Sunday, June 7, 2009

Garnett, KS to Ness City, KS: The Beauty of Kansan Skies, Meeting Kermit, and Other Stories

Miles Per Day: Day 36=REST; Day 37=50.13; Day 38=66.2; Day 39=67.51; Day 40=47.22; Day 41=45.93; Day 42=65.89

Total So Far: 1,898.64

Inspiration: Johnny Cash singing a duet with Bob Dylan on “Girl From the North Country” [current favorite song? Jury is still out]; the christe eleison on Bach's Mass in B (Karajan); the skies of Kansas; the Facebook iphone ap (amazing how quickly I can connect with people at this point); Amish/Mennonite sausage and pie; Rescue Me (just finished season 4; totally bummed there are no more Netflix disks for the series)

Spirits: excited; amazed; patient; mischievous; unstoppable.

Things Seen On the Road: frogs and toads galore; some of the most beautiful cloud formations I have seen in years; more and more bike tourist (at least since I rejoined the Transam trail); a dust cloud that covered the entire sky in South Western Kansas.

Favorite Quotes: (1) a college geography professor who started in Phoenix and is heading East after I told him I was heading West, AGAINST the Western winds: “Yeah...good luck with that;” (2) waitress after I told her I was camping at a local church [paraphrasing] “well, they are forecasting 60-70 mph winds and hail tonight. Did you know that that church is right below the flood plane?”

There is something so beautiful about Kansan skies. It is a beauty borne out of the flatness of the terrain, the openness of the horizon and the slow, deliberate march of white figures across the sky. Riding a bike Westward provides a person with an unparalleled vantage point. You get to see the first formations right over the horizon at first light. They emerge in all sorts of shapes and sizes, hugging each other tightly at first, then exploding over your head like an army of cotton candy fluff balls ready for battle.

Do check out a sampling of these formations in the photo roll section of this post. While they don't really do the experience justice, just a fistful of Kansan beauty is enough to cure even the most dreadful Monday-morning-I-can't-fucking-believe-I'm-still-working-at-this-mind-numbing-job blues.


The collection of stories continues unabated:

*It's Not Easy Being Green: While camping on the grounds of a Methodist church in Stafford, KS, I made friends with a small frog. Let's call him Kermit. This little critter sat on my Goretex rain jacket while I set up camp and did not move until I had to physically grab him and put him on the grass next to my tent. A half hour later while inside my tent I looked up and to my surprise I spotted Kermit's shadow through my rain fly. Kermit kept me company until I fell asleep that night.

*Bonds of Brotherhood: Getting into El Dorado, KS, I stopped at a McDonalds to fill up my water bottles and access the internet. I set up my laptop on a large, circular table off to the side and quickly got into a conversation with an elderly veteran who wanted to know where I was going. One by one, elderly guys came into the McDonalds and sat down at my table. Very quickly I realized that I was interrupting what was clearly a daily meeting of local veterans and their friends. They all come and sit at the same table every day at around 4pm to talk, laugh and otherwise maintain their bonds of brotherhood. I have to say that it was a real privilege to talk to these guys, even if it was just for one hour.

*Heaven: Heaven, quite simply, is Yoder, KS. Quite by accident, I had designated that small town near Witchita as a convenient stopping point. Turns out that the town has very active Amish and Mennonite communities and, by extension, establishments boasting some of the best food on earth. I spent approximately 8 hours at the Carriage Crossing restaurant where I had the best sausages I have had in years and 3 helpings of fantastic cherry pie with vanilla ice cream. In between, I took in the horse and buggy scene, dudes with some pretty developed beards and the sounds of spoken German in the air. BTW, Amish women in traditional dresses are just hot.

*Outrunning a Thunderstorm: Those of you on Facebook and Twitter might remember how I scrambled to set up camp before a pretty serious thunderstorm hit near Yates Center, Kansas. I had originally been given permission by a local Methodist church to camp on their grounds but when I sat down for dinner at a local diner I was basically told that Armageddon was coming our way. The forecast called for a series of severe thunderstorms with 60-70 mph winds, hail and flash floods. On top of everything, my waitress told me that the Methodist church was below the flood plain. At that point I rushed over to the sheriff's office where I got an emergency permit to camp in the local park. I have to admit that I got a little worried when the officer pointed out where I could go inside the park in case of a tornado. I left the sheriff's office, picked up my dinner to go and rushed down to the park ASAP. I think it took me 7 minutes to set up camp and that's when the winds started to kick in. And YES, it is true. I set up my tent right underneath a couple of big trees and a power line.


