Emporia, Kansas

I MADE IT TO EMPORIA!

This past week of travel has probably been one of the toughest single weeks of bike touring travels and that’s all to do with the weather.

I had anticipated leaving Tuesday, May 21 from Minnesota, but I was invited to participate in an Indigenous Research Retreat at the Cloquet Forestry Center right on my reservation. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity- I’m doing some research next semester. I wonder; can oral storytelling have a positive impact in the oral hygiene practices of native kids? Oral storytelling goes back as a means guiding us through this life for as long as we have been a people. I think there’s a space for it in contemporary society, but needs to be transformed a bit.

I wasn’t able to leave Minnesota until late Thursday night, making it to my friend, Brett’s place in the early hours of the morning Friday. He offered to give me a headstart Saturday by driving me to Hills, Iowa, with his amazingly patient (adorable, loving) son, Angus. The route I diligently crafted on Strava had me cruising the hilly back roads of the Midwest. Little did I know I would be in for countless unrideable hours. What I had anticipated to be a “warm-up” tour to Kansas, turned into an endurance race of it’s own breed.

Saturday I pedaled just under 50 kind miles across the rolling hills of northern Iowa. The thunder echoed, and the lightening illuminated the sky in every direction around me. I came across the PERFECT bridge to camp beneath and stopped about 4 miles before my goal of 50 miles. Can’t pass up a great, DRY, campsite when the impending storm is tickling your spine… I rolled out my dusty brown tarp, and my new sleeping bag (thanks Patagonia Austin for replacing all that gear that was stolen during my everest!) And texted a few friends as I heard the rain start to pick up. This would be the last moment my clothes were dry for the duration of the trip.

I woke to grey skies and rain. I set out on the crafty Strava route I’d been so proud of, and instantly arrived at my first “B road”. Minimum Maintenance Road (MMR) enter at your own risk. REGRET immediately. I spent over an hour moving just a half mile. I’d scrape mud from my bike with my bare hands. I should have been carrying it. Not pushing. I ended up having to re-route on paved highways pretty early on. That sucked. A proper shoulder on the road was a rare luxury, and much of the time, I just prayed people would notice the obnoxious cyclist forced to take this shitty detour. I was able to ride quite a bit of gravel which was largely rideable despite the soggy conditions. Re evaluating, I realized what should have been a 480 mile “direct” route ended up looking more like a 550 mile makeshift crap-show. This meant that I needed to ride 110 miles a day to make it to Emporia by May 30th. I rode until 10 p.m. on the second night, capping the night in Seymour, Iowa with 109 miles in the saddle. The spitting sky promised more bad weather, and I found a school that was under construction and slept curled up in a ball beneath an awning. I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. so I would be up and packed before anyone showed up for work.

I made it to the Casey’s general story by 6:00 a.m. beneath a completely black, dead quiet sky. I bought a large coffee, and shoveled peanut butter and trail mix into my mouth. (I’ve only managed to save up $800 for the next 6 weeks of travel, so I’m budgeting HARD, I’m used to having have saved quite a bit more). The rain and hail started early, so I made my way to the gazebo in the town square to enjoy my coffee and breakfast while I waited out this wave of storms. The winds were violent, the hail the size of dimes and rain came in sheets. Fun. I think. Tornado sirens start to blare, and I wonder, HOW WILL I MAKE IT 110 miles today? I wait until 7:30 before I hit the road. The lightening has calmed, I’d wandered back to Casey’s to look at radar on my iPod touch (new for this trip)!

I was legitimately scared, but offered some tobacco to Animikii, the thunderbird, letting him know I was listening, and this gave me a little piece of mind. I pressed on, hoping to cross the Iowa border into Missouri. More re-routing had me zig-zagging and climbing reckless hills. The black sky hung eerily above me producing cracks of thunder and zips of lightening. No houses, no anything. Vehicles careened around me and my blinking red lights causing puddles to launch into the sky, defying gravity and land on me making certain I was entirely soaked. Where were these tornado sirens coming from!?

I end up pressing on all day through Iowa eventually crossing into Missouri. I frequent gas stations with a miserable look on my face. I so badly want someone to give me a ride. I stop at a diner to buy a warm coffee and a plate of eggs for $7. A man offers me a ride after chatting for a while. I feel better, the rain has let up, and I reject the handicap. I can do this on my own, I think. I text people on and off all day to try and keep my spirits up. My flip phone is waterproof.

I end up camping just outside Gallatin, Missouri beneath another bridge. This one was nicer than usual. I could see the creek and there was a flat spot for me to lay. I had stopped at just shy of 100 miles, which meant I’d have a long day the next day. I didn’t care though, after nearly 8000 feet of climbing, and torrential rain/wind/hail all day, I was beat.

I rose early to grab coffee in town. I detoured from the highway to the tiny Casey’s and spent two hours sipping coffee with the various elders of that community. Hilarious old men who welcomed me into conversation despite my obvious odor. I love this part of touring- drinking coffee with people in gas stations of small towns. It’s great insight into the world I get to visit, and I get to shake up their worlds a little. I usually get a marriage proposal or two with each conversation. Nothin’ like a few aged fellers to make me REALLY feel real beautiful.

