Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come
Since I first left home.
The Grateful Dead, “Brokedown Palace”
*** *** ***
It was a big day. It was one of those days I’d been dreaming of and waiting for not only since I started the tour but long before it when the idea of a cross-country ride seemed like an impossibility I’d never get the chance to realize. It may seem odd that a push through Northwestern Kansas of all places would be the object of so much dreaming, but the destination for the night was Goodland, 20 miles or so from the Colorado border.
I left Hoxie early, with yet another dramatic sunrise, this time over the fairgrounds and rodeo:
It was to be a long day on the bike. Somewhere around 75 miles with a rise in elevation just under 1000 feet in a gradual push to the Rockies. The Kansas wind, which blew in unpredictable bursts, generally fought me head-on the whole way. Finally, following the trend of the previous few days, towns and resources were getting further spaced out. I would essentially only have one opportunity to get some AC and Gatorade in Colby, just about halfway to Goodland. Other than that there were a couple grain elevators that were closed (it being a Sunday) and a whole lot of wheat. No other towns of note, no gas stations, no nothing.
After 10-12 miles I saw the first sign of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow:
61 to go! I cranked on with giddy anticipation, but I had to keep my excitement in check. Every day on the bike I have to conserve my energy to make it through the whole day. It’s a constant preoccupation.
Part of that is taking regular breathers. Ride 25 minutes, take 5 off the bike. The problem with doing that in such a barren landscape is there’s nowhere to pull off, nowhere to prop up my bike, and nowhere to get some shade. But occasionally there’s grain silos:
I was on some version of US-24 the entire day. The road was a straight shot through emptiness with a dirth of passing cars. Days like this in the past have given me pangs of anxiety and tedium, but I was in seventh heaven. Maybe it’s because I’m used to the road at this point. Maybe it’s because I was riding into a rest day. Maybe it’s because that rest day was to be in Goodland. Probably a combination of all that, with dashes of excitement for Colorado, the realization that I’m better on the bike than ever, and above all, a renewed joy for the ride after a series of hard days in the Plains States to the east.
Around 11:30am or so I made it into Colby and I was ready to get off the bike for a while, eat something, and get my head right for the second half of the day’s push. Right outside the city limits there was a junkyard that was kind of beautiful in a way:
In town I decided to stop at Love’s, yet another gas station chain to add to my collection. I got more than I bargained for. The place was hopping; nowhere else in town was really open, and just like the countless small towns I’ve ridden through, there’s just nowhere else to go. Mom and pop shops are dead. Diners are shuttered. Populations in these towns are dwindling, and the only place for people to go is the gas station.
One of those people was Alex, who was very excited to keep scratching off his lottery tickets:
I met the real character right outside when I was leaning against the wall nursing my Gatorade.
He started chatting me up right away, and for a change I wasn’t the object of inquisition. I tell my story quite a bit on the road, but at this time, Duncan wanted to tell his. He was driving cross country from New England to northern California, where he was going to help his high school girlfriend rebuild her house that burned down in wildfires last year. He sold his BMW motorcycle to afford a van to load up with tools and housewares for his old flame, and that van had a busted fuel pump on I-70 outside Colby the day before. He was hanging out in town waiting for the mechanic to open the next day before driving on through Colorado. He was a hippie/free spirit type who has done odd jobs on boats and buildings all along the east coast in his 61 years. He said with all the talk about the transgender population these days there’s not a lot about “transcontinentals” – those born in the east that were supposed to be born in the west. He told me he was kind of hoping rebuilding his old girlfriend’s house would rekindle some feelings, but if it didn’t, he’d head back east to Maine and buy a boat to live on.
I loved every bit of this conversation with Duncan. When I hit the road I hoped I’d run into transients like him regularly, collecting stories, meeting interesting people that are just a bit to the side of “normal”. Duncan was my first, and I didn’t want to leave. In fact he invited me over to the bar across the street he was waiting to open for a beer, and I thought hard about it and was torn. If I were 10-15 miles further in the day I would have joined him in a heartbeat. But with 35 more to go I had to put the ride first. I gave the man a firm handshake, climbed on the bike, and rode west.
A few miles out of town I hit a routing problem. US-24 was essentially the only way to Goodland, and it joined the interstate for a piece:
People have asked me all across the country if I take the interstate. The only place I’m allowed to do that is Wyoming. But then I started to wonder, where else was I supposed to go? So I checked out the entrance ramp:
The wind picked up in the afternoon, as it always does, and I just kept pedaling with joy…and fatigue. It was my seventh day in a row on the bike and I needed a break. But my anticipation was growing, and there were several bursts of energy in the legs that kept me moving along.
