This was another frustrating day on the road. Lots of hills, sure. But i also hit four (!) road closures due to construction, which sent me on at least 20km worth of detouring and backtracking. It's so infuriating when this shit isn't signposted well in advance on a bicycle, you just end up at a dead end because either there is no posted detour on the route you came in on, or the official detour tries to send you off down the interstate.
I eventually got across the Missouri River, only to find that the soul food place i was cycling to was not open Mondays. I was hanging for that catfish and greens. Fuuuck!
The other annoying thing was my wing mirror must've gotten busted at some point because there was a crack in the plastic and it wouldn't stay straight, not even after visiting a hardware store for an Allen key to tighten it or using hair bands and canvas ties to try bring some pressure back. Every bump nudged it off, and of course the bumps always happen when you most need the mirror to make sure a truck isn't bearing down on your tail.
Thankfully there was a bike store in Leavenworth, so i bought a new mirror. And ate some excellent Thai food.
I went down the boat ramp to touch the Missouri River and splash some of the water on my face, which i might regret if the water was full of bacteria, but i just wanted to baptise myself in the same water i left behind in Saskatchewan.
Originally i was considering camping by the river, but the camp host wasn't in and the dudes hanging out in the picnic area looked at me like i ruined their party, so it wasn't as idyllic of a spot as i imagined.
I pushed on to Leavenworth State Fishing Lake, which is a reservoir a good 40km outside of Leavenworth and actually just next door to a much better-named town called Tonganoxie. I rode a bit of gravel and back roads to get here, racing against time before the sun set. I did briefly pull through town to refill my water bottles, though, since i had a suspicion there was no water on-site. I was right.
I asked a jogger along the way where to find a water fountain and she was very helpful. Then, when i couldn't find the campsite at the reservoir, i asked a woman watching the sunset with her dog for directions. I still ended up going round in circles and asked a family down here too. Eventually i resolved it and started unpacking my stuff and then the dog lady showed up to double-check i had found it. It's a free campsite, no hookup, no water, just a flat bit of ground by the lake with some fire rings and a pit toilet.
The lady ended up chatting to me a bit and suggesting i go to the geographic center of the contiguous states because apparently there is some weird quirky art installation near there, and another beautiful lake. It's 3 days cycling due west, but it is very tempting. If the land border had been open i wouldn't even have gone to Manitoba, i would've headed south through the Dakotas and Nebraska and ended up around there anyway.
She also recommended Lawrence - "the only blue county in Kansas". She said it was a cool hippie town. I actually know it more for being the hometown of Sam and Dean Winchester from the TV show Supernatural. I was heading there tomorrow anyway, so now i have two reasons. Her other suggestion was Eureka Springs, if i decide to tack back to Arkansas. It was a wonderful chat.
And this lake. Oh, this is a great reservoir. It's so nice to camp for free and camp more or less wild without any RVers or other campers around the place. There are some guys across the cove doing some night fishing, but that's a nice background noise. Plop. Plip. Plop. Some southern-ass sounding drawl that i can't make out what they're saying.
The ride was nice too. I don't know if it's my imagination, but it feels like the hills here are more plateau-like, with enough room on the top to put some wide open fields. Corn or soy or just grazing land for cattle. It doesn't feel claustrophobic. And getting to the top of a hill feels like i made it somewhere, like i can relax for a while, look around see some stuff, instead of immediately going back down. It's refreshing.
Anyway, i am bundled up in my tent, and i have no signal, and i don't care. Weather says 12 overnight and another sunny day tomorrow. Thank God for Kansas.
I have a very bad hangover.
Yesterday was a big day.
I woke up peacefully by the lake and slowly ate breakfast waiting for the sun to get over the ridge so i could dry off my tent. I zoomed into Lawrence, which seemed like a nice enough town, although the places i hit were underwhelming. I went to a local bakery, but despite being a college town and apparently hippie-ish, they had no vegan sandwiches. I don't mind eating meat and dairy if i'm in a small town where there are no other options, but it feels lazy when surely there should be. Then i stopped into a huge grocery store to buy supplies, but somehow they didn't stock any nuts or dried fruits that weren't completely basted in salt, sugar and other flavorings. On the other hand, a worker at the bakery paraphrased Foucault on crime and insanity while we chatted about the bike thefts in the neighborhood, so it clearly wasn't a podunk town. I should go back someday.
Topeka i kinda missed too. I stopped in at a park right on the outskirts of town to take a photo, and bumped into another bike tourer who had just had lunch and charged his electronics there. He was riding with a trailer and had a very specific plan - to get to all the state capitals by bike (presumably not including Honolulu). He said Topeka was number 17, and he was in a bit of a rush because he still needs to cross the Rockies and then eventually cycle up to Juneau. I expect he is vlogging - he seemed to be the type because he was wearing a custom shirt printed up with his map - but i didn't ask, because it annoys me when everyone asks if i'm on Patreon or monetizing my trip somehow. Like, can't people just travel for fun any more? Why would i want to turn my escape from work into a job?
