Saturday 2 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 19: Liberal to Great Bend, KS (87 Miles)

Click here for route flyby.

Today was notable for a number of reasons. First and foremost I believe that I have won £1 and €1. All will be explained presently readers. Today’s stage was the toughest stage of the tour I have experienced so far. The route profile (gently downhill) and just over 80 miles looked pretty straightforward. What I hadn’t bargained on was the wind, and what a wind it was! The base wind blew at around 20mph for the whole stage. Sidewind gusts of up to 40mph during the morning more than made their presence felt especially on the exposed sections of the ride.

Today was a day where my bike handling skills were fully tested. Riding in these conditions required considerable concentration, both to stay upright and to avoid being blown into the rider next to me. Trucks approaching us created maelstroms which threatened to knock me off the CV. Trucks overtaking caused, if I was lucky, a sort of suction effect which pulled me along a tad faster for a few yards. If I was unlucky and the truck was unable to pull out then the effect was quite different – a rather violent vibration which rattled both me and the CV.

Today The Fabs and Greg linked up with some other riders – Barry, Bruce and Kathy – to form a septet on the basis of strength in numbers. We deployed a variety of tactics with mixed success. These included trying to form a through and off chain gang as well as a spot of echelon riding. With the strong winds, lack of experience of riding together, variable road conditions and a mismatch of strengths it was hard work to maintain any consistency. I have an unfortunate tendency, when reaching the head of a chain gang to go hard which can put the riders behind me in difficulty leading to gaps opening and the loss of rhythm. This is partly the result of my solo riding in windy East Anglia where I tend to use headwinds as a substitute for the absence of hill climbs. Well done, riding in a disciplined chain-gang is almost an art form. If this has whetted your appetite then have a look at this British Cycling video on You Tube

It was fascinating eavesdropping on the team over dinner. I think, that without exception, everyone had found this to be a hard day. But the chatter over the dinner table was the sound of weary contentment. Happy, weary contentment. I really enjoyed listening to folk share their perspectives and reflections. As I have said before, a good route makes a good ride; great riders make a great ride. As the tour progresses, days like today are the ones that build the relationships through shared experience. What in my view is brilliant, is the amount of mutual support that is evolving as the tour progresses eastwards. There is little sense of competitiveness in the group. Instead we each have deeply personal experiences in our saddles and on our bars which we share, sometimes with a few words and sometimes with a few looks and nods across the dinner table. This is one of the things that makes me eager to get back in the saddle day after day. So, I just want to say to the team and the crew – well done us!

The route continued to take us across the flatlands of Kansas on those now all too familiar long, straight roads often lined today by immense wind farms with the turbine sails rotating gracefully. Underneath was long green grass which swayed and rippled in the wind. Occasionally it almost seemed to be waving us along. At the small hamlet of Kinsley we reached a landmark, we had arrived exactly at the midpoint between San Francisco and New York. Our own route from Los Angeles to Boston means that we still have a few miles to go before we reach our midpoint. But it was a very satisfying feeling to know that we were now officially in the centre of the US of A.

On most days we pass a National Historical Monument or Site. These are usually marked by a stone engraved with information about the site. Today, one such stone caught my eye. At Pawnee, just before reaching the town of Larned we passed the site of the birthplace of Farm Credit. The 280 acres of land here were collateral for a loan made in 1917 to a stockman to support his business. At that time loans were almost impossible to obtain or were very expensive (10% interest per month was the base norm). As farming was vital to the US economy Congress passed the Federal Loan Act which made long-term land loans to farmers and ranchers. With start up funding initially provided by Congress the mechanism has since repaid all the government money and is now entirely owned and financed by the farmers and ranchers it supports. These stone markers are a constant source of learning and enjoyment for me. This is another richly rewarding aspect of the tour and one that keeps me fully engaged.

Our route sheet had highlighted the Pawnee Rock State Historic Site as a place worth visiting, even though it was slightly off the route. So a few of us did indeed divert and visit the site which is located on a small hillock, the only one for miles around. The hillock is capped by a viewing platform so, as the CV has spent the last several days moaning about the lack of a good view, I decided to give it a treat. Access to the viewing platform was via a narrow steel spiral staircase which was no obstacle to us, despite several of my riding companions suggesting that we abandon the quest. Abandon it? Not a chance! With perseverance and a bit of cursing we eventually managed to get to the top and the CV was delighted with the view. I thought it was pretty good too. If you’d like to see it, it’s on my Instagram (click here).

Now, I did say that today I have won £1 and €1. Bruce, who we were riding with has been dipping in to my musings on this site. He commented that I seem to write quite a lot of stuff about history and so on and was pretty sure that I would tell the story of Pawnee Rock in today’s report. Rather rashly, he even bet me £1 and €1 that it would appear on these pages. Well Bruce, I’ve got the last laugh as today’s history story was the Farm Credit one. Bruce works in financial services so I hope he’ll appreciate the irony! And Bruce, I am happy to receive payment with some cold, golden, 3-5% strength liquid that pours out of a green or brown bottle…

If you want to know more about Pawnee Rock then get on the Interweb and Giggle it. It’s actually a very interesting story!

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