Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 2, 2012: PAP Day 8, Anthony, KS to Enid, OK

We left Anthony around 8AM on the 65 mile ride south to Enid. Although we were riding into the wind, it was only 5 to 10 mph, and not a real problem. We rotated pulls every five minutes and that worked out pretty well. We were on a highway that carries much less traffic than others we have ridden this week. Our fellow travelers were all courteous, and even friendly. The only issue with the route was the condition of the pavement once we crossed over the Kansas / Oklahoma state line, early on today’s ride. The roads were badly in need of repair, giving us a rough ride.

At about mile 35 we stopped in a little roadside convenience store, anticipating that there would not be another for a good while. Fred quickly decided that he needed a cheeseburger but I just picked up some snacks. We ended up having a friendly conversation of ten minutes or so with a trio of locals. As so often happens, common ground emerges where it seems highly unlikely. Fred taught for a year at the college from which one of the fellows' daughters graduated. In addition, they all get on their motorcycles and do a trip to the Colorado mountains every summer. OK, no pedals, but still, only two wheels. Relations between motorcyclists and bicyclists are most always quite friendly.

Which of the men above is not actually an Okie?
Back on the bikes we continued uneventfully until about 9 miles from our hotel. Fred declared that he needed a break in the shade. We had just passed an electronic sign that showed the air temperature as just 79, but he felt overheated anyway. We pulled into the parking lot of a commercial farm irrigation supplier to take advantage of their ample, shady overhang. Freddy pulled off all the clothing he could, then stretched out on the cool concrete in the shade, making a series of loud sounds that would be best described as the sound track of a porno film. I won’t miss the next opportunity to record his performance.

Enid is a good-sized town, so we rode through miles of suburbs and past several more miles of strip centers, hotels, fast food joints, and all manner of commercial enterprises before coming to our hotel. Tonight we are in rooms at America’s Best Value, a chain that is well above our recent lodging but below most Best Western, Days Inn, and similar brands. One issue, however, was that we had to hike a good half-mile to get to the first acceptable eatery. In this case it was a walk-up-to-order local bar-b-que place. I had a grilled cheese sandwich, corn, and coleslaw; Fred had some ribs. At 6 the restaurant in the Best Western across the street opens. We are hoping to get something more satisfying this evening over there.

June 1, 2012: PAP Day 7, Medicine Lodge to Anthony, KS

Today was scheduled to be our shortest day (39 miles), with the idea that it would be a “rolling rest day” on which we would just amble along to give our legs a chance to rest. The day started out very cool, with a 20% chance of rain. At about 10 miles we saw that a mass of very dark sky was about to overtake us. As luck would have it, we were coming up on a little town called Sharon, so we got off the highway and started to look around for places we could take shelter until the storm passed by. We found some possibilities at a church, but a woman told us that we might prefer to hole up in the town’s store, just a few blocks away.

We took her advice and located the store, which is cleverly called “The Store.” We parked the bikes right outside the window under an awning, went in, and killed time while the rain came down. Fred had some food and I had a couple of French Vanilla coffees out of a machine that were quite delicious. Really.

It finally stopped raining long enough for us to take a chance. Bad bet, as it turned out, though there probably weren’t any other reasonable alternatives. We rode the remaining 29 miles in light to moderate rain, with one more rest stop along the way. I was wearing a rain jacket, but otherwise had no rain protection. I had pulled out my rain pants, seal-skinz socks, water-repellent long sleeve gloves, and helmet cover before leaving home, figuring that it would be too hot to wear them anyway. Nobody (at least not me) expected a day like this one so late in the spring. Normally temperatures would be up in the 90’s or even over 100 by now. Anyway, by the time we reached our hotel in Anthony, KS, I was soaked and started to feel pretty cold once off the bike and no longer generating heat by pedaling. Fred, on the other hand, somehow managed to carry all his foul weather gear in his little panniers with the rest of his stuff, so he did fine, with one big exception: he had not protected his phone from the rain, and as of yet it has not come back to life. He’s going to let it dry out for a full 24 hours before trying again.

