Stage 16

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Related Photos The Medicine Lodge, KS to Pittsburg, KS Stage (via Highways 42, 61, 50, 77, 18, 177, 56, 57, 75, 39, 146, 7) Back


August 20, 2004

Having had a wonderful two days in Randall’s hometown of Medicine Lodge, it was now Barb’s turn to bike into her hometown. To get to Manhattan, KS, we had to head north and east. Hmmm, we’re traveling to Florida and we were going mostly north for 200 miles? Well, we figured what better state to zigzag through. Kansas is 200 miles wide by 400 miles long and our meandering route will take us along 711 miles of the state’s highways (and through 23 of the state’s 105 counties).

With Manhattan a distant 218 miles away, we aspired to cover this segment in two days. After all, we had been putting up with this annoying south wind since eastern Colorado. It was time to enjoy the tailwind! Well, on this day, the wind was out of the north. Bummer. With a 6 AM pre-dawn start, we were able to enjoy a cool, non-windy couple of hours. Weaving our way out of town, we pedaled down Curry Lane and over to Isabel Road. Just before turning onto northbound Isabel Road, a local cyclist passed us. In small rural communities, you just don’t see bicycles out on the highway so we considered this sighting extraordinary.

Being sandwiched between the Medicine River and Elm Creek, Medicine Lodge rests in a valley setting. This became very apparent as we headed north over a series of hills. Having climbed the last hill, we stopped and looked back to the south. Although not yet visible, the sun was now providing us with enough lighting to see the Gypsum Hills, ten miles away on the southwest horizon. Further north up the road, the more prominent sun was now casting a long shadow of our rig against the reddish-brown soil. What a gorgeous morning! As we neared Isabel, KS, we turned right onto Highway 42. Advancing east for six miles, we then turned left onto SW 170th Avenue. This paved, county road was a nice, quiet road that would take us through Cunningham, KS. After a few miles north, we stopped for one of our five mile breaks. As we were resting, a pickup truck stopped and the driver asked if we were OK. The few motorists we met on this highway were giving us a big wave.

A mile south of Cunningham, we got an particularly enthusiastic wave from a man in a pickup. He then turned around behind us and drove past us before parking on the opposite side of the highway. As we approached, we could see that he was fumbling with something in his vehicle. What was this guy up to? As we passed, he pulled out a substantial camera and took our photo. A couple of blocks later, we stopped at Highway 54, which runs through Cunningham. The man pulled up behind us and identified himself as the editor of the local newspaper. A local had tipped him that bikers were headed into town. He said that we had made good time because he almost missed us. After quizzing us about our trip, he took some more photos. Shooting initially into the sun, he switched to the opposite side to reduce the glare. A real estate sign on that side blocked the view of our bike. The sign was marked “Price Reduced” and he said, “It’s not selling anyway,” as he yanked it out of the ground. He did however, put it back up after the photo.

In Cunningham, we biked a couple of blocks off the route to reach a grocery store. At the store, the clerks were most helpful as they microwaved our sandwiches and even placed them on disposable plates. We dined on a nearby street side bench. A local asked us if we had seen much rain. He proceeded to tell us that this summer had been the wettest and coolest summer in a long time. We had heard this many times before as weather was a popular topic. Being from Kansas, we knew that the summers are typically hot. Prior to biking in Kansas, we purchased a second Camelbak for Barb to increase our water carrying capability because we expected a lot of heat. There were days in Kansas this summer that exceeded 100 degrees. We were fortunate that we were not biking in the state at that time.

Continuing north of Cunningham, we crossed over the South Fork Ninnescah River which was a scenic setting. Six miles north of Cunningham, we entered Reno County where Hutchinson, KS is the county seat. The highway that we had been traveling on for 18 miles was now called Brownlee Road. When we were within a mile of Turon, KS, we observed a most curious scene unfold before us. About a quarter mile away, we could see a southbound Lincoln Towncar in our northbound lane. We then realized that the car wasn’t moving very fast if at all. It appeared to be swerving into the ditch and then backing up. As we got closer, we saw it happen again; the car swerved into the ditch and then backed up. Then, we saw a stray steer in the ditch beyond the car. The Towncar driver was coaxing a steer through the gate of a fenced pasture. Before we arrived at the scene, the stray steer was successfully “driven” through the gate. A lady driver (or urban cowgirl?) then got out of the car and closed the gate. Who needs horses when you have a Towncar?

At Turon, we turned northeast on Highway 61 towards Hutchinson. Once on this highway, things were looking up. Even though we had a number of trucks and cars passing us on this highway, we enjoyed the nice, smooth shoulder. Plus, we were no longer headed directly into the north wind. With these favorable conditions, our speed increased about 3 mph. By 12 noon, we had reached Arlington, KS, a distance of 54 miles. Wow, almost a full day’s ride completed by noon!

While enjoying our Arlington rest stop, we took some photos of this quaint town. There was an impressive mural painted on one of the buildings. A local suggested that we might want to photograph the stuffed alligator in the window of the antique shop. Can’t miss the highlights! As we were shooting photos, we listened to the noontime church bells. The first song was “Yankee Doodle,” which was followed by a more traditional church tune. The last song was John Phillips Sousa’s, “Stars and Stripes Forever.” This was small town America!

Continuing on from Arlington, we biked along pastures of cattle and fields of hay. The hay and grass was very abundant in this area. They were even baling up the grass that was growing along the side of the highway. Nine miles northeast of Arlington, we reached the point where Highway 50 merged with Highway 61. Now, the traffic was really busy as we were biking along a divided, four lane highway. The shoulder was about 15 ft wide so we had some spacing from the rush of traffic. We arrived at the McDonald’s restaurant in South Hutchinson, KS just before 2 PM. We had earlier coordinated a rendezvous with a Hutchinson News reporter at this location. The reporter agreed to meet with us at the outskirts of Hutchinson. If we had ventured into this city of 40,000 people, the traffic and numerous traffic lights would have been too much for a long day of biking.

