As always, the alarm came way too early, but the desire to have a great day overcame the magnet that seemed to hold my head to any horizontal surface. All the bad things usually take place in the afternoons and evenings: heat, winds, storms and more traffic. It is much better to get up and make hay as early as possible. I got up and hit the door running within minutes.
The ride was peaceful and easy. It was dark, the road was flat, the traffic non-exsistant and the air was still. Quickly I was struggling to keep my eyes open. There just wasn’t anything to spark me into consciousness and keep me there. I plowed on doing all I could to stay awake and looking forward to a cup of coffee in Dighton.
When I got to Dighton, everything was all shut up. Frustrated that I couldn’t get coffee and couldn’t keep my eyes open, I opened up the maps on my phone and found a park a couple blocks away. I rode over, rolled out my bivy and went to sleep. At the time, my thoughts were that it didn’t make sense to sit and wait for the gas station to open when I could be sleeping. The better plan probably would’ve been to sleep there so I would be able to get in when they opened. Either way, I did what I did and slept in the park. After a couple of snooze buttons worth of time, it was 6:30AM and time was getting away from me. I packed up, went to the station for a shot of caffeine and got back on the road. Unfortunately I had wasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes on my respite.
Back on the road, I felt better and was rolling along, but not with intention really. After a few miles, Enrico caught me up from behind. Seeing that he was on a mission sparked me finally and I began to pick it up. I set out ahead and tried to maintain a good pace.
As the morning went on, the wind started pumping up out of the south/southeast at a good clip and the sun cranked up the UV rays. It was really getting hot and the quartering headwind was a challenge in the mostly flat and treeless landscape. I rolled fairly quickly through Ness City, making a short gas station stop and got back to moving right away. It. Was. Hot. Upwards of 100F.
I stumbled in to Greg’s Sports Pub & Grub in Rush Center about 1:30PM scorched and battered by the nasty quartering headwind. I knew that the turn in the route to the South just outside Greg’s was going to be a pill, putting me a bit more square up against the wind. I wanted to cool off and get some food to be fueled up for that task. The waitress got me a cold coke and said that I had made it just in time. It’s a small family run business and they close in the middle of the afternoon so that they get a break after lunch and before the evening rush. I figured more power to them for running their business how they want, but rather unfortunate for the folks behind me that would be coming through. Enrico came in the door shortly after that and they agreed to serve him as well, but we would both have to go soon so they could close. The two of us quickly finished our food and got back out into the afternoon sun. I left just behind Enrico. It was 2:15PM.
From Rush Center it was 19 miles due South. On the bright side, the terrain was beginning to have just a hint of rolling hills to break up the monotony. The bad part- I was headed pretty much straight into a nasty headwind and the temperature was right about 100F. It felt like riding an indoor trainer, at top speed, sitting in front of a heater vent….in the summer. It was just nasty hot and the dry wind felt like it was sucking the moisture from me faster than I could put it in. I was drinking as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough. Despite this, I caught Enrico up after a few miles. We leapfrogged a few times and I ended up in front of him. Neither of us were moving fast. We just couldn’t.
After almost 2 hours, I had made a whopping 17 miles progress across what seemed to be endless rolling hills of farmland. It was a struggle for every pedal stroke. To make matters worse, I ran out of water and I knew that it was 2 more miles south into the wind, then at least 5 more with a quartering wind to Fort Larned, a historical site where I MIGHT be able to get water. Beyond that, it would be another 7 miles to Larned. At the pace I had been maintaining in the wind, the ride to Larned might take as much as 2 more hours. Without water, that could be a death march. I was getting to a point where it was going to be an issue if I didn’t find some water pretty quick.
Like manna from heaven, a house appeared amongst some cedars on the west side of the road. I am pretty sure, in my mind at least, the heavens parted and the angels sang at that moment. I rolled up the driveway and Enrico was not far behind. I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. Enrico and I went around the side of the house and found a spigot. We let it run a minute to clear out the line, then filled our bottles and drank what we could. While we were getting the water, the homeowner pulled in the driveway. An older man with the typical farmer look got out of his truck and we went to meet him. He was perfectly fine with us getting water and added that we “must be crazy riding in this heat”. I concurred, thanked him for the use of his spigot and got back on the road.
Although I had water, the temperature and wind were relentless. The 7 miles to Fort Larned took another 45 minutes. By the time I got there I was scorched. I pulled up to the restrooms not far off the highway and went inside for shade. I ended up hanging out there for a half hour. I would’ve stayed longer, but the lady that was the park ranger on duty came through to lock the restrooms up for the evening and told me I had to leave. Reluctantly I got back on the road and limped in to Larned, another 7 miles down the road.
I got to Larned right at 6:00PM and found a Casey’s gas station. First things first, I got some cold drinks and tried to cool off. I then started to load up on food and drinks to push on and decided I needed to eat something more substantial. Just down the road was a Pizza Hut. I figured that would do. I leaned my bike up outside and went in to feast. I ate enough for two people and drank soda as fast as the wait staff could bring it to me, all in the comfort of air conditioning. It was bliss. While I ate, one of the managers came by and chatted me up. He noticed my garb and started asking questions, as he was a cyclist too. I told him a short version of what I was doing and he listened intently. He was fascinated to hear the story. We chatted a bit, then he wished me luck and went back to work. Once I finished my meal, I waited a bit for the check and soon asked about it, thinking it had taken a bit longer than it should have. The manager I had spoken with told me that he had taken care of the tab and I was free to go. I thanked him profusely and left. The people I met on this trip were just wonderful.
While I had been eating, I checked the weather and saw a big storm coming. At that point I decided that I had done about all I wanted for the day. I would end the day with only 120 miles, way short of the mileage I wanted, but I was ok with that. Despite my lack of miles, I had still put in the time. The wind and heat had just had their way with me. I could try to get more miles, but I didn’t want to tempt a nasty thunder storm after such a hot and difficult afternoon. I found the Townsman Inn just down the road, got a room, got my clothes cleaned and went to bed. Later the lightning and thunder came as well as an absolute frog-choking rain storm. I was happy to be inside.