Monday, July 9. Just north of Ellsworth, KS to Hays, KS. 73 miles of riding in 6:01 hrs.
Man this was just a total reverse in weather compared to what I’ve been riding in over the past two weeks. Up at 5 AM, downed a footlong Subway sub, coffee and one the gravel at 6:30 AM. Had Judy drop me off in the middle of nowhere KS to start my ride on a road called Ave B – just a nothing of a little dirt road that went off to the west into the hills and graze-land of this massive state. I started climbing from the gun and the road more resembled a farmer’s one-lane access road than a public road. The first climb just about had my heart pounding right out of my chest. I mean it was SLAM – within the first 5 min of riding. Got to the top of that and as I looked at this little road off in the distance all I saw was it just doing these roller-coastering up and down for miles on end.
Thought to myself that this was going to be a bitch of a day. Well, I eventually got through that hilly section within an hour and then the road kind of got wider and flatter, and of course I was able to pick up the pace considerably. Now after the road settled down I rode, had to be for at least another hr past the vast section wind turbines. They were just everywhere, towering up at least a hundred feet above me. Each one had a number and I’d ridden past a several hundred of them over the course of that hour. And along the way I spotted two sets of bicycle tire tracks, which had me pretty jazzed that there were other people out there riding as I was. Cuz really gravel is the rule out here rather than the exception. Only several ribbons of asphalt connect this vast gridwork of gravel roads. Seems that the whole state is laid out in a grid of roads in 1x1 mile squares.
Met Judy at our first support stop, and be darned if the two people who were riding bikes were there at the van talking to Judy. They turned out to be two locals out for a morning ride. Judy had told them my intentions on the route for the day, and they had suggested a better route – all on dirt. So we got the KS gazetteer out and one of the guys kind of pointed each of the four roads out for me. I quickly penned them down on some scrap paper and put it in with my KS roadmap and my route directions. I keep all my state roadmap and directions sheet in a big plastic freezer bag – that because I’d been sweating so much that the maps and paper would just turn into a slurry of paper mulch half way into a ride if they weren’t protected. I even keep my little digital camera in a freezer bag due to the sweat. Some days during that 12-day heat-wave my jersey has just been totally soaked with sweat by day’s end.
So we all talked for a short bit while one of the guys checked his cell for a current weather map – and it didn’t look good. There was a massive front moving in from the southwest and it had the potential for some serious weather. We all said our goodbyes and I was off after downing a coke and Powerade. Judy took off for our next rendezvous point and I was back on the road. Got in about 3 miles and felt it sprinkling. So I rode for another mile or so and it had picked up to a steady rain, and just as I made a turn onto another sand road it really started to come down. “Ok dude, get ready for the misery factor!” What with wet sand and mud the end result with the steady rain. And about the time the rain picked up I saw this farm house off to my left, and it looked abandoned.
Pulled in and hunkered down on this old porch as the rain really started slamming. Actually there was just a little hinge lock on the door, so I opened up up to this living room area. Now this looked to be a really lovely home many, many years ago. It was built out of rough cut sandstone blocks, with lath and plaster on the inside and hardwood floors and ceiling. But the place was just a wreck inside. Anyway, when I opened the door to the inside I could still feel the heat from the previous day’s heat wave. I mean it was a good 20 degrees hotter inside than outside. Felt really in there good since the temp outside with the rain was about 72 degrees. Called Judy and told her I was holed up on an old farmhouse whereas she told me where she was at it wasn’t even raining. And I looked out the window of the farmhouse and I was just engulfed in a total whiteout of a rainstorm. So I just hung out and kind of explored the old farmhouse for a bit, and then answered some emails when all else failed. Noticed that all the out buildings were made of the same rough cut sandstone blocks. Could only imagine what a wonderful little farm this was at one time.
After about thirty min, when the rain settled down to a light drizzle I finally decided to get back on the bike and take my medicine – which was going to be a tone of sand, dirt and gravel sticking to my tires and being thrown up into the air and all over me. I put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes and got it rolling. And exactly what I expected happened – shit getting kicked up everywhere by my tires. I had gravel and sand in my hair, mud and sand all over my legs and arms, grit and mud all over the bike, and a handful of gravel and sand inside my cycling shoes. It was crazy listening to all the crap pelting my helmet and whizzing past my face. Sounded like my bike frame was being sandblasted. And the funniest thing was that within 20 min of riding I the wet road was totally dry, almost as if there was a line there between the wet and the dry. Made it back to Judy and looked to the southwest where I was and it was just dark purple, whereas where she was it the sun was out. Never even rained by her, just about 8-10 miles from where I had been.
Two bologna sandwiches, coke, ice water, Powerade and I was off for the next section. From that point onward the gravel roads really flattened out and I was able to kick it in for miles and miles in the big ring. Now we did have a small blip on the radar where Judy went to the wrong jcn, but that was really not a huge problem. I just rode another 5-7 miles west and she met me there. I’m trying my best to choose a course that parallels I-70 so her support is as easy as we can make it without having her drive miles and miles into the vast unknown on gravel roads to find me. So far it’s worked quite well, with almost all the roads being marked, and all the junctions pretty easy to find.
The last section was on a gravel road called Victoria Rd, and it changed a couple of times from sand to gravel to this bright white limestone, which had been so packed down and baked by the hot weather that it more resembled concrete. It was so white that I had to put my sunglasses back on to protect my eyes from a kind of snowblindness. Couple of times there were these gas/oil well guys driving like 60 mph down this little road, just hammering. After like 5+ hrs of riding gravel and sand backroads and having nary a person pass me – let alone fast - I was taken aback by these dudes hammering down the quiet backroads. Thankfully that was all of it for those guys. Did notice though that I was riding through some countryside that was littered with gas and oil wells – not the new stuff I’d seen back in WV, but these old fashioned oil-well pumpers and some old gas-well cylinders. So there must have been a boom here a decade or so ago.
Just before the city of Hays my beautiful little gravel road Victoria turned into pavement and then led right into downtown Hays where I was suddenly confronted with a mass of humanity and vehicles. Totally sucked! I’ve been loving the feeling of being out there in the middle of nowhere with no people, no traffic, no nothing, and then riding straight into suburbia – that was a total shock. So I ended up with about 5 miles of pavement for the day, the last 5 miles. Called Judy to get the scoop, and she had booked a cheap motel up in town near the interstate, so I just rode up to the motel to meet her.
Couldn’t get in the room till 3, so we drove down to a chinese buffet and did all you can eat thing. Right now Judy’s burned out on Subway, whereas I could just eat it day in and out for the whole bloody trip. We actually still have about 60 bucks worth of Subway cards left, so we’re still jamming on those after all these weeks.Today’s high was 76 – a major cold one in Western KS in the summertime. And it had looked like the heavens were going to burst open practically the whole day – very little sun today. The wind was out of the northeast, so I had a bit of a cross tailwind again. All in all a very, very good day to ride across KS on dirt. The next 5 days are forecast to be in the high 80’s-low 90’s, so I think I’m in ok shape for a bit. Think I can make it through KS in 2.5 more days – doing all gravel/sand/dirt. Then comes CO. Hope it’s as nice as KS is with respect to the surfaces. Late……Pete