plains. The expansiveness was just such a sight to see as I’d look down the road and watch it turn to this tiny ribbon that drifted off into the horizon, undulating over and over and over again. Kind of made me feel like an ant in the middle of a desert.
         With the wind out of the northwest today I felt as though I had a wonderful cross tailwind to help me along when I was riding in a westerly direction. There were sections where I was flying along on gravel at 17-19 mph – until I’d hit the undulating climbs, where I’d have to hit the middle cookie and spin. But all in all, it was just fantastic for gravel riding. Met Judy at our third meeting spot and cranked down 2 more bologna sandwiches and coke and Powerade and water. By this time we were just meeting at these little junctions where Judy could exit and enter I-70, drive south for a mile or two on gravel, meet me, and then drive back up to the interstate and continue west to the next meeting point/exit spot. I mean there were just no towns or cities to meet at. 
         The last section, about 12 miles, was the most amazing. The road was just to primitive that I was constantly wondering if I was on private land, but every so often I’d pass signage that indicated that I was on public roadway. The road was really only one lane wide, and at times it got so thick with this sandy, loamy fill that on descents I had to kind of let the front wheel just go where it wanted with me not fighting it. In some places the powder was 4-6 inches thick, and that was usually at the bottom of descents where I was doing a solid 30 mph. You could just feel the bike “wander” as I hit these “fluff” areas. But the scenery was just crazy. Loved it despite the tough riding.
         I did end up hitting this climb that was a little cookie grinder, up through this earthen road past cattle on graze-land that stretched as far as the eye could see. This LOOKED like the wild west for sure. That section just made me feel like I was a million miles away from everything. So I finished on this gravel road/paved road jcn – no town, no city, just out in the middle of nowhere. Ended up today with all but maybe 8-9 miles on gravel/dirt. Very solid day when I don’t have the hot temps to beat me down. We phoned in a reservation at a little motel in the town of Ellsworth, about 6 miles down the road. It’s a weird, kind of dumpy place where we have no window – except to the reverse side of the room where we have a window next to the indoor pool and a conference room. Strangest thing I’ve ever seen! We both hate it, and if it weren’t for the fact that we’d already drug all our crap in there, we have complained and gotten a room with a window for the outside!! Oh well, I’m just too tired to really care that much.
         Subway is just acroos the street. I mean is that ridiculous or what? Nine times out of ten we always have a Subway within walking distance – and honestly I’m not planning this! Talk to you tomorrow………pete

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