Friday, September 22, 2017

Newton, Kansas

Other than the above brief outburst of enraged sculpture along the roadside from a venomous welder in the small town of Mullinville, there hasn't been much variety to the scenery through the Plains of western Kansas.  Corn struggling to make it and soybeans and grasslands have dominated the scenery.  The soybeans respond with more vigor than the corn to the not so fertile soil. A competition is on to get a yield of one hundred bushels of beans to an acre.  The few towns look almost as withered as the corn.  Trees are a rare sight.  With little to block the ferocious winds whipping up from the south gusting between twenty and thirty miles per hour, I have been buffeted all over the road.  The temperature has been in the 90s for several days, ten degrees above normal.  What had been most pleasurable cycling for ten days has become an ordeal.  The lone salvation has been the wide shoulders, nearly an extra lane wide, giving me enough leeway not to be blown out into traffic.  

I chose not to abandon the four-lane divided highway heading into Wichita for a parallel road with less traffic, as it did not have a shoulder providing me with a life-saving cushion.  A librarian in Kingman, forty-four miles from Wichita, warned me about heavy traffic heading into the city, strongly advising me to leave the main highway in Goddard, nine miles before Wichita, but she had a much different sense of traffic than someone from Chicago.  She was 65, but had never been in a city larger than Kansas City, and had barely left the state in all her years.  When she retires next year her dream is to see an ocean.  Her choice is the Atlantic, as driving across the Rockies scares her.  

The ovenish heat and the fierce winds forced me to take shelter every four or five miles on my run-in to Wichita whenever I came to the shade provided by an overpass.  There wasn't a town or service station for twenty-eight miles.  This was a more demanding stretch than the sixth-nine miles between towns in eastern Colorado.  It was more sapping than the high nineties of Madagascar, as there was no wind to contend with there.  At least I wasn't dripping sweat here.  The water in my water bottles was nearly scalding and even though I had flavored it with Tang, it was hard to force myself to drink.

All that kept me going was the prospect of a service station with a soft-drink and ice dispenser. Even better than a service station is a McDonald's with its offer of help-yourself unlimited soda for one dollar.  It's array of drinks often includes Powerade, a less sugared alternative.  I couldn't have been happier when I saw some Golden Arches ahead.  I tried to sip and not guzzle first one and then another giant ice-filled cup of the Powerade with a splash of Sprite.  I absorbed it like a sponge.  It was a relief to be in air conditioning after roasting for four hours in the heat.  I was lured to the large city of Wichita for its Carnegie.  There had been two, but the other on the campus of Wichita State had been torn down a while ago.  

I reached the sprawl of Wichita an hour before dark.  I could have camped in a huge cemetery on the outskirts of the city, but I was concerned about how much liquid I would need to drink so opted for a cheap Indian-run motel near the airport.  There were several to choose from.  Even more important than WIFI was that it have an ice machine.  I drank and drank, so much so that I didn't eat enough, waking up at three a.m. starved.  I had hoped to watch the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam, but my selection of channels did not include PBS.  I was unable to report in to Janina, as she was experiencing a similar heat-wave in Chicago, with a record high for the day, and had her industrial strength fan cranked up so she was unable to hear the ring of her phone or the ping of FaceTime on her computer. I had to wait until the morning to talk.

I would have liked to have gotten an early start in the predawn cool, but I was so exhausted from battling the wind the previous two days that I slept until 7:30.  At least I would be heading north from Wichita for fifty miles, so my lone adversary for the day would be the heat.  I had a pleasant seven mile ride through "suburbia" to downtown Wichita and its former Carnegie, now housing a bank, across from the new library.  It retained its stunning majesty.  The new library was just a building, hardly worth a glance. 

I left town on Broadway, taking it twenty-five miles north following railroad tracks and Interstate 35, passing a rundown $25 a night motel, to Newton and another most regal Carnegie. 

It had been a historical museum since 1973, after serving as the town library for seventy years with just one expansion in 1923.  It had an exhibit on the Chisholm Trail, which I had been following since Wichita.  It was the route Texans had used to drive cattle up to Abilene, one hundred miles north, to a rail terminus.  It had been established after the Civil War when the state of Missouri put a halt to Texans bringing their cattle through the state to reach the eastern markets.  

Now that I have reached the more populous eastern half of Kansas my days will be filled with multiple Carnegies.  My nostrils will be spared the stench of feed lots and the piles of manure dumped by fields.  I had to be wary where I camped, lest the wind shift in the night and I be assaulted by unwelcome aromas.  I have so far been spared goatheads, those prickly burrs that can adhere to tires and turn them into a sieve.  They have bedeviled me in Nebraska on previous rides back to Chicago.  My tires did pick up a handful when I wheeled my bike onto the property of what I thought was an abandoned house, but I was able to brush them off before they penetrated.

Not only did the Newton Quickstop service station have 79-cent 32-ounce drinks, but it offered the first bargain hot dogs in nearly one thousand miles.  I am always hoping for 99-cent dogs when I walk into a service station.  The Quickstop deal was three for three dollars, an offer I didn't have to think twice about.  The 99-cent hot dog may be a thing of the past, but this was close enough.


dworker said...

Yes, this 90+ degrees heat in now autumn is unprecedented here too. Normally, at this time of year, I am enjoying working outside in midday. But it is still so hot that I must work only mornings or evenings.
George, is the humidity low? I see no relief in the forecasts. Keep pedaling.

Bill Burns said...

90+ in Kansas City is definitely not unprecedented, but it is not an average year. The record for September is 106F, in 2000, and the humidity here has always been a challenge.

George, hopefully we'll see you soon! Ride safe!