Sunday, May 11, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 4: Kansas City, MO - Wakeeney, KS. Sunday May 11, 2014

     I slept comfortably at the hotel, but I still got myself out of bed by 4:00am. I didn’t want to sleep in too late- I liked getting as far as I could before the sun scorched the roads. I had to move my motorcycle off the sidewalk to the entrance of the hotel so I would have room to load my bags. I went out to my bike and opened my pockets and tried to feel for my key. It wasn’t in my jacket.

     I went back to my room. I searched the whole room and I couldn’t find the key. I looked through all my bags. Nothing. I went back down the elevator and asked the concierge if he had seen it. He said that he had not. My key was completely lost.

     After a ten minute freak out experience, I remembered that I had planned for something like this to happen. I took off the side cover of my bike which shielded the electrical components. On the inside of the cover, I had duct taped a spare key in case of an emergency. I was good to go.

     My effort to make distance before the sun came out proved to be pointless. The roads turned out to be pretty cold that day, and it rained a couple times. The wind was also nasty, and it made me wish I had a windshield, but who was I going to complain to in the middle of nowhere?

     I went north on 169 before taking a few minor roads to 116. 116 was a road that just went straight for hundreds of miles. No curves, very few elevation changes, and extremely boring. It put me in a bit of a trance, and I probably should have taken more breaks by the side of the road than I did. \


and straight… 

and straight 

     Over the course of the day, the weather let up. Even though there wasn’t much to see in Kansas, it was still beautiful. It was even better since there were very few other vehicles on the road. I got to enjoy this strip of asphalt without any distractions- for better or for worse.

     I made my usual stops at different gas stations along the way. Most of them I had never heard of: Sinclair, Kum & Go, and some independently owned gas stations that didn’t belong to any recognizable franchise. They sold Pepsi gas, but since I wasn’t on the busy interstate I had to make do with whatever gas stations were available.

     By the time I was twenty miles outside the campsite in Wakeeney, Kansas, the weather and terrain completely changed. It was 90 degrees, there was tumbleweed everywhere, and the area looked more like a desert. The change was so quick that I didn’t even notice the transition. Trees were replaced by low lying bushes, and the air felt dry and arid. I slowed to about 50 mph because I didn't want to stress my motorcycle's air cooled engine.

I felt like I was in the wild west 

     I reached the KOA campsite in Wakeeney too early to check in. The office hours were strange; something like 10am-12 and 4pm-6, and it was 2pm. All the KOAs I stayed at were privately owned, so different campsites under the KOA name had varying rules and amenities. They all shared a few things in common, such as the brand of cabins and most importantly, clean bathrooms.

     I had about two hours to kill before I could check in, so I took a tour of Wakeeney. It was a very small town, and there didn’t appear to be too much to do. Since the town flanked the interstate highway and there was nothing else around, I could only imagine the purpose of this town was to exist as a stopping point for passing motorists. I went to the other side of town (two miles away) to a dairy queen to cool off.

     The dairy queen was run by a staff of fourteen or fifteen year olds who seemed to have no idea what they were doing. There was one worker in her fifties who was running around essentially babysitting them and trying to get orders prepared. The line in front of the register was short but moved slowly. I ordered an M&M blizzard, but the older woman stopped one of the kids from bringing out my blizzard because he made it wrong. I then saw her instructing him on how to use the ice cream machine properly. I wasn’t bothered by it. I had plenty of time to kill.

     I made a few laps around the town in effort to find something slightly interesting until it was almost 4pm. Then I came back to the camp, checked in, unloaded my luggage and went back into town again to get my motorcycle a much needed wash. A few minutes with the power sprayer got my bike looking amazing again. I then returned to camp and introduced myself to an older couple who had their RV parked across from my motorcycle. The older man said they were RVing from the west. I asked him how the weather was, since I was going to be passing through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada to reach California. He said they had just passed through Colorado, and it was snowing hard. My route was to take me through Denver, but seeing as how it was snowing, I knew I would have to take a detour. Cars have plenty of trouble getting through snowy roads, but if a motorcycle so much as touches a patch of snow, it just falls right over.

Clean bike! (Cabin I moved to in the background, and part of the RV belonging to the couple who helped me)

     The man invited me into their RV to discuss my route. I had never really seen the inside of an RV before, so it was kind of a neat experience. It was like a small house. It was very clean, the furniture was sophisticated and comfortable, and the tables were granite. It was basically a house in New Albany that had been taken through a massive car crusher and put on wheels.

     He pulled out a map of the United States and placed it on the coffee table in front of the couch where we were sitting. His wife was in chair at the short end of the table. He told me that if I wanted to get to San Francisco, I would have to pass through New Mexico and go around Flagstaff in Arizona. He pointed out the route on the map. He said the desert this time of year wasn’t too hot, so it wasn’t as dangerous as I had imagined.

     I then talked to him and his wife about my trip from Ohio and their trip from the west. The man said if he was younger, he would have gone on a trip like mine. His wife seemed to be more interested in how I was able to live under such rough living conditions. I felt a little uncomfortable, since I lacked a sense of smell. I figured that since I hadn’t showered in two days that I probably smelled terrible. It’s kind of strange explaining this to people, but I have never in my life taken in the scent of a flower or a skunk. Even with today’s advanced medicine, doctors have been unable to find the source of my inability to smell. We closed up the conversation and I went back outside to my tent.

     It was neat, but I never really understood the concept of RVing. I spend at least $60,000 on a living room which I take across the country once or twice a year with a ton of stuff I don’t need, get seven miles per gallon, and stay at an RV park. At the park, I still have to pay for a spot and I have to dump the bathroom contents (which is a very dirty job) and hook the RV up to an electrical box. If that’s not enough, I also have to have a place to store it and I have to service it like any other vehicle. Why wouldn’t I just take a car across the United States and stay at a hotel every night for significantly less? Or, at that, take a 42 year old motorcycle across the United States with only what I need to survive and camp every night?

     Whenever I unpacked, I thought of the movie Spaceballs. Specifically, I thought of the scene where Lone Starr’s flying RV crash lands into a desert, and the characters are forced to walk through the desert. He instructs Princess Vespa, who he is rescuing, to bring, “Only what you need to survive”. Since she is a stereotypical princess, Lone Starr finds himself and his friends carrying tons of her unnecessary luggage through the desert. That was me. I found myself saying “Why the hell did I bring this?” more often than “I should have brought…”

     Setting up my tent was a serious challenge. The temperature didn't stay ninety for long and dropped to about fifty five in fifteen minutes, and thus was accompanied by the strongest winds I have ever experienced. I thought Ohio weather changes quickly, but the plains changed my perspective. Ohio has nothing on the plains. My tent almost blew away as I was setting it up, so I went to the camp office and upgraded to a cabin for $20. I didn't feel like I was cheating, as this was my trip and my rules. Even inside the cabin, I could feel the wind blowing through the cracks in the windows and door. There was no way I could achieve any kind of rest in a tent.

     The cabin was essentially a miniature hotel room, minus a bathroom. It had electricity, heating, air conditioning, a double bed and two bunks, a plank off the wall to be used as a desk, and a chair. I felt like I was living the life of luxury, and all for $50.

All the KOA cabins look pretty much the same. This one is in Oklahoma, with all my belongings gorgeously laid out 

View of the cabin from the back wall 

     I took off my shorty gloves, and my hands had terrible sun blisters. I didn’t even realize my hands were burning since the wind usually kept me cool. They were in bad shape, and I really regretted not wearing sunscreen.

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