Tornados…Locust Swarm…Golf Cart Rides and Cowboys.

Kansas

Waking up the next day, I was in pain…stiff and sore. I had a lot of bruising on my right knee, but really all things considered I wasn’t that bad. My partner had some hip issues and that led to some issues mounting and dismounting the bike, but he wasn’t doing too badly outside of that.

We packed up the bike and headed out on the road in search of breakfast. While at breakfast we made the plan to head towards South Dakota. We could have went anywhere at this point, but South Dakota seemed like a good plan before we would have to start thinking about heading back to Canada.

So with a target in mind, we starting taking the back roads heading North/West.

Kansas is beautiful. Wide open spaces of fields, farms and lots and lots of corn fields. But it is known as an agricultural state after all. Kansas, like its neighbor Oklahoma is in Tornado Alley and has severe weather. There are at least 50 tornados per year. This is also where the trailhead for the Chisolm Trail is located, in Aberline.

The band Kansas is named for this state since most of its band members are from Topeka. Other notable folks are: Joe Walsh of the Eagles from Wichita, Melissa Etheridge from Levenworth and Martina McBride from Sharon. Must be something in that corn that creates musicians!

We head on the back roads towards Medicine Lodge. This is a small town that was named after an arbor made of trees and branches that was used by the Kiowa Nation in their sun dance ceremony. One really cool thing to see is the Wisner Fountain, built by masons in 1917. It was used by both horse and humans to quench their thirst. It stands today with minimal restoration, a real tribute to days gone by. There is also a stockade which is now a museum. I didn’t stop in but wish I had. It apparently shows how families lived within its walls from May to September to avoid be attacked on their homesteads. Many men were sent from the stockade as scouts, to cover the miles of territory, looking for potential raiding parties. There are four markers in separate parts of the town to show the approximate size and location of the stockade.

Wisner Fountain, Medicine Lodge, Kansas
Medicine Lodge Stockade

We drove through the small towns of Pratt, Great Bend and Hays. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Hays is a pretty interesting place. It was the home of General Custer and his wife for a while. But also, in 1869, Wild Bill Hickok was the sheriff. Wow…I can only imagine the gunfights that ensued during his time. The bodies from those that ended up on the wrong end of a gun are at the Boot Hill Cemetery just on the edge of town. Other notable residents were Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody. I will get into the stories of some of these folks in a future blog. Damn, I love these stories.

Now it wouldn’t be a day of travelling for me without a mishap or as I like to think of it, an adventure.

I am now deathly afraid of gravel on the road. Since the bike mishap, every rock or pebble I see on the road makes me tense up and be afraid we will drop the bike again. I was working on getting over this, hour by hour and then…we hit a huge stretch of construction. This was not a one side of the road only piece of work….this was tear up the entire road and repair it and …gravel was everywhere….thick gravel that made it even hard to keep the bike up while we were slowly walking it and inching forward. I did what anyone in my situation would do…I got off the bike. There was no way in hell I was riding on this gravel while my partner was having enough trouble keeping the bike upright on his own. I confidently said” I am walking”…and away I went. Problem was, I hadn’t factored in the heat, the road conditions, the construction equipment and the distance….oh and the incline of the hill I had to walk.

I dodged bulldozers and dump trucks…I sweated out any Jack Daniels that had taken up residence in my pores…I walked the nasty gravel in boots that were more fashionable than practical and all the while I remained steadfast in my conviction that I would not ride the bike through this. Even as my partner eventually rode by on the bike. Far off in the distance, at the top of the hill, I watched him dismount with a sense of pride that he had made it and a sense of regret with my decision to walk…but that is just between you and me…ok?

I was pondering life as I knew it, when all of a sudden….down the hill at top speed came a ….golf cart…barreling (can a golf cart actually barrel?) towards me…as if on a mission to put me out of my misery. When it reached me, it spun around and the sweetest young man said ” howdy, maam…I was sent by that guy up the hill on the bike to come git ya”. I was shocked, but more importantly relieved since my conviction had left my body and dismay had set in. He gave me a quick ride up the hill…I got on the bike with my partner and we were off…me 5 lbs lighter from the self indused cardio and with my dignity relatively still intact.

We eventually find a spot to rest for the night and look forward to pushing on through Kansas the next day.

Onward we go…but today we get to witness…a tornado. In my hometown, we have only had two tornados in all of my …well, all of my years. (A lady never reveals her age, lol). One was when I was 4 and I remember heading to the basement with my parents and puppy, and seeing the aftermath of downed trees, torn off roofs and a window in my bedroom blown out. The second one was a couple of years ago, and it went right past my street but caused a lot of damage on the surrounding streets. Neither of these experiences gave me any cause to have an escape plan prepared in the event of a tornado. Let me just say…that changes quickly when you are riding beside one…on a motorcycle.

