Back to usual: Larned, KS

Sunday June 21, 2009, 70 miles (113 km) – Total so far: 1,977 miles (3,182 km)

Usual for Kansas, that is: hot and headwinds.  It only hit 95 today, but it’s supposed to hit 100 the next two days.  I can see why some people start riding in Kansas before sunrise.

They had another set of storms come through last night; three tornadoes were spotted in the area, but fortunately nobody was hurt.  Us?  We were snug in the church basement, and our storm conversation consisted of, “Is it raining again?  Looks like it!”

This morning we pulled out before 7:00.  Should have been earlier, but I slept through my watch alarm.  The church has an air conditioner that should handle 100 people in the basement, but it’s noisy.  At least that’s my excuse.

We made good time going northwest to Nickerson, where there’s a grain silo (the first of several we saw today) and an oil storage facility.  It’s also the last place to get supplies for 58 miles, so we stocked up; a V8 and orange juice apiece, plus breakfast biscuit and extra water, and that’s not counting what we bought at the grocery store last night.  Shortly afterward, we crossed the Arkansas River, which was still high and muddy.

Oil facility and grain elevator in Nickerson

Arkansas River near Nickerson

A few miles later, we turned onto the road that would take us to Larned, and we hit the full force of the wind.  (Insert standard wind gripe here.)  It was blowing about 15-20 mph from the southwest, and we had to go south a mile before turning west.  The road surface was execrable, which improved to bad after 15 miles, and finally it went from a county road to a state road, which had an acceptable surface.  The first 15 miles I think it was paved, but if they leave it through another winter or two, it won’t make any difference whether it’s paved or not.  The trees were spotty, but they did a good job of breaking the force of the wind where they were present.

There was one section of road where the utilities crew had butchered the trees on our right side.  Virginia commented it looked like Huntsville Utilities had been on the scene.  A half mile later, we crossed Huntsville Rd.  Even I can’t make this stuff up!

The rain had puddled everywhere.  Some of the ladies we’d talked to mentioned that the wheat farmers were worried about whether their wheat would dry enough to harvest, given the rain they’ve had lately.

Flooded wheat field

All the rain had flattened the hills we were in the other day.  At least I guess that’s what happened, there weren’t too many in sight for miles at a time!  And the road kept going west.  Directions were easy to follow: “0 mi. Continue on unsigned W. 95th St.  9 mi. Enter Stafford County.  Route becomes NE 140th St.  23 mi. End of map.”  There was a bit of excitement in the middle of this stretch, as we passed the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.  Weird topography: we were climbing this hill, and the higher we went, the marshier it got.  There were some little hill-lets visible, in places it looked like somebody had been playing in a sand pile.  The NWR was rather disappointing, as it was 8 miles south to the headquarters, and 4 miles north to a lake overview.  From the road, there was better scenery (and birds) outside the NWR than inside it.  Of course, three of every four birds were red-winged blackbirds.  It’s amazing we get any wheat or corn out of Kansas with all those blackbirds!

Hill-lets near Quivira

The wind had abated a bit, for which I was grateful, but the heat picked up.  (Insert whine #2 about too much heat.)  We stopped for lunch at Peace Church.  It had a rather large cemetery, and a couple large trees in the church yard with a bench.  Great place to sit, cool off, relax, and swat the biting flies that thought I was the all-you-can-eat buffet!  The yard had a bunch of these neat little red flowers.

Peace Church

Mystery flowers: little red ones in the church yard

We started picking up more oil wells as the day went on.  Every so often there was some sort of oil storage and/or processing facility; this is one of the larger ones.  Some of them smelled like there were outgassing the sulfur, and you could smell them from half a mile away.

Crude oil processing? storage?

Coming into Larned, we passed a feedlot.  Talk about stinking!  This looked like it was half a mile by a mile, on the side of a hill, and you could smell it from a long way off — basically, from as far as you could see it.  Sinclair Lewis, where are you?

Feedlot covering the valley and hill

Right before we got into Larned, we crossed the Arkansas River again.  50 miles later, it’s a lot smaller!  I don’t know how many feeder rivers we passed, and how many were on the other side, but it looks like they add a lot of volume to the downstream river.

Arkansas River at Larned, still high and muddy, but a lot smaller!

Larned is not one of the towns that’s stable; the downtown is full of businesses that have closed, and there’s nothing new to replace them.  We rode to the north end of town, and I saw the gas station right before I saw the motel.  We got Virginia a large slushee, and me a large root beer.  Too large; we couldn’t finish them right there.  Hadn’t seen much traffic since we left Hutchinson, certainly very little in Larned.  So we walked our bicycles out of the gas station, on to the four lane road, across the four way stop sign, and up to the motel, still sipping on our drinks.  They sure were good!

By the way, Larned has two syllables, as I was informed by a young native.  Seems it was named after the fort that was named for an officer in the unit that established the fort way back in the nineteenth century.  It’s not a mis-spelling of “learned.”

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