Where oh where are those westerlies that are said to prevail across the plains? This is day ten of my 1,400 mile gallop from Telluride to Bloomington, Indiana that I was hoping to complete in fourteen days to arrive in time for Bloomington's annual Lotus Music Festival. I was counting on some strong tail winds to get me there in time. So far I've only had three hours of the wind at my back. It was on day four from Canon City to beyond Pueblo just after I exited the mountains and hit the flatlands. That was exactly what I was expecting. I was effortlessly romping along at nearly twenty miles per hour, but then the winds died and switched from the south and so they have pretty much persisted ever since. At least I've only had one day of head winds.
I've averaged one hundred miles a day the past three days, but I'm still one hundred miles under the one hundred mile a day average I was shooting for--800 miles in nine days. I knew I'd have to be satisfied with only about eighty miles a day the first several days through the mountainous Rockies. I also sacrificed several hours of riding time on my first day, delaying my departure until eleven a.m. to watch the annual seventeen-mile Imogene Pass run from Ouray to Telluride over the second highest road in North America crossing a 13,114 foot pass. I was rooting for Ralph to break three hours. He fell on the descent and arrived seven minutes beyond his goal with a bloody knee. Still he finished 79th out of 1,200 runners and beat his time of last year by eighteen minutes and finished fourth in his age group. He would have podiumed if he hadn't taken a tumble. But he is inspired for next year. It was well worth sacrificing several hours of riding time for this event.
I was anticipating a series of wind-assisted 120 plus mile days across the plains to make up for the lesser days at the start, but the winds haven't cooperated. It was similar to last year when I returned via Route 2 across northern Montana and North Dakota. I at least had two days of hearty tail winds, but then had to battle southerly breezes as I headed down to Chicago. Southerlies, rather than westerlies, seem to be the norm for this time of the year.
Among the radio stations I've been listening to across Kansas is KFRM, AM 550, "The Voice of the Plains." It is nothing but news and information for the farmer. It has constant weather reports. It says that September is the least windy month of the year in Kansas. The relative calm has allowed me to average close to fourteen miles per hour. KFRM was about the only station I could pick up yesterday, NFL Sunday, that wasn't broadcasting a game or reporting on football. I welcomed a good dose of sports news, but I was happy to have KFRM to fall back on for an occasional break, even for a show called "Gun Talk." The topic for the first hour of the show was safety on the gun range. Caller after caller had stories about idiotic behaviour. One told of a friend being robbed of his gun when he left it behind went he went to retrieve his target. The host said that never would have happened to him as he always keeps a pistol on his hip. He said, "I'm regularly asked, 'When do you carry?' I say, 'Only when I am awake.'"
All the radio stations are full of commercials for gun and ammo shops. Even Hardware Hank advertised its selection of ammo. I pass many gun shops through the small towns, some simply identified as "Guns" with an American flag as background. KFRM was amazingly upbeat despite the drought that has wiped out many farmers' crops.
One of the more alarming stories was about feral swine, giving me some pause about my camping. I've been riding until dark each night and have had no difficulty finding a secluded spot to pitch my tent when that moment arrives. It has been as easy as camping in France. It became even easier when I passed the mid-point of Kansas and pockets of forests began to appear. I welcomed camping among trees as it minimized the heavy dew that had soaked my tent a few nights.
The best radio so far was a three-hour Saturday morning show called "Bob Shop" on KXXX out of Colby hosted by a Dr. Demento character who played the hits from the '50s and '60s and beyond interspersed with parody songs and deranged asides. At one point he commented, "Someone just called and asked if I was drunk." I was wondering the same myself. He said he was just high on caffeine.
He had a hard time restraining from singing along with his rollicking favorites. After "Barbara Ann" he apologized, "Oops, you caught me singing. That's highly unprofessional." But he encouraged everyone to sing along with his next selection, the theme song of the White Sox, "Na Na Goodbye." "Just remember that bouncing ball that Mitch used to use," he advised.
He dedicated some odd fast-paced electronic song to his brothers, who were hunting prairie chickens. Many on his play list were old favorites of mine that had my legs propelling me a couple miles per hour faster than they would have been. One that I'd never heard was "Leader of the Quack," a parody of "Leader of the Pack." It was sung by a woman complaining about her doctor who regularly gave her the wrong medicine and was notorious for bungling operations. It was as hilarious as Bob Shop. He said it was possible to stream his show on the Internet. He has been one of the great discoveries of these travels.
Another was learning that I was following the old Santa Fe trail. There were historical markers and signs indicating where ruts from the old trail could be seen. The town of Council Grove was full of history. Near its center were two statues, one called "Guardian of the Grove," of a Kanza warrior, from whom the state took its name, and one called "Madonna of the Trail," a memorial to the "pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days." One of the town's museums was its former Carnegie library, a statuesque red brick building without any additions, with the single word "Library" still adorning it just below its second floor eve. Its cornerstone identified it as a Carnegie Library.
It was the fifth town on the Santa Fe trail that I passed through that had once had a Carnegie library. Those in Great Bend, Lyons and McPherson had all been torn down and replaced by bland, generic structures without any character. I twice rode past the library in Great Bend without recognizing it as the library, impossible to do if it had been a Carnegie. The librarians there couldn't even tell me where the Carnegie had once stood, other than it was nearby as when the new library replaced it in the early '70s a chain of citizens passed the books from the old library to the new.
Only the Carnegie in Herrington still stood and was still used as a library. It was easily the most impressive building in this sad, painfully depressed town of more boarded up businesses than open ones. It stood proudly on a corner lot in pristine condition with Carnegie Public Library spelled out prominently below its roof line. A cornerstone reiterated, "This library gift of Andrew Carnegie." It also listed the eight directors and construction company. It was beautifully landscaped with flowers and bushes and a sculpture of three girls reading and a bench with a plaque "in loving memory of our mother Shirley Koepsel Wendt, who loved to read." I was there Sunday, when it wasn't open. I'm sure its librarians would have been radiant with pride, as they certainly cared about maintaining their library It was a true oasis in a town that didn't have much else to offer.