Monday, June 9, 2008

Lonely Roads and Stormy Nights

It's a common paranoia among cyclists that the winds conspire against them. I'm certainly afflicted. With every turn I think that the wind has slightly shifted to ensure that I continue to face headwinds. I see it in others as well. I passed two eastbound cyclists from England yesterday who told me that they have faced headwinds ever since they entered Kansas. But then where are my tailwinds? I thought I was fighting the wind. In fairness, at times it does feel like the wind is blowing from every direction.

The fact is that the prevailing winds in Kansas come from the south and southwest, so I have faced side-winds and oblique headwinds. While not direct headwinds, these winds are difficult to manage as well. Tim, who I met a few days ago, told me that he was blown over by a side-wind -- on the ground, bike on top of him, blown over.

Riding against the wind can be demoralizing in ways that climbing hills is not. Hills provide a defined challenge, the reward of reaching the top, and often the joy of coasting down the other side. The wind provides none of that. It is elusive, here one day and gone the next. As you fight against the wind, you're left with the thought that others have done this same ride at much less cost. Of course, the wind is all a part of the ride, especially in Kansas. I'm working toward acceptance. I swear I will stop writing about the wind, as soon as it stops blowing.

When I pulled into Toronto, KS, yesterday to take a break from the wind and to get something to eat, I saw Tim and Perry's bikes in front of the only open business in town -- a store and cafe.

I joined them for lunch and we discussed our trips. They were both still recovering from the stomach flu, but they had to keep moving because they have plane tickets to fly out of Denver in mid-June. They are taking a one-week break from their trip in order to attend an engineering conference in Germany where they are both presenting papers. We were all headed to Eureka, KS for the night, so we rode the final twenty miles of the day together.

We arrived in Eureka none to soon. Just as we pulled up to the town park where we planned to camp, the sky turned a sinister color. The lifeguards at the park pool cleared the water and told the kids to call their rides. Fortunately, the park had two pavilions, so Tim and Perry set up their tent under one and I took the other. When the storm finally hit, it raged. I sat on a picnic table under the pavilion and watched. Lightning streaked across the sky on all sides. Thunderclaps followed the flashes of light by several seconds. One particularly loud crack of thunder startled me out of my seat. The rain oscillated between a torrential downpour and a steady, gentler rainfall. When I went to bed at 9 pm, it seemed that the storm was winding down. In fact, it stormed until 6:30 this morning.

When the thunderstorm finally passed, it took the wind with it. I quickly packed my gear and hit the road. I had to make the most of this opportunity. Today's ride consisted of quiet, lonely roads cutting through cattle pastures and the occasional corn field.

I breezed through Newton, KS -- a nice-looking town -- with my sights set on pitching my tent in Buhler, KS. After dinner at a local diner and a shower at Buhler Park's pool house, I was sitting in the park when an older man walked up to me and introduced himself. He was Jim McIver, a retired postal worker and avid biker. He stops by the park occasionally to talk with the cyclists passing through. Jim did not start biking until he was in his sixties and he does not bike anymore, but he managed to log a lot of miles in between. He liked to bike big miles by himself and often on interstate highways out West. He must be one of the few who likes to bike interstates. When Jim left, I retired to my tent and prayed that the wind would stay away another day.


chris said...

I was on a flight to California yesterday, and as we were flying over Kansas, I could have sworn I saw a speck on the ground kicking up a big cloud of dust. Never know, coulda been you. Congrats on the first month and keep on rollin'!

Anonymous said...

Always complaining. First it was all the dogs; now it's the wind. SIKE!!!!!

Andy said...

I can't believe you didn't stay at the Mennonite Church in Buhler! I am gonna have to mail you a list of good places to stay for free!
For starters, make sure you stay at the AthletiClub in Scott City. Ten bucks for a roof over your head and a hot tub!

The Rider said...

I tried but there was no one at the church. Unlike the other churches I've stayed there was no information posted and no phone numbers to call. Fortunately, there were no storms that night. The Athleticlub is on the itinerary.

Anonymous said...

Brian--your ride continues to impress. The winds you describe sound much more tortuous than those that plauged the 200km in Delavan. You're probably right. It is a conspiracy.

...and if poster jroot reads this comment, I think I'm in your former office on 51N at MWE right now...