Kansas: rain showers, warm showers, bike showers

After 8 days I left Kansas today and crossed the border to Colorado. Time to take a look at what this state had to offer.

First about the terrain:
To my surprise there were hills in eastern Kansas. Everyone had been telling me how flat Kansas was, but the truth is: it’s not flat until about halfway through. In the east, they have the so-called Flint Hills. They are not real hills with short climbs of 1%-3% but people in Kansas actually refer to them as mountains, but I think they just do that because they want to have some sort of different terrain than the plains in the west. Anyways, although they weren’t steep, the first days here were still tough, because it was really hot and the headwinds kicked in. After Newton, which is pretty much in the center of Kansas, it really did get flat. It’s amazing, because there literally is nothing around and you can see miles and miles ahead. It might sound boring, but it is also fascinating to really not see anything but fields and powerlines for a couple of hours. Of course this is also a challenge, because at times there was not a single house for 20km and you definitely need to make sure to carry enough water and also hope that a thunderstorm doesn’t begin when you are in the middle of nowhere – so far it has worked out.

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Not a whole lot around – this picture sums up Kansas’ scenery

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Nice surprise: an exotic animal farm with zebras and camels

Because of the heat and the winds, I actually did a couple of nightrides. I started at 4 AM and it was a great experience. There was no traffic, no wind and no heat. And the best part were the sunrises. They were simply amazing! The only downside was that I was riding away from them and always had to look back to watch them, but since a car came only about every 20 minutes, it didn’t really matter. There was one scary incidence though: I passed one farm at 5.30AM and it was still pitchblack when a dog started barking and I saw that it was a huge one that wasn’t on a leash and started chasing me. Of course I was an easy target for him, since I had so many lights on me and was the only glowing thing in the dark. But fortunately I was too fast for him and after a while he gave up – at least I think so…I couldn’t see anything.
Another fun thing about the nightriding was the fact that I had no idea how far I had gone already. I don’t have light on my bike-computer and so I just pedaled and pedaled and when I finally had sunlight, it was a nice surprise to see how far I had come. You also invent a lot of games to not get bored, so I started guessing the distance I had travelled and then checked with my flashlight if I was right – I got better at it! (other “fun” games in the Plains include ‘staying on the white strip on the right side of the road’ and ‘estimating how many kms will pass until you see the next house/car’).

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Beautiful sunrise in Kansas

There is not really more to say about the terrain or scenery in Kansas, so I’m gonna explain my headline for this blog entry.

Rain showers:
For the last couple of days, the weather forecast has been pretty bad with thunderstorms, rain and colder temperatures. So far I have been lucky with the thunderstorms, but it is still not the best feeling to see dark clouds all around you when you know the next house is probably an hour away from you. On my way to Ness City, I had my rainiest day so far. I was riding my bike for 4 hours in pouring rain and was soaking wet when I got into town. It didn’t take me a long time to decide that it was time for my first motel-night on this trip. I definitely didn’t feel like camping in my tent and being rained on all night. It was a good decision and I watched the Weather Channel pretty much all afternoon. That’s when I heard about the flash floods in Colorado and that more storms were coming up – so I really hope it’s gonna stay relatively dry here. I also walked around the town a little bit – that’s an exaggeration when you know that there are about 3 streets in the town. But it actually has a tourist attraction or at least claims to have one: the ‘skyscraper of the plains’. It’s an old bank building and after all is a 2- or maybe 3-story house – I guess the term skyscraper is defined differently in the Plains.

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Fort Larned

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The skyscraper of the Plains in Ness City