We are riding in sunshine and look to our left….and black skies are rolling in…really dark. And its moving fast. I do seem to recall a farmer in his field, with this impending catastrophe quickly approaching, calmly mowing his lawn. It was a little surreal. And then we saw it…the funnel. Likely not huge by Kansas standards, but to this Canadian girl, it was massive. And in the blink of an eye it was beside us. Now the strangest part of this is it stayed on our left…dark and foreboding and on our right…pure sunshine. At this point we start talking about what we should do….one: take all turns right and out smart it (yeah right), two: ditch the bike in the fields and try to find a place to lay low (and probably something to hand onto), or three: do we just drive carefree on our pre-planned route. We of course, chose to push on through and thankfully this weather induced monster stayed on the left and then eventually turned and left us to travel on our way. I do remember one particular comment in our discussions on strategy…”If you see a cow go flying by…let me know…and we will dump the bike and hide”…I won’t reveal which one of us cleaver minds said that, but I will say I know that only pigs can fly.

A Tornado On the Left….Sunshine On the Right

I am feeling like this post should be called “tales of the weather of Kansas”. Why you ask? Keep reading…you will see.

We are hungry and pull into the small town of Wa Keeney for some lunch. Wa Keeney is a tiny little town of 1800 people, and it is really a little depot for the farmers to get their food and supplies. Of note, it is the birthplace of Orrin Upshaw, an Olympic tug of war athlete in the 1920’s…who knew tug of war was an Olympic event…hmmm! Bellies full, we head out again. And shortly, it happens…a torrential downpour. If you read my post on Arkansas, you know where the rain gear went…and that it wasn’t with us.

Wa Keeney, Kansas

This rain came down hard and fast and we had no idea it was coming. We drove until we found a gas station with a huge roof overhanging the pumps. We dashed underneath, parked the bike out of the rain and decide to buy a coffee to warm up. This is where I met a real cowboy….by the very definition of cowboy.

Up pulls this pick up truck, replete with a bail of hay in the back. And out steps this tall, lanky and good looking cowboy. He has a cowboy hat, boots with spurs, lariat on his side and a piece of hay in his mouth, hanging out one side as he chews on it. My partner, who now has quite the limp due to the bike accident, is sauntering over towards the store in the gas station to get us a coffee. The cowboy, rushes over to help him with the door and says..” well partner….sure looks like ya’ll got a hitch in your giddyup”. Now…that had us laughing to the point of tears. I feel this cowboy had waited a lifetime to use that line, and it was perfect. This guy chatted with us and at one point took a phone call to ask someone to go check on an elderly lady he knew because she was ill. What a sweet soul he was. I will admit I had visions of hoping into his truck and herding the wild horses with him….but that is a different kind of story. 🙂

When the rain finally stopped, we head out again. And….we run into another issue. Now my partner really likes to push things to the limit…problem was…we were pushing the fuel level in the bike to the limit. Yes I know… we had hunkered down in a gas station a short while ago but having gotten caught up in the conversation with the cowboy, my partner forgot to get gas for the bike. Soooo….we are now in farm country, only farmhouses, barns, fields and livestock in sight, and up and down hills with no little town to be seen for miles. I am planning on how I will ask a farmer for some gas, or if we can sleep under the stars in their field…damn it, I just remembered the rattlesnakes and tarantulas….scrap that plan. We ride for miles on what appear to be fumes….and then…locus.

Locus Storm on Highway, Kansas I did not take this picture because I was too busy trying to hang on and not get one in my mouth.

If you don’t know what locus are, picture large grasshoppers flying…in massive swarms of 100s at a time. We drove right into the middle of a swarm of locus that was heading towards us. We got smacked, thwacked and slimed….over and over again. It made the riding tough because they make the road slimy when they are hit. The good news is, it momentarily took our minds off of the lack of fuel.

They say you should always be positive and believe that good will come your way. I agree….because it did. We reach the top of a large hill and as we are literally coasting down, there on the left hand side….in the middle of nowhere….was a gas station. And thankfully, by then, the locus beating was over too.

We pull in, park the bike and the owner comes out and is just starring at us. We smile and are being friendly and then he hands us some rags. Odd…nope…when we took our glasses and lids off we saw why…both of us and the bike were covered in green slime and locus bodies….and I mean covered. We used those rags with much gratitude, filled the gas tank and hit the road.

Aftermath of driving through a locus swarm

At this point, I want a room, a drink and no more bike for the day. And so we find the little town of Oakley and stay the night. The motel was clean and well named….The Free Breakfast Inn….and it had free breakfast. Well played.

Finally it was time to unwind after a very adventurous day. I figure if I can survive pestilence, tornados, torrential rains and gravel roads….I can handle anything that life has to offer.

Lets see how Nebraska will treat us! Care to outrun a buffalo?

Live Your Life! Jan

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