We parked our bike and had just walked into McDonald’s when we were approached by a woman who eagerly wanted to know if our tag (AK 2 FL) really meant what is said. Yes, we were going from Alaska to Florida. Another patron proceeded to tell us how he had done some biking also, but not as far as we were going. After picking up our food order, we gave the reporter a call. The reporter had another commitment that was very pressing so she offered to do a telephone interview with us that evening. She then sent a photographer down to McDonald’s to photograph us. The photographer arrived about 15 minutes later. As we ate our meal, he asked us about our adventure.

Before we finished our meal, the photographer stated, “I’ll see you on the highway,” and took off. His aim was to shoot action photos. A photo of us just standing next to our bike was not sufficient. We later learned that he was considered their top photographer, so we felt honored. We got back onto Highway 50/61 and headed east. After we reached the top of an overpass, we saw the photographer ahead on the side of the road. Randall snickered to Barb and said, “He has no idea, does he.” The photographer was expecting a 10 mph touring tandem to be coasting by him. Instead, he had a 30 mph bicycle zooming down from the top of the overpass. We did not mean to be uncooperative for the photo session but we weren’t going to waste a very nice downhill! He took one photo and was in the process of changing the lens on his camera when we whooshed by him. He got back into his vehicle and passed us for another shot. This time, he picked a fairly flat area. He was lying on his stomach and was perpendicular to the highway, ready to shot us from ground level. We slowed to 10 mph as we passed by him. He passed us one more time for another shot and then headed back to Hutchinson.

With the action photo session complete, we were now exclusively on eastbound Highway 50 as Highway 61 turned north through Hutchinson. This two lane highway was also quite busy but had a comfortable, ten foot wide shoulder. To the east of Hutchinson, we got a good roadside view of the world’s longest grain elevator (2,573 feet long). For the next ten miles, we passed by numerous fields of sorghum and pastures of cattle and goats. There were also a number of oil wells. After 12 miles, we reached the small town of Burrton, KS. One business we pedaled by had the name, Bear Petroleum. And, we thought we were out of bear country! Beyond Burrton, we observed hundreds and hundreds of black birds in flight over a field. The birds flew parallel to the road, landing periodically on the field and then continuing on in the direction we were going. It was inevitable to think back to the Hitchcock movie thriller, “Birds” as the birds seemed like they were following us for a while.

After 90 miles of cycling, we were wondering if our weary legs were up to another twenty miles. As we neared Newton, KS, the traffic volume increased. Newton is a sizable town of 17,000 and we were arriving as people were heading home from work. Because Highway 50 overlapped with Interstate 35, we had to take some side streets to get over to the east side of town. The first impressive sight coming into town was the overpass that took us over the rail yard. Newton must be a substantial hub for the railroad. Randall’s sister Jan and her fiancé Steve (who live in Newton) had made motel reservations for us as they had cats in their home and we have allergies.

Following a refreshing shower at the motel, Jan and Steve picked us up for dinner. We were tired, hungry and ready to eat! We went to Applebee’s and had just finished ordering when the Hutchinson News reporter called. The restaurant was very noisy so Randall stepped outside for a quiet setting. This Applebee’s faced Interstate 35 so he finally found a quieter place at the back side of the restaurant. For 15 minutes, the reporter questioned Randall about our adventure. Finally, the reporter said she had to end to the call to get our story in the paper tomorrow. After dinner, Randall changed out the rear tandem tire to a brand new one. The old tire was worn down to where some threads were showing. We didn’t want to have to deal with any tire issues the next day as we expected to bike a lot of miles.

Miles cycled – 111.7

August 21, 2004

With another long day of riding ahead of us, an early start was imperative. Not wanting to miss seeing our rig in action, Jan and Steve joined us at the motel for a pre-dawn breakfast. Randall’s sister proudly displayed page three of the morning’s newspaper. Wow, what a nice story! The photo was impressive as it was taken from the ground level and shows the big blue Kansas sky behind. The setting was quite colorful with our purple shirts and red, yellow and blue bags. The headline for the article was “Helping Humanity.” We don’t know if this story resulted in any donations, but we did get a couple of emails from readers who saw the article. Because of the noisy phone interview from the evening before, a couple of the facts were a bit off the mark (a 118 mile day trip was actually at 111 and we were pulling a 80 pound trailer – 140 pounds was total weight of cargo). To view the news article, click this link: The Hutchinson News.

Leaving Newton, we continued on Highway 50 as it angled to the northeast. We started out with a nice shoulder that was about 12 ft wide. On this shoulder, the left half was covered with a series of rumble strips, spaced about 25 ft apart. Upon reaching Walton, KS, the shoulder width remained the same but the rumble strips were extended to span the entire shoulder width with the spacing at 50 ft intervals. So, every 3 to 4 seconds, we were riding over rumble strips. What a pain! Whenever traffic was not present, we would ride on the highway surface for relief. Otherwise, we endured a bumpy ride until reaching Peabody, KS, about nine miles later.

Randall’s sister had warned us about construction on this stretch of road and sure enough, we reached the first section of construction just beyond Peabody. As we arrived at the construction scene, we could see that the traffic was limited to one lane and that there was a line of cars stopped at a red light waiting their turn to go through. When the red light changed to green, we proceeded with the traffic. Upon reaching the single lane area, a worker waved us over. He said that the new concrete had sufficiently cured and that it was okay for us to ride on the construction side of the cones on both this section and the following one. What a relief! He then noted that he saw us in the newspaper this morning and that he did a bit of biking himself. It sure was nice to have the whole lane to ourselves. We passed through the first construction zone without issue and then went back onto the shoulder. When we reached the second construction zone, a long line of vehicles were waiting at the light. Knowing that the construction lane was our pre-approved option, we did not wait for the light change as we kept on pedaling. Riding in the smooth construction lane almost made up for all those previous rumble strips. Almost.