As we came into Anthony, the road was blocked because a truck carrying a single wind turbine blade was trying to maneuver a 90 degree turn. Photos don't begin to do justice to the size of these turbines. Each blade on a full size commercial power generation turbine is up to 125 feet in length!  Fred wasn't able to get a single shot with the entire blade.

The motel in Anthony was run by immigrants from the same region of India as SPOS from the previous night in Medicine Lodge. The attitude of these people was exactly opposite, however. I was asked several times about my opinion of the room (which showed the abuse of the oil people who inhabit the room most nights), and apologies were appropriately offered. They were eager to show us another room (already taken, unfortunately) that had been recently remodeled. They hoped we would visit another time so they could put us in remodeled rooms. Anyway, it is much easier to make peace with deficiencies when dealing with nice people who are doing their best under difficult conditions.

The town of Anthony, while struggling, seems to be in much better shape than Medicine Lodge. There were plenty of empty storefronts, but there were also signs that there might be some hope for the future. We had a pretty good Mexican meal for a late lunch.

May 31, 2012: PAP Day 6, Greensburg to Medicine Lodge, KS

We had planned to visit the Kansas Meteorite Museum outside of Greensburg this morning, but we had some difficulty locating the access road, and when we did, we found it to be a dirt road, made even less appetizing as a result of the previous night’s heavy rain.

We soldiered on in an easterly direction, against an increasingly strong northeast wind. The effort was such that we stopped to rest four times on this 30 mile leg. I learned a new safety tip on one of those stops – don’t sit downwind of your bike, unless the bike is already lying on the ground. Luckily, I was just startled when it blew over on top of me. We were sustained in our struggle by the expectation that the wind would remain from the North, and that the second half of our 60 mile route would be driven by a strong tailwind.

It turned out just as we had hoped. It took us three hours to ride the first 30 miles of the route, and just 90 minutes to do the remaining 30! Flying along at 25 mph, Fred experienced Bike Bliss – a transcendent state that in this case seemed to be triggered by the tailwind and a dramatic change in terrain (from flat fields of grain to hilly, twisty terrain with many more trees).

Kansas is, of course, known for its beef. We have ridden past countless feed lots, and been blown hither and thither by countless livestock trucks. Restaurants in Kansas seem to do their part to push the beef life-style, which often makes it difficult for me to find a meal that appeals. On this day, the closest thing to "my kind of food" I could find was fried shrimp. I like shrimp and eat shrimp often, but I eat very, very little fried food of any kind. A couple of weeks back, at the Georgia Tandem Rally, I found myself facing a huge basket of french fries and fried scallops. I mistakenly assumed they would be broiled, which shows how out of touch with reality I was. The default food preparation method in the South is, of course, deep-fried.

That dose of fried was a foreshadowing of Day 6, on which I had (good) fried shrimp at the Uptown Cafe in Pratt, and, later, a typical basket of frozen popcorn shrimp and fries at a little spot in Medicine Lodge. The latter put me over my limit, resulting in an deep-fried overdose. I got into bed later in a state of nausea. That brings me to our accommodations at The Lodge Motel.

The previous night in Greensboro was spent in a beautiful, new, ultra-clean, and ultra-comfortable Best Western Plus. In Medicine Lodge, we returned to the realm of motel muck, recently seen at the Ken-Ark in Lakin. On check-in, the proprietor, henceforth known as “Stinking Pile of Shit” (SPOS), immediately tried to talk us into exchanging our reservation for two rooms for a single room with a second bedroom, but only one bathroom. Neither Fred nor I believe that anyone (other than those under marital obligation) should have to endure each other's respective arrays of auditory and olfactory nocturnal productions. We therefore nixed SPOS’s suggestion after a cursory look at the room. In the end we settled on one room that the carpenter was supposed to finish this afternoon, and another, older room. Fred made the reservation, so he got dibs and bet on the carpenter.

We off-loaded our gear in my room while construction continued in Fred's. We then rode into the sad little town of Medicine Lodge, with its abandoned storefronts and a shrinking population. Like many other towns in the region, it is enjoying a temporary boom of sorts as the petroleum industry sends hordes of contractors back to the area’s oil and gas deposits for a second try. At present it is difficult to find vacancies even in the most undesirable motels because they are all selling out to itinerant petro-industry workers driving large 4x4 pickups full of equipment.