Warm showers:
As you guys might know, there is this organization called warmshowers, which has the same concept as couchsurfing, just for cyclists. So people open up their homes to touring cyclists, letting them take showers, eat dinner and spend the night at their places. I have been using this throughout the trip and it has been amazing! But in this headline, I’m actually referring to the unbelievable hospitability of ‘random’ people in Kansas.
Two nights in a row, I got invited by people I just randomly met on the street to spend the night at their homes. The first night, I was planning on camping at the city park in Sterling. I didn’t have service to call the police department to check in and asked a guy in the park who was playing with his little son where the police department was. After talking to him about the trip, he told me I was welcome to take a shower at his place and I asked if I could just pitch my tent in his yard. After taking a shower, Dave invited me to stay in the guest-bedroom. I had a great evening talking to him and his wife about all sorts of things, from politics over history to religion.
The next morning I left at 4 AM and actually made it to my destination at 9.30AM already. So I had a whole day to spend in Larned. I was just chilling at the city park when a guy came with two young kids to have picknick. I asked him if he lived closeby because I wanted to leave my bike there to be able to walk around town all day without worrying about my stuff. He did live right next to the park and told me I was more than welcome to do that. A little later on, I left my bike on his front-porch with a thank you not at the door. When I came back after a couple of hours, there was a new note on the door saying that I was welcome to sleep on the couch and take a shower. I should just walk in because he was going to be working for a while. For me as a German just unbelievable: it’s one thing everyone leaves their doors unlocked, but inviting a stranger to go in your house and “make himself at home” while you are not there..a different world, definitely nice though! After I was relaxing in the house for a while, Adam came home after dropping his niece and nephew off and getting his work done and asked if I was hungry. He had brought home a lot of meat and all kinds of food, because he figured I would need some calories. So we had a great dinner and talked about Kansas. The next morning, he also made a delicious breakfast and I was ready for another day of cycling.
So instead of spending 2 nights in my tent at city parks, I had good company, a bed and warm showers just because I met the right people at the right time – that’s what it is all about.

And finally the bike shower:
I had heard from other cyclists about the bike shop in Newton and that it was a great place to stay at. So I decided to do that and it was definitly the right decision. James, the owner, has a great concept: since Newton is pretty much the halfway point for the official Transamerica Trail, he wants to make cyclists feel welcomed and offer them a place to crash and also to get their bikes ready for the second half of their trip. As a touring cyclists, you can spend the night for free, take a shower, use the kitchen, use all tools of the bike shop and also the bike shower. James rebuilt a human shower into a bike shower. You can hang your bike in it and clean it. It’s a great idea and definitely another highlight on my trip. I ended up spending the night at James’ house with this family and it was a great time – as usual.

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Finally getting my bike clean at James’ bike shop in Newton

Now you know what the title is all about. This time, it was really hard for me to write the blog, because it has been a week and the days are so similar that it’s hard to remember everything that has happened.

Another great thing actually happened today though: I am in the town of Sheridan Lake in Colorado with a population of 88 (people here told me it’s probably closer to 40). They do have a gas station with a little convenient store and I was planning on having not a lot to eat since there is no grocery store. At least they have a church where cyclists can stay at, so I went there and just relaxed for a while. Then a man came into the building and I went up to him: “You must be the pastor, I’m a cyclist and would like to spend the night here”. But it wasn’t the pastor. It was Ronnie, who was just getting a microphone for his dad’s 80th birthday party that was going on next door. He asked me if I was hungry – and of course I was. So he invited me to join the party and just come on over whenever. When I headed over there I was surprised to see about 50 people in the room – the whole town was there apparently. I had a great time. They had a buffet with meat, baked beans, potatoe salad and of course a birthday cake – and they had plenty of it so I actually got to eat a lot and feeling great now! But besides the food, it was also nice to talk to the people there. They made me feel like I was part of the family. Talked to a couple of guys that gave me directions and advice for my upcoming days. To others I talked about the differences between Germany and the US. And at the end, I took a picture with the birthday-boy and his wife. He gave me a hug and told me to say hey to my mom and tell her that she has a great son – but of course she knows that already ;).
When I came back from the party, two other cyclists had arrived at the church. They are going East and so we exchanged a lot of stuff about what is coming up for us. So even in a town of 88 people, I ran into the right people at the right time. And who would have thought that I’d get invited to an 80th birthday on my first night in Colorado!?

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Happy 80th Birthday, Dennis!

That’s about it, I think. A short outlook: if the weather is not too bad, I should make it to Pueblo by Monday. I will take a day off and then it’s time for the Rocky Mountains. I cannot believe I have made it this far already, but I also have a long way to go still. On Monday I will reach the 4000km (2500 miles) which means the halfway-point of my tour. But I think it will be a little less than 8000km all in all, but we will see. I think I will be hitting the Pacific Ocean in San Diego in about 2700km – that seems pretty close, right!?

One remark to Colorado: The scenery is not going to change for another 200km, in fact it is getting even less populated (didn’t think that was possible).

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Made it to Colorado. I have been on the same exact road going straight for about 300km now. I hope I’m not going to miss the next turn in another 200km!

And now I just want to say thank you to all the people I have met along the way that have made it such an incredible journey so far. I really appreciate the conversations, company, beds, showers, dinners and whatever else there is I have been able to enjoy. (I just reread that and it sounds like the trip is over already, so I have to stress the ‘so far’ because I’m hoping to meet many more!)

Take care,

Freddy

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