There was an IHOP down the street from the KOA, so breakfast was already decided for me. It was going to be a hot day, and I had a late start. I thought I knew what I was doing, my route seemed easy enough and as “Kansas is flat,” I knew I could crush miles. Boy, was I wrong.
The day started off great. I passed under a highway where at least a hundred swallows had made nests. As I went under, all them flew out and dove through the air foraging for insects. It was a splendid site and feeling that doesn’t translate over well on video (I tried, it’s good, not great).
The road was dirt and flat. The moving was dusty but fast. The surface was very well compacted and not too fine or bulky. The road stayed like this for about twenty miles. Then it went down hill (the quality not so much the terrain). Slowly the compaction got less; hidden “speed bumps” magically appeared and shook the hell out my arms. I was forced to continuously find a new, more compacted path: sometimes following the last tire tread, other times guessing what looked smoother.
We did another 15 miles and needed a break. I had saved one gose from last night and decided to drink it on the side of the road. It was warm but boosted my spirits for the time being. This area of Kansas is famed for its post rock fences. With no trees around, the locals make fence posts out of stone quarried close by. The fence rows look like something out of an old western.
The Horse slipped and slid around all day. She took everything Kansas threw at her. Then things got worse. I ran out of water. I was on my own designed route, and had thought there was a town somewhere. By the time I got to this mystery town (which was barely a conglomeration of a dozen living structures and a long closed general store), I had been without water for 15 miles. There was one faucet behind the closed store. I drank hard, and long. Then I made my next mistake: I didn’t fill up my extra water bladder.
After leaving the housing conglomerate, I turned down a series of dirt roads. Both Garmin and Google had provided the same route so, like a dip shit, I trusted them. The roads began to climb the hills of Kansas, which although they are gently rolling, turn out to suck to ride on country roads. These roads go straight following cardinal directions. I was heading west, and that meant any hill would be dealt with in a straight line. No switch backs, no changing direction. Up. Then down. Period.
There’s this crazy thing that happens when dirt meets rain, especially when there’s a channel for the rain to follow. These roads were that channel, and water had wrecked havoc on them. There were two points that made me gasp at my stupidity. As previously noted, Kansas has a lot of fossil beds. On these roads, the water had removed all the soil and left behind platy-fossil beds. Not suitable for riding a bike, and hardly suitable for cars. There were 10 inch gullies down both sides of the hills. I walked the horse, while sweating profusely. The heat index was over 110.
Then the roads got some what better, although the pinnacle of each hill was composed of super loose gravel, that proofed to be unridable as well. I never walked my bike until Kansas. Assholes.
By now I was out of water, and had been for almost twenty miles. Eventually I reached paved roads. The feeling of pavement vs dirt had never elated me so much before. I was thirsty, verging on heat stroke and dehydration, but oh so happy to be on paved roads. My mental game was failing fast. I was barely sweating. I needed water soon or else. I didn’t want to go down in Kansas. Fuck that.
Then a lone house appeared on the horizon. I had heard of cyclists approaching houses to ask for water, and knew I would soon do the same. When I got to the door and knocked, no one answered. No worries, there was a hose faucet on the side of the house. I crushed over two liters of water, filled my bottles, double checked my distance to Wilson Lake and moved on. That house and family have no idea what they did for me that day.
I finally arrived at Wilson Lake, dehydrated and tired. The lake is beautiful and clear with wonderfully chill water temperatures. I explained my hammock issue to the woman at the registry and vowed to return when I was settled in. It took me an hour and half before I returned. When I found some shade, I realized the back of my arms were covered in salt crystals, very visible amounts of salt. I was that dehydrated.
Water was of the utmost importance to me, so I consumed another 3 liters before returning to inform the attendant of where I was sleeping. Tonight would be my first attempt at making my hammock into a tent, as there weren’t sufficient trees to hang from.
After a long swim, I sat at the picnic table mostly brain dead. The lady attendant was kind enough to give me a paper map, the kind that details road surface on it. Old school, and awesome. I threw out my old directions and used the map to determine a safer route. This is when I discovered that I was due south of the geodetic center of the USA. I was geographically half way across the USA. Then I slept on the ground, and it was excellent.