Dad stayed with me for two nights, and we saw a couple of the 8 Wonders of Kansas before we parted ways in Kanopolis State Park. The Geological Center of the U.S. was impressive for what it is, and Mushroom Rock State Park was also interesting, though I'm glad I didn't go out of my way to ride there on my bike. As expected, it was another emotional goodbye to Dad, and I about hyperventilated with anxiety as I rode south on hwy 4, and he drove north to go back home. But one mile into it I was fine and instead of fear, that incredible feeling of freedom took my breath away, and I was back.
I rode 77.8 miles on day one and it was very pleasant. Variable tail-winds, mostly flat roads, and a big shoulder all day. It was cool and sunny and pretty damn perfect.
I had every intention on my first night to camp at a primitive, free site at the Cheyenne Bottoms Reservoir Wetlands but somehow I ended up staying with a bunch of nuns on their beautiful farm west of Great Bend, KS. Heartland Farm has been around for almost 25 years and the five Sisters who live there raise alpacas and chickens, as well as hold art workshops for kids and host a number of volunteers to help out throughout the season. They are also new to WWOOFing and they currently have one Buddhist WWOOFer and another volunteer staying with them for a few weeks. The Sisters spoiled me rotten with my own private cabin complete with composting toilet, hot shower, double bed, and kitchenette. They even had vegan peanut butter cookies that they baked fresh in their solar oven that day to celebrate Earth Day. They entertained me with a card game of peanuckle as we swapped stories that evening and we shared a big group hug the following morning before I departed. I hope to go back someday and return their gracious hospitality. Thanks, Sisters!
The next couple of days were more challenging, facing merciless head-winds, side-winds, and rollers of all sorts. On day two I road 76.5 miles to Cedar Bluff State Park, which was totally out of my way, where I paid too much for a bogus campsite that contained a dismantled deer carcase. The facilities were mostly locked and the ones that were open were clogged with poo and trash and therefore deemed unusable by me. I don't mind not showering or going to the bathroom outside, but for $20 you'd think the park would be maintained. It was beautiful there though, so that at least made up for the cost and the 16 miles of hilly sand rollers going in and out of the park from the highway. I don't suggest riding there on a bike. Just don't do it. Also, I'd recommend camping at the north shore instead of the south shore, apparently it is more popular and well kept.
I stayed in a park in Ness City on night three, only making it 35.6 miles that day due to the strong head-winds as I traveled south on 283. That night I learned my tent was indeed waterproof as a freak thunderstorm popped up out of nowhere. It's amazing how secure a tent can make you feel when you're inside of it, knowing what's happening on the other side. You kind of feel invincible.
After that rough third day I decided it would be a good idea to plan my route according to the weather from then on, if possible. I've had to alter my initial course a little, cutting out a couple points of interest, but since I'm unfortunately on a time schedule I can't afford to dilly dally in Kansas. I want to give myself as much time as I can to get over those mountains and check out the sites in Colorado. Kansas is beautiful and vital for the beef industry, but I think someone should totally dig a big hole in the western half of Kansas and fill it with water because this part of the country would make for excellent sailing. It would sure smell better. The weather here would be perfect and the winds vary in direction from day to day so you could really go places. I've almost convinced myself it would be a good idea to design a sail for my bike. If I did that I probably wouldn't even have to hardly pedal. Oh snap, light bulb! Hello sketchbook!
My fourth night I stayed with the Allen Family in Scott City. I hooked up with them through my Mom's co-worker, Chris, who has a brother that lives there. Considering we were strangers, the Allens were very kind to let me intrude on their lives with little notice. After a hot shower, laundry, use of their kitchen, and a safe place to set up my tent, I couldn't have asked for more. Jeff, Marie, their good friend Tucker, and their four children (with Kool-aid mustaches) were wonderful hosts, giving me lots of advice about the weather and geography of the area. Jeff even hooked me up with a place to stay in Lamar, CO! They are a great family, you could totally feel the love in that house. They went out of their way to accommodate me that night, and made sure I was safe even after I left their house the next night. Thanks, Allen Family!
After five solid days of riding, I've made it 305 miles to a cozy little town near the western border of Kansas. Tribune has a population of around 800, and with one blinking-red stoplight and country music sounding from every street pole, it's atmosphere is welcoming and quaint. The people here are very nice and helpful as they are used to cyclists passing through. Apparently there is an annual summer event called Bike Across Kansas where hundreds of cyclists take over all of these tiny towns I've been to. They swarm the highways, nearly blocking traffic, and at night they fill every piece of lawn space they can with their tents. Truckers, I hear, despise them and will do what they can to ignore their presence by nearly blowing them off the road. But the event does bring in a lot of needed business to the small towns so I think overall they are appreciated by the locals. So far, most of the traffic has given me ample room, but I've been severely blown around by a few mad truckers who hold a grudge. I brace myself every time just in case, and I try to wave at everyone and smile to be nice and make friends, if only for a second.
I totally splurged last night and hooked myself up with substantial shelter to avoid the storms. It's a good thing too, because there were tornadoes in the area and it hailed for a little while. I don't know how well the tent would have held up. For $30 I stayed at Colleen's Cottage here in Tribune. It's basically an overflow of the antique store she owns in town so when walking inside, it's like stepping back in time. It's adorable and clean and with three bedrooms, two baths, a parlor, full kitchen, dining area, and living room, it's big enough for a family, but I lucked out and had it all to myself last night. Pictures don't do it justice, but if you're ever passing through Tribune you should consider staying here. It's the cheapest place in town for lodging and I bet it's the cutest too.
Tomorrow I have almost an 80 mile ride ahead of me, but with ENE winds it shouldn't be too bad. I'll cross the border into Colorado and I hope to make it to Lamar by late afternoon. I was warned about the vacant landscape from here on out so I'll be on the lookout for the Rocky's in the distance. I've lined up a couchsurfer in Pueblo for Monday night, and that's as far as my plans have taken me.
My spirits are high. The trip has been great so far, I've already met some amazing people, and I can't wait to see what's beyond the horizon next. I can't put into words my appreciation for the care and support that I have received from family, friends, and stangers alike. You're all amazing.