Oakland to Chicago – Eads, CO to Ottawa, KS
Denis Kertz, ©2001
When I woke up at 6:30 I saw raindrops on my tent although I didn’t hear it rain. Outside it was heavy overcast with a few sprinkles and chilly. I went into the restroom and when I returned my tent and bike were getting a washing from the automatic sprinklers. Not an encouraging start to the day.
I walked to the restaurant where I ate last night and had oatmeal and pancakes. I wanted to linger over breakfast quite a while to decide whether to layover or not, given the look of the weather. The newspaper wasn’t in yet so I watched the locals eat breakfast. Then I walked back to my tent and sacked out for about an hour. When I looked out it was still overcast although there was some encouraging lightening of the clouds on the horizon to the south but I was headed east.
My decision was not easy. It was chilly, windy, and threatening rain and the next place to stay was 60 miles away. If it rained, it could be a torturous day. On the other hand, staying in my tent all day was not inviting either. On top of that, I was almost done reading my book and didn’t know if I could find another one in town.
Finally, I decided to chance the weather and packed up and was off by 10:30. I used a long sleeve jersey, some light gloves, and a light cap. I pulled out my rain booties only to find they were too small for my sandals. I slipped them on as best I could but I couldn’t zip them up. Still they afforded wind protection for my bare feet.
When I started out, I was a bit chilled but was about right after warming up. The wind was a crosswind so it affected my speed somewhat but nothing like yesterday. It was easy pedaling to start as I was doing 10-12 mph compared to yesterday’s mostly single digit mph. I did have to ride a bad stretch of the road with cracks every 30’ or so. Still, better than yesterday.
When I reached the Chivington/Brandon area I slowed up due to the rolling terrain. When I pulled into Sheridan Lake I didn’t find anything to stop for so I continued. Between Sheridan Lake and Towner the road surface improved greatly as smooth asphalt took over for chip seal. A couple miles east of Towner I entered Kansas and hoped it would be kinder to me than eastern Colorado.
In Kansas, 96 was totally straight. However, I found I could no longer rely on a white grain tower to identify a town as several were outside town. Fields were widely planted with winter wheat and occasional sorghum. As I neared Tribune close to 4:00, I momentarily considered riding on to Leoti, my original plan until the weather changed the picture. But I quickly put that out of mind and got a motel room for $31 at the only motel in town.
I checked the weather forecast on my favorite TV station. It was currently low 50s and projected to drop into the low 30s. Then it should warm up into the 60s and be OK through the weekend.
After cleaning up, I walked downtown to a café only to find they didn’t offer pizza anymore. I picked up a few things from the grocery store across the street – my favorite bagels and granola bars – and walked to a food mart next to my motel. I had a medium pepperoni pizza that was very good.
Overall, a pretty tough day that got better through the day. Starting from heavy overcast, the sky started clearing up with occasional patches of blue by early afternoon and almost cloudless by day’s end. The only thing that didn’t improve was the wind as it stayed with me all day.
I was in no hurry to get up as it would be quite cold and I would want to wait for it to warm up. Nevertheless I was up at 6:30. I walked to a food mart for milk to make my own breakfast since there wasn’t a restaurant open for breakfast. Then I watched my favorite TV station. The local forecast cited 25 degrees for Lamar, CO, but I doubt it was quite that cold here. The forecast was fine through Monday but scattered showers were predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday.
I left around 9:00. Instead of my booties that didn’t fit I dragged out my StormKloth socks that worked very well. The wind was a brisk 10-20 mph out of the south, the prevailing wind for this time of the year, so it was a crosswind. A crosswind still slows a cyclist but it’s much better than a headwind like I had the last couple of days. Some of the time the wind seemed to come from the SSW and actually helped some.
After 12 miles I passed Selkirk with a couple of impressive white grain towers and nothing else. That’s when I realized the values had changed. In Colorado towns were created so they could have a post office. In Kansas it was so they could have a grain tower.