Despite the various road obstacles, we were enjoying the scenery during our early morning ride. Just before Walton, we passed by a gorgeous farm setting that had a big red barn and windmill. Two eastbound trains passed us by as the morning sun burned through the fog. Outside of Walton, we stopped to read the historical marker on “Turkey Red Wheat.” In 1874, Russian Mennonites immigrated to Kansas, bringing with them this hardy, red winter wheat. Besides the wheat fields (the wheat had already been harvested in June and July), fields of hay were also very prevalent.

After about 25 miles of cycling, we stopped at a convenience store outside of Florence, KS for drinks and snacks. We were starting to feel the heat of the sun so we added lots of ice to our water. At Florence, we turned onto northbound Highway 77. We were leaving the flat plains behind us as we were now entering the Flint Hills. The first thing we noticed about the highway was that we lost our shoulder, completely. The absence of a shoulder can be unnerving but three factors made it more comfortable. We were headed north and had a south tailwind. Finally, we get to enjoy the Kansas south wind! In addition, the traffic was fairly light and there were no rumble strips.

Just north of Florence, we reached the first hill and it was a long one. That would set the tone for the rest of the day with up and down, up and down. These hills in northeast Kansas cover a much larger area than the Gypsum Hills in the south central part of the state. They do not offer the roller coaster effect as they’re just too long for that. So, we pedaled and pedaled up the long stretches, hoping that the tailwind would give us a little boost. This highway went by miles and miles of pastures as we saw cattle of all colors. Ever since the buffalo herds were killed off in the 19th century, area ranchers have had cattle grazing on this abundant grass. As we have seen before, the cattle were quite aware of our presence and some appeared to be spooked.

Whenever we would reach the top of a hill, we could see the distant towns which were identified by the elevators and water towers. We passed through Lincolnville, KS and stopped to gaze at the grain elevator there. One job Randall had during his college days involved painting the roof of this elevator. He found the heights a bit uncomfortable then and shuttered to think about it now. Fortunately, he had to paint only two elevators like that.

Continuing north, we skipped the bypass around Herington, KS and elected to bike into town. Hoping to eat lunch in a restaurant, we biked around town but couldn’t find one. We asked a local about lunch options and he noted that the restaurant was closed but the convenience store had food. So, we warmed up some sandwiches at the convenience store. We opted to eat our lunch outside in the shade as the store had some heavy smokers inside. As we biked out of town, we passed by a Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut. Bummer! We also passed by a purple petroleum tank which had a power cat symbol from our alma mater painted on it. Hmmmm, we must be getting close to Manhattan, KS.

Back on Highway 77, the hills seemed to be getter bigger (or were we getting tired?). We now had a small shoulder which was nice. After several miles of pasture, we were starting to see some fields of sorghum and hay. With the south tail wind helping us along, it wasn’t long before we reached Interstate 70. This was our seconding sighting of the freeway as we had earlier biked under it in Dillon, CO. Just beyond I-70 was Junction City, KS and a mile long hill. After climbing this hill, we enjoyed some cool refreshments at a west side convenience store.

After going through Junction City, we had planned to bike through the Fort Riley Military Reservation, but were uncertain about what may be involved when we reach the security checkpoint. When we quizzed the clerks at the west side convenience store, they said, “Civilian drivers have to show their license, registration and insurance to gain admittance. Also, vehicles could be subject to search if deemed necessary.” We were thinking, OK, we could show identification, but a search could take awhile. So, we continued on, heading east on Ash Street. Wow, we had no idea that the west side of Junction City was so hilly. When we reached Washington Street, we turned left and biked through the downtown area.

When we reached the north end of town, we were confused as to which of the two entrances to Fort Riley we should use. We stopped at another convenience store and the operator there said, “You will not be allowed into Fort Riley without a military affiliation. You can use I-70 to get to Manhattan.” We told them bicycles were not allowed on the interstate. They then debated about whether another route existed. We were aware of a non-interstate route that would take us around the base but we had planned on the Fort Riley route so we forged ahead, using the Grant Avenue entrance. We biked to the checkpoint gate and showed our passports. The guard looked closely at our faces as the photos are seven years old and don’t include the tan lines on our faces due to our sunglasses or Randall’s beard. He then smiled and simply said, “Have a good time.”

Just beyond the checkpoint entrance was a eight inch high steel platform which was too abrupt to bike over so we got off and walk our rig over it. The road surface was beautifully smooth although there was no shoulder. The traffic was fairly heavy and there were signs that stated, “No Pedestrians on Highway.” The motorists were generally patient as we sometimes held up traffic on the narrow road. We saw vehicle tags from all over the country. This was the most variety of license plates we had seen since Yellowstone. While climbing up a long hill, we passed by a large cemetery. A small pen by the side of the road held two, beautiful brown horses. The first Territorial Capital of Kansas was also seen along the road. Our route took us by a number of limestone buildings which were used for lodging and administration offices. We rode non-stop for the six miles through the base.

After crossing the east security checkpoint of the base, we found ourselves in the small town of Ogden, KS. We called Barb’s folks at that point to let them know when we would be arriving. When we mentioned that we would be using Scenic Drive to enter Manhattan, Barb’s mother warned us, “That all uphill!” East of Ogden, we climbed up a moderate hill where our road merged with Highway 18, also known as Fort Riley Boulevard. As we reach the top of the hill, it was a defining moment as we could see Manhattan in the distance. We were now on a four lane divided highway which was very busy with fast traffic. The six foot shoulder gave us a little relief from the traffic but it was in terrible condition with holes, bumps, weeds and debris.

