Thursday, June 16, 2011

Short sleep. The hospitality of Hudson Kansas beats all.

I was up and at 'em after a short fake sleep punctuated by many, many train whistles. I jumped up and packed quickly when I became aware of an incoming storm. Sleep was impossible for anything over twenty minutes or so - the busy train crossing was a few hundred yards from the park. Instead of putting up a rainfly, I decided to pack the whole operation and get into town. I was quick enough to miss the rain, but the shower didn't last for long anyway. My new phone told me where breakfast was lurking. I laid waste to a breakfast buffet that was better than you might think. I was impressed by the volume and quality.

I have a plan for Kansas, and it's now in full effect. When conditions are favorable: I go far. The weather is unpredictable, and I don't need to dilly dally and dig for difficulty. Today I planned to reach Hudson Kansas, a tiny town 86 miles from breakfast. Not a huge distance, but a good chunk considering that I'd just ridden forty miles the previous night and only got a short strange style of sleep. I set off.

It was a long hot day, but the winds were mostly in my favor. The winds were also 20+ mph and steady. Long sections were thankfully smooth sailing. Head winds and strong wind from the side made life interesting.

All day, I used Stuart's policy of asking people questions whenever I had the slightest hint of wonder - or just wanted confirmation. I flagged down a couple cars to confirm which road I was on, or confirm that a certain road was just ahead. People were invariably happy to help.

I was hot and exhausted when I reached the tiny town of Hudson. Upon arrival I asked a porch-sitting lady if there was a place to get food - a grocery or a cafe. The cafe was closed, and the store had shut down years ago. She invited me to sit and have an iced tea. I happily obliged. I asked where the park was, and she gave directions: two blocks further. She offered to bring some food later, after she picked up her husband from work and they grilled something. Her name was Cheryl. We finally introduced ourselves before I rode the two blocks to the hot and noisy park.

I spent a miserable hour or so in the park. The wind got stronger and the grain tower across the street was humming like a massacre. It's wheat harvest, the sun was beating down, and wheat-loaded semis scrambled everywhere like giant meandering ants. Also, a storm was brewing. My new fancy phone said so.

The clouds grew dark, and I decided I'd better get a tent up now. It looked more like I was flying a big kite on a short string. The moment I had it set up and staked down, a nice elderly lady named Sally pulled up in a minivan. She offered to open the community center directly across the street. I couldn't be more thankful. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I packed up and walked over. It was air conditioned - a luxury that hadn't even crossed my mind. Too good! And quiet!

Sally showed me around. Memorobelia from the now-closed high school is on display inside. The town of Hudson is shrinking, and soon the post office may close as well. There is a much-loved cafe run by Sally's son, but it was unfortunately closed today and has a sporadic schedule.

It's my understanding from what I've read that the school closes first. Then when the grain tower goes... that's it. I wondered if Hudson had a future, or whether it was only this calm dwindling present. Day by day, not counting hours. The photographs on the walls of the community center reminded me of the youthful photographs of a hospitalized cancer patient. I wasn't sure how to feel. I had the indifference of a passerby, but the interest of someone who has read a bit about the decline of small mid-western towns. I was now witnessing the precise play-by-play. It was by the book. Who will bring cookies and milk to the cyclists when all of these towns are erased from the maps? Like a diver exploring a coral reef, I was looking at scenery that might not exist in fifty years.

I was all set up inside the community hall. My situation had impoved markedly. Mercifully, Zumba class was cancelled due to a lack of attendance. Talk of Zumba quickly fizzled, and the couple people who had shown up were happy to get back home to beat the storm. Cheryl and her husband brought a plate of food - a steak hot off the grill and some sides. I was starving, and this was a major improvement over my Rice-A-Roni contingency plan. No sooner did I finish my dinner, then Sally showed up with homemade ice cream, cinnamon rolls, and a gallon of milk. It's a deal. I had two offers for a hot shower, and I went with Sally because she offered me a ride up the street and back. The weather was looking bleak to say the least.

I had food, I had a shower, and I had shelter. Everything was perfect. I sat around for awhile to chat with Sally, her husband and her son. We watched the storm warnings on the television, while they told me about other notable cyclists who had been passing through Hudson since 1976 when this route was established. Looking at the warnings of tornadoes and hail on television made me feel even luckier that I would be sleeping indoors. As soon as the rain began to fall, I was given a ride back to the community center, and a key to lock up when I was done.

I drank about half a gallon of milk and put a big dent in some cinnamon rolls and ice cream.

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