After 22 miles I reached Leoti, a real town with more than just a grain tower. In another 24 miles I reached Scott City and stopped at the library to check email. Then another 24 miles and I reached Dighton, my destination. All three of these towns were potential stopping points, an unusual set of options for the day.
When I pulled into Dighton I first stopped at the city park to scout the camping option. Then I scouted the rest of town for motels and restaurants. I checked in with the police and set up camp in the city park and cleaned up. Then I walked to the west edge of town and ate at a sports bar.
11 miles outside of Tribune I lost an hour as I crossed into Wichita County and the time zone changed to Central Time. A little further after Modoc, an interesting sight was the power line poles along the road. They were all leaning to the left considerably and there were new poles laid on the ground for their replacement. Of course seeing this, I naturally broke out into song:
I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin' in the sun for another overload
I hear you singing in the wires I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line
Not a particularly hard day despite the wind. The day started chilly but warmed up to a balmy 67 degrees. I saw a couple of cornfields for the first time. So Kansas is more than just wheat fields.
I got up at 7:30, reflecting my adjusting to Central Time. I packed up and headed to the east side of town where you would expect to find breakfast – the bowling alley. Turns out the bowling alley had the real restaurant in town and was the only one open for breakfast. I had oatmeal and pancakes that were not well made, crumbly but a filling meal. The waitress left coffee off the bill, even after I pointed it out. So the meal was less than $5, another value meal.
I headed out about 9:30 comfortable in my tights and windbreaker. The wind was a strong crosswind, 15-25 mph, and I had to keep a grip to keep from being blown into traffic. Not a serious problem due to lack of traffic.
It was 32 miles to Ness City and I made pretty good time despite the wind. I stopped in town for a sandwich and refreshments. I had also been looking for a paperback as I was almost done with Desert Time. This was the first place I found any paperbacks in several days. By contrast, all these towns have a collection of videotapes. Not surprising when you consider that it must have been a significant drive to someplace that had a movie theater.
Another 20 miles got me to Alexander where there wasn’t much. Leaving Alexander I noticed some change in scenery. First, I saw a ridge. Then I noticed trees along a couple of creeks. Previously I saw only a handful of trees, identifying homes and towns.
I reached Rush Center before 4:00 but it was too far to any other town. I had the option of staying in the city park without a restroom. There was a food mart but it was closed on Sunday and there was a bar/grill. In the end I chose to ride 5 miles north to La Crosse for better services. The 5 miles were easy because I had a tailwind but I wasn’t looking forward to reclaiming those miles in the morning when I would most likely have a headwind.
I rode through La Crosse, not seeing much until the north end by Highway 4. I found a motel for $28 and decided on that, a reasonably nice room for the money. I had a good meal at a restaurant across the road. A bonus was a Casey’s store across the other street where they have great donuts. But the weather forecast was not looking good for Monday evening through Wednesday.
I got up and walked across the street to where I ate last night and had bacon and pancakes where was good. I took my time and left at 9:00, heading back south to Rush Center, 5 miles into a modest headwind. The official route called for heading another 19 miles south but I was not about to do that into the headwind. So I headed east on 96, 32 miles to Great Bend, trusting that the southeast bend of the road would get me closer to my southern route.
A few miles out of Rush Center I started a rolling hill climb. This actually covered some interesting scenery as the combination of trees and rolling landscape provided some definition to the landscape. Near Great Bend I passed through Heizer and noticed there was no grain tower, the first town without a grain tower since entering Kansas. Then I realized I couldn’t recall seeing one in Rush Center either. Maybe I wasn’t in Kansas anymore…
I stopped in Great Bend, home of Jack Kilby and the 2000 Nobel Prize winner for Physics and the invention of the integrated circuit, for a sandwich and refreshments and continued east on 96. In about 15 miles I headed south on a county road to Raymond and met the full force of the 15-20 mph south wind. I only had 5 miles but I was pressed at times to do 6 mph. Then after curving east I looked to pick up another road heading east from Alden. Unfortunately, I was too impatient and took a gravel road when I learned later there was an asphalt road just a little further on.