Anyway, the other bike tourer inspired me to eat my own lunch instead of heading into town to find a restaurant, so i did that and then just passed through North Topeka ("NoTo"), which is a fairly rundown industrial district and poor residential area that the city appears to be trying to revitalize.
Heading back out of town i ended up on a ramrod straight road that paralleled the railway for a while, so i just blasted through town after town till reaching my destination - Wamego.
Wamego's claim to fame is they have branded themselves the home of Oz. There is a Wizard of Oz museum in town and a bunch of Oz-themed street art and restaurant dishes.
My original plan had been to camp at an RV park on the edge of town, but i tried and failed to contact the owner, so i ended up springing for a motel instead. I walked into town to see what they had on offer, and decided to get BBQ, since i didn't go to Kansas City and that's one of their important regional dishes. The BBQ hut was doing Taco Tuesday, so meat in a tortilla topped with with "Mexican slaw" (just regular mayonnaise-based coleslaw with black bean and corn as far as i could tell). I ordered "burnt ends", which is basically just beef brisket, plus green beans and a cucumber onion salad for sides. It tasted exactly like American BBQ, which means soft, mushy meat with bland fixins. I still don't understand how Americans do BBQ and make it taste so unremarkable when Mexicans do carnitas and get it so crispy and oily and decadently delicious. I suppose i'll try again when i am in the deep south to see if it's any better.
Anyway, the meal was fine, just not very spicy or interesting. I decided to stop into the bar for a beer before heading back to the motel.
That beer turned into shutting the place down sometime after 1am. I don't remember paying. I don't remember if i tipped. It was the biggest night of public drunkenness i've had in a long time.
The troubles started with a guy who had won at the slot machines, but because of state law they can't pay out cash, so they pay out credit at the bar instead. So he started buying beers and shots for everyone, then it was some guy's 30th birthday, then the bartender got in on the action too, and by the end of it everyone was smashed.
Let's see. I tried Michelob Ultra, and decided it sucks. I tried Coors Banquet, and decided it sucks too in a different way. I am still struggling to find an available-everywhere American beer that suits my tastes, but i have not had much luck. Just drinking Budweiser for now. I played pool, and mightily sucked compared to the locals who slammed ball after ball after ball like it was nothing. I played some Neil Young and Stevie Nicks on the jukebox, then snuck in my trademark Pet Shop Boys, which is a tradition of mine at country bars - i always have to sprinkle a little gayness on the proceedings.
One guy had the hiccups almost all night and he didn't want to try my dad's trick of drinking from the wrong side of the glass because bending over like that was too gay, apparently. He also cheekily played In The Navy by Village People as part of an apparently long-standing feud with the bartender who was Navy (unlike the homophobe who was Army). The bartender was not amused.
The guy next to me shared his life story of wanting to be a baseball star, but getting roped into his dad's excavation business the moment he was old enough to drive (14, at the time). He said his passion was carpentry, and he got pretty good at it, but he still thinks he disappointed his dad by not taking over the company.
A whole bunch of other stuff happened, a drunken injury, blood on the bar (not mine), inventing new shots because the bar was out of certain liqueurs... It was altogether a very fun, very stupid, very hangover-inducing night.
In the morning i forced myself to shower and do laundry, then went back into town to see the Oz museum. It was small, but i still spent about an hour in there wandering around and reading more about the history of the books and - of course - the movie. I wish i had it downloaded because now i want to watch it again.
Before the museum i got a ham and cheese sandwich, tomato soup and two cookies from a local bakery, and when i went to pay discovered that some kind anonymous soul had bought it for me. Bike touring is a special ticket, it's like being military! Because of the hangover, after the museum i got a vege burrito too.
Then back on the road. Ugh. Cycling was tough feeling as seedy as i did. I decided to go to the nearest state park and set up my tent so i could crawl into my sleeping bag and die.
Well. I made it to the park, but i didn't die. I sat at a picnic table and started tapping out this entry on my phone instead. I will die after i eat dinner.
So far, Kansas is pretty much three for three. It is my most surprisingly great state since South Dakota and definitely the best one i have visited on this tour. I think i'll stick around another day or two before heading south for Oklahoma and Texas.
I am in Minneapolis, without fucking internet, yet again. This isn't the Minnesota town, it's its Kansas namesake. There are a couple thousand people here and a grocery store and a gas station and a few other shops and restaurants, but there is no 4G that i can get. I can't tell you how frustrating it was to roll into town and have no idea how to book in to their urban campsite.
So i went to see the cops. I'm sure y'all have gathered that i don't much like cops, but also i know it's better to be on their good side than their bad side. I found the chief at the county lockup and said i'd like to camp, and he said to just pitch my tent and one of his officers would come round in the evening to collect the cash. It felt a lot like being in China, registering with the cops, but hey, i got the money, i can afford to stay on their good side.
Turned out the cop who showed up suggested a better (free) place to camp at the county fairground across the road, but by this point i was all set up. Also, since it's an RV spot, i can charge my shit. Despite the lack of internet.
