I began my ride out of Garden City following the route suggested by Google Maps. The driving directions would have taken me due east out of my way, then south. For bicycles, it suggested an alternative road that cut out about 10 miles by riding a perfect diagonal line southeast. This took me parallel to some railroad tracks along a quiet back road with almost no traffic. It was an amazing find, and I spent the first hour of the day blissfully enjoying the solitude and stillness next to endless rows of corn stalks.
Then I came to understand why I was the only one using this seemingly perfect road. The pavement ended and I found myself slipping around on a dusty farm road that gripped my tires like I was riding through a sandbox. I had traveled too far to justify turning around, so I spent over two hours in the 95 degree heat attempting to get on my bike and ride, slipping out, walking my bike, attempting again, falling, cursing, sweating, guzzling water, running out of water, then growing dizzy. I eventually reached pavement and realized I had forgotten to apply sunscreen and my skin was forming a purple hue. In life, I have learned that sometimes you have to struggle a bit to gain a true appreciation for things, even the little things. I never imagined pavement would be on the list, but I actually found myself spending the afternoon admiring the asphalt, realizing how the invention of paved roads really made my life easier, particularly when trying to cross the country on a bicycle.
It was evening by the time I arrived in Dodge City, KS, a town with rich history from the frontier days of the Wild West. I was exhausted, and rather than explore the sights like every other tourist, I fell quickly to sleep in a dirt cheap, funky smelling motel.
I departed at sunrise, marveling at the way the rays of light glowed on a train as it churned and puffed alongside me while I found my pace. I had been warned by other cyclists about how difficult Kansas would be: the heat, heavy winds, and the same monotonous scenery day in and day out. The flatlands are more challenging than you would expect, as your back and rear end stay in the same position all day, often creating butt, neck, arm, and back pain.
That morning, however, I had a nice tailwind and a good audiobook and felt pretty pain-free. My spirits were high. After several hours of steady riding, I stopped for a delicious barbecue brisket sandwich and salad at the only place to get food for miles: the Country Cafe, a small truck stop restaurant near Mullinsville. The owner, Katie, told me about some of the other transcontinental people that had passed through including a hippie guy who was running barefoot across the country ahead of me, and I told her about my ride. When it came time to pay, she explained without any hesitation, "I've got your lunch. Thank you for what you are doing." As I pulled away, I felt exalted by the random kindness and friendliness that seemed to follow me on this trip.
As I neared Pratt, I was passed by a road biker going at an insanely fast pace. He looked more exhausted than I had ever seen a person look, and he barely managed to grunt a raspy "hi" as he passed. Then it hit me: the Race Across America must have caught up to me. While I had been giving it my all for the last month and a half, these people had left less than a week ago from Los Angeles, and were riding 20 hours a day at a pace of about 200–300 miles a day.
I started to see dozens of support vehicles and media vans following the riders. I arrived in Pratt and stopped at Taco Bell for a quick dinner and a guy had set up a full editing studio in one of the booths and was editing race footage for the BBC News. It was so exciting to have gone from being a lone crazy guy with a bike out in rural America, to suddenly being surrounded by a city that buzzed with excitement about the world of cycling. I spoke to dozens of people about my tour, each of them encouraging and enthusiastic about what I was doing.
The next morning I ran into "Barefoot Jake Brown," the dreadlocked hippie that I had heard about the earlier. He was incredibly friendly and told me about how he was trying to be the first person to run across the country barefoot, averaging between 1-2 marathons per day. He talked about his initiative called the bare sole project, aimed at promoting a global community and conscious lifestyle. He told me that he had chosen to live "homeless" since 2012, and explained how he provided a platform to share ideas and products for artists, writers, craftsmen, activists, and more. Through his website and run, he is helping a variety of charities through his efforts. I was inspired by both his efforts and the incredible callouses on his feet.
Later in the day, I passed a bearded aging cyclist that called himself Daniel Freedom. He was also a cheerful, easygoing guy and had been riding around the US for 11 years with a trailer full of belongings. As we chatted, he smoked a rolled cigarette, which I found to be a strange thing for a cyclist to be doing. As I handed him my card, he asked me what a blog was, somewhat baffled by the word. He explained that he had put more than 100,000 miles on his bike over the last decade, stopping in whichever town he liked, working for a while, then getting back on his bike and out on the road. In some ways, I felt the spirit of an old boxcar hobo as I talked to Daniel. He showed me some of the random faded flags he had picked up throughout his travels, along with the apartment of things he has collected and carried around the country with his legs. He was a homeless drifter, but a darn motivated one.
In the late afternoon, I arrived in the relatively big city of Wichita and found a cheap motel as there were few if any camping options. I grimaced as the front desk clerk explained that they had no vacancies on the first level and began heaving my bike up a set of stairs, nearly falling backwards from the weight.
I was ravenous from the day's ride and about at the halfway point of the trip, so I decided to celebrate with a trip to Golden Corral, a buffet that was less than a mile away from my motel. I cleaned and stacked empty plates with a fury, astonishing my waitress, and even attracting the concerned eye of the manager. I ate two giant salads, fried chicken, steak, mashed potatoes, rice, chicken, tacos, shrimp, meatloaf, ice cream, brownies, and then more ice cream. I heard that they have since gone out of business.
