Page 1, Introduction
Page 2, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas
Page 3, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky
Page 4, Virginia
Saturday, May 24
Distance: 107.2 miles
Riding time: 8 hours, 11 minutes
Average speed: 13.0 mph
Maximum speed: 32.7 mph
This morning we packed our camping gear, ate a good breakfast, tidied up the house and then hit the road. We left just before 10 a.m., heading east on highway 14. Beyond 20 miles this road passes very few buildings and only one tiny town before reaching Sterling, 105 miles from Fort Collins. Much of the land north of the road is the Pawnee National Grasslands, a natural grassland that is managed like a national forest. The grasslands are large and reach beyond the horizon. The grass is unusually green right now because of the rain we had in April and May. While riding we saw some typical grassland animals - many prarie dogs, a hawk or eagle (who eats many prarie dogs,) and a jackrabbit. We also saw the Pawnee Buttes, large hills and cliffs that rise from the flat plain.
We thought about camping in the grasslands, but decided to continue to Sterling to purchase food for tomorrow. We hoped to go past Sterling to a free camping spot on B.L.M. land, but we didn't have time. A mild-to-strong headwind blew at us all day, slowing our progress. After shopping in Sterling we barely had time to reach a private campground on the east edge of town. $20 later we set up our tent at almost 9 p.m.
The wind was annoying, but we're glad that it didn't rain. Fort Collins had a 70% chance of rain this afternoon and we may have dodged a rain shower by leaving town this morning.
Michael preparing the bicycle for travel. The silver doughnut by my foot is a spare tire wrapped up in duct tape.
Kathy in front of the Pawnee National Grasslands
The Pawnee Buttes in Pawnee National Grasslands
Sunday, May 25
Distance: 94.4 miles
Riding time: 8 hours, 26 minutes
Average speed: 11.1 mph
Maximum speed: 22.5 mph
Today was a hard day. We rode all day fighting a powerful wind that was always a headwind or crosswind. On the positive side, we did cover a lot of miles today - many more miles than we had planned.
When I woke up this morning I noticed that my air mattress was flat. The tent camping area was covered with thorns (we couldn't see them in the dark last night) and 3 of the thorns managed to puncture the ground cloth, tent floor, and my mattress. I used a tub of water to locate the punctures, but we didn't have the boiling water that I needed to use our hot-bond patch kit. I'll patch it later on.
We started riding at 9:45 a.m. into a strong wind. It looked like the best place to camp tonight was Enders Reservoir State Park because there was no other public land or campground on our way, and because we needed showers badly. At 84 miles away it seemed like a stretch, but we decided to try it. As we found out later, Enders Reservoir was 94 miles away and it has no showers. We stopped in several small towns on the way including Imperial, a cute Nebraska farm town. We would have liked to eat at the ice cream parlor there, but with 11 miles left to ride and the sun already set we did not have time to linger.
We've made good progress today and we're nearly in the central time zone. Tomorrow we hope to have an easier day.
Entering windy Nebraska. Notice the shotgun damage on the welcome sign.
Monday, May 26
Distance: 51.8 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 27 minutes
Average speed: 11.6 mph
Maximum speed: 27.0 mph
This morning was cooler than previous days so we put on our rain jackets to stay warm. Once again we faced headwinds and crosswinds all day long. The land in this part of Nebraska is interesting because there are mild hills and ridges everywhere. They're covered with green grass and very little of the sagebrush that was common near Sterling. Every now and then we cross a dried up stream that has a title like "Rogers Canyon." The canyon walls are only about 5 feet tall, but I guess that's tall enough to be considered a canyon out here. We noticed several cemetaries marked with large U.S. flags since today is Memorial Day. One town of about 1000 residents had marked its cemetary with about 100 large U.S. flags on tall flag poles.
Hills in Nebraska
Today I felt a little stronger than yesterday, but Kathy felt weaker. In McCook we learned of a free, city-run campground on the edge of town and decided to make today's ride short. We ate at an all-you-can-eat restaurant and then I talked the restaurant staff into letting me use their kitchen to repair my air mattress. I cleaned the punctures in their sink then boiled water on their stove to liquefy the polyurethane resin in our patch kit. The staff were very helpful, and my mattress seems to hold air now.
Tomorrow we'll try to wake up early and finish adjusting to Central Time. We hope that the wind settles down or changes to a tailwind.