On our return to the motel, I showered and washed my clothing, then sat on the bed and caught site of daylight framing the closed door to the room. After an bit of inspection, I headed off to locate SPOS, from whom I expected and got no particular concern or compensation of any kind. In glum, problem-solving mode, I inquired whether maybe he had some duct tape or something I could use to prevent a swarm of insects joining me in my room when night falls. He brightened immediately, rightly concluding that I was not going to resort to physical problem resolution techniques, and started pulling various rolls of tape from behind the desk. I chose a wide roll of packing tape and used it to seal myself into the room when I returned to it later to ponder my nausea, and to wonder if sleep would come. (Turned out that the tape did the job, I did fall asleep, and I awoke feeling much better.)


After sealing myself in for the night.

Once the construction in Fred’s room was completed I paid him a visit and found that his room was relatively acceptable. The idea that SPOS was charging the same amount for the two rooms started to get under my skin. I therefore tracked him down and made another fruitless attempt to shame him into some acknowledgement that his approach to inn-keeping was dishonest, immoral, and unethical. He made it clear that he didn’t care at all whether I was happy or not, nor was he sorry to have put me in a defective room without pre-rental disclosure. A plague on your house, you sorry excuse for a human being!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30, 2012: PAP Day 5, Dodge City to Greensburg

Today was supposed to be on a route off the highway we have been following since the first day of the tour. We tried, but soon found ourselves on an impassible sandy road. We had no real alternative but to return to the highway. Fortunately, the heavy traffic from yesterday was absent today.

Additionally, after four days of 78 - 85 mile days, today was supposed to something of a recovery ride -- only 45 miles, after sleeping in. After checking the weather last night, we changed that last bit, to avoid even higher head winds and possible thunderstorms later in the day. So, basically we had a re-run of yesterday, but about a third shorter. The 45 miles ended up 51, and we again had headwinds of 10 to 15 from the time we left Dodge to the time we arrived at our hotel here in Greensburg.

We passed a long row of these metal sculptures along the highway. No explanation was apparent.
Strangely, Fred was more tired today than yesterday; for me it was just the reverse. I felt pretty good today, and the wind didn't bother me very much, except that I really didn't want to be caught in the open by a thunderstorm, and the wind kept us on the road all that much longer. We did see some rain ahead, but by the time we reached it, it had moved on. There was no sign or sound of thunder or lightning until well into this evening.

We had an fascinating afternoon exploring the town. Greensburg had a brief few years of boom back in the 19th century, but in the years since then it has just hung on, trading on the presence of "the world's largest hand-dug well" and an unusual number of meteorites that are found in the area.
Everything changed in May of 2007, however, when one of the most powerful tornadoes ever measured turned 95% of the town into a heap of rubble during its 15 minute nighttime visit. We spoke to several residents about their hair-raising experiences. It is a miracle that so few (12) lost their lives. You can read the details and see some photos on Wikipedia. Really horrific. About half the residents vowed to rebuild the town, and they have, with help from countless individuals, civic groups, and federal and state agencies. Imagine a town where everything is less than five years old! It is also interesting that they decided to rebuild the town as a model of sustainable building practices and technology. As an example, there are 10 community-owned mid-sized wind turbines that supply all the power the town needs and pour the excess into the grid. The town adheres to green standards for all its buildings. I believe that all the private homes and commercial buildings are energy efficient as well.

If you ever have the opportunity to spend a few hours here, you won't regret it.

From foreground to back: large slab where a business stood when the tornado hit, one of the town's wind turbines, our new Best Western, a couple more turbines.

All that remains of a couple of homes that have not been rebuilt. Note that here, in the center of "Tornado Alley", most homes are wood frame structures built on slabs, just like in Florida. I always assumed that homes in this part of the country would all have cellars, but apparently not.

At the Big Well Museum, looking down into the huge, hand-dug well that had been Greensburg's claim to fame before the tornado.

