Cycling Across America — Part 57

Kansas: Dodge City

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

“Monday, 7th October, 1996.

Dodge City was founded in 1872, five miles west of Fort Dodge. It quickly became a trade centre for travellers and buffalo hunters. In the same year the railroad reached Dodge City thus ensuring its continued existence and making it a major shipping point.

An estimated 850,000 buffalo hides were shipped from here in the years 1872–1874. The town thrived and its populace of buffalo hunters, railroad workers, soldiers, and drifters ‘settled their differences’ in shoot-outs. Lawlessness reigned, creating the need for a burial place — Boot Hill Cemetery.

The above is a paraphrase of a ‘Come to Dodge City — relive a legend’ brochure I picked up a few days ago. Actually looking at another brochure I see that Hays, Kansas has the site of the first cemetery in Kansas to be called ‘Boot Hill’.

By 1875 the buffalo were gone but the Longhorn cattle of Texas took their place. I cycled past the statue of a Longhorn called ‘El Capitan’ earlier today. Those cattle are supposed to be descended from Spanish Cattle. It’s a bronze statue by Jasper D’ambrosi. I liked it and but for the thunderstorm raining down on us I would’ve photographed it.

From 1875 to 1876 over five-million cattle were driven up the Western Trail from Texas to Dodge City. Cowboys from those cattle drives had an input into establishing Dodge City’s reputation as the wildest town on the western frontier. Notable lawmen as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp became legends in their time here.

The unceremonious cemetery of Boot Hill was gone by 1878. Fort Dodge was closed in 1882 and by 1886 the cattle drives had ended.

Today’s original plan was an early and easy 2 hour cycle into Dodge, spend a few hours looking around and then another easy 2 hours west to Cimarron, leaving me a 75 mile cycle into Liberal tomorrow. For the third time in 5 days I failed to keep to the plan.

Left a postcard at the front desk when I checked out of the Jetmore Motel, then crossed the road to the gas station for breakfast. Took their prepared stuff — a Western Breakfast small pizza and a croissant with sausage, cheese, and egg.

In crossing the wide road I had gauged that the wind was definitely from the north, good news, and it carried a hard cold drizzle with it — not such good news, but hopefully that wouldn’t develop into a thunderstorm.

In the gas station pretty much everybody spoke to me, usually just to say that it was a dreadful day for cycling. I knew it could’ve been a lot worse so I always replied that it wasn’t perfect. I tried to get more out of one woman but only succeeded in confirming that she was from Jetmore.

One person was killed and another hospitalised in the shooting at the Boot Hill parking lot I heard about last night. Justin Mercado, 18 was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Columbia — Western Plains Regional Hospital. John Mices, 19 is still in intensive care with gunshot wounds to the abdomen.

The parking lot has always been a gathering place according to the police. In an average weekend night about 50 to 55 teens can be found in the museum’s south parking lot. As the lot is city property and open to the public there has not been a ban on gatherings. Both victims were reported as being good students who have never been in any trouble.

In a related development Unified School District 443 has asked the police department to provide additional patrols this week at both the High School and Dodge City Middle School. District administrators asked the police department to bolster its school patrols at both the beginning and end of each school day. They also asked police to have officers drive past the High School during the lunch hour. As I cycled by at lunch time today there was nobody there.

How about those Chiefs? That’s their 2nd defeat on the trot now after opening up the season with 4 wins. I watched the game live but they were well beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers 17–7. I don’t have much confidence in the quarterback Bono being able to deliver when he needs to.

It was over 3 miles today before any traffic passed me. As well as the wind and cold rain it was very foggy. I still had my 2 to 3 foot shoulder but even so I would look behind and make eye contact with drivers to ensure they saw me. With the high visibility vest it really wasn’t a problem. When semis came from the opposite direction they would blow me around a bit and I needed a tight grip with both hands.