Karrer Park in McCook, Nebraska
Tuesday, May 27
Distance: 78.9 miles
Riding time: 7 hours, 5 minutes
Average speed: 10.9 mph
Maximum speed: 30.4 mph
Today's ride was very difficult at the beginning but finished well. We began by riding 27 miles south on highway 83 from McCook, Nebraska to Oberlin, Kansas. A strong wind from the south made our ride miserable. We pedalled at about 9 mph and frequently got off the bike to walk up hills. The hayfields around us looked neat because the wind was blowing waves in the hay like waves on the ocean. It's a pretty area, but we were biking through at a bad time. We were worn out by the time we reached Oberlin.
Oberlin is a nice, historic farm town. It has a wide main street made of brick, with restored storefronts on either side. The residential section has a number of restored Victorian homes. We wanted to vist the museum, but decided that we didn't have time. It has 13 buildings of exhibits (a log cabin, the old prison, etc.) plus a movie about the last indian raid in Kansas. It would have taken at least 90 minutes to look through. Instead, we ate lunch at a local diner. The staff and customers there were interested in our trip. One couple assured us that the wind doesn't always blow so hard as this morning.
Main Street in Oberlin. The founders of Oberlin had big plans for the town, so they made Main Street unusually wide.
We left Oberlin at 2:30 p.m. heading east on highway 36. Since the wind was now a crosswind we made much better progress, and the wind faded until it was just a mild breeze by evening. What a difference! Our moods improved as our speed increased. We finally stopped in the little town of Prarie View.
In Prarie View a retired trucker, Warren, offered to let us camp in his yard. I met him outside while he was watering his garden. Warren collects antique tractors - maybe we'll get to see them in the morning. We met his daughter and son-in-law, and we may have seen his granddaughters - 2 little girls were sneaking around our tent and making noises, pretending to be bears. Warren told us that many years ago Prarie View was a thriving farm town with 2 grocery stores, restaurants, and other services. His grandparents owned a nearby farm. The town changed when automobiles became common and farmers started driving to larger towns to buy goods. Now most of the businesses in Prarie View are gone.
Our campsite by Warren's garden in Prarie View.
Wednesday, May 28
Distance: 87.2 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 55 minutes
Average speed: 14.6 mph
Maximum speed: 29.5 mph
Two things went well for us today: we never had to fight the wind, and we learned about a detour in our planned route early in the day. A bridge on our planned route is being replaced, so we changed our route. This added about 5 miles, much better than the 12 extra miles of the normal detour. We had a tailwind for a 19-mile section near the end of our ride, and that was helpful.
This morning Warren and his wife Hazel showed us their collection of 6 antique tractors and some other farm machinery. All the tractors are John Deeres built from the 1930's through the 1950's. We left Prarie View around 9:45 a.m. The roads we've been riding have been good for biking - highway 36 today had paved shoulders as wide as normal vehicle lanes. However, cars and trucks still think that they need to give us lots of room. They go into the opposing traffic lane to pass us, sometimes nearly colliding with opposing traffic.
Warren and Hazel by one of their antique tractors.
Hay bales on a farm.
We passed two very important American landmarks today. One was Lebanon, Kansas, "The Geographic Center of the 48 Contiguous States." We read the sign but never stopped biking. The other landmark, which I've heard about for years but have never taken time to visit, was "The World's Largest Ball of Twine" in Cawker City. It was wrapped by one man and has been on display here for 50 years.
Tonight we're spending the night at Glen Elder State Park. It has a large reservoir, showers, and plenty of open campsites on a Wednesday.
The world's largest ball of twine. This was Frank Stoeber's way of setting a world record.
Glen Elder State Park
Thursday, May 29
Distance: 77.2 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 37 minutes
Average speed: 11.0 mph
Maximum speed: 28 mph
Kathy and I got a late start today at about 10:15 a.m. and traveled only 0.02 miles before we were stopped by a construction crew. The shoulders of the road were being resurfaced so a 3-mile section of the highway was shut down with groups of vehicles occaisionally escorted through by a leader car. After about 15 minutes we were able to continue. As it turned out, only a 1/8-mile section of the 3-mile stretch was being worked on. We've encountered similar construction situations several times before.