An entrepreneur has created a business re-purposing old gas tanks as tornado shelters. These are bolted into the slab and have room for several people to jam in. It sure beats clutching one another around the base of a toilet, which is how two town residents miraculously survived the 2007 tornado.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29, 2012: PAP Day 4, Lakin to Dodge City, KS

We left Lakin at 5:30 AM. Now that we are in Central Time, dawn is around 6:30, so it was completely dark for a half-hour after which the sky began to lighten. Speaking of lights, I was very pleased with the first use of my new Cygolite 400. I had it set at the normal "bright" setting, and it completely illuminated the road in front, and far enough to support my mid-teen speeds and more. I am using a Dinotte 300R tail light, which performs spectacularly even in full sunlight, so I had no concerns at all on that score.

Fred has a rear light and two little flashers, none of which are properly mounted to do anything other than to alert insects in the roadway that Fred has just gone by. I thought he had purchased a rear light like mine, but no. After a few of my sarcastic comments, he realized the problem and decided to address it by mounting his bright, white front light on his rear rack, facing rearward, running it in strobe mode. While that approach probably confuses drivers and might earn him a ticket, it is undoubtedly effective. That just left him without front illumination, but he figured he could work around that by following me closely.

This is just one of many areas in which I am unable to follow Fred's logic. He certainly would not see road debris, for example, in order to avoid it. Anyway, all I can do is to offer my opinion. His mind works quite differently from mine, which is one of the reasons I am so fond of him, and why I enjoy traveling with him as much as I do. He seems to have a bit of Mr. Magoo-style luck, so hopefully he will be fine without adopting my style of catastrophic fantasizing and obsessive precautions.

Starting the ride in the dark allowed me to forget to reset and start recording on my GPS-based bike computer until a half-hour later. Of course, I have a second GPS (see what I mean!), so that was just a little inconvenience. Of more import to both of us, was that it was COLD. At the last minute of packing I decided that I was over-packing and unpacked some warmer stuff, including some warmer gloves that would have been very nice to have. I expect the morning temperatures will be warmer each day, and even if not, it is not like I am back on Togwotee Pass, for crying out loud! I have survived the discomfort just fine. Ignore my whining. There were more significant issues afoot. If you have been reading along, you probably can guess.

Yup, the wind. We started with a bearable head-wind that knocked a couple of mph off our pace, but as the day progressed, the head wind just kept getting worse. The result was that the 77.5 mile route took us 6 hours and 49 minutes in the saddle, making it the longest ride of the trip time-wise, and the most draining for me. Fred thinks yesterday was worse, but I think it is just because I spent much more time at the front today and he has become pretty adept at finding shelter behind me. The last 17 miles he suggested that we switch the lead every mile, which we did and which made the misery somewhat more bearable. I am definitely much more sore tonight than I have been.

On the subject of wind, a sight that is not generally a good omen for bicycle riders is that of a major wind farm. I am enthusiastic about alternate, sustainable energy, so I found the presence of a large number of turbines on the hills next to the highway very exciting. In fact, about 20 miles before we arrived at Dodge,  Fred suggested a road-side rest stop and I took the opportunity to pedal up a "bonus" hill across the road to get a better look and a photo.

If you are reading this blog as research for your own similar ride, I would NOT recommend the route we took today. We were not sure about the off-highway route suggested by Google Maps bike-routing algorithm, so we decided to play it safe and stick to the main highway (50/400). It is safe enough, in spite of the high speed and number of vehicles flying past. We have found the shoulders to be very wide and clean, making for easy and safe positioning. In addition, as usual, the drivers have been extremely courteous. Most move over a full lane unless it is not possible to do so. The problem for me is the constant noise, and the additional buffeting from the bow waves of the approaching trucks and the wakes of the trucks passing on our side. In particular, the venting of the trailers on the livestock trucks seems to cause especially great disturbance. Oncoming trucks throw a HEAP of turbulence, and the trucks passing from behind us cause a brief, but definite suction effect. The suction is great when dealing with a head wind and welcome in spite of the characteristic perfume of these trucks, but it does not make up for the blast from the oncoming trucks.

Then there are the trains. The Santa Fe tracks run right next to the highway most of the time, and the racket from the endless freight trains can rattle your (my) brain. I've requested, and Fred has agreed, to get off the highway tomorrow. We'll see how that goes.

