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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tour to Lawrence

I took some time off work so me and Corinna could do a 'honeymoon' around our first anniversary. In some ways, we've had honeymoons galore, but if I went into that I'd probably have to create a new content tag for 'TMI.' In other ways, we kind of didn't take a honeymoon at all. And what better honeymoon for us than a bike tour?

I planned a bike trip to St. Louis, make Clinton on the first day (a bit over 80 miles, a pretty big day for me but I've done more fully loaded). Then the Katy Trail to St. Louis at a leisurely 40 to 60 miles per day, camping where I can plug in my CPAP. Corinna likes to push her limits when touring, I think her record is 170 miles at a go, but I'm not all that fast and I like to be able to stop and take pictures. I enjoy the epic element, and I have set out to beat my distance record just for the hell of it, but in general, when touring, it ruins it for me to be informed that I'm so slow I can't take that picture because I have to make the miles.

So anyway, the St. Louis trip got canceled because of several factors including a sick kitty-cat, I think Corinna shelled out the lion's share of $350 keeping him alive, and the garden, where I managed to spend more than $500 expanding our already industrial-scale agriculture and a few other things that just seem to come up when you're already throwing green out at an unforeseen clip.

Which is, by the way, where I am grateful for the partner I have. Lots of spouses would just figure you should take that trip on credit, you'll get the money somehow. No, we weren't going to raid our emergency fund to take an emergency vacation.

I did manage with my wife's encouragement to take a small tour solo. By encouragement I mean we fought about how I was spending my days off. I'd canceled two of my four vacation days but still took a Thursday & Friday off. I took care of some errands that are hard to do when working, car repairs, CO2 tank stuff for my homebrew, but Corinna wanted me to go touring. We didn't have the budget for the original idea, and we didn't have the house-sitting to deal with us both going, but she really wanted me to get out there. I realized, by the time I was done pruning tomatoes and spraying fungicide on Saturday morning, the easiest thing was to just go. I don't have a lot of touring miles for someone riding a Long Haul Trucker anyway.

By the time I was a mile from home I forgot to be mad that I had basically been kicked out of my own house. I rode to Lawrence on K-32. U.S. 24 is a good way, too, and I did that a couple years ago with Corinna on Thanksgiving. But K-32 seemed to follow the river more, so I figured it would be flatter. Maybe.

It's skinier, anyway. And more motorcycle-ish. You could think motorcycles are the primary way people in America get around based on K-32 on Saturday afternoon.

I got to Lawrence in good time though, stopped at their Visitor's Center and was directed to go across on Sixth Street. The guy at the Visitor's Center pointed out that it had a sidewalk I could hop on. Well, no, generally, I don't ride on sidewalks: if they were meant for me they would be called siderides, and in any case the street is usually the safest and most efficient place to be if you actually want to get somewhere.

I rode the sidewalk. It took some time for me to realize that the lanes were wide enough to share about half the time, and that the other half of the time, well. Lawrence is a pretty progressive town, but even if nine out of ten drivers see a bicycle taking the lane and realize that means you change lanes to pass, that other guy, the one in ten, can really make it interesting when he tries to squeeze between the bike in the center of the right lane and the car in the center of the left lane.

Sixth takes you to a bike path, actually, which is world-class and goes right down to Clinton Lake along K-10. And from Sixth, this path is almost all downhill, just the thing if you're approaching 50 miles and tired.

The fact that I sleep with a CPAP kind of sucks at this point. There is a camp ground of primitive sites at Clinton where you can camp for free. But if you need a 110 outlet to plug your iron lung into, well, that's $20.50 and you pitch your tent with the RV people.

Fine people, don't get me wrong, but before my sleep apnea was diagnosed, my favorite camping spots were the places that were utterly inhospitable to RVs and where the camp fees were near zero. 110 Mile Park at Pamona was my all time fave.

But these days, the only way I could camp there is with a car battery and an inverter, and my touring bike already was almost 100 lbs without a car batter and inverter.

Corinna's tent turned out to be a snap to set up, and while I found stairs that led off to an adventure I was too tired to consider it. After walking off a few cramps and taking some sunset pics, I went to bed early and turned off my alarm when it went off in the morning.

My nephew's birthday party was the next day in Olathe, and while my alarm was set to the early side, my actual departure time pushed the envelope a bit.

I was going to ride the shoulder of K-10 coming in. It's boring and loud but relatively safe because it has a ten foot shoulder all the way. Yes, the cars are going 75-80 in a 65 zone, but they are a full lane away. Then, right outside of town, there's one of those signs that's supposed to be reserved for Interstates saying no non-motorized vehicles, etc. Did I want to push my luck? I couldn't make a two hour trek along that shoulder without being spotted by a sheriff or highway patrol cruiser, and what would they do? Tell me to exit soonest (a ways off)? Give me a ticket? Insist on giving me a lift along with a ticket? Get a pro and you'll probably have minimum hassle, they might even see why a reasonable person would ignore that silly white sign even if they can't quite muster full malfeasance on enforcing it. Get a Wyatt Earp type, though, and it gets ugly fast.

So I ended up on some alternative routes through asparagus country, through Kitchen-Aid country and running into a couple of roadies, one of whom was preparing for Race Across America on an 8-man team.

They advised me that the road I was on, 95th Street, wasn't really going to go through no matter what the map said. They had alternate routes, but mine might still get me to Austin's party on time. It involved gravel and in general I'm not a fan. Gravel roads are made of the shit they're supposed to sweep off a proper road, but unlike these two roadies, I have a bike that can deal with it and slow-but-direct tends to beat fast-but-out-of-the-way.

Santa Fe coming into Olathe has some truly epic hills. Not Granny Gear Artist hills, Walk of Shame hills. My bike with nothing on it weighs around 40 lbs (that includes racks and fenders). Put a camp pad, a two-man tent, food, clothes, a CPAP, the tripod for my D7000, sleeping bag and so on, well, you're pushing a hundred pounds. And on some of those super long, super steep hills, you're pushing that hundred up one step at a time. There's not a lot of car traffic there, but it's a skinny road with no shoulder, the hills are blind and the cars that do drive it tend to be going really fast. Guaranteed, it's more dangerous than the shoulder of K-10 if you exclude the danger of getting a ticket.

I made Austin's party, jut a little late. It was interesting riding into Olathe on 135th: this is not a street I would normally ride on. Like Sixth turned out to be in Lawrence, way too busy, way too fast, way too not expecting or respecting cyclists.

But I was the frog in the gradually heated water, and by the time I made Kansas City Road, I had ridden a couple of miles on a road I would normally bypass.

Austin got a Big Wheel for his birthday, among other things. I wore mine out, one of the all time best toys. My friend Jones has one for grown ups, rides it around Westport quite a bit—it's just not something that gets old doing donuts.

I had right at fifty miles going from home to camp site. More like 46 getting from camp to my brother's, though thanks in large part to those hills, it took almost two hours longer to get to the birthday fiesta.

So not huge miles, but they were mine. Solo, self-supported touring, a first for me. I didn't have to discuss my pace with anyone but myself, no arguments about where to stop for water or what to eat. I'm a fairly social person, so it wasn't obvious up front that I'd enjoy a trip like this but I sure did. Came back, in fact, itching to go back out and do it again. Not necessarily jump right into multi-day trips, but an overnighter, I need to at least do that more often.

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