Saturday, July 02, 2005

Some Facts and Thoughts From Kansas (June 30, belated)

For us cyclists, waking up at 4:30 am is an extraordinary effort
acceptable only during unique circumstances. For the townsfolk in
Gypsum, Kansas, rising in the early morning is everyday routine in the
farms. Happily so: before sunrise, we were greeted with a delectable
(as Andy would put it) breakfast, the result of many families and
local organizations coming together to host HBC.
I can barely open my eyes at these ungodly hours, and, unlike, say,
Adam or Tanya, I lack the energy to cheer and greet. But, to be fair,
being on the road by 6 am has many practical advantages. You can avoid
many of the hard obstacles of a day’s ride, such as heavy traffic,
strong headwinds, and exhausting heat. For the most part, though, what
everyone enjoys most is the early morning landscape. As Matt and I
discussed, the cold breeze and slight darkness makes riding seem easy
enough for one to admire the beauty of the Kansas’s fields.
Today was especially good (which was completely unexpected, given that
Quinn was riding the van, and by now we’ve realized that whenever he
is driving, our mileage is extremely hard). With backwinds, we were
rolling at almost 25 mph; by 8.30, we had already covered almost 30
miles and had seen the usual fields of corn, soy, wheat, and milo
change their color as the sun rose. We escaped rain and thunderstorm,
and witnessed, during our first water break, a controlled fire—a
surprisingly peaceful sight.
We were mostly by ourselves on the road leading to the small town of
Tescott, being greeted by the occasional grandma driving grandson to
Summer Bible School (presumably), and by the usual Dodge pick-up truck
driver. In Tescott, before the last 30 miles, a couple yelled at me
from the side of the road: “Who you’re riding for?” It took me by
surprise. ‘Who for’? Do you mean ‘where to’? I suppose many cyclists
have passed by Tescott. “Habitat for Humanity,” I yelled back, as they
gave me a whole four thumbs up.
Route 18, toward our destination Sylvan Grove, was fast and easy.
Before 10.00, we reached 60 miles and were ready for lunch. No one
really ate, as we were eager to make it to town—word was that they had
two restaurants serving Mexican food, so why bother with a big snack?
I grew impatient during the last 10 miles or so. We have learned that
in Kansas (where you can easily see what awaits in the horizon) a tall
structure, whether it be a grain elevator or a water container,
signals the presence of a small town. I saw 2 or 3 of these around 80
miles (the expected mileage for the day), but, of course, only the
very last container read “Sylvan Grove.”
Most of us were in the First Presbyterian Church by 11.30. T.C, Avi,
and I, who I think find it harder than the rest to wake up early, were
eager to get there quickly and thus arrived first (a rare occurrence
on my part, I must confess). Immediately, we hit said restaurants,
which offered very, very cheap goods, and, after a quick shower at the
local high-school, took, well, how to put it, an unusual 5 hour-long
nap. After all, we had a lot of time to kill. Right before dinner, at
6pm, we strolled around town again. We chatted with the owner of the
local grocery shop, a Southern California native who found his home
state too loud and crowded and decided to move to Sylvan Grove (if
you’re looking for small and peaceful, then you should join him).
Delicious burgers, beans, and potatoes were served for dinner (thank
heaven for leftovers), and a slideshow presentation followed.
Conversing with some of the people here, I learned that neighboring
Manhattan, KS, is home to Kansas State University and one of the best
schools for milling and veterinary. I learned that methamphetamine
production is huge in Kansas and Missouri, and that drug busting
busies police officers more than any other crimes. Cattle farming, is,
of course, big around these parts; Texas slaughters more cows than
Kansas, but the latter wins in packing capacity.
Not a bad day at all, and though I am not looking forward to waking up
at 4.30 tomorrow morning, I confess that the Kansas plains have not
driven me as crazy as I thought they would. The early morning has
allowed me to fall in love with the landscape, which, as I confessed
to Avi this morning, I think bears a striking resemblance to other
places I have visited: Southern Belgium, or even the Andean highlands,
all far-fetched yet true comparisons. I am still finding what about
Kansas is different. So far, it is that roads here are divided with
yellow lines (as opposed to white), that the crickets are loud and
sing until late, and that the smell varies a lot, from that of sweet
flowers to that of lazy cows. Perhaps what’s peculiar about Kansas is
that these stretched lands makes one think a lot about home, and yet
they can feel homely, somehow.