Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore (But We Actually Are)

Knowing that the average attention span in our bloated information society is as short as a rainstorm in the Nevada desert, I shall attempt to be brief. 

Day 7 started for Daniel Orr and me at 3:00 am CDT when we arose for our 3:30 shift.  As we waited in the Kansas night for Carl Petterson and Greg Daniels to complete their shift, we stole a quick glance into the sky and saw every star ever created.   The paucity of light, the absence of urban light pollution, and the lack of structures to draw away someone’s attention combined to focus one’s vision on the brilliant night sky.  Cloudless, the sky afforded us a complete and arresting view of all the stars watching over the Kansas night.  Finally Carl and Greg arrived, filled with stories of meeting BMX cyclists who cheered and celebrated them and Newton police officers who detained them and questioned their sanity—across the country on bicycles in how many days?  Dan started our shift, and in our first hour we met exactly one car and one armadillo over the course of the first seventeen miles covered by him on his recumbent bicycle.  Dan is a sight on that bicycle which reclines.   Many a time I watch him and covet his wide, welcoming seat, as he sits close to the ground pedaling away. Fairly quickly we left the dark side streets of Kansas for US Route 54, which was surprisingly busy with trucks in the predawn morning.  The undulating hills provided the challenge once I jumped on my bicycle, determinedly traveling east and eagerly anticipating the sunrise.  I finished my first 90-minute shift and returned the reigns to Dan for his final shift.  We started the morning in the mid 50’s, but by the time the sun rose, the temperature climbed, as did the humidity.  We finished our five hours and handed the responsibility to cross Kansas to Mark and Isaac Hollingsworth.

In the RV, we talked away, as I had a chance to listen to NPR and hear the news of the day, including Gates’ run in with the Cambridge police—a blog for another day!  Greg awoke from his nap to share with us that his family once lived not too far away in the towns of Elsmore and Savonburg.  He sheepishly asked us if we could visit his paternal grandmother, his paternal grandfather, and his father’s graves, which were fewer than thirty minutes north.  All of us in the RV were excited to share this moment with him, so we used our Garmin to find Elsmore off Route 59.  Because the town consisted of little more than a few houses, we found the gravesite immediately and paid respect to Greg’s family with a prayer led by Steve Sedgwick.  We then followed the back roads to Savonburg, the town where Greg’s grandmother lived.  We found her house—a bit changed, but isn’t everything?—and we took a picture of him before the home he used to visit when he was a little boy.  Driving down from South Dakota with his family in the dead of night, Greg and his family would make it to Savonburg for summer visits.  Needless to say, this was a special moment for him and for all of us.

Typical, while the rest of us were lollygagging in the RV, the Hollingsworth team was pedaling furiously toward the Missouri boarder.  After our detour we had to work to catch them, which we finally did in Pittsburgh, Kansas, about five miles from Missouri.  Kansas has been with us far too long, and we were ready to shake that dust from our feet.  Everyone talked of Kansas as flat, and if I said that earlier before I traveled it, I was wrong.  Kansas isn’t flat: it is rolling.  Every cyclist dreams of Kansas’ flat terrain and gentle tailwind, but each cyclist experienced a rolling terrain and smart crosswinds that forced us to focus as we rode.   Willa Cather, in her novel, My Antonia, talked of the plains as not being a country, but being the raw material out of which a country is made.  I understood her as I cycled almost 90 miles through Kansas on my shifts: everywhere I looked I saw such potential and such opportunity here.  Kansas is unrelentingly long, but I loved the land as much as I appreciated the kindness of the people. 

In Pittsburgh, we determined to have lunch, a hot lunch, the first hot meal I had enjoyed since a burrito in the Vegas airport last Thursday (Chipotle doesn’t count, for it was served cold!).  We descended upon Harry Café on Broadway in Pittsburgh.  Our waitress, born and raised in Pittsburgh, welcomed us warmly enough, but she could not imagine what would draw anyone to Pittsburgh, Kansas.  She seemed nonplussed by our jovial ways.  We happily consumed onion rings, hamburgers, hot roast beef sandwiches, steaks, pancakes, hot cinnamon rolls, and chocolate cake.  Oh, it was good!

Now we are in Missouri and those who have traveled across country talk of Missouri’s roads as the most difficult in the country.  I think everyone mentally prepares for Utah and Colorado’s mountains, but no one thinks that Missouri’s hills and mountains—the Ozarks—are worth noting.  We have been in the state for only a few miles, but already we have marveled at the changes in elevation.  We just stopped at a gas station in Ash Grove, Missouri, and spoke with the delightful owner who shared his great joy with us.  Steve and Kelly finished a spirited ride with a generous tailwind, which allowed their completely more than 90 miles in their five hours.  Greg and Carl prepare for their shift, which means that Dan and I best prepare for our shift, which will begin at midnight.

There are many stories ahead, but as we remember the Daniels family from Elsmore and Savonburg, Kansas, let us celebrate our families that allowed us to raise this money, support this worthy cause, and enjoy this adventure.  I am particularly thankful to my wife and her parents who patiently await my arrival early next week.  Without their support, this ride would not have been possible.

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One response to “Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore (But We Actually Are)

  1. Michael – Your blog is beautiful — reflective, evocative of all you are seeing and experiencing. Thank you! We are proud of you at St. Paul’s, and following the progress of your group with prayers and excitement! ~ Alan

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