She was really mad with us this morning. In the early hours of the morning the predicted storm hit Eureka and the lightning flashes lit up the stained glass windows of the church like something from ‘The Omen’. Warm and dry on our sleep mats on the floor we thanked Joanie and the church that we hadn’t had to camp in the city park and dreamt of strong easterly gusts that would whisk us through the Flint Hills in the morning. Those who’ve been lucky enough to catch a favourable wind sometimes report cycling days in Kansas clocking up 130 miles with minimal effort. All fingers and toes were crossed.
But by morning the state’s most wanted had her revenge for us escaping the storm. While Terry and I skyped/facetimed Liz and Kate and Jonathan prepared an all-America breakfast of bacon eggs biscuits and hot cinnamon swirls, the Witch cooked up a nice strong westerly to hinder our progress. We wouldn’t be breezing across the plains today, rather we’d be battling head-winds all day.
The first twenty miles took more than two hours as we took on wind – and some unexpected gradients. Everyone tells you Kansas is flat, but the Flint Hills are just that – hills. True, the gradients are nothing like the Ozarks, but add a mile long 2 percent climb to a 11mph wind in your face and you begin to consider taking up another hobby. It’s all rather soul-destroying.
In Rosalia we met Eric, a lone cyclist travelling West to East who told us he’d been tackling Easterlies ever since leaving Pueblo. Hopefully he’d enjoy the relief of the next twenty miles that we’d struggled through. In Cassody, our usual lunchtime stop involved a small service station/grocery store where today’s special was Sloppy Joes, a kind of make-it yourself burger. We’d ridden barely half the days distance and we were all tired. A quick glance at the weather revealed the wind might turn around 4pm, but instead we headed out and struggled on.
The navigation was simple – one straight road all the way for 38 miles to Newton, a town with a population of more than 18,000 and our intended night stop. The landscape is nowhere near as monoculture as I expected, although cattle dominate the landscape, feeding on the lush plain grasses. But there are still scattered woodlands, the occasional river and numerous Derrick pumps to break up the view and at one point horses replaced cattle. The heifers and cows behave curiously when they spot cyclists passing. Often they appear startled and one or two will start running and before long the entire herd and thundering along together.
But while the navigating was simple, this was a tough ride and by the time we reached Newton just after 5pm, we were pretty beat, so tonight’s amazing accommodation was particularly welcome. The Newton Bike Shop not only allows TransAm cyclists to stay overnight in the shop, it also has a room with bunks to sleep in, a kitchen, full use of any of the tools in the shop – and a bike wash-room in which you can suspend your steed above a metal bath and de-grease and clean to your hearts content with an air-compressor to remove all the water.
As James and his wife Heather showed us around, our jaws dropped at their incredible hospitality and trust. As James explained the reason is clear – he wants to promote the use of bikes as far as possible and the TransAm riders fit this vision perfectly. Once a record producer he is now fully committed to cycling and was preparing to take out his tandem the following day to scout parts of the TransAm route through Kansas.
Pretty soon the couple are planning to add a shower to the Newton shop and open a second shop on the trail in Colorado. Before they left they handed over the front door key and that was that – they left their entire business in the hands of four cyclists they’ve never met before.
That evening bikes were duly cleaned (Jonathan and Jerry headed to the fire station for a shower) and then we all met up at a Mexican restaurant to eat, drink and wonder at the incredible generosity we’ve found all along the trail – and particularly here in Newton.
Today’s miles: 74
Total miles since first landing: 1831