Old 24 was parrelel to I-70, and I finally got a good view of it to the left:
I was instantly overcome with emotion. I had been on this stretch of highway three times before when I dubiously decided to move to Southern California when I was done with graduate coursework… And then again when LaLa Land spit me back to Cincinnati. I didn’t know it at the time but those cross-country drives were when I started dreaming of riding across the country. I returned to my hometown lost, and I stayed that way through depression and inaction for years. In that moment yesterday, in the middle of nowhere in northwestern Kansas, I was consumed with the realization that I was finally living my life to the fullest, living out a dream many fantasize about but never take on themselves. I thought about everything I had endured and conquered in the preceding forty-some-odd days and 2000 miles, from taking on the eastern seaboard, crushing the Appalachians, cruising along the shores of the Great Lakes, suffering through the Plains, and right then, grinding up through the wheat on my way to the Rockies. I thought about how far I’ve come in body and mind from that troubled place I was in when I was in this country last, unhappy and unhealthy in a ’96 Civic. I was overcome with gratitude, appreciation, and a profound sense of satisfaction. I started bawling my eyes out, consumed with a contentment at my endeavor that makes me choke up now just recalling here. But I didn’t stop. The tears rolled off my face as my legs kept spinning around 90rpm, as they always do these days. It’s where I’m at home, right on my bike, grinding it out and having an epic adventure. It was an incredibly beautiful, cathartic feeling that I’ll never let go of.
But the road goes on. And with it more curiosities, like a lone oil rig:
Before too long I finally made it to the eastern edge of Goodland, and was able to get a picture I had wanted forever:
I don’t know the story behind this massive Van Gogh reproduction, and I don’t want to. I like to think there’s no real reason Goodland decided to erect this in the middle of the high plains. It had been years since I’d seen it last, and I couldn’t have been happier to be back. A tour highlight if there ever was one.
I checked into a hotel room and slept without worry of hitting the road, because the next day was to be a much needed rest day.
*** *** ***
I woke up this morning late (for me) around 8, relaxed and ready to enjoy the town I’ve traveled through and laughed about in years past. The three times I stopped here I never stayed for longer than an hour, and I was looking forward to getting Goodland all over me. Fitting, since my last name is Goodlander. I’m sure there are a lot of Jane and Joe Smiths out there that see a “Smithville” and do a quick chuckle then forget about it. But there aren’t a lot of Goodlanders, and there are even fewer Goodlands. This is a town to be celebrated!
I crushed the continental breakfast that came with the fee of my hotel room, getting all the calories I could in me since I hadn’t eaten too well in the days previous. I then did some route planning at the computer, because the four days it’s going to take me to get to Boulder are going to be ridden in the most barren, unpopulated country on the tour yet. I started getting nervous, and it wasn’t the coffee giving me jitters:
I was off to the High Plains Museum to get me some heritage:
The highlight of the museum, however, was the 1972 replica of the first patented helicopter, the original being the invention of a couple of Goodland citizens. It flew once and then crashed. You could make the wings rotate with a pushbutton:
I then hit Main Street in search of Goodland goods for the bike. The last time I came through town I found a sticker that said “Goodland, Kansas” with a cowboy on it. It was on my car for years, but I sold the car right before my tour began. My bike needed to be christened.
I asked all over town, but to no avail. The best I could do was a luggage name tag I bought at Hallmark, because, you know, in a town of 4,000, there’s a lot of Goodland Cowboys fans that travel:
And then I went for some Mexican food a Tequila’s. The Chorizo quesadilla and chipotle pork with fresh fruit and rice was delightful. Right outside the door I got a great view of the finest grain elevator the Plains have ever known:
I went back to the hotel to nap and watch some tv (a novelty on tour; it doesn’t happen much), then got another picture of the elevator with some kids on four-wheelers in the foreground if you look closely:
It’s going to be a challenging push to the Front Range with a constant rise in elevation, barren plains, and few towns. I’ll be pedaling through on US-36 for most of it, and in a few days, I’ll be in Boulder, ready to jam out with Dead & Company. To say I can’t wait is an understatement, and if you’ve been following me since I started, you know it to be true. Time to get some rest before leaving Goodland and the state it’s in behind my back wheel early tomorrow morning!