Turning north onto Scenic Drive was a welcome relief with its wide, clean shoulders. There was indeed a long climb to tackle but we had done a few of those so no problem. However, on the decent, we noticed that the bike was not as stable as it normally is. We stopped to confirm that the rear tire was flat. The brutally rough shoulder from the previous highway no doubt caused this pinch flat. We stopped to change the tub before continuing onto eastbound Anderson Avenue. Now, we were biking in fairly heavy city traffic. Once again, the local drivers were patient with us and avoided crowding us too much. One motorist maneuvering to the left lane was apparently distracted as they almost hit the car ahead which was turning left (no turning lanes were available). Finally, after 2.5 miles of this busy street, we turned onto the quiet, residential streets. At 6:45 PM, we pulled into the driveway of Barb’s parents, John and Mildred Lindholm. After a rigorous 218 miles in two days, we were ready for hugs, showers and a meal.

Miles cycled – 106.5

August 22-24, 2004

Sunday morning, we went to church with Barb’s folks. Barb’s sister, Susan (also known as our parts manager and shipping coordinator) was able to come over from Leavenworth, KS for the day. We all went to lunch with Barb’s Uncle Homer and Aunt Penny and had a nice time visiting. The lunch was served in a buffet style so we could eat and eat and eat after a couple of hundred-mile days!

Susan brought over our boxes of tandem and trailer supplies so that we could make a good determination of what we had left and what we might need to order. She also brought some clothes that we hadn’t worn since May. It was not surprising to find that our garments were fairly loose fitting because of our weight loss. Randall used the torque wrench from the tandem supplies to check the tightness of the two bottom brackets (we did not want a repeat of the stripped threads we experienced in Canada). Susan mended a few torn items such as our food bag. Barb soaked the tent in some cleaning solution so it would be refreshed. We were two thirds of the way through our trip and it was time for some maintenance.

Randall started the next morning with a review of all 9,000 photos we had taken to date. He selected 450 photos for a special slide show to be shown that evening. The local Habitat for Humanity chapter was hosting a pot luck dinner and we were invited to talk about our adventure after the meal. Barb took advantage of vehicular transportation to run some errands. The local Staples store gave us an exchange for our troublesome Palm as we had been battling a stubborn battery. She picked up a can of Halt pepper spray to defend us from the notorious Missouri dogs. We still hadn’t used our bear pepper spray but we figured that was much too aggressive for dogs. Besides, we were saving the bear pepper spray for the Florida alligators. Barb also stopped at the Manhattan Free Press to chat with a reporter about our cycling adventure.

In the late afternoon, we set out to ride our rig to the church activity center where we would be gathering for the Habitat dinner. We discovered then that our front tire was under-inflated quite a bit. This tire issue was probably also related to the rough shoulder on Fort Riley Boulevard. With time a factor and a short distance to travel, we decided to just pump up the tire and change the tube later. Once at the activity center, we set the bike and trailer up on a stage so everyone could see it.

About 40 people joined us that evening for the pot luck dinner. Among the gathering were supporters of the local Habitat chapter, members of the First United Methodists Church, Randall’s niece, Walinda and Barb’s cousin, Cassie (both students attending KSU) and Randall’s cousins, Brad and Kenneth. The Manhattan Mercury newspaper reporter interviewed us while we ate. The problem with this setting was that we didn’t have enough time for seconds! Our newfound friend, Helen, sat next to the reporter making sure he asked all the right questions. We asked if she would get a byline. She replied that she just wanted to be sure the things she would want to read in the article were indeed there. Helen was quite a lady!

Following the meal, the Habitat officers briefly spoke about their program. They expressed a dire need for land before they could build the next house. They then introduced us and presented us with a beautiful quilt and a Habitat teddy bear. The quilt will stay with relatives until we relocate, but the bear will join us for the remainder of the trip.

So with a few hundred photos to show, we jumped into our presentation without any prior rehearsal. Barb took the lead as the “home town gal” expounded on our experiences. We talked about how we loved biking and how we dreamed up this fabulous trip. The partnership with our local Habitat chapter was described along with our collection goal. Then, we took them on a photo tour which started at the Arctic Circle. We were only half way through the photo slide show when we were interrupted by a tornado warning. We had forgotten how volatile the Kansas weather could be. We all headed downstairs to the basement. There were two other groups meeting in the building that night, so we had an interesting collection of Habitat supporters, Boy Scouts and Alcoholic Anonymous members gathered around a TV feathering weather updates. After about a half hour, we got the “all clear” and most of us returned to the slide show. However, it was soon raining quite heavily and flooding was a primary concern. We finally dispersed at 10 PM. We left the bike in the building for the night as we planned to ride it back under drier conditions.

The weather cleared by the next morning so Barb’s dad drove us down to the activity building to retrieve our rig. There, we met a group of men who meet every Tuesday to handle any maintenance needed around the church. They gathered around our bike and asked all sorts of questions. Once we got back to John and Mildred’s house, the Manhattan Mercury photographer arrived to take some photos. He had planned to get an action shot when we left the next day, but wanted other photos to fill a one page article. Photos of Randall fixing the flat, front tire were taken. Exciting stuff, huh? For the remainder of the day we spent time visiting and resting.

Miles cycled – 4.9

August 25-26, 2004

There was a chance of rain for this morning. At dawn, there was some thunder and lightening that kept us guessing about the type of weather we would be riding in. It had rained during the night but after 7 AM, the skies appeared to be clearing. We began our exit from Manhattan after a hearty breakfast with Barb’s folks. The streets were wet and the air was thick with humidity. Heading south on Sunset Avenue, we blended in with a heavy southbound traffic. As we climbed up the hill, it was apparent that most of the cars were turning right into the high school parking lot. At the school, we turned onto eastbound Poyntz, the main street to downtown. The traffic was now surprisingly light. We then connected with southbound Highway 177 which took us out of town. This stretch of four lane highway began with a crossing over the Kansas River. What a massive flow of water that was. The traffic volume over the bridge was somewhat heavy so Randall focused on the road ahead while Barb kept the camera busy. Of special interest to us was the large “KS” displayed in white letters on the hill south of the river.

