The Inevitability of Onwards – Pittsburg to Chanute

By Terry

“See that red bit? … that’s the worst of the weather and it’s heading straight at us.” said Jonathan, pointing at the radar weather image on his phone.


This is Terry’s usual method of dealing with rain – but plastic bags weren’t going to help today.

Sure enough, half an hour, 3 bowls of wheat flakes, 2 blueberry muffins and lots of rubbish coffee later, the thunderstorm hit Pittsburg. So much for an early start. From the safety of the motel lobby it looked right exciting … black skies, rain that would have worried Noah and lightning all around … if we were cycling in the middle of nowhere, and we generally were, it would have been frightening and dangerous.

We had worked out a strategy for cycling in such weather … just don’t! Gerry and Jonathan, our cycling companions, being serious outdoorsy types were much more clued up on the need for weather reports and apps than us two … we were still licking a finger and holding it up … not sure if that technique works well indoors though. For about an hour we sat and watched the weather get worse as the ‘red bit’ went over.


When it rains around here it floods pretty quickly.

Partly out of boredom (but mainly because it had nearly stopped raining) we left about 11, knowing that more red stuff had got our name on it. We’re all pre-shrunk and colour fast, so what’s the worst that could happen? We’d get wet? Or washed away in the flash floods? Or struck by lightening? Or all three? (For those of you of a nervous disposition, I’ll reduce your stress levels now by telling you that none of the above happened to any of us.)


Breakfast in Girard – from left to right Jonathan, Jerry, Terry, Paul and Bill

Before we got to Girard the sun made a surprise appearance and we were being blown towards our coffee stop, passing sodden fields with muddy flood water laying everywhere. As we discussed our luck with the weather over said coffee, Bill turned up at the same time as the next downpour.


The Kansas Vietnam Memorial in Girard

We had met Bill several days ago at the pants RV park on the interstate junction … he was staying in the hotel next door … but due to Zero days thought we’d never meet him again. He had started early that morning not knowing the weather and consequently spent 2 hours sheltering under a church porch hanging onto his bike in the wind and rain.

Navigation shouldn't be difficult on a map like this!

Navigation shouldn’t be difficult on a map like this!

Looking at our maps they show this part of Kansas is split up by roads into endless blocks one mile square on the usual US north/south grid. That’s a lot of road and an amazing undertaking considering the scarcity of the population. I can’t find out why or when it was done but I guess it’s to do with land registration … possibly as a legacy of the clashes between the ranchers and farmers in the late 1800s. The ranchers wanted open grazing land for their cattle and the farmers wanted to fence their land off to grow crops. Even now there are markers by the roadsides identifying specific areas of land.


The Scissor tail bird – a spectacular distraction from the riding

We are now heading either due north or due west across Kansas. Our first 36 miles in a straight line west was surprisingly less dull than expected … it’s still hilly for one thing, and the landscape and flora and fauna are constantly changing as the underlying geology changes. Fewer vultures in the open plains, more exotic scissor-tailed flycatchers and shrikes. Possum have given way to armadillo (they’re not as tough and protected as they looks though, as we’ve only seen them as roadkill). More cows and less pasturage. The sky was changing too … back to black. A quick pitstop in Walnut … which only consisted of the usual gas station as far as we could see … and the late afternoon tailwind propelled us into Chanute before the rain.


A Santa Fe train in Chanute

Chanute was oddly named after a railway engineer (Octave Chanute) who effectively bought together four local townships when the railways arrived in the area. They appear to have been very grateful to him. Chanute was on the old wagon-based Santa Fe transportation route to Mexico from Missouri and its location and natural resources helped it expand into a thriving city. It is now evidently one of only a few full-service cities left in Kansas. Apropos of nothing, but all the rail transport that we’ve seen whilst travelling across the States has been freight only … mainly coal. Are there any passenger lines around here? Have there ever been?


Preparing to leave First Baptist, Chanute

Having asked at the fire station about staying there to no avail, a fireman knew someone who knew someone who knew the pastor of the First Baptist Church … a quick phone call later and pastor Rick said that we’d be most welcome, but he was busy for the next hour. That gave time for Paul, Jerry and Jonathan to go eat at a Chinese buffet they’d spotted nearby. I was happy to guard the bikes (who would even want to try to steal 4 heavily laden touring bikes?) and tuck into the salad bowl I’d been dragging around all day. It was so nice to eat raw  celery sticks, baby carrots, broccoli and tomatoes. Not a pancake or maple syrup in sight. OK, so I did have a Snickers bar later.

Rick arrived in his gleaming white Ford Mustang like the knight in shining armour that he was and showed us around his immaculate church. I know I’ve said it before but so many people go that extra mile for you out here. It right restores your faith in human nature. But nature itself that night, like that morning, wasn’t quite so helpful … it right royally chucked it down … but the storm was seen and heard from the luxury of a sleeping bag and a full stomach.

Miles today:  59
Miles since First Landing: 1693

Written by Paul

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