Thirty-Three: Devil’s Rope (Sterling to La Crosse)

by davidharries

Miles: 93
Total: 2,206

On a clear day in Kansas you can easily see ten miles. This reality is driven home every time you spot a grain elevator, look at the map for the next town and think, “Wow, I’m getting close.” Ten miles. Every time. It’ll slowly creep closer, from a prick on the horizon, to a 130′ tall, reinforced concrete complex.

I got an early start and managed to dodge the sprinkler system at Sterling Lake. It was cool and pleasant, but a note on the maps about no services for 58 miles had me pack a little extra water. I thought I was finished with dogs, but two gave chase. The first, a golden retriever modeling a menacing bandana, the second a good-sized Rottweiler who squeezed under the fence (!). Luckily, neither had the tenacity of an eastern-KY hound and I escaped intact.

Fifteen miles into the day I entered Quivira National Refuge, an area established in 1955 to protect migratory birds. It’s a mix of prairie and marshland, and is gorgeous. Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado visited the area in 1541, hunting for gold. He came up empty. While reading a sign about various waterfowl, Robin and Brian from Newton caught up. They stayed in Nickerson last night. We rode together for a few miles, but I kept stopping to look around and take photos, so they got ahead of me.

I had thought of quitting in Larned (where I saw, and smelled, my first CAFO), especially as it was over 100 degrees by lunch, but it was early, and I wanted more miles. Rehydrated by a giant Sonic slush, I got back on the road long enough to make Fort Larned, an 1860 installation designed to protect the Santa Fe Trail (which ran from Independence, Missouri, to, you guessed it, Santa Fe, New Mexico), and its commercial traffic, from Indian attack. In 1868, local stone and Michigan timber (no trees in central Kansas) buildings replaced the original adobe.

By now it was an indicated 102 degrees. Five miles past Fort Larned, I turned right onto highway 183. This is one of two extended northern vectors in Kansas, and the wind was at my back. I cruised 20 miles into Rush Center in an hour-ten. There’s nothing in Rush Center, so I filled my water bottles at an auto shop and talked to the receptionist. She gave me the scoop on La Crosse and told me to check out the Dew Drop Lounge in Pueblo, if it — and the bus station it calls home — are still open.

I made quick work of the four miles to La Crosse, where I had time to visit the Kansas Barb Wire Museum. It’s home to more than 2,400 barb wire samples, antique tools, and other errata, including a 72-pound barb wire crow’s nest, recovered from a utility pole in Greeley County.

Camp tonight is the city park adjacent to the museum. There’s a pavilion, electricity and bathrooms, but no shower, and the pool’s closed Mondays. I called the police as requested on the map to note arrival, but never got more than a busy signal.

I had dinner and birthday beer (a New Belgium 1554, promising, but nine months out of date, and a perfectly fresh and predictable Budweiser) at Cozy’s Bar and Grill, and went next door for groceries, including dessert/birthday cake/breakfast cinnamon rolls. My evening was immeasurably brightened by a pair of singing phone calls, one from my parents, aunt and uncle who are on vacation together, the second from Sara and my roommates in Pittsburgh. Thanks for thinking of me.