Wed Aug 6 10:17:48 CDT 2003
Halfway!!! -- Kensington, KS
So I finished putting together my Linear, and now I'm riding longboat-style. With the new, longer bike, plus my trailer, my rig is now longer than most cars. It's also a lot more fun to ride. I didn't realize how much the BikeE made me feel hunched over, but the Linear has under-seat steering, so I feel like my position is much more open to the sky and land. I get a much better view now. The Linear also has skinnier tires for less rolling resistance, and just generally better quality components.
After leaving the UPS store on Friday evening, I headed West into the suburbia of Omaha. I lucked out and very quickly found a little hideaway on the side of the road where a small path led between some bushes. Behind the bushes was a little clearing beside a drainage ditch. It was right behind a big housing development, but it was perfect; obviously no one came down there on a regular basis, since they would have had to cross the ditch and there was no bridge. I slept soundly.
Saturday morning, August 1st, I headed West on Route 6 to Lincoln. I was stunned by the extent of the suburban development in Omaha. There were simply miles and miles of housing developments, all more or less the same. The amazing thing was that most of them were owned by the same company.
There was one middle-aged fellow in a shiny new Corvette who pulled up in front of me at a stop light. His license plate said "H8 WINTER." I got a kick out of that, and started to pull up alongside him to say so. He nearly popped a vein. "[indistinguishable] motherf[unrepeatable]!" he shouted, "Better not even come close!" He was probably concerned I might scratch his cherry-red finish. Then the light turned green and he slammed his car into gear and took off squealing. I was a little annoyed, but I was also a little proud that I had instilled such terror in a fully-grown man with only my bicycle.
The ride to Lincoln was great, it felt much smoother on my Linear. There was a small problem with the derailleur cable so that I couldn't shift through all my gears, so I planned to look for a bike shop once I got there and get a tune-up.
The first thing I was struck by on the way in was what a bike-friendly town Lincoln seemed to be. There were billboards advertising "Tour de Lincoln," a local annual bike ride. There was evidently a municipal sculpture project underway, and on many street corners there were statues of bicycles built by local artists. And downtown there were flags hanging from streetposts that said "Explore Nebraska" with a picture of a bicycle. The town should be crawling with bike shops, right? Well, when I started asking around, nobody knew where to find one. One woman said "Well, there's Blue's, but that's pretty far from downtown. And I don't know where it is anyhow." At one point I saw a neon sign in a window that illustrated a bicycle and said "Fat Tire" underneath it. I thought I had found a shop for sure, but the building turned out to be a pub, and "Fat Tire" is a brand of beer. Finally I went to the tourist center and they looked up Blue's in the phone book.
Once I got to Blue's though, my impression of Lincoln changed. It was a first-rate bike shop, and the guys were super friendly. The mechanic, Chris, who worked on my bike offered me a place to camp in his back yard. After he got off work we popped on over to his house, then the local organic food co-op for some food. Back at his house again I met his housemate, Michael. Turns out both Chris and Michael are car-free, like me. It was definitely inspiring to meet other folks with similar convictions. They seemed to do pretty well getting around Lincoln, too. We had a great time hanging out and eating dinner together.
In the morning on Sunday the 2nd, we went to Chris' other job, a hip little coffeeshop called The Mill, and had some tea to start the day. Chris gave me some wonderful tea and chocolate to take with me too. Then we all headed out Southwest, along some bike trails. Chris had to head back to start work once we got to the edge of town, but Michael had the whole day, so he biked with me until about lunchtime before turning back. Michael really wanted to come along on the trip, but he had a daughter in Lincoln to take care of. He told me she might come with him on a big trip once she's older -- he's already got her into doing weekend bike trips.
I camped Sunday evening outside of Hastings, NE by a small town called Harvard. In the morning on Monday (the 3rd) I popped into Hastings to do some of the town chores I had been meaning to do for a while. I needed to do laundry, get a bit of food, get pictures developed, go to the library, get a new book, get a spare tube, and get a snap ring for my trailer attachment, since one of them had fallen off (a non-critical but serious problem). I managed to get through a lot of those rather quickly, and had forgotten about photos when I met a nice young lady from the photolab outside the local department store, Allen's. I went in to drop off my film for one-hour delivery, and when I came out I found that standing by my bike were a cop and the security manager of Allen's. I was worried I was parked illegally, but it turned out they were just waiting for the owner of a car that was parked poorly to come out, and were standing around admiring my bike in the meantime. They asked all about my trip and I asked where I could find a hardware store and a bookstore. It turned out that the spare part I needed was hidden in one of my film cannisters (I thought it would be a safe place), so I only needed to go to the bookstore.
