We found it! Eureka!

Thursday June 18, 2009, 65 miles (105 km) – Total so far: 1,798 miles (2,894 km)

(Hey, it’s my journal; if I want to lead off with a bad pun, I can!)

We got started about 7:00, rolling out of Chanute and headed west. It was already 76 degrees, with a 10 mph south wind, slightly overcast (hooray!).  The route wound around a bit, I presume so cyclists will see that they can actually buy supplies in Chanute, then headed down a very nice lane.

Nice country lane

There was a little bit of commuter traffic headed into town, as usual, with a peak around 7:45.  By then we were out into the country, with alternating wheat and corn fields, with occasional pastures thrown in.  There were also the occasional oil wells, with old, small, slow pumps, some of the creaking rather noisily.  Hey, if you can hear it with a 15 mph wind blowing by, it’s noisy!  I thought this was an amusing shot, with the old and new energy being produced in the same field.  (With the debate going on over whether it takes 0.6 or 1.5 gallons of oil to produce 1 gallon of ethanol, this field is probably one of the few in America that’s producing net positive energy for sure!)

Old energy, new energ

The cross wind was pretty steady and cooling for the first 15-20 miles.  There were a couple of farms with these interesting gate “posts.”  I suppose they’re easier to put up than a post that will support the gate without sagging, and you may as well do something with those rocks you dig up in your field!

Rock solid gateposts

Then the route bowed south for four miles, and things started getting tough.  I was tempted to take a short cut, until I noticed the road changed to gravel 50 feet past the intersection. So, rather than a cross wind, we had a head wind that had picked up speed.  Did you know it’s possible to draft on a bike at 11 mph?  It’s just like drafting at 25 or so when there’s no wind.  We took turns doing the hard work and recovering, until we were both tired, then took a break.

I did notice a different kind of road kill; there was a big, beautiful, barred owl over on the far shoulder.  We also startled three or four scissor tailed flycatchers.  I asked Virginia, “Did you see that bird with the long tail?”  She said, “No, how long was the tail?”  A few miles, after we finally turned north and were flying with the wind, there was another one, and she told me, “That’s a long tail.”  I’ve never seen one of those before, and they’re pretty spectacular.

We cruised by Coyville, following the Verdigris River (who names these things, anyway?), and up the hill towards Toronto.  There’s this slender ridge acros the river, so they built a dam there and formed Toronto Lake.  This is where my problems started.

A hill in Kansas

I’d been through more than three quarts of water by lunch, in Toronto.  The lady at the deli counter was very nice.  I walked in, headed straight for the soda fountain, and swallowed half a 32 oz drink before ordering.  After she prepared our sandwiches, she mentioned it was hot (really?), hard to be outside, and she chatted with us about where we were from, coming from, and going to, all the standard things.  I was more than halfway ready to call it a day and camp across the road, but Virginia filled up our water bottles, mentioned it was only 20 more miles to Eureka, and so we started off.

Two more miles north (that I sat up and let the wind push me), and then we turned west.  By now our nice south cross wind had shifted to the southwest, and picked up, so we were fighting it on U.S. 54, which had a fair number of large trucks.  Something about the crosswind and large trucks pushes the shock wave they produce over to your side of the road.  Sometimes it’s pretty nice, like when you’re laboring up a hill and one comes from behind you and gives you a 4-5 mph push.  Sometimes it slaps you in the face.  And sometimes, you just fight to keep control of the bike while staying on top of it.

I was overheating, and struggling into a headwind and up a hill, and the temperature was up to 96.  Virginia caught me.

This is tough riding!

I started cramping, having gone through more than a gallon of water.  So I stopped and took a picture of some comfortable cows.  I wonder what the farmer would have said if he’d found me in the pond cooling off with the cows?

These cows could be almost anywhere, but they're comfortably in Kansas

Shortly afterward, some wag from the state had a, well, an “interesting” sign up.  I’m not at all sure he would want me to share my experiences with the tourists he’s trying to attract.

And just how do you suggest we experience them??

We made it into Eureka, and a Sonic was one of the first business we passed (besides the tractor, feed, and cattle sales places).  I downed a root beer float, which was wonderful, and started feeling human again.  Eureka has a beautiful city park and offers bicyclists camping there.  I was tempted, but given the reality of me being obviously low on salt and water, and the continuing 96 degree heat, the better part of valor was to find a hotel and force fluids.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, there’s three times you should get up and get something to drink: when you think about water, when you don’t think about water, and in between.

We’ll try a couple of short days, seeing if we can get off the road before the heat gets too bad, and see if that’ll help.  This is bad news, since I’ve been looking at our overall planning, and thinking, “Just wait and see if we can’t make up some miles across Kansas.”  Great idea, except if we can only ride five hours a day, it won’t really work.  Unless we get a real kicker of a tailwind, low temperatures, low humidity, and nice overcast.  Anyone for being blown west across the plains?

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