The following afternoon John made contact with a gentleman named Charles through a friend of a friend. Charles was eager to have us and we rolled in late that evening. We were greeted by warm hellos and offers of cigarettes. Though we declined the cancer sticks, the hospitality was indicative of the entire household. We conversed with all the roommates about topics from stand up comedy to Salvador Dali and Surrealism. Turns out everyone who lived under the roof was a teacher, all of them raised as Mennonites, which mixed up a fine cultural cocktail that we happily partook of. Speaking of cocktails, we also gained more insight into 3.2% beer and the mess of liquor laws across our country that vary by state. It made me miss Oregon where you can walk into the grocery store (even on a Sunday) and buy an honest to goodness brew. Maybe I’m just an alcoholic.
Just down the line in Seward the next night we began speaking with a fellow on the street named Bryan. We got to talking about Kansas, all the places he had lived, and the Seabee’s (a military unit he was part of). Fascinating character; turns out he owned the better part of the commercial and residential buildings in this municipality. When he learned that we were hunting for a camp spot he offered us a house he was fixing up just down the lane. A warm fireplace and a fridge full of beer awaited us. He gave us a brief tour, told us to make ourselves at home, and said he would be by later to hang out for a while. When he did return we were well into the beer (don’t worry, we made a run to the liquor store - we didn’t want to drink all of his!). Our new travel companion John, quite the musician, had already been playing us some tunes with a harmonica, guitar, and tambourine. Talk about a one-man band! Then Bryan dropped into the jam session. It was one of those moments that wish you had a video camera with a boom mic setup. The musical creation unfolding in front of our eyes and ears was something to behold. Bryan played us some songs he had written himself, as did John afterward. The scenario made me wish I could contribute something - then again, my ears were having such a great time just soaking in the surroundings. We wound down the evening with some discussion of religion and politics (the two generally forbidden topics) and crashed out happy.
The next day we woke up and rode our bicycles - surprise! Excuse the sarcasm - what I’m getting at here is that we ride our bikes nearly every darn day so I kind of take it as a given. I’ve read too many blogs that do little more than regurgitate the details of the daily ride. I’m thinking (and hoping) that you might be more interested in other aspects aside from how many times our pedals circle the crank each day. Plenty of interesting stuff does happen on the road however. For instance, on this particular day John treated us to some roadside yoga while Joe practiced the art of Zen and bicycle maintenance in the form of changing a flat tire. Both John and Joe are Yoga masters of sorts (though they wouldn’t admit to more than taking a few classes) and we appreciated their sharing of knowledge. Here you can see John flying Clancy like some kind of upside-down bird. How’s that back feel Clanc? Better now I’m guessing. I also mentioned that John is a talented musician - this is a skill that doesn’t stop working when John jumps on a bicycle. He was known to wear his harmonic holder, mount a tambourine on his handlebars, and have a bucket on the rear of his bike as a makeshift drum, all so he could continue the melody while he was riding! I can’t imagine trying to make anything resembling music while riding down the road, I fall off enough as it is. My hat is off to you John.
That night we crashed at the Zion Lutheran church in Hutchinson after Joe dropped off his new bicycle to have the derailers adjusted. Having yet another indoor place to sleep that included a kitchen was really beginning to spoil us - perhaps we were getting a little soft? We had some couscous and veggies, hit the sack, and tried to have dreams that we were snow camping and still hardcore (not really). We awoke the next morning with no intent to get started at the crack of dawn (did I mention it was cold!?) and took our time gathering our things and Joe’s bicycle. On the way into town the previous day we had passed a huge air and space museum called the Cosmosphere - why not check it out while we were here? The facility had been compared to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC so we were certainly glad we decided to drop in. As soon as you step into the lobby of the building you are greeted by real-life SR-71 spy plane, the fastest aircraft on the planet at mach 3.3 (2,200 mph). I was impressed - I think the little guy in the picture was too. Other exhibits included rocket engines, lunar rovers, art murals, and space suit underwear (think pampers). Heck of a place for a world-renowned space center if you ask me.
The following day we were afforded another touristy treat. Larned, Kansas, site of Fort Larned, was a reinforcement established in 1860 to safeguard traffic on the Sante Fe Trail. Everyone back home is familiar with the Oregon Trail but we didn’t learn about the flow of goods and people between Independence, Mo and Santa Fe back in grade school. The acquisition of land from the Mexican-American War and early gold rushes served to boost trail traffic. Native Americans didn’t take kindly to the new interstate through their front yard and in response to their retaliation the US Military became involved. The preserved and renovated fort provided fascinating insight into the daily lives of Indians and soldiers of the era. Empty barracks and hospital quarters illustrated the seriousness of the situation and frankly were more than a little creepy. I bought an “inedible souvenir” portion of hard tack at the gift shop, the infamous cracker of yesteryear that soldiers were rumored to be less than fond of. I didn’t think it was so bad - then again I didn’t have to eat a pound of it a day in place of fresh bread. I’ll let you judge for yourself based on Joe and Clancy’s facial expressions.
That night the hosting streak came to an abrupt and tragic halt. Frozen and soaked from the persistent rain, we crawled into a tavern in the little “town” of Rush Center around 5 PM. Not one of the locals spoke to us that night, excepting the not so friendly waitress and the downright hostile bartender. Perhaps we were sitting and drying our wares at the favorite corner table. We attempted, unsuccessfully, to warm ourselves up with round after round of Keystone Light before slipping into a combine garage five hours later (a regular two-star sleeping setup). In the morn we faced more sadness. John had decided that he was to continue riding over the Rockies, the rest of us already having made up our minds to not gamble on the weather (and frostbite!). With a decent looking forecast ahead, John reasoned that he shouldn’t dilly-dally any longer than necessary and charged onward, once again making us a party of three. We wished him the very best and a safe trip over the mountains.