Days 29 & 30: Hot and Windy in Kansas
As I lay in my bed in Eads on Friday night, I was worried. A couple hours earlier, walking to the local grocery store, I was almost blown over by 40 mph winds and the temperature was about 95 degrees; I had trouble crossing the street because of heavy traffic. My highest priority on this trip is my personal safety (see earlier blog post) and I wondered about the safety of my ride on Saturday morning. How windy would it be? According to my app, it would be 25-30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. Would I be safe in that? Would I be able to navigate it? Charles and Jean (fellow cyclists I talked with earlier) spent three days at the hotel waiting out better weather.
I created some backup plans. My original plan (Plan A) was to ride 103 miles to Scott City. Plan B: I could stay another night in Eads. Plan C: I could ride 25 miles and stay at a church in Sheridan Lake which allowed campers to sleep on its floor. Plan D: There was a hotel in Leoti (75 miles up the road) where I could stay. I also knew the wind (and heat) got stronger through the day—though winds of 25 mph were expected by 9:00. I had all of these options in mind when I woke up early on Saturday morning. When I woke up early, I read an article about how to ride in crosswind. It gave me some confidence to at least give it a try. And as things turned out the ride was hard but I never felt unsafe and I made it all the way to Scott City.
Today, June 18, is my mother’s birthday. So I spent the first hour of the ride thinking about her. She has been gone for 23+ years now, but I still miss her. I trust she continues to watch over me, even when I do crazy bike rides.
My first stop today was in Sheridan Lake. I stopped at a convenience store and I got into a conversation with four locals who were meeting over coffee. They thought I (and the rest of us riders) were crazy. But they were curious and we talked a bit. One admitted that he prayed for us. Another said that when weather gets stormy, he drives his pickup truck up and down the highway, picking up riders and taking them to the local church (which, as noted above, puts up riders).
Other than that, I saw only two other riders. As you know, I was expecting to see more on the TransAmerica Trail part of the ride. I saw the TransAm racer Laurent twice; just outside of Eads I passed him and later I saw him at Casey’s in Scott City shortly after I showered up at my hotel and went shopping. He mentioned needing to drink a lot that day and then kept riding on. I appear to ride faster than Laurent, but he goes and goes, probably about 15 hours a day. I guess that is how he averages 170 miles a day. I only saw one other solo rider going the other way. We waved and each pressed on. Not sure if that is more normal or if the heat and wind kept some people from riding that day. Day 30 was more what I expected. I saw four groups heading west—one of four riders, two of two riders, and one solo rider. We all just waved.
One entertainment note. I finished Liu Cixin’s The Dark Forest the second book in the Three-Body Problem series. And started the third book, Death’s End. I like how good sci-fi creates interesting worlds. This series does that. Very creative. Apparently Netflix is creating a TV series based on the books, which is expected out in 2023.
Day 29: 103 miles, 1286 elevation
Now that I am in Kansas, the whole “wheeee” thing seems a bit silly. There are not big downhill glides anytime soon. And maybe a “wheeee” could come up if those 30 mph cross winds became 30 mph tailwinds. Or an ”aarrgghh!” might be a strong headwind. But I have been looking ahead at forecasts and it doesn’t look like either will be the case, so I am not reporting that unless needed.
The crosswind is a force. The wind is out of the south and sometimes southeast. I am mostly riding east, so that means it is a headwind or cross wind. Fortunately my worst fears were not realized. In spite of the steady 25 mph cross wind, with gusts up to 30-35, I did not feel unsafe for a couple of reasons. First, the traffic on the road was light—maybe 5-15 cars an hour for most of the ride, more later in the day. Second, the cars were almost always respectful and gave me a wide berth. Finally, only occasionally did the wind bump me out into the road. Mostly I just leaned into it. The downside is that this is more work. If I keep my power at ~150, I figure I lose 2-4 mph.
On the ride, I stopped at the Ghost Bike honoring John Egbers, a TransAm racer who was killed by a car in 2018. You can see a picture of the sculpture in the video below. The story is another tragic tale of a distracted driver hitting a cyclist. The westbound riders I met in Ordway told me that I could stop here and get a free pastry and coffee. Unfortunately, the place is closed on Saturdays, so I missed that.
Day 30: 93 miles, 1001 elevation
So this morning my plan was to get up extra early to beat the wind and the heat (at least for a little while). I fell asleep the night before at 8:00 and woke up at 3:00 a.m. I decided to get up and get ready, a process that can take an hour or more, depending on what I did the night before. On Day 29, I wished I had started at 4:30, so today I would do that. Besides, I had moved into the Central Time Zone, so the sun would rise even earlier, right? No, wrong? It is the opposite. Now that I am at the western edge of CT, the sun rises later. Even at 5:00 a.m. it is still dark out. I worked on a couple of things and ended up leaving later.
Once the ride started, I found it to be a lot like Day 29. The wind was out of the south and my route is almost all east, making it a crosswind. Once again, winds started more moderate (~15 mph) early but picked up by later morning (30 mph with gusts to 40 mph) later. It was really hot for the last couple of hours, 95 degrees and full sun.
I learn more about what my body can do
One of my goals this trip is to learn more about my body and my mind. Deep down, I am a scientist. That has been my job for the last 35 years. I like know about how and why things work. Anything. And that includes my body. I like to do experiments and check out the data.
I have talked before about my use of a power meter and heart rate monitor. I watch those closely while I ride. The data constantly shows on my Garmin bike computer which I can see while I ride. While riding two shorter days on the flats—Pueblo to Ordway and Ordway to Eads—I experimented a bit with my power. Of course these experiments are not well controlled as there is heat, wind, fatigue, etc. that are not constant and I am a sample size of one. But hey, you do the best with the experimental conditions you have. On the first of those days, I tried to maintain a higher power of about 180 kw for much of the ride. For the first couple of hours, I could do that no problem. But I found I arrived in Ordway too tired. So the next day, I rode at about 150 and that seemed to work better. Therefore, on Day 29’s 103 mile ride and Day 30’s 93 miles I shot for 150 and felt pretty good when I finished each. That seems to be my best power for day after day 80-100 mile rides.
A big part of this journey is figuring out my own personal limits; what I can and cannot do. Today I also learned that I can handle 95 degree temperatures, cross winds of 30 with gusts up to 40, and ride 90-100 miles—and get up the next day and do it again.
Stories and pictures
Some pictures and observations from the last couple of days…
Religion plays an important role for social services and life in general in middle America. The hotel I stayed at in Scott City doubles as a halfway house based on Stepping Up Ministries. All the rooms have bible quotes all over. Nice people doing good work.
I saw lots of pro-life yard signs and this big sign on the side of a hill.
There are grain elevators every 8-10 miles. So I am starting a series of photos of them to challenge my creativity. I call this one, Sunrise Over Grain Elevator.
This one is Road to Grain Elevator.
And finally, Bicycle Route 76 and Grain Elevator
I don’t like to eat a full lunch while riding. Let’s just say it has not always agreed with me. Usually, I just snack on Clif bars and trail mix during the ride. Today I ate a little bigger lunch and had a small Chicken Biscuit sandwich.
The Ghost Bike honoring John Egbers.
Use the comments below to let me know if you have a favorite Grain Elevator image from the three above. I will try to find more creative grain elevator photos in the next few days.
Tomorrow I hope to beat the wind and the heat by actually getting out before daybreak. I have good lights and there is very little traffic.