Yesterday was rough. Lucky for me, there was this statistical phenomenon called regression to the mean, which suggests that extreme events are likely to be followed by less extreme ones. So, since yesterday was an extremely bad day, today should have been less bad. That's how these things worked, right?
So I headed out of Emporia with the wind to my back, blazing my way down route 50. In fact, I was averaging over 16 miles per hour. That was outstanding for me! It felt like I was back in action. Early on in the day I concluded that I had regressed to my mean of pleasant rides.
I was moving fast because of the wind, but also because of the forecast. The weather service predicted possible thunderstorms in Newton around 2:00 pm. I pedaled with vigor to ensure that I avoided the storm. Given my hasty pace, I found it permissible to make a brief detour through Florence for some pictures. I was relaxed as I photographed what felt like a ghost town.
After Florence my next stop was Newton. About 15 miles out the sky turned a foreboding grey. Ten miles later both I and a massive storm cloud had arrived at the edge of town. It was mesmerizing. In fact, the sky even had a shade of green to it. I pulled over to snap a picture of this magnificent cloud formation.
As I gazed at the sky, a gentleman driving a pickup truck slowly approached me. He called out to me, "Everything alright? You know where you're goin'?"
I understood this gesture to mean two things. First, he was letting me know that a tempestuous storm was imminent. Second, he was extending me an olive branch in the form of a ride to wherever I was going. The voice of the fellow I met in Western Pennsylvania sounded through my mind. Don't turn down people's kindness. Despite the reminder, I seemed to be lacking sagacity in that moment, "Oh, I'm fine. I've only got about four miles to go. Thanks anyways." The fellow pulled away, likely rolling his eyes at the foolish, hard-headed biker.
No more than five minutes later did the sky turn green. "Uh oh," I thought, "green skies were a warning sign for tornadoes." A subsequent rationalization sought to ease my mind, "Yeah, but there's no lightning. Lightning almost always accompanies tornadoes."
*Flash* There was the lightning. Chilling gusts of wind batted me from every angle. Droplets of rain began to fall, not on my head, but rather on my cheeks due to the horizontal winds. This was bad. I needed to find shelter. The sky opened up, completely drenching my body and washing away the sweat from my 70 mile ride. No part of me could pause to enjoy this refreshing rinse. My mind was fully occupied with escaping this storm, especially because the lightning strikes were increasing in frequency.
First I sought shelter in the only house I could find along the country road I was on. I knocked on the door. The only response I got were a few angry barks from the dog. Dammit. I decided to return to the highway I had turned off of. The moment I arrived I threw down my bike and rushed towards the road, waving my arms in desperation.
The second car that passed me pulled over. This small sedan that answered my S.O.S. call was operated by two young guys. They rolled the passenger side window down only an inch so as to avoid letting the unrelenting rain in. "Throw your bags in the trunk, and I think you can get the bike in the back if you pop the wheel off." I followed his instructions. All for panniers plus my front tire were loaded into the trunk of this compact vehicle. I squeezed the bike onto my lap in the back seat. It was still too long for the car, so I was forced to leave the passenger side door ajar and window open.
There I sat, sopping wet with a bike on my lap, left hand clutching the driver side door handle while my right hand prevented the passenger side door from flying open. I thought to myself, "Man, this would've been a lot easier in that guy's pick-up."
The good samaritans dropped me off in the home of my hosts, Janet and Orvin. Orvin greeted me at the door with a slight smile on his face. I'm sure this wasn't the first time he had seen some out-of-towner get completely owned by Kansas' weather. Once indoors I felt the storm was over. I could finally relax. Janet, the lady of the house, helped bring me back to life that evening with a delicious pot roast.
By this point I felt like Kansas had it out for me. A part of me felt afflicted with some sort of PTSD, or better yet, PKSD, Post-Kansas Stress Disorder. I was seriously contemplating taking a bus to Colorado. Between the winds, heat and violent storms, I couldn't imagine another 300 miles in this state.
Thankfully, I had time to recover. I spent the next three nights in Newton amongst great company. Janet and Orvin, their two boys Christian and Ian, Warm Showers guests Adriel and Erika, and my new riding partner Celine helped get my spirits back up. Learning of their trials and tribulations while on the road really helped boost my confidence. The simplest, and perhaps most useful piece advice I got during my time in Newton, came from Christian. Over dinner he very plainly told me, "Don't rush it." Man was he right. Weather, much like life, is full of ups and downs. No matter how tumultuous they get, you've got to believe that better times are on the horizon. See, it's like I said before, everything ultimately regresses to the mean.