Through Missouri, Into Kansas

Jun 22nd, 2017 in Adventure

I’ve zoomed through Missouri and much of Kansas as I approach halfway through the USA. The ground’s flattened out and I’m racking up mileage, but each day still proves a trial and a blessing. A cascade of flat tires forced me to stop in at Hutchinson KS and I soon realized that a rest day was needed, not to mention an update to y’all.

By the way, I never mentioned this, but I decided to re-adopt my AT trail name of “The Scavenger” out here. While it’s fun going by my assumed name, I have to accept that I’m an outlier as not a single other cyclist uses one, and many people give a weird reaction when they hear it. It’s worth it though for all the people that smile and go along with me on it. Didn’t you know it’s good luck to feed the Scavenger?

I last wrote all the way back in Carbondale, Illinois! Feels like forever ago even though it’s really only been about two weeks. Well, I rode out with Amanda from there and we soon crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri. Missouri proved to be anything but free miles as the way West threaded through its part of the Ozark Mountains.

Missouri proved to be very beautiful riding. The Ozarks, though plenty hilly, offered a great natural ambience and a pristine vibe. A particularly memorable section was surrounding the Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. The is named for the igneous rocks in the East Fork Black River that resist erosion and is akin to a natural waterpark. I saw my first armadillos in Missouri too, but unfortunately they all were roadkill.

I had a detour in Missouri that took me slightly off-route into Springfield. It sprung from an epic moment of misfortune; I misplaced my portrait camera lens! I fretted and sulked about it, but found out I could just drop into the city, buy a replacement and get back to it, budget be damned. Thus, I’ve traded my Sigma 30mm 1.4fl for a Canon 50mm 1.4fl lens. I discovered a Japanese styled garden in the city to test out the new lens, and my route that day traded steep hills for a dangerous in and out of the city. Springfield also has a great art museum I felt privileged to visit. This day I considered a lesson in making the most of a blunder.

Now into Kansas, I’m crossing too many Eastbound cyclists to count. The time of the year is right for them to appear in mass starting from Oregon.There’s also the TransAm Race, where crazier people than myself speed through the entire route I’m on. My attempts to photograph them all have been waylaid and now I just ring my bell at them. It’s nice regardless to see the roads busy with bicycles!

Cycling through Kansas itself has been the first time on this journey where the game has really changed. I am in a new biome. Seemingly endless straightaways have you peddling contemplatively for hours, talking to cows to pass the time. A pernicious headwind is a constant for us going Westbound. Battling the midday heat is folly, especially on the extended stretches sans amenities or even a spot of shade. The threat of storms have been an evening constant, and all the locals talk about tornados casually.

Those new challenges are balanced out by this state offering the flattest part of the ride so far as we arrive in the prairie. The hills have leveled out to the tiniest bumps. If we’re lucky on weather, it’s not hard to belt out a centennial or more each day, and I scored my first one recently.

That day was after a string of flat tires forced me to hitchhike on a highway after running out of tubes and patches. I got a ride from Peña to the El Dorado Walmart (it was not made of gold) where I bought some cheap tubes, fixed it up and then camped near the store. The next morning, I biked back to where I was, did a full day of riding only to to suffer another flat which set my front wheel untrue after I repaired it. Fed up, I stopped off route early the next day for bike service at Hutchinson, KS.

Fortunately for me, Hutchinson’s church offered a wonderful hostel while I acquired some fresh tires. I took a rest day in town, got my filthy laundry sorted and visited the coolest tourist attraction so far, the Cosmosphere. This space center holds all kinds of rare artifacts and tells the history of the space race. Science and engineering have always been core interests for me.

Hutchinson is where I split off with Amanda for a bit, as my rest day was unplanned. It’s cool to have found someone I can be with almost all the time and is as (or more) hardcore than me in terms of physical strength, but maintaining a relationship while adventuring is a challenge that may be too much for me. I’ve enjoyed answering just to myself, but when traveling with another there’s a significant element of responsibility and support that is as taxing as it is rewarding.

In Missouri and through Kansas, the local communities are a refuge that regularly offer camping for the cyclists in their city parks. In Kansas, particularly, they are oases in the arid surrounds. It’s a true boon to know that we can rely on each one for shelter and plan out our days with ease. We’ve met a lot of great local folks through this confluence of cycler and community outreach.

Despite the friendliness and innocent curiosity of most people I meet, there is a dark side to being out here, a sense of unease that extends past the constant vehicular danger. This is not the AT which kept me insulated to a community of like-minded woods-folk (though we all came from a wide variety of political views and backgrounds). Here, I’ve met a few unsavory characters who’ve openly espoused racist ideologies, and mentioning I’m from New York City gets a bevy of reactions, not infrequently dismissive or resentful.

I’m not scared of these people, but it’s important I do acknowledge my white privilege here. Same as on the AT, the vast majority of people I meet and see on the road are Caucasians. I receive a warm welcome everywhere, but would someone who looks different? They may not even embark on such a wonderful journey for fear of harassment. My burden is whether to confront this toxicity when heard or to keep a low profile, and so far, I have opted for the latter. Those damaged people aren’t likely to be helped by a challenge, and I can spend my energy more constructively building relationships on more solid ground.

Well, I got that off my chest. This trip has been an eye opener for me, in terms of all the people I’ve been able to befriend and the learning I’ve received about Americana outside of NYC. I’m so excited to take on the Rocky Mountains next as the Colorado border looms. And even though my butt is sore and I’m praying every day not to become roadkill, I’m furiously thinking about what I’ll do with my time after I reach the Pacific. ✌️