Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer in Kansas: Cycling the Mediterranean

 How you can tell you're in rural Kansas

I should mention at the outset that the Kansas Mediterranean is not a place, but that rare concatenation of high barometric pressure, negligible wind speeds, moderate temperatures, clarity of air and sunlight, all lodging in an overheated imagination the Ozzean fantasy that one is no longer in Kansas. And as this recurring kharmic loop I'm on seems to return me to Kansas at regular intervals, I've savored the few days of Mediterranea just past. I managed about 100 miles in Sumner and Cowley Counties, cycling empty backroads along shelter belts, woodlots, ankle-high corn and fresh wheat stubble.

The ride of choice

Rural Kansas is not in general a benign place, nurturing as it does noxious plants, oversized insects, rodents the size of lap dogs, the globe's densest skunk population, and serpents sufficiently venemous to satisfy any Pentecostal deity. This time seemed different. The woods and tree rows were a pandemonium of orioles, thrashers, mockingbirds, cardinals; the scissor-tails and mourning doves paired up on telephone lines. Generally when cattle grazing backroad pastures spot a bicycle, they heave themselves up and bolt off into the distance; this time, about 20 of them grazing along the fence stopped to watch as I passed, bolted in a body up the pasture, gathered at the fence to watch me pass again, and a second time galloped the fenceline to the corner to entertain their curiosity. I made their day.

In about three days of riding I met only two other cyclists on the road; the first day, in the rain a local chap on a mountain bike loaded with panniers, voluminous orange poncho billowing around him - from a distance he looked like a roadside utility worksite - just off on a two-day camping ride.

The second was a fifty-something fellow in cycling helmet, jeans and threadbare T-shirt on an old Cannondale road bike who waited at an intersection until I rode up, then promptly enveloped me in a fog of self-referential monologue. He was happy to meet a fellow cyclist and wanted to talk. It took me nearly 10 minutes of polite listening before I could extricate myself, in which time I learned that:
  • he had come nearly 20 miles from Ark City to the point where we were fated to meet
  • the bicycle had been given to him recently and had "changed his life" since he could now ride longer distances from home although he could not do the "35 miles an hour" required to keep up the pace on the local club rides, perhaps because he was a diabetic with a pacemaker (here he stretched the already capacious neck of his shirt to show his scar)
  • his wife had lost 90 pounds and had undergone two knee replacements on the same knee
  • he was an amateur radio operator
  • he had moved from Topeka in recent years
  • he now worked in his new abode for minimum wage
  • he had built his bike on the cheap from parts shopped off Craigslist
  • his income no longer permitted him to pursue his first love which was auto racing, nor did it permit him the discretionary income required to drive the old Corvette parked in his front yard back in Ark City, nor could his nephew afford to drive the said Corvette
  • he had just seen a beaver in a nearby ditch.

"Still love ya, baby."


  1. That is kind of hilarious. I've never met anyone who wants to talk that much when I'm out on a ride, but I do often get asked questions about my bike. I do most of my riding on a full-size folding bike. Once at a stop light, I even gave a curious fellow rider a demonstration.

  2. Still, it's rare to find someone interested in your bike - they generally want to show you theirs.

    1. Miguel, too bad you didn't have enough time to HEAR about his wife, ex-wife, girlfriend(s), incarcerated cousins and the like . . . Maybe next time.