Thirty-One: Derecho (Council Grove to Newton)
Back to tarmac.
Kelly ran me the 40 miles to Council Grove’s Sonic parking lot, where I loaded up and headed out. I’m really pleased things worked out that I could visit him and Dawn over the Fourth. We couldn’t have planned it better.
I’m glad Google’s gravel directions got me to Council Grove, but I’m taking oil road to Newton. Enough playing with cattle. I ran Kansas 177 about 20 miles south to Highway 50 west. Riding along 177 was great — in the heart of the Flint Hills, and I passed through the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This land is set aside for research, recreation and conservation. The visitor center also has an ice-cold water fountain. Prairie once accounted for 200 million acres in Kansas, but farming and ranching have reduced that number by 95 percent.
I spent about 50 miles on 50W, and saw a handful of three-person teams racing east, supported by multiple branded vans. We exchanged waves, but I never figured out what the event was.
I stopped for a break in Florence, which was a very cool, very closed town. I was hoping for chocolate milk, but settled for water from a spigot in the town park. A great pavilion, FYI, and I’ve developed quite a discriminating pavilion palate over the past month. It’s a shame nothing was open, but the town has some great architecture, including an opera house.
The wind was unrelenting out of the southwest all day long, and of course I was headed southwest, all day long. Nobody likes a whiner, but this was my hardest day on the bike so far. I averaged 9.8 mph over a flat 75 miles — after a full day of rest — and only due to the grace of the half gallon of Gatorade I drank in Walton. For perspective, today was just under 30 percent slower than I’ve been averaging, trip-wide. Complaint over. Wind is a different challenge than climbing. With hills, you can see why you’re moving slowly, you eventually get to the top, and then you usually get a nice downhill reward. At least wind keeps you cool.
I was thrilled to arrive in Newton, a great town of just under 20,000 people. Historic downtown, crisscrossed by rail (and an Amtrak station!), with an enormous grocery store –I’m in Dillons country now. I’d planned to stay at the Newton Bike Shop, but the owners are out on holiday, so I’m bunked at the fire hall, sleeping in air-conditioned comfort, with a hot shower, full kitchen and great company in Brian and Robin.
They just graduated from Shippensburg University, working their way to Oregon, and then Washington, where they hope to find work. They left Yorktown about 10 days before me, and are taking time to see the country. Robin’s riding a vintage Univega, while Brian’s on your more standard Trek 520. They spent the Fourth in Eureka, and said it was spectacular. The whole town came out.