We were keeping a eye on our watch as we had coordinated with the Mercury photographer for an action photo shoot. He was going to intercept us on the hill south of town. Right after the bridge crossing, the gradual ascent for the hill began. We had driven up the long hill many times in a car but we had no appreciation then how big this hill was. Because it was very humid, we took it slow. We would see many more climbs today as we bike across the Flint Hills and the south wind could definitely be a factor. At the top of the hill, the photographer was there as scheduled. There we were, finishing a tiring hill and trying to look refreshed for the photo.

The photographer took a couple more actions photos and then headed back to town. We later learned that our story ran in the Sunday morning paper. We have not seen a copy of the paper, but have heard that the hill climbing photo took up two-thirds of a page. Given that the photo was shot from the front, Randall was much more prominent than Barb. Within the text, the names of Barb’s folks were omitted (bummer, bummer) and the writer got carried away with the zero’s (e.g. we’re going 71,000 miles and have taken 90,000 photos). We were very appreciative that the local newspapers covered our story. We were also pleased to learn that they ran a front page article describing the local Habitat chapter’s need for land. We hope that the land inquiry article brings the proper people together. To see the text only version of our story, click here: The Manhattan Mercury. [Note: to view Mercury articles online, this newspaper sometimes requires one to register first (no charge to register).]

After the photo shoot, we biked a short distance to a scenic overlook. Because it was still very hazy from the recent rain, our view was somewhat obscured. The traffic on southbound Highway 177 was moderately busy but we felt comfortable with the wide shoulder that was available. Seven miles outside of Manhattan we reached Interstate 70 (our third sighting of this freeway). We biked under the I-70 overpass to find that the shoulder had nearly disappeared and the highway had become a two lane road. For almost 30 miles we rode up and down in the scenic Flint Hills to reach Council Grove, KS. Along the way, we passed near Alta Vista, KS (the town’s name translates from Spanish to “high view”). The old farm settings, the ponds, the grazing cattle and crops gave us a lot to feast our eyes on. Just north of Council Grove, we biked by an attractive one-room schoolhouse and some silhouettes of western figures.

Arriving in Council Grove just before noon, we stopped at the Sonic Drive-in for lunch. While dining outdoors on the picnic tables, a few sprinkles dropped on us as rain looked imminent. When biking through the town, we could see that the city strongly promoted their western, historical past. A few of the buildings had murals painted on them. Randall had fond memories of visiting this town for 4-H livestock judging contests as a teenager. The three day trip was a big thrill for a farm boy from Barber County.

Before departing town, we stopped at the convenience store to fill our Camelbaks with icy drinks. The store’s clerk was interested in our trip. She said, “I hope you don’t get too wet!” A couple of locals were particularly intrigued by our pedals. They had been looking at the bike while we were in the store. We showed them the cleats on the bottom of our sandals and they were now even more puzzled on how they worked. So, we gave them a demonstration of clicking the sandals onto the pedals. They were in awe of our technology! When we said we were turning onto F Road to Emporia, they cautioned that it was a narrow country road.

Continuing on, we headed east on Highway 56. A storm was brewing ahead, but it appeared to be moving north and was therefore, less threatening. The road had a nice wide shoulder until we reached the county line. In the past, we have seen variance in shoulder widths with the crossing of county or state lines. This shoulder transition was quite striking as we went from four feet to nothing. Fortunately, there were only five miles to our next turn as the traffic on Highway 56 was too heavy to be riding without a shoulder. Upon reaching F Road, we turned south. F Road had no shoulder either but we found it to be a low volume road when we biked through.

Heading down F Road, we could see that the payment was fairly wet. The storm front that veered off to the north had given this area a good drenching. The skies to the south were now clearing off and things really began to steam up with the full sun exposure. We continued to climb up some smaller hills as it appeared we were finally finishing off the last of the Flint Hills. After ten, humid miles, we reached Americus, KS. Not a very big town, but big enough to have a convenience store. Time for some more icy drinks! We appreciated how stifling the heat index was when we stepped into that air conditioned store. It was like walking barefooted into some snow. Wow! The clerk warned us that the road south of Americus carried 3000 vehicles a day. These small towns are really versed on their road statistics. He said that fortunately, we were going south, as most of the traffic will be going north this time of day. We thanked him for his concern, but we felt safer on the county road than we did on Highway 56.

As we continued on F Road, it turned into G Road. You really have to watch your letters around here or you will get lost in a hurry. The G Road then came to an end at Highway 50. We turned east onto Highway 50 as we now had Emporia, KS in our sights. We rode this busy highway all the way to the downtown area. At Merchant Street and Highway 50, we stopped to rest our weary legs at the shaded courtyard.

From downtown, we pedaled over to the southeast residential area of town. Randall’s cousin, Alice, had graciously offered us a place to stay for the next couple of nights. After a refreshing shower, Alice drove us to a local park to see her sister, Barb, who was managing the Corporate Challenge that week. The Challenge was a friendly sporting competition between company employees. That evening, it was Frisbee golf and darts. Cousin Barb introduced us to one her participants who was with the Emporia newspaper. This introduction helped to spur interest in publishing our story. Alice then took us to the nearby town of Olpe, KS to see Randall’s Aunt Marie and to enjoy a meal at the Chicken House. One more stop allowed us to visit with cousin Joe and his family. Yep, we have lots of cousins in Kansas!

We stayed an extra day in Emporia to work on our website update. The heat index on this day off exceeded100 degrees so we were very thankful we were not biking. The forecast for the next couple of days offered some cooler weather. We made some progress on our daily journal, but still were not ready to publish the next segment. With the delay in publishing our update, we were getting emails asking if we were okay. It was nice to know that the concerned inquirers had been following our story.

