Let me set the record straight right off the bat - Kansas has an undeserved reputation for being flat and devoid of anything interesting. In reality, the landscape is much more rolling than one would expect, particularly in the eastern region of the state. Additionally, as we heard from many east-bound cyclists, the people in Kansas are among the friendliest on the Transamerica route. It was here that we set a trip record for consecutive nights hosted.
Though it treated us well, Kansas was not all daises and daffodils. Joe’s bike began acting up once more as soon as we crossed the state line, the rear wheel again at fault. By this time it was nickel-and-diming him to the extent that money for replacement parts might be better spent on a new bicycle. We flagged down a truck so that Joe wouldn’t be forced to ride on his crippled wheel and continued riding without him, on toward Pittsburg, Kansas. Along the way Clancy and I were faced with a road outage. The detour around the construction zone was a full eight miles so we thought we would proceed as usual, riding straight through on the closed road. This might or might not have been the best approach in retrospect. The tricky part of this scenario was that the missing section of road we needed to use was an overpass that crossed over a busy interstate. We began by riding up a muddy slope where the ramp to the bridge would have been. Clancy managed to plow through despite accumulating a substantial amount of mud. I didn’t fare so well; the minimal clearance between my wheels and fenders soon proved to be inadequate and my forward progress ground to a halt. I was soon kicking my front fender trying to free the wheel of accumulated earth, cursing like a sailor all the while. Having eventually made it down to the four lane thoroughfare we were now faced with a real life game of Frogger. Luckily, the road crossing went smoothly and the bank on the other side was not as treacherous as the first. Next time we arrive at a detour we might think twice about short-cutting (but I doubt it).
Once we arrived in Pittsburg we met back up with Joe who had since decided to order a brand new touring bicycle. Exciting news! This meant that we had a few days to kill while awaiting delivery of said bicycle. We made a beeline for the post office as we were expecting a slew of care packages. We were not disappointed - in addition to clothing and snacks sent from home, Craig and Ronda (from Kentucky) had sent a parcel weighing over ten pounds, chalk full of goodies. So impressive was the bounty that we felt the need to catalog it. Huge thanks to our parents, Craig, and Ronda! It was at the post office in the process of loading up our loot that we met Charles the dental technician. He inquired about our travels and was tickled to discover that Joe was indeed a dentist. This prompted him to invite us over to his lab/clinic for a tour - what a treat! After giving us some hands on experience in the dental laboratory Charles asked us where we were staying for the night. We shrugged our shoulders and explained that we more often than not camp in an out-of-the-way location. Almost immediately he marched us down to the basement. “This is where you guys are sleeping for the night,” instructed Charles, “How long are you in town for?” We explained to him the predicament of Joe’s bike and that we would be around until Thursday. “The place is yours until then,” said Charles with a smile. Exceedingly grateful to be sleeping indoors, we thanked him enthusiastically. We walked back up to ground level and were introduced to Charles’ grandson, Ian. After shooting the breeze for a while we inquired about his killer looking WRX in the parking lot. “You guys want to go for a ride?” he probed. We hopped into the sleek, white STI (top trim level of WRX) and found ourselves scooting swiftly down the highway. I soon realized that this was one of the quickest cars I had ever ridden in; that’s when we found the beautifully banked 90 degree corner. Our bodies tensed as we wondered if the forces of gravity and the all-wheel drive would hold us against the tarmac. I was at full pucker. It was apparent that Ian had competed in a local autocross competition earlier that day, our knuckles white as the car’s paintjob from gripping the armrests.
The next morning we headed down to the bike shop for some routine maintenance as well as to wrap up Joe’s bike order. A fully loaded bicycle laid against the outside of the building, stacked with more gear than any of our mounts. A bearded fellow stepped outside and approached the compilation of steel and cargo. His name was John and he was riding to San Francisco on the same route as us. After learning this tidbit of information he inquired if we would mind some extra company. Not at all good sir, not at all - we welcomed the opportunity of being four strong, especially considering John’s intriguing background as a sailor and musician. He had already crossed the Atlantic four times under sail and played most instruments found under the sun. While John wrapped up some business at the bike shop us three amigos headed down to Pitt State University to check out the campus and dining hall. With the intent of relaxing over the next couple days, catching up on the blog, and consuming some pop culture in the form of movies, life was good.
That night Charles extended us a most unique opportunity. “You guys should head out to my lake house and stay there a couple nights if you’d like.” Still in awe, we unanimously decided to accept. We loaded up in his El Camino and motored down the road to the next town over. Arriving after dark, we settled in, fixed some supper and watched the movie “Gran Torino,” the newest Eastwood flick (highly recommended). The next morning the crew headed back to Pittsburg to pick up Joe’s new steed and I took the day to explore the property and catch up on some writing. The placement of the house on the lake was magnificent indeed but perhaps the most picturesque feature to be seen was the tree in the back yard, aglow with the fiery colors of fall. The vacation house was like a sanctuary for our souls that last night. So very peaceful indeed. We awoke the next morning and reluctantly peddled off , Joe on his new bicycle, journeying away from a piece of paradise in Kansas.
Luckily it didn’t take long for us to stumble across another warm and delightful set of accommodations. That night we cruised into Chanute where John struck up conversation with a young man outside the Fire Escape Coffee House. Turns out the warehouse sized facility was home to a Christian youth center and recording studio. The coordinator, a gentleman named Mark, gained word of our travels from the fellow John had been speaking with and invited us in out of the cold. He showed us around the giant building, complete with massive rec room and four bedroom apartment where we would be staying (this space is typical occupied by Christian bands that come to play in this venue - several of which we had heard of). Mark also told us the inspiring story behind the youth center, namely how it was funded by donations from the local community. From the sounds of it, the area really needed a place like this to positively influence adolescents given an abundance of nearby drug activity. Mark and his wife Marilyn deserve a medal for the blood sweat and tears they have put into making the center a reality. We stayed up late that evening hanging out with youth group, playing games like pool, foosball, and ping pong. In the AM we departed, taking a moment to scope out the fascinating sculpture you see here before leaving town. It was dedicated to Octave Chanute, the gentleman that wrote the book that the Wright brothers used to construct their flyer. The whole framework behaved as a giant mobile, moving with the wind. What a fascinating tribute.