Kansas: Finding a Daily Oasis in the Windblown Desert of Grass

Kansas is tough for cyclists. I got through it by looking for little redemptions.

I’m mad at Kansas right now. The relentless wind broke my pinwheel and streamer. It tore at the Velcro adhered to my speaker. Worst of all, it tattered my optimism about this whole ride.

On day three of Kansas, I started calculating how many more days it would take to cross the state. I made a seven-day “Kansas escape plan.”

The “Kansas Escape Plan”

On day five, I was so disheartened that I estimated how many total days left of the ride. I just wanted it all to be over.

On day seven — the final day — I was ready to GTFO.

Crunching numers helped. Another part of the Kansas strategy was to look for an oasis each day when the heat, flatness, wind, sameness, and humidity really set in. Here are the cool sips of water I found while crossing the “grass desert” of Kansas.

Kansas Day 1: The Athleticlub Pool in Scott City

Scott City, population 3,800, allows cyclists to camp in its town park. Even cooler, though, is the option to bunk at the community rec center. For $15, I was given a small room with a mattress and A/C, as well as access to the indoor pool.

“Nice tan!” a ten-year-old boy commented on my half-brown half-white legs. A dip in the pool was worth being laughed at for my rad tanlines.

Kansas Day 2: Pie at the Ness County Fair

I wasn’t expecting this one at all. I rolled into Ness City for a midday meal before heading another 20 miles to the camping area in Alexander. The lady at the grocery store directed me to the county fairgrounds on the outskirts of town.

The fair was not in full swing yet. It was a little too early in the day for the carnival rides and the BBQ showdown. But I was just in time for pie. The 4-H club had made at least six varieties, all for $2 per slice. I had two slices — both a la mode.

Kansas Day 3: The Laundromat in Larned

I wasn’t planning to stay the night in Larned. I had hoped for more mileage that day, but a nasty headwind for 20 miles got the best of me. Defeated, I gave up at 11am and checked into a motel for the first time in the 45 days of my trip so far.

After relaxing a bit, I stuffed myself at a Chinese buffet. But the most refreshing “oasis” moment of the day was the laundromat. It was air conditioned with Wi-Fi so I loitered for longer than I care to admit. Watching my clothes being thrown around in the hot air of the dryer, I knew exactly how they felt.

Kansas Day 4: The Roadside Cooler of Water for Bikers

From Larned to Sterling, the TransAmerica route map warns you “NOTE: no services on route next 58 miles.” So I filled my two water bottles and stashed two extra in my panniers.

My water supply was adequate but warm as I passed through that stretch of highway. Then I saw a homemade sign that said “Water for bikers”. Curious, I pulled over and found a cooler filled with ice and plastic water bottles. It was outside a house. What a kind thing for those Kansans to do! I chugged a cold water and pedaled on, refreshed.

Kansas Day 5: Deep Fried Everything at the Cassoday General Store

The town of Cassoday, population 129, has exactly one store. It’s the general store, the gas station, and the diner, all rolled into one.

I had several hours on my hands before it was time to pitch my tent in the town park. So I set up my keyboard at a table and wrote a blog post, relishing the air conditioning. The menu was a list of fried foods. I ordered a plate of chicken fingers with a side of mushrooms. Golden.

Kansas Day 6: A Tiny Plastic Lizard in Toronto

My endpoint for the day was Toronto, chosen for a wonderful Warmshowers host who took me in for the night. Her name is Jeanmarie, and she meets up with her guests at the Lizard Lips general store at the highway junction.

Like the Cassoday general store, Lizard Lips is a little bit of everything. It sells gas, fish bait, cold drinks, a few groceries, snacks, and a full menu of deli items prepared on the spot. They usually have a box of free donuts out for their patrons.

As a special touch for cyclists, they give out tiny plastic lizards with zipties to attach to our bicycles as a good luck charm. Take one. You’ll need all the luck and charm you can get crossing Kansas by bicycle.

Kansas Day 7: Cherry Tomatoes from the Garden of the Church in Walnut

My fellow TransAm rider Steve and I met back up in the town of Walnut. We rode the extra six miles east to a Lutheran church that allows cyclists to camp inside the community center. We pulled up to a picturesque little country church.

Steve scoped out the premises and found a small garden behind the building. The cherry tomato vines were heavy with ripe fruit, so we went for it. We filled a tupperware with our bounty, rinsed them off, and ate them like candy.

My Spin on It: Surviving Kansas

I’m about 25 miles from the border of Kansas and Missouri, so my time in Kansas will be served by midday tomorrow. I’m writing this post to help me focus on the highlights, to stop cursing Kansas in my mind.

Missouri will have its own set of nemeses — more heat, more humidity, and the steep little hillclimbs of the Ozarks. But now that I’ve survived Kansas, I feel like whatever comes next will be a relief.

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  • Reply
    August 2, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Definitely sounds like an ordeal! But the little things, along the way, make it worth it!

  • Reply
    John Ord
    August 2, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    I was sure Kansas couldn’t be as bad as described in your earlier posts.
    After all, Dorothy couldn’t wait to get back to it after visiting Oz.

  • Reply
    August 2, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Ahhh, my home State..where the wind doesn’t stop & the sun shines always…and the people are great. Glad you survived and thanks for the memories.
    Pat now in Ohio

  • Reply
    Anna Kristina Welch
    August 17, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    Hi Cynthia,

    I stayed at the Immanuel Church in eastern Kanas and got your blog link from there. Alicia said you were talking about how you would like to see more solo female tourists out there, so just thought I’d let you know I exist. I’m from New Zealand, I started in SF and came straight across from there to Colorado on the Western Express, now on the TA to Yorktown.

    Kanas did not agree with me either. What I thought would be century after century of flat cruising turned into a fight against the headwinds and a race against the thunderstorms. I will be glad to see Missouri today!

    One questions: have you used your pepper spray yet? I’m a tad worried about those dogs.

    • Reply
      August 17, 2019 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks for finding me!
      Haven’t needed the spray yet. Just yelling at dogs that chase seems to be working so far.

  • Reply
    Joe Culpepper
    August 18, 2019 at 12:19 am

    I am enjoying your blog along with Strava & Insty posts. Yes, KS is hard – we had 8 days of 100f+ temps & 35 mph headwinds when we went through & averaged only 50 mi. Per day there. But as you noted so well, it has its oases, its delights & blessings ,too! It also makes great stories to tell! Berea is one of my favorite towns which I’ve visited several times on car trips & 3 times on bike trips. The arts, crafts, food, & progressive college are always a joy! Have a great last week of riding & experiencing Appalachian & southern geography & culture! The Appalachians are a good challenge, harder than the Rockies for me, & a different mountainous beauty, then come Civil War battlefields, the James River valley, historic Jamestown & Williamsburg & the Chesapeake Bay. Enjoy!

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