Trip Log – Day 321 – Bennington KS to Lucas KS

to-lucas-ksSeptember 21, 2016 – Cloudy, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 56

Miles to Date: 16,659

States to Date: 45

I am like an eight-year-old. I ride my bike all day and sleep like a baby all night. After ten solid hours in the sack I woke to full daylight. My home-schooling hosts were still snoozing when I got on the road at 8:30 a.m. I figured, no problem starting late on a short riding day. But the wind had picked up; its angle less benign, and there was no coffee or breakfast to be found in Bennington.

imgresI pedaled for 32 miles along Highway 18 weary, despite two snack breaks, until I reached Lincoln and discovered the Sunrise Cafe. Today’s special: meatloaf, creamed peas, baked potato, salad bar, roll and peach cobbler, plus coffee for $8.25. Excellent conversation with local customers and a snappy waitress came free of charge.

img_7431Real food in my belly and caffeine in my veins blunted the wind on my cheeks. I arrived at Lucas, Grassroots Arts Capital and one of Kansas’ 8 Wonders of Art, in plenty of time for a full tour of the Garden of Eden. I also got see, and use, the world’s most fantastic public toilet. Kansas proclaims ‘Wonders’ of all kinds, and Lucas is plenty neat, but grassroots art can’t stop the place from hemorrhaging a slow death. Having a gorgeous mosaic public bathroom is nifty, but when the only grocery in town is shuttered, that’s a real problem for a town 25 miles from anywhere.

img_7439There are no motels in Lucas. I had called a listing for Thacker’s Cottages looking for a place to stay. Mr. Thacker explained that he rents cottages by the week or month. Then he offered, ‘How much do you usually pay?’ I said “$50.” He replied, ‘Stop by, we’ll fix you up.”

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Three blocks west of the public toilet, Mr. Thacker owns a couple of houses on the border of town. His dog barked before I even pressed the bell. He took me to a house next door. The place sleeps five, has a full kitchen and dining table big enough for Thanksgiving. It was clean; all the beds fitted; the AC already on. He’d stocked the fridge with water and Gatorade. “Don’t drink the tap water; it’s got too much lime.”

img_7441He told me his litany of seven back surgeries, how he had to give up horseback riding; how he’d swallowed a mosquito and got West Nile Virus, how he was luckier than the guy who lived in Mr. Thacker’s trailer around the corner for free. “When I was a fool teenager the jack slipped from a car I was under. My chest was crushed; I couldn’t even holler. He pulled the car off me; must have been the adrenaline let him do it. He saved my life. Now that’s he’s feeble, I owe him.”

After a good amount of visiting, I surmised that Mr. Thacker wasn’t actually going to charge me to be his neighbor for the night. So I suggested we settle up and gave him $50 in cash. Half an hour later, I got a knock on the door. He brought me a taco salad and saltines for dinner.

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Trip Log – Day 320 – Manhattan KS to Bennington KS

to-bennington-ksSeptember 20, 2016 – Sun, 95 degrees

Miles Today: 70

Miles to Date: 16,603

States to Date: 45

 img_7410Bicycle route challenges crop up in the oddest places. Google Maps showed me a great route from Manhattan to Abilene, but my hosts cautioned that it went through Fort Riley, where bicycles are not allowed. They helped me map another route, complicated by rivers and dirt roads and limited access highways. Kansas limits bicycle access more than any state I’ve visited; not just Interstates but certain US Highways as well.

img_7412Fourteen miles out I encountered a ‘Bicycles Prohibited’ sign. While I was checking alternatives on my phone, a guy in a pick-up hauling a boat stopped to check his hitch and offered me a ride past the restriction. Such is the luck of my journey.

Back in bicycle friendly territory, Old US 40 through Chapman to Abilene proved a great route. Navigating Abilene proper was less easy; there are railroad tracks everywhere and an oil tanker train decided to sit astride several for half an hour.

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imgresEisenhower’s Presidential Library and Museum is misnamed. It’s a laborious, dark, text-dense labyrinth about World War II with a postscript about Mamie’s style and a few displays about 50’s prosperity. The museum doesn’t even contain a recreation of the Oval Office, which I’ve come to appreciate as a reflection of a President’s personality. One display, however, was super-cool: a model of how the Allies linked barges to offload trucks and supplies for the Normandy Invasion.