We were not too tired to walk down the street to visit the Boot Hill museum, which contains replicas of some of the original Dodge City buildings, and some 20,000 artifacts. It was interesting and not offensively commercial. Admission is only $9 or so. While there, Fred bumped into his old buddy, the sheriff.

Boot Hill Museum
A couple of working girls in the museum's saloon.
Exceptional 'stach, Sheriff!

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28, 2012: PAP Day 3, Lamar, CO to Lakin, KS

In spite of the predictions of the weather web sites, we did not have tailwinds again today. The first two and a half hours were pretty much calm, so locomotion was entirely up to us. We managed a respectable 15.3 or so, with most of our cruising between 16 and 17 over the seemingly flat terrain. Apparently there was a slight downgrade, but you could have fooled me.

At about mile 40 the situation changed in an instant. Suddenly there was a 10 to 15 mph wind coming out of the Northeast -- essentially a headwind. That situation continued almost to the end of the ride, when the wind switched around and hit us from the right side instead. Bottom line was that during the last 40 miles we found that a sustainable pace was between 9 and 13 mph. It was pointless to fight it, but it was disheartening to compare our progress to yesterday.

On the other hand, it was pretty much what I expected the wind conditions to be like. I am thrilled that it wasn't very hot, and we have now worked out how we will handle the many similar days that probably lie ahead.

The route, which follows the path of the original Santa Fe Trail, was unremarkable, other than our crossing into Kansas and Central Time Zone. The signs of agri-business are everywhere. There are more trucks on the road, the landscape is punctuated by large grain elevators and enormous tracts of land lay in some state of cultivation. We saw oil wells here and there, but so far not a single wind turbine.

These signs mark the fact that our route is in large part over the historic Santa Fe Trail.

Another surprise came in the last 20 miles or so. Instead of the expected endless flatness, there was an endless succession of rollers with grades of 3 to 6 percent. We didn't mind them much, as they also broke the wind a bit.

Our destination for the night, the Ken-Ark Motel, has definitely seen much better days. At least the price ($35 per night) is appropriate to the level of accommodations. In previous years we have stayed in a couple of places that were worse. The only place to eat is right next door and the food is not bad.

"Credit card camping"
Tomorrow is the last of an initial four day series of high mileage days and will put us in famous Dodge City. I am looking forward to visiting the museum and seeing some of the old west memorabilia. Our planned itinerary has only one more day above 69 miles, and quite a few shorter ones. Of course, you know about plans...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27, 2012: PAP Day 2, Fowler, CO to Lamar, CO

After handily winning the Feats of Strength competition yesterday, including the evening stunt of demolishing the road-side convenience store sign next to our motel, the wind became our best friend today.

Remnants of the sign next door, ripped out of the concrete anchor.
We decided to pass up a breakfast of left-over pizza from last night, and hit the road as the sun was coming up at 5:45. Immediately sensing that something very strange was happening, I scanned the skies for UFO's that maybe had mistaken Eastern Colorado for New Mexico. Much to my astonishment I realized that the strange sensation was the absence of side and headwinds. In fact, the utter lack of aerodynamic resistance signaled that most cherished of cycling experiences - the beloved tailwind.

I turned to Fred, riding next to me in the magical light of the new day, and asked, "What is that Arabic saying for "God is good?" Without missing a beat, "Allah ur akbar!" Then, because he is a professor and can't help himself, "Actually, it means 'God is Great', or more literally, 'God is King' or 'God is the Ruler'.

"OK, then. How about we just go with 'The Force is with us' then?"

Sending current location to Kathy back home.
Regardless of language or religious tradition, we felt even more blessed as the morning progressed and our cruising speed increased to 20 and even 25 mph from time to time. We risked only a couple of short stops, for fear that the Wind Goddess might change her mind, and pulled into our motel here in Lamar just before 11 AM. As I type this entry, it is about 4PM. Since arrival we had a leisurely lunch, showered, did our laundry, explored the Alcon discount store across the highway, and the Family Dollar store down the street, and walked through a nearby park. Normally, after a long ride like this we would be fighting fatigue after getting cleaned up and refueling. No shopping. No exploring. No witty repartee. So weird and so wonderful.