Wednesday 6 June 2018

USA Tour Stage 22: Abilene to Topeka, KS (108 Miles)

Click here for route flyby

After yesterdays’ restful rest day which I spent resting I was ready to get back on the bike this morning. When we arrived in Abilene a couple of days ago I felt the need to decompress. The riding, which I am still hugely enjoying, coupled with staying in a different hotel every night, following a diet which is more rather more fuel than gourmet and literally living out of a couple of holdalls, had reached a point where I just wanted to chill for a few hours. So it was a delight to be able to do so. Pete and Robin, one of the tour crew, went for a ride in the morning and Mary, another tour crew member and I took a gentle ride into downtown Abilene and found the most delightful café where we whiled away a couple of hours over coffee and a light lunch. I even managed to snag a fresh croissant which was just THE proper tonic to complete my decompression. Then when Pete and Robin joined us we did a spot of sightseeing.

So this morning the CV and I were ready to get at it. Little did I know before setting off what delights lay in store on the road ahead. Several years ago when I was working full-time, one of my mentors and a person who I had huge respect for told me that when I was writing or giving a talk I should always start with my conclusion. So here you are readers, I’m going to quote a few words from Lou Reed which exactly capture how I felt on the road today: “Oh, it’s just a perfect day.” Lou’s soaring vocals, the strings and the simple piano riff perfectly sum I what the CV and I were feeling. Here’s a link to the song; go on, have a listen. I’m sure it will make you feel good too! Sorry, if I’ve gone a bit sentimental here, but riding days like this are truly magical.

So what was it on today’s stage that made me feel like this? After the last, super fast stage we had decided to resort to the tourist routine and ride a rather more leisurely pace. Despite very hot and humid weather we found ourselves on some delightfully small, quiet country roads with hardly a car overtaking us. The countryside now is much greener and there are more trees, hedges, copses and woods. The terrain gently rolls around and the roads pick their way through the landscape seeking out interesting and stimulating routes. Single houses and small villages appeared along the way proving no shortage of eye candy. And some of it entirely unexpected. At one place we passed a long fence with wooden animals and nursery rhyme characters carved into it. At another, the call of a peacock enticed us to make a small diversion to try and spot it (we did!). And at yet another, Robin and I swept round a bend in the road to be confronted by the most magnificent view of the road sweeping down in front of us through a rocky cutting. The view literally took our breaths away. The incredibly smooth surfaces on what seemed to be minor county roads were a delight to ride on accompanied by the soft swish of rubber on tarmac as the soundtrack to our progress.

Headteacher Paula and Tracy planning the 2019 tour
The intense heat and humidity meant that this was one sweaty ride so we drank litres and litres of water and the SAG stops were critical too ensure we could take on fresh supplies. At our first stop in White City after about 35 miles we were soon joined by one of the local folk, a guy called Tracy who when he discovered what we were doing, insisted on giving Paula his business card, telling her to get in touch before next year’s tour so that the village could lay on something ‘special’. More often than not I have found that the people in the small rural communities we pass through are just so interested in what we are doing and are more than happy to chat or answer our questions. The second SAG, at a gas station, followed a long, hot, rolling section so I passed on the fare on offer from the Crossroads Cycling Pop-up Diner and instead bought an ice cream and a cold can of pop. And guess what? I had a lovely chat with the lady at the counter!

At the route rap this morning Headteacher Paula had flagged up a special treat. Pies. And not just any pies but award-winning pies.The Somerset Hall Café by the crossroads in Dover has a national reputation having won several awards over many years. The café was the brainchild of Norma Grubb who is about 90, and at the last count a grandmother 28 times over (she also has 11 great-great grandchildren). The café occupies a large open space in a building that dates from 1868. A glass display cabinet hints at what is on offer. At the back are bags of flour are waiting, ready for the next pie making session. Old farming posters and artefacts line the walls. Formica tables are set out ready for customers. The place was popular, very popular, with a constant stream of local people, farm workers and their families I guess, dropping in for lunch. Service was swift and while we were waiting large glasses were filled with ice cold water to help cool us down. And what of the pies? Well, being a bit of a traditionalist I had a slice of apple pie and vanilla ice cream and it was excellent. But if the truth has to be told, Mary’s Pecan Pie was simply divine. I offered to swap half of my pie for half of hers but she wasn’t having any of that! I didn’t even get a photograph!

Riding in to Topeka after the after the pies was almost an anticlimax. As we neared our destination in yet another out of town area it struck me that maybe, just maybe there are some elves driving ahead of us to unpack and construct the rather anonymous and featureless, but totally functional and convenient townscapes that our hotels are located in. Then when we leave tomorrow morning the elves will magically appear, take everything down and rush it over to our next stage town. Only kidding!

Once I had checked in to the hotel and showered I had a swim in the hotel’s pool to loosen up before dinner. And the just perfect day ended with a great meal – a nice light and wholesome shrimp stir fry. Crispy veg, some soft succulent shrimp, with hints of chilli, garlic, honey and ginger on a bed of brown rice. I couldn’t have asked for better than that. Chatting to Pete over the meal he remarked that he could easily have kept going for another 20 miles, so much was he enjoying himself. Of course he does go for rides on rest days! And do you know what readers? There’s a rumour circulating that tomorrow’s going to be at least as good. I do hope it’s true!

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