We spent some of our day connecting with the local newspaper and radio. The newspaper’s photographer came over to Alice’s house to shoot some action photos in the neighborhood. We biked up and down and up and down the street so the photographer could capture us in action. We ended up pedaling 0.6 miles without getting anywhere! Through arrangements made by cousin Barb, we were interviewed on the local radio station in Emporia. What a thrill! The phone interview was done with a call to the station that morning. Barb gave them the scoop on our adventure as the radio host asked a series of questions. During the remainder of the day, the station played back excerpts of the interview to the area’s listening audience. After using media such as newspapers, television, newsletters and church bulletins, we now had used another approach to get the word out. That evening, cousin Henry and his family stopped by for dinner so we were very fortunate to have visited with a lot of relatives.

Miles cycled – 75.6

August 27, 2004

Having had a restful day off, we began our ride at 7:15 AM. Our host, Alice was also leaving for work so our departure timing was convenient. Heading south out of Emporia on Highway 57/99, we were headed in the right direction as most of the traffic was headed north. Just south of Emporia, we crossed over the Cottonwood River with a pretty view of the nearby railroad bridge. Later, we passed the city airport where an impressive air force jet was on display along the highway. After ten miles and a bit of climbing, we reached Olpe. We made three stops in this small rural town. For the first stop, we visited Aunt Marie again as she had not seen our bike. She and her neighbors were thrilled to see our rig.

Our second stop gave us one of most fascinating audiences we had seen on our trip. Randall’s cousin Logan (son of Joe) attended the elementary school in Olpe. Alice had been a classmate of the school’s principal so she helped coordinate our visit to Logan’s school. We arrived at the school at 8:30 and waited outside. Before long, we were invited in for a cold drink. We had envisioned a setting where the students would go outdoors to gather around our bike, but one teacher suggested using the multi-purpose room (known as the gym in our school days). So, we walked our bike and trailer through two sets of double doors to reach the gym. A group of about 100 kids were filing in as we were setting up our bike. They seated themselves in orderly rows on the floor. The entire elementary school was there to hear our story!

Logan’s teacher then introduced us as she noted our family connection with Logan. Randall talked about our trip while Barb held up the North American map showing our route. Barb then pointed out the features of our bike and trailer. We were impressed with how the students appeared to be very attentive. We were also getting big smiles from the school’s staff as they stood along the sides of the gym. After about 20 minutes, we asked if there were any questions. Almost instantly, half of the students raised their hands. Wow, these kids were just like sponges, being very eager to learn more about our trip. They had some very good questions and some of them are repeated below:

Where do you sleep? We stay in campgrounds, motels or private homes.

Do the yellow bags on the front wheel (the panniers) move with the wheel? No, they do not. We then showed them how they were hooked to the bike frame and were fixed.

What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom? We look for convenience stores. When we are out in the country, we find a bush and watch out for traffic.

Where do you keep your money? We keep things secured in our bags. [We were wondering, “Was the kid planning to rob us?”]

What’s in your backpacks? These are Camelbaks which hold drinking water. We can drink the water through a tube.

Did we see any zebra? No, we didn’t go by any zoos. We did see black bears, grizzly bears, mountain goats, mountain sheep, moose, elk, deer, antelope, buffalo, wolf and coyote.

How did you determine your route? We used the Milepost guidebook for getting through Alaska and Canada. In the USA, we have been using bike maps made by Adventure Cycling which route us primarily on secondary roads and show service locations. When we go from Indiana to Florida, we will be using state highway maps to guide the way.

What kind of roads do you ride on? We travel on mostly paved, secondary roads. Over 100 miles of our trip were on gravel roads including much of the Dalton Highway and some construction areas on the Alaskan Highway. In Montana, we had to go on Interstate 80 for 13 miles (where it was legal to do so) as there was no alternative. Don’t ride on the interstate highway in Kansas!

Do you eat pizza? Yes, we have enjoyed pizza meals. We have also prepared macaroni and cheese or dehydrated foods at campsites. Otherwise, we have dined at American styled restaurants.

How did you train for this trip? (This was from a teacher who stepped forward to be sure her question got answered.) In the past years, we have biked in several states to experience many different terrains, weather, roads and traffic conditions. We also toured in northwestern Michigan in March, 2004 to best simulate what Alaska weather would be like in May, 2004. However, the best training happens when you start the trip and your body responds to the demands. The first 115 miles on the Dalton Highway was our “boot camp.”

How did you get enough time off to do this trip? We had wanted to do this adventure for some time. The challenge was to make the time before we physically couldn’t do a trip of this magnitude. So, we sold our house and quit our jobs. One teacher mistakenly thought we had been college professors (Randall’s beard perhaps?), and was horrified to think we had given up tenure for this trip. She was relieved to learn that we had only given up engineering jobs.

Do you trade off with who rides in front? With all of this touring weight, it is necessary for the Captain (the rider who sits in front) to have strong arms, so Randall rides in front all the time. He controls the steering, gear shifting, and brakes. Barb is the Stoker (the rider who sits in back) as she watches for traffic, navigates and takes pictures.

At 9:40, the principal stepped in to bring an end to the questions. The students and teachers thanked us for coming. We poised for photos with Logan’s class standing about our bike before heading out of the building. Four lucky students were chosen to hold the doors open for us. One of them said that he was related to Logan so he must be related to us, too. Our school visit was very entertaining to us as story tellers. Perhaps, some of our young listeners were inspired to someday do a big adventure themselves.

For our final stop in Olpe, we got sandwiches and icy drinks at the convenience store before continuing south. It was mid morning and getting noticeably warmer. For the next ten miles, we pedaled down the slightly rolling hills while enjoying the abundant purple wildflowers in the pastures. Entering Madison, KS, we climbed up a fair size hill before coasting into town. It wasn’t getting any cooler so we stopped at another convenience store for more icy drinks. At Madison, Highway 99 continued south and Highway 57 veered to the east.

