Thems're The Bitin' Flies (USA Day 53)
An air of anticipation crackled over us as we awoke at four, tumbled out of bed and packed to leave. It was going to be hot: 105 Fahrenheit at its peak, which is getting towards 41 Celsius in English money. Nervous, we strapped on headtorches, lit up our bikes like Christmas trees and ploughed with vigour into the cool blackness of a Kansas predawn.
The massive cattle trucks that run these narrow roads give me shivers as they roar past during the day. When it’s dark, and you’re only ninety percent sure they see you, and they’re made of hundreds of tonnes of steel and beef and diesel, it’s hard to feel confident you’ll stay three-dimensional. In an effort to be visible, we waggled our heads, dancing the beams of our headtorches about on the road, and sighed with relief when each truck passed with a respectable distance between their fenders and our elbows.
When the sun finally rose, we defrosted somewhat, though this heralded the new challenge of searing heat. Nevertheless, by the time we reached our intended stop of Tribune, it was still only lunchtime and we were barely even simmering.
The thing is, neither of us wanted to stop here. Firstly, we’d met a woman travelling east who’d spoken in awed tones of a church in Sheridan Lake: cool, air conditioned, with fridge and bathrooms, which welcomes cyclists with open arms. Thing is, it had plonked itself on the TAT, but 30 miles beyond Tribune, and in literal Colorado. So far from our planned destination, but so tempting.
Then there were the flies. You get an ankle-biter every so often over here. It’s happened ever since we left New York. But from late morning onwards, every time we stopped, they descended in nippy clouds. We’d pulled in to the shade of a grain elevator for a 60-mile snack/wee combo, then promptly retreated again, pursued by a ground offensive of red ants and a squadron of persistent and hungry flies, nibbling us all over. Snack forgotten, full bladder re-absorbed, we sprinted off, slapping ourselves like Morris dancers.
So here’s the problem. It’s barely lunchtime and you’ve cycled seventy-five miles to avoid the heat. Now you have to pass the afternoon, the hottest afternoon you’ll have ever endured, slapping at flies or sweatboxing your tent. And before you ask, no, Tribune didn’t have bars worth propping up or cafes to while away time at. It’s not that sort of place.
We looked at each other through fly-bitten eyes and shared an unspoken truth. We were getting to that church. Back on the bikes we climbed, pedalling through air so hot that it burned the backs of our throats. We tried stopping just the once and were assailed so quickly by the big bad bugs that we turned on our heels and fled once more. Calorie-low but shifting miles like free samples, we found ourselves riding into Colorado without ceremony, but with an urgency that can only come when you’re being pursued by killer flies.
We’d hoped, in vain, that these were a Kansas thing. Maybe they’d see the state line and call it a day. Colorado’s no place for naughty little buzzers. It has bears, for God’s sake. Sadly, no. We entertained ourselves by playing a version of ‘Simon Says’ where the person in front slaps the part of their body that the person behind shouts out, in an effort to kill a fly.
“Right shoulder!” I yelled. “Left bum cheek! Left bum cheek again! Middle back! Both bum cheeks!”
When I blinked, my eyelids felt hot. Every minute or so I yowled at a nasty nip from my insect pals.
Sheridan Lake couldn’t have come fast enough. 103 miles into our day, but still only just having reached three o’clock thanks to the early start and the backward shift into Mountain Time, we holed up in the church which, as advertised, was cool, spacious, free of flies and full of lemonade.
When Danelle came around to collect some paper plates for an upcoming wedding, she too commented on the flies. They’re just normal house flies, she said, which every so often get ideas above their station. It’s an old wives’ tale that when they get bitey, you’re in for a big storm. It’s weather related, for sure. The sudden hot weather after a cool spring must have brought them all out at the same time or something. Whatever the case, we’re hoping it isn’t that bad tomorrow, because at some point we’re going to start biting back.
Today: 103 Miles
Total: 2457 Miles