Twenty-Nine: Gravel Grinder (Eureka to Council Grove)
I went off the reservation today, and didn’t see a stitch of asphalt for more than 60 miles between Eureka and Council Grove. It dewed heavy overnight, and was a chilly 48 degrees leaving Eureka. I’m deviating from the TransAm, heading north about 70 miles to Council Grove to meet friends who live in Manhattan. The ACA maps are great — they indicate road type, where you’ll find gas stations, restaurants and give generally good directions. I’m armed today with Google Maps bicycle directions and a Kansas State highway map, picked up in Chanute’s tourism office. Usually I travel with two large Camelback Podium insulated water bottles, giving me a volume of 50 oz. Today, I filled up two spare 20-oz. bottles. These usually sit empty, since water’s heavy and I rarely worry about running out. The ACA maps are a comfort blanket, and I’m anxious in their absence. I have no idea what, if any, services will be available. This turned out to be a good idea, because homes are few and far between out here, and I didn’t have a chance for resupply until arriving in Council Grove.
The first 60 miles today were all on gravel farm roads. Pleasantly devoid of traffic, I can count on one hand the number of cars and trucks I saw. Being out in the wilderness has its perks, but on some of the loose-gravel downhills, I couldn’t help but think about how long it’ll take someone to find me quivering in a pool of my own blood and urine at the bottom if I wipe out. This tends to temper speed on descents.
Lots of locusts — they’re everywhere: on the road, in the grass, on me (and a grasshopper has enough weight that you take notice when it lands on you). Grasshoppers and cows, your two major Flint-Hills food groups. I saw a huge number of cattle today, and for a time rode over a few cattle guards and into the arena with the herd — no barbed wire separating us. Big creatures, and a some posted up right in the middle of the gravel, and off to the sides. I figured we’re at an impasse, but they tottered out of the way. For being so big, they’re not especially brave, and for that I’m thankful.
Eventually I turned off Road A, on to CC Avenue. Avenues should be paved. This is fact. Avenue CC is gravel. This was a downer. Luckily, a mile down the line I turned right on Dunlop Road, and that was blessedly paved. The last 10 miles into Council Grove flew by as I pedaled through the floodplain. Kelly met me in Council Grove (he served as the college media editorial adviser when I was in Blacksburg, and moved to Manhattan for work a few years ago). We loaded up and hydrated with Sonic Limeades during the 40 mile drive north. Moving at 65 mph is a rare treat.
Home tonight and tomorrow is Kelly and Dawn’s very nice home in Manhattan. I’m looking forward to catching up, taking a day off the bicycle and spending time in a soft bed.