Hitting The Flats (USA Day 44)
Oh wow, this heat.
It’s the kind of heat that brings you out in a panic if you stand out in it for a few seconds. It requires factor 70 sunscreen, which I didn’t even knew existed. It makes you sweat in anticipation of going outside. Stepping out of a Walmart, after just ten minutes amongst its air-conditioned aisles, we were hit with such a shocking blast of heat that we assumed the weather must have taken a sudden spike. Nope – the same heat we’d been out in all day. No wonder we’ve been battling headaches.
Today’s ride finally took us out of the Ozarks after five hard days of riding southwest from St Louis. For twenty miles it was more of the same – steep little climbs over crests that rolled down again, almost nauseously, but this time they did end. The land flattened out and became, hmm, gently undulating, so we stopped to celebrate under a tree with trail mix and turkey sandwiches.
A tractor approached along this gravel road, braking as it reached us, then down rolled the window and a goofy head poked out: a farmer with blackened teeth, bare chest and overly-interested eyes.
“Those are some damn purdy bikes you got there.”
I didn’t have to look at Amy to know she was thinking the same as me: this is how horror films begin.
“Yeah,” I said. “We’ve customised them a lot so they’re just perfect for us.” It was the best short notice ‘don’t steal our bikes’ that I could manage.
“Guess that makes ‘em worth a lot, then?” he asked.
“Well, not that much,” I said. I made myself look big, which is hard, because I am not big.
“Yep. Guess you aren’t gonna have to worry about finding water, huh?”
This was a confusing turn. Western Missouri is dry. There are few towns and the creeks are brown. “Really?”
“Yep. Just wait long enough an’ it falls from the sky.” Then he let out a husky laugh and left us in the dust.
Only slightly terrified, we ate another handful of trail mix and cycled on, down arrow-straight but increasingly flat roads, until we reached Golden City, which is barely a city and really not golden, but contains Cooky’s, a cyclist’s Mecca, where we grabbed two slices of pie (plus one for the road) and hid in an air-conditioned booth until they closed. The chocolate pecan was gooey and luxurious, the too-bland banana meringue saved by a good salty crust and the blueberry, enjoyed twenty miles down the road at the Kansas border, just sharp enough to compliment the rich, buttery pastry. Good, good pie. Good pie. Pie.
The road west from Golden City showed evidence of tornado damage: corrugated iron wrapped around trees like damp tissue, crumbled houses and silos, scored earth and trees ripped from their roots. We passed a field on fire, an attempt by the farmers to rid the ground of last year’s stubble, which hadn’t died back because of the standing water. A big helping of mulch and a controlled burn was their solution. As if the air needed to be any hotter.
By early evening we’d made it into Kansas, marking the beginning of a new challenge. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be contending with headwind, boredom and multiple stretches of fifty miles or more without any services whatsoever, not even clean water. Better bring a bottle.
Today: 70 Miles
Total: 1945 Miles