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Pictures from the road...

Traveling Will & Robin

Current travels: Three months in the wilderness of Siberia, Mongolia, and the South Pacific

Topic:

Fri
13
Aug '10

Children of the Corn

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My view of Kansas

After I left my familial mountain sanctuary I road down the foot hills of the Rockies, aiming toward that mile-high city, Denver. Heading there instead of going straight east from Loveland was a last-minute decision, but I was swayed by the opportunity to again see my friends Jeff and Allie, just back from their entirely fun wedding in Mexico. Staying in their beautiful new house, chatting and screwing around out YouTube provided a wonderful transition from the sloth of my Colorado sub-vacation and the isolation of my summer job.

Eastward, eastward, on 36 he goes; where he’ll stop, nobody knows… Civilization falls away fast if you leave the urban sprawl of Denver and keep the mountains at your back. Towns are fewer and farther between, slowing to a trickle until a new and more flexible definition of “town” is required.

A note on farm towns: This is  farmland in a way that no place I’ve yet been can match. Crops surround you always; the only noise to be heard while riding are the insects and the irrigation sprays. Not only does is all the land from you to the horizon devoted to farming, everyone in that same distance is devoted to that very task. There is no other industry. This is a land of real men, doing real work, driving real, real big tractors.

There’s a calculus to predicting what resources to expect from a given dot on a map. Towns, as a rule, have gas stations. The bigger the town, the more likely this is, but the remoteness of a town, even a small one, improves your odds. Gas stations, more important than even grocery stores or restaurants, mean ice & cold water from soda machines. They also mean cold Gatorade, air conditioning, and snacks — anything from Powerbars to (yes, I’ve done it) gas station hot dogs. This is an important calculation to get right, as I’ve already learned the importance of water in allowing the human body to bicycle distances it shouldn’t travel in summer heat it shouldn’t be out in.

Sometimes these calculations go awry. Take, for example, my first night out of Denver. Because of an unusually late start that day, it was dusk by the time I reached my destination of Last Chance, CO. No, really. With only my one reserve bottle left and 20 miles to the next town, a gas station was my first order of business.I passed the intersecting highway without seeing anything of note and had already crested the next hill, looking for the town, before I realized that the intersection was it. This time I noticed that one corner of the intersection had a small square of grass (which I soon learned was Last Chance’s attempt at a “park”), and on this square were two cyclists, standing next to a tent, waving their arms at me. These were two more young English gents, and though they offered some of their small surplus, I made do with the two liters of Gatorade a friendly trucker, stopped at the neighborhood crossroads, donated to my cause.

In other cases, though, the variables in the calculus simply need to be adjusted for local conditions. Now that I’m surrounded so deeply by farmland, the service is less likely to be a full-service (to me, anyway) gas station as a farm co-op. Much as Navajo towns provide “trading posts” — all-in-one gas/snack/grocery/post offices — these small farming towns ignore the through-traveler in order to provide the locals with tractor parts, fertilizer, miscellaneous hardware, and a small refrigerator with soda and energy drinks. This isn’t terrible — that life-giving water is still available from the bathroom sink — but oh, what a joyous return to civilization it is when my map shows me a population over 1,000. In fact I see one, half a state away…