The weather reduced the landscape. It was like I was in England, in the Yorkshire Dales or the Kent Downs in the rain. Colours were enhanced and it was only a narrow corridor of grassed lands that was visible to me. When cattle started running away from me again — as per usual after I’d actually gone past them — I told them to stop. They didn’t, so I shouted STOP. They stopped.

And now the Cranberries are on VH1. Earlier this morning on the radio I heard the Corrs. This evening I watched MTV do a feature on Ash. Without even trying I’m never far away from Irish music.

Riverdance was mentioned on one of the big breakfast programs the other morning. The female presenter said she was looking forward to it a lot — she was a Southern girl and it reminded her of clogging.

Similar comparisons were drawn for me by my host back in Omaha, Nebraska. I miss Nebraska. I miss the corn. If tomorrow goes to plan then Liberal will be my last stop in Kansas. I’m going to miss Kansas too.

21 miles down the road I reached US 50/US 56. There was an historical marker at some picnic tables. It was about the Santa Fe Trail. Starting from Franklin, Missouri the bulk of its 750 miles were in Kansas. Both west and east of Dodge City it split into two.

The quicker route followed the Arkansas River but was not suitable for water and was open to easier attack by Indians. The longer route favoured in winter took the high road along ridges. The highway into Dodge for the next 6 miles was busy but it had a wide shoulder. I needed it ’cause the wind from the side was blowing me around quite a bit. From the cold rain hitting the side of my face I got a headache.

Just before I entered Dodge a large sign asked me if I was lost. I thought about it and concluded that I wasn’t. The sign was for the ‘Who So Ever Church of God’. And then the thunderstorm hit.

It was as I cycled down Wyatt Earp Boulevard. I sheltered immediately by a Pancake House and then made my way to the downtown. As lightning and rain danced all around I shivered on my saddle under the wooden arcades that front the downtown streets.

As well as the ‘El Capitan’ statue, I looked at cowboy shops, souvenir shops, furniture shops, art galleries, and tacky rubbish shops. I was very cold, wet and hungry. After an hour the rain eased somewhat and I made my way past Boot Hill through the puddles and torrents to a Burger King. Hot food was so necessary and I could tell the rain was here for hours.

I took this photo the next morning when the thunderstorm had passed. It’s the reconstructed Front Street, to represent how Dodge City looked in 1876 on the site of the original Boot Hill cemetery (the original street burned down in 1885 and wasn’t rebuilt as the cattle drives had finished)

Even if it stopped as forecast later in the afternoon I was too cold and wet to continue. Dodge City tonight so. That means an 85-mile trip tomorrow — at least. With trouble free roads, no rain, and no winds to combat, that’s fine. So far the forecast is good. There will be heavy fog but the winds are from the north-east which is ideal as I’m heading south-west. Better wait and see though.

With the early finish and the heavy rain still falling preventing me from sight-seeing, I thought I’d have time to work on some letters — but I fell asleep before my bath. I did manage to make contact with my host in Liberal though. It’s the dad of a friend of a friend. He sounds really nice.

Northern Ireland made the news tonight with the double bombing in Lisburn. Only for about 2 minutes though. Roberto Alomar and his baseball spitting is still getting much more coverage. With no depth to the coverage of home it’s impossible to place what happened in any context. So I think I won’t even try. I’ll wait ’til I get home and then see where we’re at.

Over unremarkable ham steak and pineapple tonight I wrote postcards. Since people don’t talk to me much in the Plains states I need the people I left behind more, even if the conversations are one way and so brief as to fit on a postcard.

Tomorrow should see me break the 3,500 mile mark. Liberal is so close to Colorado. I’m tempted to go an indirect way down to Lubbock, Texas. It’s another state after all, and Amarillo may well be so big as to be uninviting on the bike.

Probably the making and drinking of tea all night has kept me awake. It’s now after 3:30 am and I want to leave early. At least my clothes are now dry. I may try and photograph that mural of a stage-coach downtown in the morning. It’s not as impressive as the one of a Kansas landscape in Jetmore but it’s impressive nonetheless.”

Read the next segment: Part 58