Kansas really grew on me today. The ride to Seward helped me to better understand the unique, redeeming qualities of a state which, at one point, had made me fear for my life. In terms of a personal relationship, I guess you could say that I was giving Kansas a second chance.
The day started with a great personal accomplishment. I awoke at 5:00 am and was on the road by 6:00 am. Waking up at such an early time was something that I always just assumed was contrary to my nature. Well, this bike journey taught me that I'm far more in control of my "nature" than I had once assumed. All I needed was the right motivation. I soon discovered the immense satisfaction of riding through a brilliant dawn, all the motivation I really needed.
As the sun rose higher and higher into the sky we became further and further lost in central Kansas. At no point during this trip had I felt so far removed as when I followed the TransAm through the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. We were smack dab in the middle of an expansive swath of prairie land. I tried to figure out why this remote, rural stretch felt so different from others that I had experienced, particularly in Ohio and Illinois. The answer occurred to me. In those other states there was always some major highway within my view which reminded me that there were plenty of people nearby to bail me out. That was not the case here in rural Kansas. As far as I could tell, I was on the only road there was for miles. At some point while riding down NE 140th street I accepted the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere and committed to the present. There's an underlying feeling of vulnerability that is both terrifying and exhilarating. I thoroughly enjoyed spending my morning riding through plains, getting stared down by cows and prairie dogs.
About forty miles into the ride, Celine and I split with Erika and Adriel. They seemed to be more of the "feel the pain" kind of riders whereas Celine and I were more of the "smell the flowers" variety. We parted with this rad riding duo, though something tells me that we'll be seeing them again.
Around the 50 mile mark Celine and I turned into the small town of Hudson. We were lucky enough to stumble upon Shannon, a one-of-a-kind restaurant owner, cyclist and terribly kind woman. Shannon invited us into her restaurant and began stuffing us full of homemade food. After the meal she insisted that we rested up in her home next door. Not only was she hospitable, but she had the both of us rolling with her quirky stories about her life in little ol' Hudson. She was a perfect personification of the kindness and hospitality that Kansas is so well known for. If you ever stop by Hudson, do yourself a favor and hangout with Shannon.
We had a weird moment while departing from Hudson. Riding a bit ahead of Celine, I noticed a deer hanging out on the side of the road. I dismounted my bike in order to point it out to my riding partner. As they always do, the deer bolted when it saw me. Regardless of its departure, I awaited Celine to tell her of the sighting. When she arrived, I told her that there was a deer just a bit in front of us and I pointed out its approximate location. After briefly conferring, she and I mounted our bikes to round out our ride. As we pedaled, a truck approached us just from the North. At that precise moment I noticed the truck, I also noticed that the deer was back on its feet, now sprinting directly at the road, approaching from the East. Celine and I watched in terror as the deer darted out in front of the truck, escaping a gruesome collision by inches. We both stopped dead in our tracks. Wow. That could have been terrible. I stammered out a jumbled mess of words to Celine. She responded, "Do you mind riding ahead? I think I need a moment to process that." I believe that was her gentle was of telling me that I needed a moment. I really did. I was pretty blown away by the close call. Once we reconvenend at the corner, we agreed to interpret the event as a reminder to always remain alert on roadways.
We spent an uneventful evening camping out behind the town hall of Seward, a town with 59 residents. The first thing we noticed while entering the town was a hand painted sign reading, "IF YOU HIT MY KIDS YOU WON'T NEED A LAWYER. SLOW DOWN." Boy did we feel welcome. Reflecting in my tent, I thought about the kindness of the folks I had been meeting in Kansas. You get the sense that Kansans, so used to the isolation of the vast plains, have learned to squeeze every last drop out of company they receive. It really had been a treat to feel so removed and yet so connected at the same time. I'm glad that I've given Kansas a second chance, it's like no place I've known before.