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New rule of bicycle touring: never try to repair a flat at a McDonald’s. I finished my writing break with enough time to pedal 27 miles to Bennington only to find my front tire flat. Very odd, as front tires almost never go flat. I suspected a local prankster or the gravel road I used to skirt the oil train. Whatever the cause, my trauma attracted Abilenians like flies, all keen with advice and their own bicycle stories. I finally had to move Tom away from the golden arches to focus on the problem.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-1-59-23-pmEventually, flat fixed and wind coming up from my left flank; I sailed across Kansas Highway 18 to Bennington, through wide countryside and gentle swales. I reached my host’s home in time for a delicious dinner and libertarian discourse. Kansas is not just a red state. Utter the two words ‘federal government’ in sequence and some people thirst to draw blood.

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Trip Log – Day 319 – Lawrence, KS to Manhattan KS

to-manhattan-ksSeptember 19, 2016 – Sun, 95 degrees

Miles Today: 85

Miles to Date: 16,533

States to Date: 45

One word describes the challenge of crossing the plains – wind. Today the wind and I did a subtle dance as I moved west and it came out of the south. When the wind shifted a bit east or my route veered to the north, I tacked it to advantage. But if my route pivoted even a few degrees or the wind shifted to the west, it pressed against me. Either way, my cycling was easier than when I crossed North Dakota and encountered steady winds from the west for days on end. Let’s hope these breezes keep prevailing.

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The Kansas State Capitol in Topeka is a gorgeous structure that underwent extensive restoration in 2009. They excavated the basement to expose giant granite foundations and put the museum exhibits in this grotto-like space. I thought it very effective. Then, you rise up to the ornate chambers and elaborate dome. The rough stone below and intricate ornament above create a wonderful counterpoint.

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It was after noon when I started the long slog to Manhattan: forty miles before I got a real break in Wamego on a very hot day. When its 95 degrees out, the contents of my water bottles keep my hydrated but don’t refresh.

img_7405After cold PowerAde, the last fifteen miles were a breeze. I stayed up past midnight talking with a wonderful local couple that lives in an old hotel downtown turned to apartments: appropriately urban for a Kansas town called Manhattan.

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Trip Log – Day 318 – Kansas City KS to Lawrence, KS

to-lawrence-ksSeptember 18, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 44

Miles to Date: 16,448

States to Date: 45

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Summer Sunday – and the living is easy. I had forty-four beautiful, easy miles along the Kansas River Valley.

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Kansas Speedway is a huge piece of environmental art. The painted seats are visible from State Ave for miles. There was a huge motorcycle rally planned there today, so I got up and around it before the noise got too great.

img_7375The only hill to speak of was University of Kansas campus – which sits on a precipice from all directions.

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Trip Log – Day 317 – Kansas City MO to Kansas City KS

to-kansas-city-ksSeptember 17, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 16,404

States to Date: 45

img_7347Everything’s up to date in Kansas City

They gone about as fer as they can go

– Oscar Hammerstein

My first time ever in Kansas City: a striking, friendly place that’s really a collection of places. If Saint Louis is the last Eastern city in our country, Kansas City is the first Western metropolis. It doesn’t have a single core from which things sprawl. Rather, Kansas City includes multiple nodes of development strung together by wide boulevards and residential areas. I had a gorgeous day to explore the new place.

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The city is famous for its fountains.

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I like the stately 8-plax apartments with big porches that were built in the 1920’s.

img_7367Snazzy KU Medical Center sits right off State Line Road. Within a few blocks the grade descends to the Kansas River and I was in an entirely different place. Kansas City KS is Hispanic and poor. Further west thin men trembled outside of by-the-week motels and buxom women in tight skirts offered to sell what I’m not buying. Eventually State Avenue becomes just another strip of bog box stores and franchises.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-4-59-10-pmMy host is an ardent dog lover. We watched Benji, an awful, saccharine 70’s movie that turned funny when Craig’s dogs barked at the ones on the screen. Afterward we went to Quik Trip for dessert smoothies. We sat outside on a warm night under the full moon and watched people buy pop and fill up their pick-ups. Saturday night. Welcome to Kansas.