We were more than happy to head east to lessen the impact of the south wind. While we were no longer facing directly into the wind, the appreciable hills on this stretch certainly gave us a work out. On one long uphill, a pick-up truck patiently followed us the entire climb at 4 to 5 mph. When we reached the top and could see that there was no opposing traffic, Barb waved them around. When they passed, one of the two women in the truck hollered out, “Did you like that hill? You’ve got ten more like it!” and laughed. Well, after biking up all the hills, we found their reporting somewhat inflated as we tallied just seven more hills. After eight miles, we passed by Lamont, KS which had no services so we kept pedaling.

The combination of these hills and the steamy, warm day made our travels pretty sweaty. Even the cows considered it warm as they were seen wading in the ponds. The views we were getting from on top of the hills were special except that visibility was somewhat limited by the hazy horizons. At 1:40 PM, we reached Gridley, KS where we asked a local what the eating options were. She said the downtown cafe served dinner until 2 PM (lunch is called dinner in some areas as it is the biggest meal of the day). As we parked our bike, a man going across the street to the bank said, “Wow, I saw you guys in Emporia this morning. You’ve come a long way!” We scampered into the cafe as we didn’t want to miss out on dinner.

The cafe was empty and the woman who operates the cafe was putting the salad bar stuff away. She asked if we wanted the dinner (which included the salad bar). Since, it was quite warm outside; we were not interested in that much food now. We ordered off the menu and she brought out a pitcher of iced tea. Oh, it was so nice to have a whole pitcher to ourselves! She asked us about our journey and said she might have considered doing something like it when she was ten years younger. As we were getting the bike ready to leave, she came outside to be sure we had enough cold liquids to drink.

In Gridley, we decided to change our destination for the day. The heat and the hills were taking its toll and we knew that in a few miles, we would be heading south into the wind. We now had a lot of respect for that Kansas south wind. The cafe operator in Gridley said that Yates Center, KS had motels and services. This would leave more miles for the next day, but the weather was expected to be much cooler then. At the point where Highway 57 reached US Highway 75 we turn right for our ride to Yates Center. This US 75 is not the Interstate 75 which passes near our previous home in Michigan, but none the less, we were thinking of I-75 whenever we would see the US 75 sign. If one were to stay on southbound US 75, they would end up in Dallas, TX.

As expected, the traffic was heavier on US 75 but there was a nice, wide shoulder. The warm, south wind wasn’t cooling us any and caused us to lose 3 mph in average speed. We passed by a bakery truck that was blocking our shoulder. In the rush to deliver fresh bread, the patrolman must have determined the truck was going too fast. We stopped at a rest stop which had composting toilets and running water. We soaked our shirts at the water fountain to help cool us off. A motorcyclist at the rest stop told us that he thought it was way too hot to be out pedaling a bike.

During our afternoon of riding, we were seeing a lot of hay fields. Reaching Yates Center in the late afternoon, we did not dispute their sign, “Hay Capital of the World.” This was not exactly the area where allergy sufferers would want to hang out! The town has about 1,500 people and supports two motels and several restaurants. We checked in, showered and then walked to a barbeque restaurant for our evening meal.

Before turning in for the night, we called David to see where he was and how he was doing. We had met this touring cyclist earlier in Wyoming and Colorado and since he was ahead of us on the east bound route, he could give us reports on road conditions. David was half way through Missouri. He warned us that the hills had started and that the winding roads had limited visibility. He had heard that Golden City, MO had the best pie and he had two pieces there just to be sure.

That evening, we received a nice email from Randall’s cousin, Alice. She reported that her classroom (she’s a primary school teacher) was jealous that we didn’t stop there. Her school is a rival of Olpe, but was not located along our route. Her students were amazed that we had sold our house and quit our jobs to do this trip. They asked, “Why?!” Alice told them, “You only live once. You do not get another chance at it.” They did not say much after that.

Miles cycled – 60.4

August 28, 2004

The rain forecasted for today started about 2 AM and it was still drizzling when we walked to breakfast at 6 AM. The waitress at the restaurant wished us well and was concerned that we would get very wet. We related to her that the morning drizzle was much preferred to the steamy, warm afternoons. As we began our cycling, the sky was getting lighter, although a light rain persisted. This Kansas storm front was typical as it had negated the south wind and we were feeling a slight breeze out of the north.

Oh, the wonders of a tail wind. Our speed over the wet payment increased considerably as we biked over the rolling hills. The only problem with the rain was the limited visibility. Our bright yellow jackets, red tail light and flashing, front light helped others to see us on the shoulder. On our five mile breaks, we had to wipe the mist from our amber lenses. About a dozen miles south of Yates Center, we passed by Buffalo, KS. Because of the light rain, our photo opportunities were somewhat diminished. When we reached Highway 39 a couple of miles later, we turned east for our advancement to Chanute, KS.

This eastbound highway to Chanute was a bit busy so we were quite happy to reach this city of 9,000 after 12 miles of soggy highway. Even without any sunshine, the historic, downtown setting in Chanute was quite a sight. We brought our sleepy digital camera to life as we shot in every direction. Going beyond Chanute was monumental for us as we had now rejoined the Adventure Cycling maps and routes. The zigzagging through our home state had taken us off of this main west to east route. Using Santa Fe Avenue and Elk Road, we headed south out of Chanute and then turned east onto 160th Road. A cute muffler advertisement along the way was good for a quick photo shot.

As has been the case with Adventure Cycling routes, we had definitely returned to the back roads. This country road was narrow and a bit bumpy, but traffic was light and friendly. One sign that got our attention early on was the “DRIFTING SNOW NEXT 11 MILES.” Even though we had traveled a great distance south, they can get appreciable snow in this area and the winds are certainly substantial. Going east down the road, an occasional hill would show up just to keep us honest. This state has way too many hills to be remembered as “flat Kansas.” After passing several fields of sorghum and hay, we reached the point where 160th Road went directly into Highway 146. We stopped to put away our rain jackets as it was no longer raining.