As my motel was right off of the highway, I navigated my way across it, and circled around the city to avoid the morning traffic, finding a pleasant bike trail that rolled along the river. I found myself riding through a wealthy neighborhood and was reminded of my early days at Providence House, biking at 4am to work at a coffee shop in Cherry Creek. I thought of those early mornings, when I had first quit drinking, riding from 8th and Logan before the city was awake. I remember looking at the perfectly manicured lawns of the wealthy neighborhood on 7th Avenue, which felt so disconnected from my situation as a broke alcoholic on the mend.
I remembered the urges and cravings that seemed to flood my brain during that first year of sobriety, and how toward the end of each morning's ride, the cravings and negative repetitive thinking seemed to disappear, being replaced by my heart pumping. Those morning rides gave me a blissful mental stillness that helped combat my alcoholism. This was when I first learned that I could use fitness as a tool to stay sober and improve my depression, riding my old bike all those early mornings, next to the perfection of those immaculate homes.
It was on those rides that I really learned to accept the things that I cannot change, which was otherwise just a mantra that I had mumbled in various recovery meetings. I learned to be okay with my situation as a minimum wage worker, and began to dream about a different and meaningful future for myself. It was on those rides that the guidance and support from all the meetings and counseling that took place at Providence House really turned into reflection — they began to take seed. It was on these rides that I found myself again, that I learned to pray in a meaningful way. It was where I found God, as I understood him.
I had somewhat forgotten about the powerful changes that occurred in my life on those rides until the memories came flooding back as I rode out of Wichita. I knew it was not a coincidence that I randomly found myself cycling through Wichita's mirror image of Denver's 7th Avenue, and began to feel rejuvenated, hopeful, and nostalgic toward the miracle that really happened in my life while I was at Providence House. I was excited to know that, through the efforts of my ride, this miracle would happen in other kids lives as well.
The urban sprawl evaporated into long stretches of corn fields, some with triumphantly thick stalks and signs displaying the patent code for the laboratory that had genetically modified the crop. The heat seemed to drain every ounce of energy out of me and I guzzled several quarts of water between each town, my gloves drenched in sweat and continuously slipping from the handlebars until I made it to Beaumont, a town with a population of 20 people.
The Beaumont Hotel was the only place to stay for 40 miles in either direction, including camping options. Despite the reservation my mom had made for me online, I arrived at the historic hotel and it was closed. I wandered around the side of the building, looking for a door and a man started yelling at me from a nearby building, and began charging me with a crazy look as if he was going to beat me up. I explained who I was, and that I had a reservation, and his manner changed immediately. He explained that he was the maintenance man, and after calling his boss he found me a room. He pulled the air-conditioner out of the wall, installed a replacement, and soon I was in the sweet bliss of its cool breeze. After cleaning up from the days ride, I wandered the property taking pictures and shooting video. The history of the place was pretty interesting, and I took a walking tour around the property reading signs about its history. In the 1940s, businessmen wanting to check on their cattle started landing on Beaumont's Main Street and in 1953 the hotel acquired 70 acres on the east side of town for an airstrip. Apparently, pilots now taxi up Main Street to the hotel, parking at the "Bent Prop Aircraft Parking" across the street, although I didn't catch any planes coming or going. I also perused the nearly abandoned main street, and took some pictures of a water tower from 1885, which is the only wooden water tower still in use in America.
In the morning, the maintenance man opened up the 1950s diner for me, which was closed for the day, and gave me some coffee and cereal. I filled my water bottles with ice water which became warm within an hour of riding. The road that I needed to take to the town of Chanute was closed, so I looked at my map for alternative options, realizing that I would have to travel over 20 miles out of my way. Meanwhile, I saw a fair amount of trucks were ignoring the sign and continuing on the road.
I waited until a truck stopped at the intersection and asked a guy if he thought I could get through on a bicycle and he exclaimed, "Yup, you can," then roared off without any other details about what I could expect. After 15 miles or so on the completely empty scenic farm road, I came to another roadblock. A construction crew was repaving a two mile section, and I panicked at the thought of having to turn around, but thankfully they let me pass through their work zone, weaving around all the workers and heavy machinery, leaving a bike tire track behind my path on the new pavement.
I arrived in Chanute and stayed at a historic art deco 1920s hotel that had been remodeled and was surprisingly cheaper than another option. I enjoyed the clunky ride with my bike up the old elevator, and the view of downtown Chanute from the third floor. Before continuing on to Missouri, I spent a day catching up on work for the trip and doing laundry, hanging my clothes on my camping rope which I had strung around the antique hand carved bed frame.
As I neared Pittsburgh in southeastern Kansas, my surroundings were becoming lush and green. I was passing over rivers on a more frequent basis, and feeling the humidity which seemed to add a whole new element to the summer heat. As the bugs buzzed and nibbled on my legs with each pedal stroke, I arrived in Pittsburg and found a park to set up my tent in my last stop before the border with Missouri.
Thanks for reading and all the thoughts, prayers, comments, shares, and donations to Providence Network. I just got the news today that my ride has raised $38,600 so far — I truly appreciate all the love and support for this cause!