Crossing the Great Plains

The Great Plains are vast and we hit them during a heat wave. Up at 5 and on the road by 6 to beat the heat, we crossed the as fast as we could.

Day 32: Pueblo to Ordway
50 miles

Day 33: Ordway to Eads
62 miles

Day 34: Eads to Leoti
80 miles

Day 35: Leoti to Ness City
83 miles

Day 36: Ness City to Larned
68 miles

Day 37: Larned to Hutchinson
72 miles

Day 38: Hutchinson to Newton
46 miles

Heading east from Pueblo (the locals say PEE-blo) we descended into The Great Plains. Pueblo is still at a pretty high elevation but the Plains drop ever so slightly as you head east. The grade is so slight that you really cannot tell that you are loosing elevation. For the first morning, we could see the San Juans to the West but sometime during the day they just disappeared into the western horizon and that was it, no more mountains.

The territory changes ever so subtly as you cross the Great Plains. The western Plains in Colorado are very dry, almost a high desert (many ranchers sold water rights to Denver). As you head East, you begin to see immense wheat farms that stretch as far as you can see and eventually as you get into wetter country East of the 100th meridian, you begin to see more variety in the crops and a few trees. This change occurs very slowly over a few hundred miles. So while Eastern Colorado is vastly different from Eastern Kansas when traveling by bicycle the change is so gradual that the overall effect is that the entire route is just one very long stretch of road.

Mostly cycling across the Plains was very hot, very windy and very flat. We quickly fell back into a routine similar to Nevada where we would wake a 5AM to be on the road by 6 to beat the heat and winds. Leaving at 6AM we would normally hit our destination by 1PM, check into a motel and hide with the air conditioning on until around 6 or 7 in the evening. Unluckily, when crossing the Plains, we hit a hot spell and it was over 100 every day, usually over 105.

Cycling through Eastern Colorado and Kansas was kind of a blur to us. We didn’t take a single rest day in an effort to push through to more hospitable climates. One day blended into another so that it now difficult to remember where a particular hotel was, or where we ate a certain meal, etc. What does stand out though is the immensity of the landscape. You can tell you are approaching a town when you can begin to make out the local Co-op grain elevator 10-15 miles in the distance. Over the next hour the elevator slowly appears larger and larger until finally you can read the writing on the side and you are there.

The Plains remind me of the ocean in their unrelenting monotony. I used to have dreams of sailing off the edge of the ocean. In the dreams, when you got to the edge, you could see that there was another ocean about 500 feet below the edge of the earth and water just pouring over the edge into the lower ocean. The Plains gave me a similar sensation. Looking out to the horizon in any direction, I felt that I was always just an hour’s ride from falling off the edge of the world.

If we happened to be in a slight depression, I got the sensation of being a dust particle sitting in an enormous dinner plate that curves ever so slightly up at the edges. If we were on a slight rise, I felt like a dust particle in the middle of the biggest stack of pancakes in the universe, puffy in the middle and sloping off before dropping at the edges.

We happened to be going through The Plains during the wheat harvest in one of the biggest wheat production years in recent memory. Apparently everything went right this year and created ideal conditions for the Spring Wheat. It was a record crop.

The harvest is pretty impressive and definitely broke up the monotony of the landscape. There are many, many workers that head into the Plains for the harvest, in some areas you will see huge rigs pulling extra wide harvesters which take up the better part of the two lane highway. There are also rigs pulling 5th wheels and full size mobile homes that are used to house workers and for temporary offices.

What makes it even more impressive is that driving down the highway, you can still only see a small portion of the plains. Often you will come across a dirt road with a sign with an arrow saying something like this: “Thompson Farms, Five miles East, Three North”. You look, you can’t see a thing, but it is out there.

The people of Kansas are great. So far they were the friendliest and most courteous people we have met. Every driver gives you room and waves and everyone wants to know your story. After cycling across the Plains, we developed a tremendous respect for those people. It is a tough place and a tough life but where and what would the rest of us be without the wheat farmers?

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