After about ten miles on eastbound Highway 146, we entered the small town of Walnut, KS (population 221). Our map listed a cafe and we had biked 50 miles so it was time for lunch. As soon as we sat down in a booth, a woman handed us a bound book and said, “This is our biker’s book. Write in it whatever you want. You can read any of the other writings.” Being the first “biker’s book” that we had seen on our tour, we reviewed it with great curiosity. The first entries were in June of this year, but the cafe operator probably had more books before that. They had three to four entries a week. Most of the touring cyclists mentioned the TransAmerica Route and which direction they were going.

Reading recent writings in the biker’s book, we saw two cycling entries from riders we had met on the route. They were David and George (a.k.a. Catfish). One August entry said, “Kansas hospitality is the only thing that makes up for the heat and wind!!” We enjoyed reading the comments and the people at the cafe obviously enjoyed having bikers stop in. While at the cafe, several patrons asked us where we were biking to and from. As we stood by our bike preparing to leave, a motorist chatted with us about our trip. He recommended we see Big Brutus, a 16-story high earth mover once used for coal mining southwest of Pittsburg, KS. Unfortunately, it was too far off our route to visit via bicycle.

After lunch, the clouds finally broke as we now had occasional sunshine. With our tanks refueled, we ventured east of Walnut with a few small hills along the way. Just a few miles beyond our lunch stop, we noticed that the tandem was a bit wobbly in front. A deflated front tire was causing the instability so we stopped to change the tube. With the front tire now inflated to 75 psi, we continued down the country road, passing by a large, white church along the way.

Further east, Highway 146 became Highway 3 and we stayed on this eastbound highway until reaching Highway 7. With a right turn, we continued our route on southbound Highway 7. We noted several fields of corn and soybeans before reaching Girard, KS. This town is the county seat, but with a population of 2,722, it is much smaller than the neighboring city of Pittsburg. Still, there were many nice homes including one with a couple of classic cars out front. We stopped at a convenience store for some icy drinks before continuing south on Highway 7.

Just south of Girard, we saw a silo with a tree growing out of it which was quite an amusing sight. A short time later, we left the main highway for a series of side roads: E. 590th Avenue, S. 200th Street and E. 560th Avenue. We had to watch our route closely at this point or we would get lost. Without our cycling maps, we wouldn’t have known about these nice country roads which took us right into Pittsburg. We later talked to locals about our route into Pittsburg and they had recalled seeing a number of touring cyclists on these roads. Most of the locals had no idea that a major bike touring route went through their neighborhood.

Pittsburg (population 17,775) is home of Pittsburg State University. Classes were in session so the streets were quite full of traffic. When we got into the heart of town, we stopped at a convenience store to check out all motel options. After much deliberation, we decided on a motel on the south side of town which put us within walking distance of the mall and restaurants. Having pedaled a lot of miles and climbed a lot of hills, we were ready for a shower and some rest.

Miles cycled – 90.8

August 29-31, 2004

Looking ahead to the Labor Day weekend, we had to plan the steps we needed to take to reach a bicycle tandem rally in Columbus, IN. The original plan was to pedal into Columbus prior to the start of the event. However, time lost because of equipment issues threw us off schedule. In early August, we had contemplated increasing our daily mileage and taking fewer days off to reach Columbus in time. Then, we realized that this accelerated pace was not what this adventure was about. Our aim was to experience a trip of a lifetime and document it well.

Determined to attend a bicycle rally that would have over 500 tandem teams like ourselves, we decided to reserved a rental car. When we reach the rental car location, we would load the tandem into a minivan and drive all the way to Columbus (and then return by minivan to where we left off in Missouri). Along the route, there were two cities with rental car options: Springfield and Farmington, MO. We opted for the Springfield rental car pickup as we were told that the Ozarks provided a considerable climbing challenge beyond Springfield. Because we would be traveling through small, western Missouri towns with limited services, we decided to spend our extra days in Pittsburg.

On a sunny Sunday morning, we ate breakfast at the motel breakfast bar before biking three miles north to Our Lady of Lourdes Church. We attended the 9 AM service and spoke to Father Thomas afterwards. He said that he would have introduced us to the congregation if he had known we were in attendance. The sermon was about humility so we suppose we were just trying to be unassuming.

A few minutes later, Father Thomas introduced the Cub Scout leader to us as we were preparing to leave. The leader said that the scouts were receiving their religious awards at the 10:30 AM service and there would be a reception afterwards in the activity building. He indicated that the boys would love to see our bike and asked if we could attend the reception. That sounded like fun so we committed to attending. We biked to a nearby convenience store to get a newspaper to fill the time and waited in the air conditioned activity building. At about 11:30 AM, the scouts and their families assembled for refreshments. We talked about our adventure with a few people. Then we gathered with the scouts around our bike and answered their questions. A couple of them even asked for our autographs.

For lunch, we stopped at a pizza restaurant for lunch. There was a buffet option which fit our needs as we were starving. During our time at the restaurant, a couple of families stopped us to ask questions about our trip. Both families gave us a donation for Habitat for Humanity. The Kansas people were certainly not shy about talking to us.

On Monday, we contacted the local newspaper, The Pittsburg Morning Sun, about our story. Barb did a phone interview and a photographer was scheduled to meet us as we biked out of town on Wednesday morning. As noted before, the reporter and many of the people we talked to in Pittsburg had no idea there was a major bike route that went right though their town. They have seen cyclists in the area but did not know they were following particular roads defined by the TransAmerica Route. The newspaper reporter even asked if we had to get special permission from the local law enforcement officers to use the roads on the route. We told him that in Kansas, the only roads that we were not allowed to bike on were interstate highways.

During our Pittsburg stay, Randall contacted Steve, a former neighbor from Medicine Lodge, KS. Steve and his wife, Pat now live in Girard. On Tuesday evening, they picked us up for dinner. We had a most pleasant visit getting caught up on the past 30 years.

Intermixed between our Pittsburg activities, we worked on our website and published another stage story.

Miles cycled – 7.0

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