Inside my tent as a strong thunderstorm rages outside:

Biking on a highway in Kansas. You can definitely hear the strong headwinds any biker heading West has to contend with. Notice some grasslands off in the distance:

A thunderstorm approaching in the distance:



Mrs. Henderson said...

“BTW, Amish women in traditional dresses are just hot.”

This disturbs me greatly.

But great pics! Well done, young man!

Jolyn said...

I'm a Kansas girl at heart. I grew up there (McPherson, 50 north of Wichita) and visit often, but haven't lived there since I was 18. Your post made me nostalgic. There is nothing like a Kansas thunderstorm. I'm so glad you got to see the true beauty of the state that so few really know.

Meg said...

"BTW, Amish women in traditional dresses are just hot."

I think that's cool. I'm so sick of guys who only go for women with their boobs and butts hanging out of their clothing. I think there is something sexy about modest clothing... maybe the mystery, or the confidence it often brings, or even just that it's more interesting when people look harder to get. (Of course, there is a big difference between modest and just not put together -- which usually isn't so sexy.)

I'm really happy that my husband doesn't go for the slutty look. I like showing off my curves, but I'd hate to feel pressured into bearing too much skin. Of course, he might say that there is another great thing about dresses (traditional or not) -- the convenience factor.

Daizy said...

Ha! I think you watched Kelly McGillis in 'Witness' one too many times. You are NOT Harrison Ford!

Beautiful pictures.

Fonk said...

El Dorado, KS - wow, that brings back memories. We rolled through their during the Race Across American in 2006 (I was crew chief for one of the racers). Some of the most hellacious thunderstorm weather I've ever encountered in my life (and I grew up in SW Minnesota!) I encountered that summer through eastern CO and all of KS. As we headed toward El Dorado on that trip, we were told that we were racing towards a tornado. I really felt bad for our racer, who was out riding in the torrential rains and lightening, and toward a tornado, but insisted on keeping racing. Luckily, by the time we got to El Dorado the tornado has bypassed it and moved on, and we got some free chesseburgers at that McDonalds :). You're right, the skies over KS (and NE, which also gets a bad rep) can be amazing, but the weather sure makes you earn that appreciation!

Debbi said...

Amazing video. What a trip you're having. You must be pinching yourself sometimes. It seems so much like a dream to me, that I can only imagine what it's like for you.

And the biker in those photos--is that you? Are you revealing your face at last?

(I'm surprised no one else beat me to these questions. But someone had to ask. :))

Fonk said...

No, those cyclist photos aren't him - the bikes are different. :)

Jerry Critter said...

There is nothing like a Midwest thunderstorm. I lived in central Illinois for about 5 years back in the late 60's and early 70's. I have never experience weather more exciting or frightening.

I also expect that you will take some "heat" for your "hot" comment.

A bird in da hand said...

"just a fistful of Kansan beauty is enough to cure even the most dreadful Monday-morning-I-can't-fucking-believe-I'm-still-working-at-this-mind-numbing-job blues."

Thought this was really funny. I mean: it's Monday morning overhere, just about to go to work, will have fun all day because of this sentence....and I love the pictures!



Nicole said...

I'm so happy you're experiencing this. So many people look at me like I lost my mind when I tell them there is nothing more gorgeous than the openness of the Kansas sky. That's the one thing I miss most about home - laying on my back in the middle of nowhere and watching the clouds and then watching the stars.

The Executioner said...

I do believe your Kermit is a toad.

In the videos taken while on the bicycle, are you holding the camera? Or do you have it mounted to your helmet somehow?

Linda said...

Kermit was probably an enchanted hot Amish woman, desperately trying to get you to kiss her.

Please don't camp under any more powerlines or trees during thunderstorms...

Take care!

bill h said...

very cool. I love thunderstorms. They are just so...impressive.

Hey if you stay on 50 into Colorado, check out Bents Old Fort outside of La Junta. It's a very cool example of the Trading with the Mountain Men, I really thought it was cool. It's relatively flat through there as I recall, heading towards Pueblo.

this is a great adventure Jack. Thanks for sharing it.

