The heat of the day: Scott City, KS

Tuesday June 23, 2009, 68 miles (109 km) – Total so far: 2,098 miles (3,376 km)

After that discussion of how to ride in the cool of the day yesterday, do you think I learned anything!  Certainly not!  We got rolling about 7:00, after a good breakfast Elaine cooked for us.  It was lovely. 67 degrees, little wind, I could crank it up and let the miles roll by!  Virginia, however, takes 5-10 miles to wake up after she starts pedaling.  Impedance mismatch, but we deal with it.  At least most of the time.  I was 100 yards ahead of her, admiring the scenery, and stopped to take a picture.  Virginia was admiring the fog line, and ran into my bike, knocked off a couple of panniers, and then fell over.  No great harm done, and we’re both grateful I’m not a pickup truck.

Can't quite see Colorado from here!

We made Ness City in just over an hour, and force of habit made me go in the convenience store and buy something as we refilled our water bottles.  They had a sale on liter Powerade, so I got some; turned out to be a good thing, too, as it was about 35 miles to the next stop.  I can usually do 10 miles per water bottle, and carry two bottles, so I needed that extra fluid.

After you’ve said, “It’s a beautiful day,” and “You can see a long ways out here,” there isn’t much to talk about as far as terrain goes.  The wheat harvest is picking up, as judged by the number of wheat trucks that passed us.  Scott City has only had 3″ of rain this month, as compared to Hutchinson’s 10″ so far when we were there.  We didn’t see any wheat actually being harvested, but there is a network of back roads that goes a long ways.  They are dirt roads, but unlike back home, they’re maintained regularly.  I went out to pick up Dan for supper last night. I was flying down this dirt road doing 40 mph in Elaine’s car, and Dan told me I could do 70.  Maybe; with my background, I just couldn’t drive a good car much faster than that on a dirt road.

Ness City has what was once billed as the “Skyscraper of the Plains.”  Supposedly this was the tallest building between Kansas City and Denver.  Hmm.

Skyscraper of the Plains

There’s allegedly a town called Beeler, but all we saw was a grain elevator.  About this time we were passed by two enormous combines and a hauling truck.  Each of the combines took the full 24 feet of the road; we headed for the shoulder, and they headed for the far side of the opposite lane to pass us.  I tried valiantly to draft each one, but about the time I hit 18 mph (on a loaded touring bike, mind you!), I felt the draft pass me by, and had to watch them for 15 minutes or so as they slowly disappeared into the distance.  If I could have hopped on, it would have been no more work to do the 20-25 I guess they were doing than the 10-11 mph we did without them.

There is a railroad paralleling our route (Kansas 96), and grain elevators every 4-10 miles.  It’s nice when you can see how far it is to the next town, but not so nice when you think that’s got to be such-and-such a town, and it turns out to be a solitary grain elevator stuck out in the middle of nowhere.  (I did run across one old elevator across the tracks from the new, improved elevator.)  The other thing that drives you nuts, especially with a headwind when the going is so slow, is watching that ten mile distant elevator get closer ever so slowly.  Are we there yet?

About this time (late morning), the wind started to pick up. 10 mph crosswind cools you, 10 mph headwind always seems to grow to 15-20 as it swings around to come out of the west.  And the wind was nothing if not fickle today!  West, southwest, south, lather, rinse, and repeat.

There was one interesting historical marker.  George Washington Carver homesteaded out here, before he decided to go to college, then Tuskegee, and invent peanut butter.  I’ll give them full credit for this marker.  I can’t imagine anyone would care to drive a mile and a half off the road to see how it looks there; it’d be just like the previous (and next) 50-100 miles.

Near the homestead of George Washington Carver

We hit the Lane County line, and things started to ache.  Lane County, like the state of Missouri, seems to have bought into the concrete highway sales pitch.  “You never have to do maintenance for 30 years!” sounds wonderful when you’re building and maintaining a road.  Until 30 years is up.  Then it costs too much to rebuild the road, so you try to pave over it with asphalt.  Which sort of works, except for the expansion joints.  Let me tell you, a road bike is not a luxury car.  You feel each expansion joint. Every 10 yards.  Or maybe less.

Somehow, we made Dighton by noon.  Took us a while to get lunch — I think Virginia’s chicken had to be genetically modified and grown with fingers before they could cook it.  As the minutes went by, the temperature went up.  It was almost 1:00 by the time we got out of town.

And it was hot.  Fortunately, the cloudless sky had developed some clouds to the west.  Every so often one would cross the sun, and then I could put another 3-4 mph of speed on.  Until the cloud passed by.  I was burning through my water, too; I ended up drinking four bottles worth over the next 24 miles.  Did I mention the convenience store on the edge of town had a sale on bottled water?  Thank heavens!

Virginia said these clouds looked like modern art

The bikes, mine especially, tend to find their own level when you park them.  That’s OK most of the time, as long as you remember to watch it as it swings around; you don’t want it to fall off a curb at a store, for instance!  The other day, though, coming in to Larned, when we had the fierce cross wind, my bike wanted to be perpendicular to the road.  After a while, I just parked it like that for a break.  The wind was pushing that hard.  There wasn’t any other traffic, anyhow.  Well, naturally, that was enough to attract a couple of cars and trucks, but they kindly changed lanes to pass, although I’m sure they were giving me the “What’s that guy doing?” look.  Another cyclist, east-bound, pulled up, and we had a nice break and chat with three bicycles parked cross-ways in the middle of one lane.  Where else could you do that?

Did I mention we’ve been climbing?  It’s seemed like there’s a short downhill every few miles, but the ensuing uphill always looks higher.  Well, I talked to a railroader the other day, who told me this stretch is pretty uniform; 10 feet of elevation for every mile west.  So while we started around 1,200 feet in Wichita, we’re up to 3,000 feet or more here.

We made it into Scott City about 3:00.  Virginia asked me if I wanted to find a place to sleep or a convenience store first.  Silly girl.  The store had giant slushees, and we each had one.  Empty calories, maybe, but I think it’s worth it for the frozen water!

The towns are stacked so we’ll have an easy day tomorrow, then a hard day the following day.  We could have done an easy day today, then two consecutive hard days, but I thought (and still think) that would have been stupid.

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