Welcome to 77 more miles on Route 96! But this time with DRAMA — time zone changes, state line crossings, and dire tire developments! DUN DUN DUN.
So! The day started off well enough. We were headed for Sheridan Lake, a little town about 14 miles past the Colorado border (YES! COLORADO HERE WE COME!) and we knew we'd only see two of anything that could properly be called a Town along the way. It's sort of like being on Tatooine out here. There's a Mos Eisley every so often, but you may not want to hang out there for long.
Anyway, we got a treat less than 10 miles into the day when we ran into a strange stand-alone building in Marienthal. Heartland Mill looks more like an odd corporate office in the middle of nowhere, but inside it's a bakery! With delicious donuts and homemade ice-cream sandwiches! We had a delightful morning snack. And Beau made the pro move of buying a frozen bottle of chocolate milk. The guy at the counter assured us that, as it thawed out, it would basically turn into a milkshake. He was not wrong. The next several hours were full of excellent chocolate milk breaks as it melted. (For a while, it even had a chewable ice-core that tasted exactly like a fudgesicle. Rad.)
We made solid if not speedy (see: headwind) progress all the way to Tribune, the last outpost in Kansas before the border. (Very Mos Eisley vibe.) At the town's one remaining gas station (which truckers have given a resounding 1 star on Google), we completed our daily strip-off-all-the-layers ritual and sat on the pavement outside to eat some lunch. A trucker noticed us and said, "Hey y'all are pretty fast. I saw you in Leoti" — Leoti is the only other town between Scott City and Sheridan Lake, and it was a good 30 miles back or so. How we caught up with a semi I have no idea, but it was nice to be called fast, even if the winds make you feel like you're dragging weights behind you.
But! We had gained an hour — because (drum roll), we'd just entered our third time zone. What time is it?! MOUNTAIN TIME.
With only 26 miles to go and a state line ahead of us, we were feeling pretty decent as we pulled out of Tribune. But then the trouble started. Only a couple of miles out of town, I felt my back tire getting squishy. Now: My back tire has actually been a minor pain for ages now. Like, since Kentucky. It's had a tendency not to retain pressure. But people had told me that sometimes tubeless tires do that, and since it never seemed to give me issues during a ride (just, say, I'd come back to it after leaving the bike overnight and have to add some air to it in the morning), I just kept on. I even had it looked at in Wichita and they hemmed and hawed but just added some more sealant to the tire and left it at that. So, fine then, it's just a moody tire.
Well, if it was moody before, today it had its lethal tantrum. When I felt the squishiness, I looked down and could see that it was flattening out on me as I rode. I pulled over and the pressure was way down. Once we got off the road and I took the tire off the bike, I found (ooooh boy) a Big Ol' Gash running just above the bead for over a centimeter. It was kind of wild — all the outer layers of tire had somehow been sliced through, but the inner layer of rubber was holding, though air was seeping out. In effect, the inner layer of the tire wanted to herniate out through the gash. Bad. Like, unfixable bad. New tire needed pronto bad.
And we're in the middle of the high plains: There's nothing for over a hundred miles in any direction. We've still got 25-ish miles to go before we even get to Sheridan Lake. Where there's only a railroad crossing, a gas station, and a church that will let us sleep on its floor for the night. I'm tire-fucked.
After some heavy breathing, there wasn't much for it but to see how much we could McGyver things and just keep going. The inner layer of the tire was still holding, so I put a tube in the thing and booted it with a dollar like you would a standard flat. It held. You could see the hernia bulging out at the point of damage (which I couldn't look at for too long without starting to freak out), but it held.
We kept riding. It was slow, painful going. I had the tire at a pretty low pressure to keep it from blowing, and it felt like pulling a beanbag full of pudding behind me. With bumps, since I could feel the thud of the damaged part of the tire every time it came around. And EXTRA bumps (just for fun!) because we were riding on cracked asphalt that had been shoddily patched about every twenty feet. Our asses felt every single one of these ka-chunks. And I had saddle sores. So, imagine bouncing up and down on tacks while trying to carefully pull a sack of mud that might pop at any moment behind you. THIS is the real glamor of the TransAmerica, y'all!
At least we had a moment of celebration in store for us, because after 13 miles of this anxious, gnarly riding, we finally got to leave Kansas. HOORAY! Not that we didn't experience some good things here, and not that it doesn't have a stark, surreal kind of grandeur to it, but I gotta be honest: I'd bike Appalachia ten times over before biking Kansas again. (Beau does not agree with this sentiment…)
Somehow, we struggled through our final 14 miles of bumpy road—praying for the tire every minute—and we made it to Sheridan Lake just as the sun was going down. While I got us some food at the gas-station-slash-grocery-slash-only-place-to-eat-in-town, Beau pedaled down to check out the "Lake." Much like most of the town itself, the "Lake" in Sheridan Lake is no more. But the dry, cracked bed does make for some wild sunset bike shots...
We were both exhausted when we finally made it to the Sheridan Lake Bible Church, which kindly hosts cyclists along the trail. Sometimes, sheer tiredness keeps you from more actively freaking out, but the situation is straight-up tenuous right now. I've just finished a do-not-try-this-at-home patch job on the tire using everything I could find in our stuff and here at the church: tube patches, rubber cement, duct tape… This is not regulation, y'all. The question is, can I make it all the way to Pueblo on this tire? We've got two more days of riding through the absolutely desolate wastes to get us there, and I have no idea whether this thing is going to give out on me in the middle of Tatooine. HEY, our first CLIFF HANGER. Join us next time for more Tales of the Dire Tire! But first...
STATS SO FAR
Total miles in Kansas: 494.7 (+5 in a truck)
Total trip miles: 2116.8
The skies. The vastness. The overwhelming sense of space. The feeling that you can actually see the curve of the globe.
Celebrating our was-to-have-been wedding day together with pizza and "Champagne" in a Holiday Inn in Chanute.
Starting our fundraiser. Riding to give something back.
Tim and his pick-up truck outside of Andover. Thank you, Tim!
Janet and Orvin in Newton. Such a house (houses!), such stories, such kindness.
David and his family in Bazine. Thank you for the tour, Victoria and Jeremy!
Best KS Eats:
Heartland Mill — A little weird and a little in the middle of nowhere (and almost not in Kansas anymore!) but downright DELICIOUS. We will dream of that chocolate milk for days to come.
Great Bend Coffee has a strong sandwich offering.
David made a vat of amazing barley-spinach-tomato soup. Yummmm.
I mean, we made carbonara again in Hutchinson. Always the right choice.
Final KS Thought:
May the wind be ever at your back. Otherwise, fuck the wind.
Day 46: Scott City, KS to Sheridan Lake, CO, 77.3 miles, 1725 feet of climbing, chocolatey goodness, bicycle badness. TO BE CONTINUED...