Jack said...

@Mrs. Henderson,

What can I Amish fetish is in its infancy. And thanks!


Count yourself lucky. It is a beautiful, wholesome place to have grown up. Would not choose to live there myself, but I can see why people love it.


Between you and me, I prefer women in long dresses/skirts myself. Maybe it was the wholesomeness of it all. I think confidence crept in there as well. Sexyness was definitely the order of the day. BTW, convenience is always preferred.

Jack said...


Never watched it but I can imagine. :)


Well put. Weird that we would have great stories about the same small town in Kansas, not to mention the same McDonalds. :)


Sometimes, it feels unreal. Like a dream. But one that changes every time I look around. This is the best time of my life.

Jack said...


Good eye!


Good way of putting it. Because as you stare off at those clouds in amazement, there are people right under that are baring the brunt of mother nature. And I don't think there should be any heat on that comment. What's so wrong with acknowledging that someone is attractive? In any case, I wouldn't really care.


Glad you liked it!

Jack said...

@Miss Scorpio,

Watching the stars is something I haven't done much of recently. Go to bed way to early so that I can get up early enough to bike. Definitely a shame.

@The executioner,

Good catch. Thanks for educating me. I was actually holding my camera on that ride.


Next time I will just kiss the frog just in case.

Debbi said...

Ah! Didn't notice the bikes. Thank you for setting me straight, Fonk. :)

Nicole said...

Jack, please break your little routine just once for me. And send me a picture of the stars when you do. You won't regret it.

Diana said...

I notice these articles more now, because of your blog! Thanks for sharing. :)

Todd said...


This is my fav. post by you because I have live in KS. I have eatend in Yoder and been to the El Dorado Mickey D's.

I agree the KS skies are the best and the storms are surreal.

I'm glad you got to experience the beauty of what most people call a flyover state.


Jack said...


Not sure I will make it, but will check my map to see. Thinking about taking a week off in colorado to explore the state off-bike.


Yeah, Fonk was right on that.


Thanks. Someone sent me the link on facebook as well. Can you see why you can call this thing a movement?

Elizabeth Halt said...

very cool. I must confess that I have not yet appreciated the flatness of the very midwest, mostly because I've seen it on the (long) drive west to CA or OR and, since road trips make me (very) sleepy, I was wishing desperately for the glimpse of the mountains to keep me awake. :) if I were biking, I am pretty sure I'd appreciate the flatness much more than the mountains, LOL.

bill h said...

I particularly love the 4 corners area of Colorado, Durango. The drive from Durango to Silverton is splendid. There's a narrow gage steam railroad that goes from Durango to Silverton and back. I bet you could take a bike, and bike back.

Mesa Verde National Park with the Cliff dwellings is a unique and beautiful area as well.
Fascinating really.

You should really take your time there, its splendid country.

safe travels!

Jack said...


Thanks. I think it's pretty cool that you know exactly where these places are. NO doubt about it; beautiful part of the country.


I know what you mean, but I promise you. On a bike it is a whole other experience. Prefer mountains and other terrain, but this was something special.

@Bill H

Thanks for the tips. Might be doing some or all of this stuff if I take a week off as I am currently planning.

Jennoit said...

Is that *you* Jack? (The last photo I mean).

Your journey continues to be a wonderful read for me although I am not taking as much time for it lately as I too am in a transition (but a good one) that is keeping me busy. I am so happy for you that your journey is progressing so well.

Anonymous said...

I passed you on the highway! LOL!

Anonymous said...

I called Kansas home for a couple of years in 1990s when I went to Wichita State. Kansas skies and the people are just amazing. Of course, Kansans are always on the lookout for severe weather and tornado watch/warning in late spring and early fall. Your post recalls all my memories for this great place.

Anonymous said...

one of the photos is "jack"

Jack said...


Nope, the photos are of other cyclists I met while riding. Glad to hear you are heading to greener pastures. Transitions, while difficult can be good for the soul


A bit disturbing to hear. You should have said hi.


Glad to hear this stuff can take you back. It is a beautiful sky indeed.

Jack said...


Nope. As clarified above, the photos are of other cyclists I met on the road. It certainly would be counterproductive to put a photo of me on an anonymous blog, Anonymous.