I had another brush with authority on the way here.
I left Tuttle Creek state park at 9am after waiting in vain for the sun to come out. It was incredibly foggy and i was a bit worried about riding on the highway, but there wasn't much choice. I headed up the highway then cut west on the first dirt road i could. I probably added a fair few miles to the route but ended up cycling through some quirky little farmland and a tiny community or two. I even saw an old stone barn!
My map app had suggested a route through Fort Riley, which i wasn't holding out much hope for. Sure enough, when i got to the road it had all kinds of road closed signs, and i wasn't about to ignore those to cycle onto an active military base. So I went on another big detour, then circled back through the fort on the US highway. By this time the fog had cleared and i could enjoy the vast, undeveloped prairie land reserved for the military. It was beautiful. There were deer. I really wanted to stop and take a photo, but didn't want to get any trouble from the patrolling Humvees, so committed it to memory instead.
I stopped at Wakefield for an unremarkable lunch at the local bar. The bartender seemed to be drugged to the eyeballs, and a couple of customers complained about the slow service. I wasn't in a rush, so just had two PBRs while i waited. I can kinda get out there why people might turn to drugs, there's not much else going on.
But that's exactly the scenery i love to cycle through. It was my best ride in the US so far. Lots of prairie grass. And once i got back on the gravel, no traffic either. From Longford heading west i didn't see a single vehicle. It was awesome. So peaceful. So vast. Everything i've missed since leaving southwest Saskatchewan.
Of course here in the US that only lasts for 30km or so, then you're back in civilization. Well, as much as you can call not having fucking internet civilization.
I am thinking of heading up in the direction of the geographic center tomorrow. I won't make it all the way, but i should get close. It's way up near Nebraska, but then i can loop back down and book it to Texas. The other day my friend R said to me that there's no wrong way when you're a wanderer. That made me feel better about going "backwards".
There is some bad rain forecast for Sunday and/or Monday, depending on where i end up. I'd like to avoid that if possible, but i'm not sure it's worth spending two days in a motel in the middle of nowhere to avoid it. I really need to make sure i have internet tomorrow night so i can plan a bit better. Maybe i can find a route that will lead me around the rain.
Anyway. I am going to pee and then get in my tent and maybe watch a TV show i have downloaded. Might as well take advantage of having this power outlet here to recharge tomorrow.
I did not take advantage of the power outlet. One thing about bike touring, after i set my tent up, eat food, do my flashcards, that's it. I'm out like a light.
In the morning some RVers pulled up next to me and struck up a conversation. For some reason i kinda imagine RVers to all be full-timers, or at least snowbirds, but talking to this couple i started to realize that a lot of them are just people who have a mobile extension to their house that they take out on the weekends to camp somewhere nearby. This couple had come, like, 15 miles to camp at apparently the nicest park in the area. I'm not sure they'd ever even taken their caravan out of state.
But they were a friendly couple who took pity on my empty Ursack and kicked down a bunch of food. Half a salami ("no need to refrigerate it"), a can of spam ("you need protein"), a bag of pecans, a half box of Ritz crackers, some chocolate chip cookies and a bunch of tea bags ("this one's good for you, it has turmeric"). Tonight i had my first salami sandwich since deciding to make a more serious effort to eat vegan 5-6 years ago and it was a nice change to nuts and fruits, though not enough to get me buying it of my own accord. Although i probably couldn't anyway round here - she said it was special salami brought from her family in California. He said you can't get anything like it in Kansas.
RVers are good eggs. Most hitchhikers i know don't like them because they never offer rides despite having plenty of room, and they sure are inconsiderate drivers on the road, but they're usually a lot friendlier when you meet them at a campsite. The couple next door to me here is playing old timey cowboy songs, which is appropriate background music for this hot and sunny evening by the lake.
I cycled most of the day along gravel and dirt roads up to Waconda Lake. It's another reservoir that they chucked a state park next to, but it must be pretty new because there aren't many trees, so i'm going to have a gloriously sunny morning.
Today's ride was awesome, i loved it so much. I only passed about 5 vehicles outside of town, and they were all grain trucks. I visited Rock City, which is a small private tourist site with some weird rock formations. I stopped in at a town in the middle of fucking nowhere that only had an abandoned station house and a bar, where i ate lunch. It was hot. It was sunny. The roads went on for miles in every direction. I felt free again.
Tomorrow i will visit the geographic center, which will probably be packed because it's the weekend, then it's time to head south. There is a badlands and some other interesting rock formations in west Kansas, but unless the rain kicks me west, i'll leave that for next time.
Camping on a plain is the best kind of camping. The wind rustled in the sparse grove of trees all night. There were only grasshoppers chirping for company. Even right on the shore of a lake, in overcast weather, the tent is bone-dry. I can see the sun trying to peep through the clouds on the horizon. This is the life.
I might end up here again tonight because of the dearth of campsites in this part of the state. Also, there is wifi, which is luxurious. Today might just be an out and back loop before continuing the journey south. Let's pack up and see.