Flyover Country

Part 3: Westwards

Monday, 27 May 2019

I have arrived in the Bible Belt. Registration plates carry the subtitle "In God we trust" (probably meaning that only he gets credit while everyone else has to pay cash) and Sunday Bible classes and lectures are advertised on every church. This religious fervour clearly leaves a deep impression on the local bikers, which are out in force on this sunny bank holiday morning. I always say that just because something isn't true doesn't stop many people to believe it, but the bikers out here go a bit over the top. At least 90 percent of them believe that a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops are the ideal equipment to wear when riding a burly Harley-Davidson motorbike. Nearly just as many believe that a head-scarf is offering just as much protection as my high quality crash helmet. My more pragmatic self makes the prediction that these morons all do have two big surprises coming their way. The first one is on the day when the quality of their protective equipment is tested when they collide with a truck and the second one (potentially three seconds later) is when they die and expect the pearly gates to open for them.
Never mind those irresponsible riders, a weak front has gone through and pushed that murderously humid airmass out of the way. The ride this morning is sheer bliss. However, 33 degrees indicates that I have travelled far enough southwards for my thermal resilience, so I have headed straight out westwards into the Great Plains (or, as one critic wrote mockingly, straight into Tornado Alley at peak storm season).
The ride follows the Ohio River a few miles to the north. Once I enter Ohio it becomes very obvious that the population density in Ohio is higher than in West Virginia. My circumnavigation of Cincinnati can nearly be called "traffic", but a few miles onwards I reach Indiana and the traffic is reduced to a few vehicles per mile.
Shortly before entering Bedford I find that classic style of motels that I myself (and probably a few other motorbikers) prefer over the new style one's:

Old style motel and the Marsupilami

One just has to carry the luggage a few feet, and the bike is parked right outside your window. Most of these places are family owned and kept in mint condition other than those big franchised places on the Interstate Highway system. This one is no exception, the rooms are spotlessly clean. That I notice after my shower that no towels have been placed in the room is really just funny. The lady owner promises "to sack myself if I do that again". Upon enquiring about the wireless access key I am told "sorry, no internet here".
I had 500 kilometres of great roads, delirious bikers, a bible belt and a near-miss with an overzealous squirrel today, but time-travelling back 15 years to when internet access in hotels was a hit-and-miss thing is rather unexpected. The lady owner explains; no internet provider out here in the American outback provides an internet subscription with unlimited data volume, so with her current (limited) subscription she can just do her own slow speed internet, but is unable to provide free wireless access for her guests.
I suppose if president Trump wants to make a lot of those people that voted for him happy, then he would pass a law that makes high speed internet access in rural areas of the U. S. compulsory for any ISP to offer for any customer regardless of the location. If no ISP is willing to offer such services, then Uncle Sam should foot the bill and provide this as a government service to every citizen for a moderate fee.
For me however that is no problem, as the place has a reasonably good LTE cell network reception - and my U. S. SIM card with a Brooklyn area code (347) comes with unlimited data in Canada, the U. S. and Mexico, so I probably have the best internet connection anyone has ever had in this peaceful place since Tim Berners-Lee invented it.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

When I set out this morning at 0930 hours it is 28 degrees centigrade. I certainly won't need my cold weather gear today. I have opted for highway 40, the oldest East-West highway in the U. S., opened in 1926. Out here Interstate 70 runs parallel, meaning that the highway was probably left as it was when the Interstate was built and carries very little traffic.
My plan for today is to traverse all of Illinois and make it over to the western shore of the Mississippi River. The ride is very enjoyable as expected and I see a lot of that Smalltown America that I like best. However, the Mississippi is a mighty river and bridges over the water are usually not built in the middle of nowhere, but near major urban centres. That's why I am heading towards St. Louis. I use the Interstate to get through this urbanised mayhem on 10 lanes of traffic as soon as possible - the temperature in town is at 35 degrees. I can't show you a picture of the Mississippi, but I have one of the Missouri which flows into the Mississippi north of St. Louis:

The Missouri River

However, that is not a normal Missouri in my picture, this is a massively floodwater-filled Missouri. There are floods everywhere and the land around St. Louis in parts looks like a massive swamp. And my idea to continue along the river on highway 94 soon proves to be a stupid idea:

Flooded highway 94, part one

Flooded highway 94, part two

So after 520 kilometres I decide to pack it up for today and head to Washington and an icebox of a motel room. As I am now well inside Tornado Alley I ask some locals what app they use to warn them of twisters in the vicinity. I am told that "Accuweather" is a decent app for this, so I install that on my phone and it immediately pops up a severe weather warning for Washington; tonight a big storm is going to cross the area, so the motel crew kindly allows me to park the bike under the porch where it is at least slightly protected from the elements.
For tomorrow afternoon more severe thunderstorms are predicted, plus the odd Tornado and more burning hot temperatures. I suppose that is "Midwest business as usual"...
By the way, I have found a way to not waste any food any more; every afternoon I pick up a sandwich at a subway. That sandwich feeds the average European for a full 24 hour period, is reasonably healthy and nothing is wasted.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The streets are still wet this morning, but drying rapidly in the hot air. Today I have opted for Highway 50 to carry me westwards. This route leads mainly through excellent biker country, so I wouldn't be surprised if we hear more about this highway in the coming days.
It appears as if fuel prices are dropping the further out west I bike. The finest stuff is now less than three dollars per U. S. gallon (3.785411784 litres). I suppose that French president Macron would have those Yellow Vests playing much nicer if that juice would cost this much in France:

Fuel prices in the U. S.

Refuelling the bike costs the princely sum of 10 dollars. I think I could very well get used to these prices. I have been asked what type of roads I actually prefer out here. Highway 50 gives me a picture opportunity to show you what I like best:

Rush hour in Kansas...

Another positive thing I notice is that the temperature is dropping. From 28 degrees at Washington it drops a degree every few dozen miles. Biking becomes very comfortable, so things to do pop up in my mind I wouldn't have thought about in the stifling heat; I stop at a car wash and clean the filth of thousands of kilometres off the bike.
I have to bike around the southern edge of Kansas City, which is fairly busy, but soon afterwards I am again on lonely Highway 56, ending the day after 420 kilometres at Baldwin City. The owner lady is very pleased to have someone from Switzerland in. Somehow she takes a shine to me and for allowing her a picture of my bike in front of the motel I get a free upgrade from a room to a suite. The place is quite nice:

The Lodge Motel in Baldwin City

The suite features something I have never seen in the flesh, so instead of the usual shower I'll have something else tonight:

I'm having a Hot Tub today

Thursday, 30 May 2019

I am certain that I have never seen a placard like this one in any Swiss hotel room:

In case of a Tornado...

But they are surely useful, considering that the town of Lawrence was hit by a Tornado on Monday - and that place is less than ten miles away.
And I think that I got the free upgrade to a suite because the room hasn't been used for a while and everything has a very light dust covering. Instead of cleaning it without it being used I think the idea was to give it to a guest so that a regular cleaning gets it ready for the weekend when the place is fully booked. But it was a nice gesture and the folks out here are super-friendly. Everyone wants to have a chat, so it is 1000 hours before I hit the road.
The highway for today is highway 56, but that road is much better known as the Santa Fe Trail. The ride today is a reversal of yesterdays condition; it starts with ideal 22 degrees, then during the day the temperature slowly climbs towards the 30 degrees mark again. But the ride is splendid and many scenic markers point out what a historic route this is:

The Santa Fe Trail

I also shot a lot of video material, which as usual I will add as an appendix to this trip log once the journey is over. Kansas is not known for challenging motorbike roads, but at least it is not completely flat like e. g. Oklahoma. Having started so late I ride a bit longer than usual and finish the day in Dodge City - yes, exactly, that Wild West town with Wyatt Earp we all know from the movies.
Nowadays the town is a sleepy provincial backwater and just right to stay overnight after an enjoyable 500 kilometre ride.

Friday, 31 May 2019

This morning I got a text message from Bob, one of our regular players in the Tag-O-Rama picture game I participate in for years. He basically has outlined my route for today, including a cosy place to stay for tonight. Bob is from Denver and knows the area in and around Colorado very well. I simply transfer his route into my GPS and off I go.
Initially the route continues along the Santa Fe Trail, but at La Junta it takes a shortcut westwards on a local road, only to rejoin highway 160 at Walsenburg.
Instead of pictures today I give you a video trailer that shows my arrival at La Veta plus some fine views of the Spanish Peaks.

Video 0:41 min, type webm, video codec: VP9, audio codec: Opus, 1920x1080 px, 50fps, 35 MB
Music score courtesy of Audionautix

Any modern browser should be able to play my videos, unless that browser was made by Microsoft.

It will appear that Bob is a fan of traditional pioneer style lodging, while I myself prefer the old fashioned motels where each room has its own door for reasons already explained. Squeaky floorboards, thinly insulated walls and doors, swamp coolers for air conditioning, no foreign credit cards accepted and the lot for 115 dollars is not entirely what I expected, though the place is clean, the bossman extremely friendly and the general appearance of the village is exactly what I like for my stays.

Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.


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