Day 43: The Windy City is... Dodge City, KS
87.6 miles. 767ft elevation gain.
WHOOSH. The sound of the headwind we encountered today along our ride.
HUUUGH. The sound of my straining to pedaling each gust of wind that nearly brought our group to a halt.
Maxwell here! We left the comfort of our hosts Adam and Kassie's house to conquer the Kansas prairieland. Today's ride from Great Bend to Dodge City was defined by the headwind that we battled. We struggled and strained against the headwind, riding slower than our typical pace and complaining the whole way. In fact, we biked through the wind into a towering wind farm, like Don Quixote charging towards his enemies.
The wind turbines probably indicate there's a lot of wind
Riding into a headwind is its own class of difficulty. With, say, riding in the mountains, there's difficult uphill climbs, but zipping down the downhill afterwards makes the climb worthwhile. However, the wind is a constant, persistent obstacle. No matter how fast or hard you pedal, the wind will always slow you down, with no delicious downhill reward afterwards. A tailwind is... great. But the headwinds we faced were... not great.
Initially we rode spaced far apart as we typically do, with each person battling the wind on their own. However, fighting the wind as a team is easier than fighting it individually. There's a technique called drafting, where cyclists in a group ride together in a tight formation to collectively fight the wind and make the ride easier for everyone. Elsewhere, birds fly in formations to reduce flying difficulty, and trucks on highways follow each other tightly to improve fuel economy. Why not apply it to cycling to fight the wind more effectively?
The four of us on bikes rode inline roughly five feet apart, which was noticeably easier than riding far apart. The group leader would break the wind for everyone else, with everyone following the leader closely, and ride in front for ~30 minutes. Afterwards, the leader would fall back to the rear of the group and draft behind everyone else, getting some much-needed rest.
This technique worked quite well, but required considerable mental attention. No longer could we zone out and enjoy the scenery, but we had to pay attention to our spacing and be on standby to brake/slow down to avoid collisions. However, for slightly more mental effort, we got significantly reduced physical effort.
Today, I tried audiobooks for the first time! I had some hesitancy about audiobooks distracting me, but they actually helped me focus and get in the zone. I listened to the first fifteen chapters of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the basis for the sci-fi movie Blade Runner, and just let the miles fly by.
Midway between New York and San Francisco!
Another pastime while biking was looking out for grain towers and using them as navigational landmarks. The land surrounding the highway was often just bare fields, but occasionally a ten-plus-story grain tower would reach into the sky, waving in the heat-distorted mirage of the highway in the distance. Grain towers, massive concrete towers used to store grain, indicated civilization -- a gas station, a cluster of houses -- so I looked for them quite enthusiastically. I'd measure distance in terms of grain towers passed, instead of looking at my GPS watch and getting an actual answer.
Find the car below the center tower for scale
At one of the gas station water stops I found a Kansas University Jayhawk cardboard mascot in the dumpster, which I lovingly stashed in my bike's handlebar bag for the rest of the ride. I think the Jayhawk gave us the extra boost we needed to finish the ride.
After more endless stretches of fields, mirages of grain towers, and fighting tough battles with the wind, we reached Dodge City. We learned that Dodge City was once a rough frontier town for the Wild West, with shootouts and murders a common occurrence in the late 1800's. Today, it's a bit more tame, with a nice downtown and a delicious pizzeria/brewery where we had dinner.
Our hosts Lindy and Warren treated us to the Dodge City Brewery, where some of us had local beer (we're all over 21) and all of us had delicious pizza pies. We learned about the sailboat that they previously owned in Dodge City, as well as the lovely historical artifacts that they collected in their house.
After a long windy day, we returned home, learned how to make mug cupcakes, and got some much-needed rest.