I ended up riding through more … rain/wind/mud/utter crap. I eventually end up making it to St. Joesph, MO with a raging smile. I was finally about to hit Kansas! As I pull into the city, the black sky initiated tornado sirens, so I found a Burger King to use the wifi and scope the radar. It was about 3:00 p.m by this time and I saw that nasty weather would carry on through the night. I googled the Greyhound schedule to see if there was a bus to Topeka. There was, and left at 2:00 a.m. $35 and I could cut some 150 miles off my trip. What would I do for nearly 12 hours though? Wait? I just ordered a vanilla milkshake. Was I just supposed to waste those calories? I decided to press on. I rerouted to a different, low key highway and the rain let up a bit. I was all smiles on a slight 20 mile downhill that dropped me into the Missouri river valley. I was about to cross the Missouri and I couldn’t have been more excited. I try to cross once. There’s an officer that says the water is too high and I can’t cross here. I can literally SEE Kansas, my route… I was just 140 miles from my destination and it was 6 p.m.

He chatted with me from the shelter of his SUV while the rain pelted me from the sky. I begged him to let me see “just how bad it was” and he said “darlin, you ain’t makin it across that bridge”. I asked him how far the next bridge was and he googled. “Only 27 minutes!” he exclaims. I sigh, that’s three hours on a bike.  He offers to call 911. I say I’m fine. He makes me listen to the radio; a tornado spotted in Leavenworth county. I pop my head up from the map, “hey, that’s the county I’m headed to…”. He shakes his head at me. He sends me off, tells me not to die and rolls his window up. I decide that I’ll hitch a ride from the next truck I see, except, as soon as I decide that, I don’t see another vehicle until I hit Weston. By then, I’ve recommitted to my journey. I got this, I think.

I get to the bridge at Leavenworth, and a car is being pulled out of the flooded ditch. The bugs are so bad that I have to put my bandanna over my mouth and nose. I finally cross into Kansas at 10 p.m after more than 120 miles in the saddle. I look at my map and find a way out of town. Just before I leave town, I spot another bridge. Dry camp. I wait for the cars to clear. I lift my bike over the fence, hop myself over, and scurry down the hillside. I slip on the mud and fall straight on my butt. I strip out of my soaked muddy clothes, and slide into my sleeping bag. I call the man back home to decompress about the hard day I had. His voice brings me comfort. I start yawning on the phone and he lets me go. I drift off. I got this, I think.

I wake to a turtle flopping off the bridge and sliding down the same path I’d slipped on the night before. I find a Casey’s and settle in for my daily coffee dose. Brett calls and we catch up a little. I think I only have 120 miles left. I got this, I think.

I climb, climb, climb up out of the city. It’s raining still, but I’m used to it at this point. My clothes are still wet. Still muddy. So, I try to think of the rain as a shower. Eventually the skies clear, and I am pedaling Tonganoxie Road. Signs alert drivers to share the road. Though there is no shoulder, I feel safer. The day blurs by, and by the time I make it to Eudora, I realize I still have a far way to go. I end up pedaling 130 miles into the night. I opt to take the Flint Nature Trail, which is good for about 20 miles, and then turns to un-rideable mud. I didn’t want to ride anymore hills, so, I stayed on the trail until I lost it in Osage City.  I set up camp near a bridge just outside Emporia. I could see the glow of the city and felt such pride that I said no to all those people who offered me rides. I made it, my two legs, and one gear.

I wake at 6:30 to a totally dew soaked sleeping bag. It’s cold, but the sun is out. I think I’m only 6 or 8 miles from town. I have a relaxing ride into town, and Vince (CHUMBA USA) lets me use the shower in their room. We meet, hug, hi-5, bullshit about bikes. It’s so comfortable. I feel like we’ve been friends forever. Really, everyone at CHUMBA have made such a positive impact on my life. I couldn’t have done any of this without their help, belief, and support. I text George (Broken Spoke Bike Studio), he’s changed my life, introduced me to bike racing, and been the best shoulder to lean on. He says I’m rad. I think he’s radder. I’m a very, very blessed woman.

I had such positive support from my bike friends through text messages. My friend, Clay, even offered to pick me up anywhere and drive me to Emporia if I couldn’t make it in time. I’m so loved, and for that, I radiate that love back into the world.

I’ll have my letter of intent up before race time at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow. I think there’s tracking, but I have no idea how, or where, or what that is. So, I’ll ask around and try to post link with letter of intent!

Tata, I’m gonna chill now.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Fellow Minnesotan here! Sounds like a brutal journey — glad you made it safely. Good luck at DKXL! Based on all the sh*t you overcame to get there, I have no doubt that you’ll crush it! On a singlespeed no less!

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  2. Mike ingram says:

    You are powerful Alex ! What an amazing journey, some spirits were surely with you, but it’s your power that pulls you through. Rock This Thing !!!!!

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  3. Aunt Denise says:

    So I’m thinking if the whole dentist thing doesn’t work out you should just become an author and write a few books. Love reading your blogs! Good luck in Kansas, and as always stay safe!

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  4. Alicia Larson says:

    Gooooooooo get em, Alex!! Pulling for you from Tucson!! Remember when we met on Redington and talked about Kanza?? Now there you are and here I am. Love and goodness to you.

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  5. Paul W. says:

    Wow, just wow! You are tough!

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  6. MIKE IVANCIC says:

    Hey Alex, It was a pleasure to meet you at the DKXL. I was also on a SS with the military kit on. I know you have heard it so many times, you truly are inspiring and the toughest girl I know (next to my mom, of course). I have told so many people about you and have been keeping an eye on your divide race. Cant wait to line up with you again.

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