Twenty-Eight: Ride Your Bike Day (Chanute to Eureka)
Spotting a cyclist on tour is a curious thing. In Eastern Kansas, where slight hills and straight roads make for long sight lines, you first see a speck off in the distance. It could be a a signpost, a piece of oil-well plumbing, rogue bovine or maybe, just maybe, a person. I don’t have the greatest eyes, and it takes a little while, but perhaps an oncoming car or truck pulls into the opposite lane and passes said speck. This is a pretty good clue that it’s not (a) a signpost or (b) piping and probably a member of the chordate phylum. Then you close the distance a little more, and spot bit of reflective tape, or some garish spandex. Since cows have yet to master the zipper, odds are good it’s a human being.
I saw more eastbound touring cyclists today than the last week combined. A couple of singles, a group of four middle-aged women, then more than a dozen supported tourists, all of whom were coming straight across the U.S., doing the ACA’s Western Express. It’s considered rude to ride by a loaded cyclist without stopping to say hello, so I got plenty of breaks today.
My ride took me through Toronto, never a big town, but it was totally closed up this morning. It looks to have (and the maps indicate) several restaurants, shopping, a library and post office, but no signs of life. Kind of creepy to roll through all these weathered buildings and not see a soul. Banners advertised Toronto Days, July 4-5-6, so perhaps everyone’s resting for some truly bacchanalian Independence-Day feats. I was hoping for chocolate milk.
That wish was granted a few miles down the road at Lizard Lips Country Junction, on the corner of 106 and 54. You can get your hunting license, night crawlers, car battery and a gallon of milk along with your deli sandwich and super unleaded. One-stop shopping. I was greeted by the proprietor’s granddaughter who brought me a cyclist logbook to sign. The owner let me know I was heading into the Flint Hills, one of the last stretches of true prairie. Named for the flinty chert at the surface, this area’s too rocky to plow — its 4.5 million acres of bluestem grasses primarily serve as pasture for more than a million head of cattle each year.
I’m calling it quits in Eureka. Home’s the pool and city park two blocks south of Main Street. There’s a pavilion, but the roof doesn’t look so great, so I’m putting my tent up again. There’s a cold shower, but I’m too sweaty to care. Whatever cyclist came through last left a pavilion-warming bottle of Fat Tire behind(!). Coming back from the library (where you can check out designer cake pans) and grocery store, I’m joined by Rob, a well-bearded Maryland cyclist who grew up in Herndon, Virginia, and went to James Madison University. He’s been to Foamhenge. Rob’s riding the Western Express across, and hopes to ride up the coast to Portland, where 2014’s World Beard and Mustache Championships are being held. He works at an outdoor ice rink, which doesn’t exist five months out of the year, so he’s got the time. A couple of hours later, a second Rob rolls in. He started in Vermont before riding south and picking up the TransAm to Pueblo, where he’s also opting for the Western Express. The Robs began today in Pittsburg, and rode more than 120 miles to Eureka. Big days. Rob No. 2 doesn’t have the ACA maps — he’s navigating by rough descriptions from the ACA, combined with an iPhone and state maps. He spent some time on the interstate today.