The gravel road was 5 miles long but seemed much longer. The road wasn’t that bad but in some places it was sandy and travel was hard. Eventually I turned right on 14 and again went head-to-head with the wind, fighting every inch of the way. At this point I began questioning the wisdom of any further southern movement beyond Sterling, the next town. I had hoped to take 96 into Nickerson but I nixed that idea.
I rode south through Sterling, home of Sterling College, and checked out the town. On the southern edge I found a motel for $28. The room was the smallest motel room I’d been in but I was able to squeeze my bike in and the room was fine. Then I walked to a nearby restaurant for a good meal.
Back at my motel my favorite TV station was not encouraging. Rain was predicted for the night and tomorrow and possibly the next day. Wind was also predicted to gust up to 35 mph tomorrow. So tomorrow was a possible layover day.
When I got up I checked my favorite TV station where the forecast was for south winds 25-35 mph gusting to 40. Not encouraging and there was potential rain as well.
I walked downtown to a café and had an omelet. It apparently rained some over night, as there were a few puddles in the street. It was overcast and appeared to be clearing up but the wind was already strong. So I decided to layover due to the wind. The motel was kind enough to let me use their laundry facilities so I took care of my laundry. There was a library but it didn’t open until 1:00. At 1:00 I was the first one in the library and checked my email. I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing in the library. When I returned to my motel I found from TWC that there was a tornado warning in effect until 9:00. The forecast was possible rain in the morning with the wind shifting from the west to the north in the afternoon – both more favorable winds than the south winds I had been fighting.
The weather looked much better this morning without trees swaying in the wind. I walked to the restaurant I ate at the first night and it was open this morning for breakfast. When I ordered pancakes and oatmeal the waiter tried to tell me the pancakes were big but they weren’t anything special size wise.
Back at the motel I packed up while watching TWC. The forecast was fine for today and tomorrow but I didn’t like the heavy rain predicted for Friday. When I left at 9:00, the sun was out and the wind was a moderate NNW.
I headed south on 96 5 miles until 96 bent 90° to the east. In another 5 miles I reached Nickerson where I continued east on 82nd Street while 96 continued southeast to Hutchinson. This was the first time I was off of 96 since Colorado except for a short stretch on Monday.
I continued east through Medora and Buhler on into Hesston. From Nickerson to Hesston was nice riding on country roads with little traffic through farms with reasonable sized and well-defined fields bordered by trees.
In Hesston, after almost 50 miles by 12:30, I stopped for a sandwich and refreshments and faced a major decision. I needed to decide whether to continue on the AC route or start a beeline to Chicago. I had really wanted to follow the AC route through Missouri where I had planned to leave near the Mississippi River and head north to St. Louis. This would have allowed me to ride through the hometown area where I grew up, Ste. Genevieve and Bloomsdale, which I rarely see anymore. That would also have allowed me to stop and see my oldest sister as well as my brothers living in the St. Louis area.
In the end I decided the weather uncertainty, rain and wind, as well as the lateness of the year, dictated a more pragmatic route. So after quite a bit of thought I decided to abandon the AC route and take a more direct approach to Chicago/Naperville. So I road east from Hesston to 15, jogged a little south and then east a few miles back to my old friend US 50.
Only US 50 was not so friendly. It had periodic rumble strips, every 50-100’, which stretched across the entire width of the shoulder that was as wide as a regular driving lane. The only saving grace was that road construction forced a one-lane passage after a few miles and that limited east bound traffic to periodic intervals. So I was able to ride in the traffic lane for good stretches and avoid the rumbles.
At Peabody I stopped to mull my destination options. The nice thing about my AC maps was they told me where services were available but now I no longer had that information. Florence was the next stop option, another 10 miles. It had a population of 636 that wasn’t encouraging but it was at the junction of US 50 and US 77 so I gambled that it had to have some services and rode on.