When I came back from the bookstore (I picked up The Poisonwood Bible, recommended by a friend), Rebecca at the photo counter told me that the security chief wanted to see me; she'd called a reporter from the local station to do a story on me. It was the first time I'd been interviewed, and I contemplated just heading out the door, but I decided to play along. It actually went very easily, the reporter asked all the same questions that I'm quite used to being asked by now, except there was a camera rolling. I was surprised that I wasn't more nervous.
Finally I headed out of town. I had been considering taking a more Northerly vector, to try and see Chimney Rock, but I had been informed while in town (Hastings was an incredibly friendly town) that Chimney Rock is so eroded it barely looks like a pimple on top of the mountain. I also learned that the geographical center of the continental United States was more or less due South, in Lebanon Kansas. So I set out South and camped in Ayr Monday night.
I knew one of the consequences of having skinnier tires would be more flats, but I wasn't prepared for the extent of what happened Monday night. I pulled my bike into one campsite, and set down to rest. Immediately I stood up again. My butt had been attacked by tons of tiny little caltrop-like burrs, the offshoot of some plant nearby. I didn't like that one bit, so I set off again in search of another campsite. My rear tire shortly went flat, so I picked the nearest spot I could wheel my bike to, and camped there. After dinner I set about patching the hole. Well, it turned out there was not one hole, but two, next to each other. I put an extra-wide patch over both of them and reinflated the tube. Oops, still losing air. I found another hole, patched that. The patch didn't quite take, so I had to put another patch over that. Okay, good enough? Not quite. Now I found yet a third hole (this one was also actually a pair). By the time I patched that one, the sun had long since set and it was getting hard to see. And I found a fourth hole.
Thankfully, I had a spare tube, but my old tube is now more full of holes than the Aquatic Ape theory. Naturally in the morning I found my front tire was flat too. I didn't even bother to patch it, just replaced it with a spare.
Tuesday the 4th I rode to Lebanon, KS. I took a long lunch break in Red Cloud, NE, a pretty little town. They had a great gazebo in the park where I could eat in the shade, and I got a swim and a shower for $2.50 at the city pool.
The actual geographic center of the continental United States is about a mile outside of Lebanon, Kansas, as determined by data from the USGS. This is the "center of gravity" of the US, the spot where it would balance on a pin if you had a big enough pin. There's a small park with a stone marker, and someone has installed a little trailer-sized chapel, big enough for four congregants and a preacher. There is also a small five-room motel right nearby, which has fallen into a sad state of disrepair. I guess when they built the monument they thought there would be more tourist traffic than there actually was. I was a little surprised myself that there wasn't more traffic. I guess even though it's at the center of everything, it's not close enough to anything to draw tourists.
There was a sign on the highway mentioning the geographic center, and it had mileages from the center all the major cities in the U.S. Both Boston and San Francisco showed up as exactly 1630 miles! I had planned this to be the symbolic halfway point of my journey, since I didn't know my actual mileage, but it looks like it may be more or less the real halfway point also! It feels like I've reached halfway so quickly, as compared to my Appalachian Trail trip. I guess that's natural, since this was much quicker. Timewise, at this point on our thru-hike, my Dad and I were only in Massachussetts or so. But it also feels like time passes more quickly by bike, perhaps because I'm in towns all the time, so I keep sync'ing up with the time scale of civilization.
I'm a little sad to pass the halfway point. It's a great milestone, but I can see the end of the trip looming large already. But perhaps those are only the Rockies. Anyhow, I try not to worry about it too much. I haven't worked up enough of an appetite to attempt the half-gallon challenge (an tradition from the Appalachian Trail where you eat a half-gallon of ice-cream at the halfway point), so I just climbed up on the monument and thought long and hard about being in the middle of things. If anyone can think of a better ceremony to mark halfway, please email me and I'll do it belatedly. Who knows, maybe the real halfway point is still ahead of me.
After Lebanon I headed on a little further and camped outside of Smith Center, KS. This morning, Wednesday the 5th, I rolled through Smith Center and stopped here in Kensington to update this journal. My next destination is Denver, CO, but I'm not sure how long it will take me to get there.