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Trip Log – Day 316 – Cameron, MO to Kansas City MO

to-kansas-city-moSeptember 16, 2016 – Rain, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 66

Miles to Date: 16,376

States to Date: 44

images-1I woke to the threat of rain and pedaled with determination to Independence, motivated by the darkening skies and Harry S. Truman’s straightforward nature. Presidential Library #8 along my tour. Growing up, my father loved Truman’s no nonsense style, so I’ve always viewed him as a sort of hero. But he’s a complicated hero: a repeated failure in business; politically tied to patronage; a strategic rather than qualified choice for FDR’s fourth term running mate despite the near certain knowledge that this VP would ascend to the top spot.

Truman proved to be more decisive than anyone anticipated. He dropped the bomb on Japan, integrated the armed forces, solidified the Cold War, put us in Korea yet fired Marshall when the popular general wanted to invade China as well. He lived his motto: The buck stops here.

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One quote near the end of the museum sequence reinforced how much Truman created the world we inhabit today. “America in 1952 was a nation at the peak of its economic and military power. Yet paradoxically, this America of confidence, prosperity and military strength was also haunted by uncertainties, frustrations and a sense of vulnerability. Power and insecurity, plenty and want, generosity and prejudice – America in 1952 embodied all of these contradictions.” As they do in 2016.

images-2The rain was steady by the time I left Harry’s place. Still, I stopped at the Community of Christ Temple because it cut such a distinctive profile on the skyline. Turns out to be creation of a splinter group of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints who stress Joseph Smith’s early teachings and collective peace. The theology did not grab me, but the grandeur of the building and its dedication to world peace drew me in.

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The sky lightened and I sang Muddy Waters as I pedaled west, even if the lyrics are not quite right for me:

I‘m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.
They got some crazy little women there
And I’m gonna get me one.

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Trip Log – Day 315 – Marshall MO to Cameron MO

to-cameron-moSeptember 15, 2016 – Sunny, 85 degrees

Miles Today: 91

Miles to Date: 16,310

States to Date: 44

img_7308I woke before dawn, excited for the ride; stretched, breakfasted, and was on the road by seven. I always enjoy riding in the morning. The horizontal light highlighted the galvanized silos and skittered off the corn tassels. I got good miles behind me before the heat set in; the breeze gentle as the contours of the land. I rode the shoulder of US 65 north, across the Missouri River to Carrollton, then thirty miles west on Missouri 10, which follows the crease between the flood plain and the foothills. I logged fifty-nine miles and reached Richmond before noon: a new personal best.

img_7312What gave me such motivation? Yesterday I received an email titled, ‘I See You are in Missouri’ from a college friend. Bill made his fortune in technology and finance and retired at age thirty-nine. I saw him three years ago at his spacious house in North Jersey with his wife and youngest child, who was following in his three older siblings’ footsteps in applying to elite colleges. We had a good visit, but I didn’t contact Bill on this journey because I bypassed North Jersey. Turns out that while I pedaled fate threw Bill a curveball. An old childhood flame from his youth in Lima, Peru contacted him on Facebook. The two reconnected. In April, Bill left his wife and affluent New Jersey for a farm in Cameron, MO. Wouldn’t you wake before dawn and pedal 91 miles out of your way to get the skinny on that?

img_7321I was famished when I arrived at Jeffrey Kyle’s, a terrific family-owned buffet and restaurant for lunch. Next time you are in Richmond, eat there.

Bill and Jan’s farm is off a dirt road that Google cannot find. I headed north on Missouri 13 without a clear destination, texted Bill from Casey’s General Store in Polo, and hung around for direction. So much buzz in a small town convenience store. One man scratched dozens and dozens of lottery tickets without any sense of joy. A queue formed at the ATM, People bought a steady stream of cigarettes and pop and beer. Four people worked the joint, always busy.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-3-55-30-pmBill messaged me to ride west on Highway 116 where he and Jan picked me up at a truck stop along I-35. They toted Tom and me to their patch of South America via Missouri, where they raise Alpaca and thrive on their renewed connection.

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