Day 1: What I learned about East Kansas

St. Joseph, MO to Horton KS
52.8 miles/2,300ft

I had hills like this all day, from Walthena to Horton

The first day of the ride started out fine this morning. Actually, it didn’t. As I was ready to roll out I found I had a flat front tire. It is a new tire, but I had deflated it to fit into the bike box for the train. It had been holding air, so after a few minutes of panicking, I decided to pump it up and just see what happened. So far so good.

Anyway, things were fine until I got to Walthena, Kansas. That was the last flat ground I’ve seen all day. Crossing Kansas from east to west takes you across an endless succession of creeks and rivers, all running north and south. The roads—like San Francisco, the road builders in Kansas decided a straight line is better than following the contour of the hills—the roads constantly drop down to the creek then back up the other side.

I’ve actually read something about this. Irene D. Paden wrote a book titled The Wake of the Prairie Schooners. It’s based on the nine summers she and her husband spent in the 1930s-40s dragging their growing son along while they tried to retrace the old emigrant routes to Oregon and California. In a station wagon. She commented on the steep hills in Eastern Kansas:

Our way led over a succession of grassy swells spaced at intervals with breezeless hollows. What a country to have traveled before the day of the graded road and the planted tree! Driving an ox team over these endless, rolling hillocks was a task from which the very imagination recoiled.

Yeah, well, so is riding a bike over them.

The pavement was dry. The gravel roads were damp, but solid. Cars and trucks have left packed tracks to follow after the rain yesterday (1/2”, from what I’m told). But dirt is not gravel, and when I turned from the latter onto the former, I bogged down immediately. Twice.

Glue-infused clay. Death to derailleur, and forward progress.

The first time, I was remembering the advice I’d received from Derek in St. Joe. He told me that if the road was wet, it was probably okay. Emphasis on probably, because . . . uh-uh, no way. I extracted myself from that morass easily enough and found an alternative route (on gravel and pavement) into Troy. Lesson learned, or so I thought.

A couple of hours later, I was tootling along, had just topped a hill and started down, when I saw, and ignored, a sign that said, “Gravel ends.” Now, this dirt road was dry, and Derek did warn me that a dry dirt road after a rain was bad news because the dirt had absorbed the water and the result was peanut-butter mud that will tear your derailleur off. But by the time all of this registered, I was rolling deep into the muddy road which in about thirty feet stopped the bike dead in its tracks. The long and short of it is that the wheels were so jammed up it took me three trips to carry everything back up the hill to the gravel (bike, trailer, gear bag).

 But while I was schlepping all this gear (with five-pounds of mud on each shoe), a truck stopped. The driver, Carla, lived in the house just off the gravel (farm? ranch?) right there and asked if I’d like to use their hose to wash the mud off my bike. Her timing was a godsend.

While I finished lugging everything up, she had gone into the house to get a butter knife and had started scraping the mud from my tires. Once the bike and trailer could roll, I got them to the hose and spend about 15 minutes with the knife and the water trying to get enough mud off to make everything operable. She offered me water, lunch, a snack, like a worried mother. She asked where I was headed and gave me numbers of people to call in those towns if I needed help. She was uncommonly generous, and meeting someone like so randomly that almost–almost–made it worth getting stuck in the mud like an idiot when I should have known better.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Pretty dang ballsy for an old guy 🙂 … For any guy!!
    The last picture was really gorgeous; it’s great to be out there, but not scraping that mud off your stuff!! Good luck on the days ahead and safe travels.

  2. darell

    Good to hear that you don’t have to go looking for the adventure. It has already found you.

  3. Anonymous

    Well… at least you’re past the chugga chugga chugga part.

  4. Anonymous

    Holy shit, dude. BRUTAL. I can’t believe you did it.

  5. Lisa

    Best use of a butter knife ever, because they sure don’t work on butter. Also, casting suggestion for the movie version of this: Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei..

    1. ponyexpressride_u6fmky

      That’s exactly what it was like, that scene in My Cousin Vinny where they sleep in their car and wake up in the field and are stuck in the mud. I’ve never seen mud like this . . . well, other than the clay in Davisville. Nasty stuff.

  6. Anonymous

    You are my hero. Best of luck Scott.


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