Progress was slow again today due to a strong crosswind, but we've begun to accept wind as an unavoidable part of the midwest, so it didn't hurt our moods much. The sky was clear and the peak temperature was about 90 degrees F. We biked over rolling hills today as we have in most of Kansas. This state is not as flat as most people imagine. We made frequent stops today to rest and cool off, including a stop at the Dairy Queen. We should stop at those more often. Our final break today was at Cedar Court Restaurant, a locally-owned, buffet-style restaurant with great food. We ate a huge amount of food since we hadn't eaten a full lunch. While we were there a customer told us about a couple she knew 7 miles down the road who might let us camp out near their home. We meet many helpful people in restaurants, mostly retired folks who don't need to be at work on weekdays.
After dinner we biked another 7 miles, found the couple that we were looking for, and now we're camped in their front yard. It's been a pretty good day.
Cows and horses never fail to watch us ride past.
Friday, May 30
Distance: 78.8 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Average speed: 14.2 mph
Maximum speed: 33.8 mph
Today has been our best day of riding in Kansas. We started a little earlier than normal at 8:45 a.m., avoiding some of the hot weather. By lunch time we were in Manhattan, the home of Kansas State University. It's a larger-than-average Kansas town at the bottom of a scenic valley. We stopped at the (air-conditioned) indoor mall and took a long lunch - Thai entree and TCBY for dessert.
After lunch we biked though an area called the Flint Hills. Hard flint deposits in the land have created many hills as the softer soils around the deposits have eroded away. A 10,000 acre section of this area is now the Konsa Research Grasslands managed by KSU. Native grass grows here and bison graze on it. These native grasslands still exist because of the flint deposits - since the flint is hard enough to destroy plows, the prarie was never converted to farmland. The Konsa indians, also called Kaw indians, occupied this area in the 1700's.
Kansas State University's letters on a hill above the Kansas river; Kathy in a Manhattan mall.
Michael beside the Konsa Research Grasslands
South of Manhattan we came to Council Grove, a town that was established along the old Santa Fe wagon trail. Some of the buildings here were built in the 1800's. We did laundry and ate dinner, but we couldn't find a place to shower or camp near town. We tried to shower at the community pool, but it was closed. We thought it would be open since today is Friday, schools have closed, and it was 94 degrees outside. Most businesses in Council Grove close at 4 p.m. Eventually we gave up and biked out of town hoping to find a kind farmer that would let us camp on his property. At the first house that I checked no one was home; at the second house three dogs chased me away before I could knock on the door. We passed a number of run-down houses with lawns covered by old cars that seemed too scary to check. Getting desperate, we prayed to find a good place to camp and continued down the road. Right at sunset we came to a farmhouse with a nice lawn planted with flowers and a little girl playing outside. Her parents, Tim and Lisa, told us that we could camp on their lawn and invited us to come inside and shower. Wonderful! Their children, Jody and Jordan, helped us set up our tent. The house is surrounded by an 80-acre farm and seems like a nice place to live, though Lisa says rural life has some problems of its own. For instance, rural homes are more likely to be robbed than homes in the city.
Kathy and I were excited to see fireflies glowing in the yard this evening since we don't have any fireflies at home in Colorado. We both grew up in areas with fireflies.
Council Grove's bank
Jordan and Jody and one of their cats help Kathy put our tent up.
Saturday, May 31
Distance: 79.3 miles
Riding time: 6 hours, 45 minutes
Average speed: 11.7 mph
Maximum speed: 28 mph
When we woke this morning it was lightly raining and much cooler outside. A rainbow was in the southern sky. By the time we started packing up our gear the rain had stopped. Lisa invited us inside to eat our breakfast with her and the children. While she and the kids ate cereal, Kathy and I ate the food we had in our panniers - mostly apple pie and a bag of Cheetos. We thanked Tim and Lisa for hosting us and set out at 9:30 a.m.
The sky was overcast, the air was cold, and we had a headwind. Kathy wore her jacket for warmth, but I left mine off and stayed cold most of the day. Eventually the wind died down and the clouds cleared and by 4:30 it was a nice day. We arrived at our campground, Hillsdale State Park, early enough to set up camp and eat dinner before sunset. Unfortunately, our campsite is about 5 miles off the highway so we had to ride some non-progress miles. The campsites are nice and we are close to a large reservoir.
Tomorrow we will leave Kansas and enter Missouri. Kansas has been interesting. Compared to our preconceived notions, Kansas has more hills, more trees, and better roads than we expected. It is covered with tiny towns, and many of these towns have more than 100 years of history.
Looking out at a rainbow from our tent.
Making dinner at Hillsdale State Park
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