Riding on the Wind Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page
The Herald, Friday, March 30, 1990
Riding on the wind
My ride from Rock Hill to Vernal, Utah, was an undertaking that grew in magnitude as it went along.
I didn't realize until around 1,200 miles into it that I had challenged a truly awesome chunk of real estate. I had taken a 1,350 mile trip from Rock Hill to the Florida Panhandle and back, but this time I was getting a real idea of just how big America is.
Having lived in Rock Hill since the age of 2, and having traveled only on the eastern seaboard prior to the Utah ride, I found myself totally astounded at the scenery in the Rockies, but nobody had prepared me for the beauty of Kansas.
The state is like a table tilted with the high side to the west. There is a constant but gradual climb toward the Rockies. The state's "flat-as-a-pancake" reputation comes from the views looking to the north of the south. The lack of trees and the nature of the terrain usually offers you a true horizon in every direction. The overall effect is staggering. The sky looks huge.
The road maps didn't prepare me for the scenery, nor did they prepare me for the wind. The air moves quickly across Kansas and it was directly in my face the whole time. One day the local TV weatherman said I had endured a sustained 50 mph headwind. I have tried hard to forget the wind and remember the incredibly friendly people and the scenery, but the wind made an indelible impression on me.
Besides being a bicyclist's nightmare, the wind in Kansas gives the state a lot of its special character. I enjoyed the local newscasts where somebody tried to report "on the scene". Here's some guy in an expensive suit holding a microphone and trying to look real serious. The wind has taken his silk tie and wrapped it around his neck twice. His jacket collar now covers one of his ears and his hair sweeps back and forth across his forehead. No aging reporter would dare wear a toupee in Kansas.
I saw Kansas birds flying backward. They would get two feet from a telephone wire and hang there in midair flapping desperately. Slowly the wind would push them back the way they came and they would drift downrange tail first, still trying against hope that they'll reach the wire.
I passed through an encampment of grain silos marked by a road sign indication: CAUTION: WIND CURRENTS. If the wind roared through the maze of silos just right, it created a strange and dangerous turbulence in that short stretch of highway.
I hid behind one of those silos to eat my lunch out of the wind, but once back on the road I was totally exposed. The only relief I found was in the draft of a slow-moving cattle truck. It's easy to imagine what price I had to pay for that.
The cattle trucks in the Midwest are big double-decker tractor-trailers. The drivers have to stop and start very slowly, as 40 cows on the hoof represent a load that will shift heavily with the least sudden maneuver. The rig produces a great draft as it slowly accelerates, but the smell is atrocious. The few times I was able to draft on one, I finally slowed down and let it go.
I was almost in Nebraska before I thought to ask what town Dorothy and Toto were supposed to be from. I was told that Liberal, near the Oklahoma border, was claiming to be the Town Under The Rainbow. After all these years, I no longer believe that a tornado sent Dorothy to the Land of Oz. I now thinks she was launched by a cattle truck that zoomed past Auntie Em's house on a normally windy day.
Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page