Cycling Across America — Part 54

Kansas: South from Phillipsburg

Excerpts from the journal of my 1996 cycle across the US. Read the entire story from the beginning starting with the introduction in Boston.

“Hays was the planned destination. Due south. On US-183, the same road I cycled down from Holdrege on yesterday.

With no traffic and no reason to turn off it, then it would be bang on 60 miles. Which is fine. But not at 8 mph with a 10 o’clock start, you see. 8 mph means seven and a half hours.

I’ve got Glade 5 miles away, which is small; Stockton, which looks as big as Phillipsburg, 23 miles on; then Plainville 14 miles on. After that it’s another 23 miles right down to Hays.

So all I wanted to do was get something to eat in me to fill me up, which would take me all the way — to Plainville? But that’s not far enough. So I was thinking I could stop at Stockton and stop at Plainville. That would do it.

A one-minute phone message to friends in Kansas City last night cost over $3.50. A bit steep I thought, and was then glad I had only got their machine.

Left postcards for Hong Kong and Moscow at the desk of my motel, the Cottonwood Motel. Then I loaded up with food to take me a long way. Did this next door at the Colonial Restaurant. Biscuits and Gravy, and an English Muffin with grape jelly. Two cups of Black Pekoe and Orange Pekoe tea.

When I stood up I got this horrible pain high in my stomach. It showed no sign of easing up outside so I thought I may as well cycle as double over in the car park.

Straight South and into the wind. There was a shoulder and once away from the town there was virtually no traffic. But the landscape changed so quickly. In no time I was amongst lots of small hills with rocky ridges sticking up through the grass.

The town of Glade was five miles away but there was little there. I took a photo of a tacky Indian carving advertising some company.

The fascinating landscape of grassy hills and stony ridges stopped as suddenly as it started. Overall it formed a hill and like all the other hills in Kansas it’s more of a plateau. I think this was near where I left Phillips County and entered Rooks County.

The wide shoulder also stopped at this point and I was left with 2 feet. With little traffic that was fine. From the top of the hill I could see a very striking mound structure many miles to the west. I had first seen it yesterday from North of Phillipsburg when I must’ve been at least 25 miles away from it. I wanted to ask somebody what it was but as ever there was nobody in these parts.

When you do get views like that you can see for so far and realise how little life there is out there, in terms of houses and farms anyway. At one point I could see a small flat-ish hill to the southeast on the horizon. It very much reminded me of the Hill of Allen in Ireland, perhaps because of the huge surrounding flatlands.

I’d only done 25 miles when I arrived in Stockton but at 8 mph, and less, that was over 3 hours and I was eating. I’d already decided that if I found out there was a motel in Plainville then I would call it a day there giving the wind a chance to hopefully die down or at the very least I could rest, have an early night and make a concerted effort to leave early in the morning.

If I found out there was no motel in Plainville then I wasn’t sure what I’d do. I could try in Stockton — but to stop after only 25 miles? To cycle on to Hays in this wind would mean over two hours cycling in the darkn.

Stockton, Kansas. That’s Main Street to the right. The mural is on North Walnut St.

Cycled around the downtown of Stockton taking a photo of a mural of a train and decided that Cindy Loo’s was the cafe for me. They kept refilling my Pepsi and my water. I was evidently thirsty. 3 large, of each. A chilli cheeseburger with potato chips was ordered and I was told that the Evergreen Motel was on the right-hand-side as you entered Plainville. So I could relax and enjoy my meal. Maybe the wind would even die down. If it did I could still make Hays.

Apart from me there was only old women in the cafe, and one old man who asked me questions and pretended he could hear my answers. I heard his wife filling him in on my answers afterwards.

When they were finished I watched him spend 10 minutes counting out his loose change to pay his bill while the waitress smiled at me. Whenever I count my change to pay the exact amount I find out that the tax hasn’t been added yet. That’s annoying. I’ve got a lot of change.

When I left, the older of 2 waitresses came outside to talk to me. She said that US Route 183 (that I was on at the time) had been closed from Stockton to Plainville and they only opened it up unexpectedly yesterday evening. Otherwise I’d’ve been looking at a serious detour, probably in the region of an extra 16 miles. The road had been closed since May — I must remember to keep in touch with road conditions when my choice of roads are so limited.

She said that they’d been spared the heavy rains affecting so much of the rest of the country this summer but that there was still a lot of moisture in the ground from the big floods a couple of years back.

This brand new section of 183 only had an 18-inch shoulder and was much busier. Very little corn and only the odd field of milo. A lot of ploughed fields showing that the soil was a sandy texture and colour. And still many green and brown grassed fields — a very weathered landscape. Intoxicating I described it as on the post card I’ve just written to Dublin. In terms of colours and textures and size it is. I really don’t understand people who can only enjoy the spectacular mountain and/or seascapes.

Only about one in 10 vehicles were waving to me. I know, I counted. Seven mph is not very fast. But at least most people in Kansas wave properly. I find myself mirroring their wave. Using whatever hand they used and making the same movement. It’s a reflex thing. And if they are only adjusting their sun visor then I simply adjust my helmet.

In Nebraska they waved in a fashion that was like shooting at the sky with their finger. I even ended up copying this alien gesture. Today it occurred to me what if one day some driver wanted to alert me to a dangerous object about to fall on my head? I imagine I would simply wave at him/her and blindly shoot the falling object with my finger.

Plainville. Cycled all around town before checking in here. There’s not much to the town and the main street is a mish mash but at least they have one. There seems to be a lot of farm equipment on sale here.

Did I say yesterday was the shortest day yet? Well I’ve just surpassed it. It’s the wind. Throw in another late start and a pain in my stomach, and I don’t get very far. 40 miles only. I didn’t make Hays.

There was enough daylight for another hour of cycling but my average speed today, going straight into a 20 mph plus wind, was 7.7 mph and decreasing. That is, at the time of finishing it was 6 mph and even less. With Hays only 23 miles to the South it was actually 4 hours away under those conditions. It makes for very frustrating cycling.

Today was supposed to get up to around 70 [21C]. It was in the 40s (6–8C), this morning. I was finding it hard to get local television. The national picture wasn’t very good because there’s a dividing line going north to south in Kansas, and one side of it is a lot warmer than the other, because a cold front is moving from west to east — towards me. Also, one of the stations had the rain, which is over in Colorado now as snow, going to come well into Kansas very close to where I am. But everyone else says it’s going to be dry. I don’t fancy going into that wind if it’s rain.

The Dairy Queen provided the ‘Ultimate’ burger meal, and with the forecast for winds from the south of 25mph I think I may head due west tomorrow. I may be a day late in Liberal.”

Read the next segment: Part 55