At Florence, I was relieved first to see a motel next to a food store and a city park with a café nearby. I ate first at the café and then inquired to make sure I could camp at the park. Hearing of no problem I set up camp in the park and did my sponge shower act. Then I walked back to the café for desert so I would have some place to sit down and write my notes.
For the day, it started cloudy but cleared up by late morning and became sunny and warm into the upper 60s.
I packed up in the dark since the sun didn’t rise until 7:30. I rode to the nearby café and ordered oatmeal and pancakes that were good.
I was on my way on US 50. After a few miles of shoulder width rumbles that concerned me, the rumbles receded to half width. It was 43 miles to Emporia and the last 10 miles were full width rumbles and not much fun.
Just outside Emporia, I stopped for food. My goal for the day was Ottawa, the next sizeable town, but my state map showed US 50 disappearing as it apparently merged with I35. There was a road that looked kind of like a frontage road to Ottawa but it started about 10 miles east of Emporia and it wasn’t obvious there was a good way to it. So I inquired and learned that I could take US 50 through Emporia and it turned into Old US 50, which was the frontage road on the map.
So my route to Ottawa was straightforward but it was over 55 miles. When I left it was already 1:30 and with sunset at just before 7:00, I had only a little over 5 hours to make Ottawa. The good news was once I got through Emporia Old US 50 effectively became a low traffic frontage road with just local traffic. The shoulder and thus the rumbles disappeared but a shoulder wasn’t needed. There was only local traffic and some truck traffic, apparently supporting road construction.
After Old US 50 crossed to the south side of I35, it became a series of long rollers that appeared to be gaining elevation and I didn’t make great time, although I started exceeding 20 mph on the downhill section of the rollers – a speed I had almost forgotten was possible on a bicycle. It became obvious after a while that making Ottawa was going to push sunset. When I reached Waverly, 20 miles from Ottawa, I thought about stopping there but Waverly was a little off route and I chose not to investigate due to time and pushed on. When I passed through Williamsburg, 3 miles further, I saw a city park and thought about camping but there was no food and probably no place to clean up in the park. Again, due to time I decided not to investigate and pushed on.
Then a few miles later I had my closest call of the trip. A pickup approached from the right on a side road and it appeared to be in a hurry. It slowed down for its stop sign but continued without stopping and turned left, right in my path. Since the body language of the pickup forewarned me, I was able to slow and swerve to the right or these notes might have ended at this point. I did have the presence to indicate to the driver that I thought he was #1 in my book. This incident was ironic since all the local traffic on Old US 50 had been overly cautious all afternoon. At times traffic would refuse to pass me on a hill in the presence of a no passing stripe, waiting until the top of a hill even though passing could have been done very safely before.
By this time I was really pushing daylight. Fortunately, the last 10 miles or so leveled off quite a bit to help offset my tired legs. I finally reached the intersection with US 59 near I35 where Old US 50 also ended. A business district sign pointed north on US 59 but I could see nothing there and the sun had disappeared with darkness rapidly setting in. I could see services just ahead along I35 so I had little choice but ride on I35 the short distance to the next exit. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, although illegal, except for the construction that closed the east bound lane and limited travel to a single lane with virtually no shoulder in near darkness and no lights on my bike. Then I discovered there was no exit from my lane so I had to cut across both lanes to get to the exit, not a fun task in high-speed traffic.
Once I made the exit I could see there were plenty of services but not the inexpensive type compared to my usual choices. I ended up at an Econo Lodge for $50. At least it was on the first floor and I could roll my bike right through the lobby into my room. After cleaning up I walked across the street to a restaurant that I had noticed advertised BUFFET while I was casing the area. In contrast to the motel, the buffet was very reasonably priced at $8 and I’m pretty sure I got my money’s worth.
Afterwards I watch TWC and it looked like tomorrow afternoon and evening would likely involve rain.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2001. All rights reserved.