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The Herald June 23, 1989
Bicycling venture saved by kindness of Kansas people
The road will always be my paradise, but it's great to be back home. My 2,200-mile ride from Rock Hill to Vernal, Utah, was even more fun now that I'm well fed, rested, and recalling it all.
My first tale from out yonder is a study in human kindness. The treatment I received in Hill City, Kan,. defied all logic in this modern day, "couldn't care less" world.
It is a creepy feeling to hear your bike make a grave noise when you're 1500 miles from home. I was climbing a hill 3 miles east of Hill City when there was a loud pop. Any noise can spell trouble, but I felt this one through the frame. The next time I rotated the pedals, I had a sickening amount of play in the crank arms.
I pulled over and surveyed the situation. All I could figure at the time was that the bearings in the crankset had disintegrated. Whatever the cause, this was the worst road failure I had ever seen.
I gingerly pedaled the rest of the way into Hill City with my cranks wobbling and grinding. At a convenience store I talked with a friendly lady named Darlene who advised me that there was no bike shop in town, and the nearest one was probably 40 miles away. She knew a guy named Jeff Hart, though, who fixes bikes part-time. When she failed to reach Jeff on the phone, she gave me his number and recommended that I stay at the Pomeroy Inn, a bed-and-breakfast hotel at the center of town.
The Pomeroy, owned and operated by Don and Mary Worcester, would be my first experience with the bed-and-breakfast format of lodging. The rooms are cozy and simple, and the lobby/living room is the central theme where folds gather throughout the day to chat over coffee.
As though on a mission, Don and Mary took me under wing immediately and played Mom and Dad the whole time I was there. I quickly learned that the 100 year-old building and the caring people inside it combine to create an atmosphere that can't be beat.
Jeff Hart showed up in the evening and dismantled my bike's crankset with the special tools I didn't bring along due to weight considerations. Jeff quickly disproved my theory of bearing failure, so we looked closer at the problem.
The bearing cups are screwed directly into the bike's frame. We found that the threads inside the frame had broken from the stress and wear, causing one of the cups to pop out.
In short, my bicycle was fit to be tossed into a dumpster. My bike and I had seen 9 states in our eleven thousand miles together, but she had finally died an honorable death.
The diagnosis confirmed my fears that this trip was over. Even if I was handed a brand new bike free of charge, it would take me days to "dial it in." Continuous marathon bicycling requires a machine the body is intimately familiar with. The tiniest change in arrangement will quickly cause a stress injury under extended touring conditions. My ride through the Rockies would have to come some other year.
Jeff Hart refused to accept payment for his services although he had grease all over him from handling my chain. "I didn't do anything," he sighed. He was offering me a ride to a town with a bus station when he got a funny look and help up the bearing cup in deep thought. He mused, "What if we welded the cup to the frame?"
I had never heard of such a thing, and I was skeptical about bonding the two very different metals together. Still, there was no reason not to try it. My bike was already ruined, and I couldn't lose any more at the hands of a welder. That night and again the next day, Jeff and I failed to make contact with the man Jeff thought could do the job.
The second time we missed Jeff's friend, Don Worcester told me to put my bike in his El Camino and drive to a machine shop in Bogue, 10 miles east. Don had known me less that 24 hours when he handed me the keys to his car. Don kept saying, "You're gonna ride that bicycle out of here," long after I had given up on it myself.
Marveling at Don's hospitality, I drove to Bogue and found Kysar Machine Products, an outfit that fabricates and repairs for the Kansas farmers.
By all descriptions, the Kansas farmers frequently destroy their equipment under normal use, and they expect (and get) Kysar Machine to fix their stuff one more time. Dan Bedore looked at my bike and instantly set all other projects aside.
Dan began by welding the bearing cup to the frame with a welding rod that costs $25 per pound. The rod was developed to weld any metal to any other. After the weld, Dan hand-cut brass shims for two hours, trying to get the bearing play at the cranks just right.
Meanwhile I met Doug Kysar, the shop's owner. I told Doug that I liked how everybody in Kansas waves when they go by. Folks wave at each other and at strangers as well. It's a reflex action.
Doug agreed, saying that he was raised not far from Bogue, and that's the way it has always been. Doug took his Kansas roots to Los Angeles and was in for a surprise. "I waved at people on the freeway for four years," he said, "and they never waved back."
I said it was ironic how I met such friendly people on the road while my friends back home were worried that I didn't carry a gun. That reminded Doug of his own "take a gun" story.
While he was living in Los Angeles, Doug had some folks come to visit. This particular couple considered guns to be a part of their wardrobe. Doug took the pair to Disneyland, and when they got out of the car the man looked at his wife and asked, "You got yer piece?" The wife nodded and displayed a handgun in her purse. The man said, "I've got mine, too." patting a bulge under his jacket.
Doug was appalled and said the armed duo would sure get the entire group arrested. "You can't take a gun into Disneyland!"
The man took a defensive stand. "You never know who's in there."
Doug said, "I do too know who's in there - Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Leave the guns in the car."
Dan Bedore worked on my bike all afternoon and I was prepared to pay any price for my miraculous mechanical recovery. Doug Kysar shook his head and said, "Take your money down the road and give it to somebody who needs it. Good luck in your travels."
True to Don Worcester's prophecy, I rode my bike away from Hill City toting some fresh Gatorade and a loaf of Mary Worcester's homemade bread.
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