Iola to Eureka - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 4, 2014

Iola to Eureka

Yates Center, making the most of what it's got
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"DON'T MUCH LIKE school," Mason said. That didn't surprise me from a nine-year-old. "Rather be fishin' or ridin' horses."

He puckered up a mouthful of spit and streamed it, unpleasantly but impressively, like a cowboy aiming at a spitoon.

I said I'd never ridden a horse and I'd never been fishing. He looked at me as though such a thing couldn't be possible.

"Had 50 hahces once 'pon a time," he said, studying my reaction for any sign that owning 50 horses might also be outside my experience. "Had to sell all but three o'them, though. We needed to buy a...". I've no idea what his father needed to buy because I didn't understand what he said. I think it was something mechanical.

"My sister kept her hahce but they sold mine."

"And were you unhappy?"

He thought for a moment and said: "A little, I guess."

I told him his face showed he'd been bitterly disappointed and he smiled in rueful agreement.

Mason had been playing with his younger brother and a friend in the stream that runs through the park in Eureka, my first town on the Transam route. You can camp in the park and the boys, bare-chested and agreeably grubby, were used to seeing cyclists but nevertheless curious. I told them I was going to San Francisco. I had to say it three times. Then one said: "You speak French, then?"

I answered in French that I did, but it caused only puzzled faces.

"Why do you ask, then?"

"Cos they speak French in San Francisco, don't they?"

I think he was thinking of New Orleans, where people did once speak French. Anyway, it struck me that perhaps Mason ought indeed to spend more time in school than riding horses and fishing.

I kept thinking today that the hills would finally wave me farewell. I have always thought of Kansas as flat, but it's not. The Flint hills are a series of irritating swellings. Like a gnat, they annoy without causing much damage, but they're no fun in quantity.

I rode gently, looking at nothing in particular, hoping for a chance of a break, when nature smiled and provided a shabby café on my left, at a junction. It didn't look much either inside or out but geography was everything and I ordered a burger, which is all that I could see of interest, and a Pacific-load of fizzy drink, and sat to read a magazine article about the coming of the Beatles to America.

In that, I was interrupted by a matronly waitress who wordlessly pushed a large notebook, attached by string to a pen bound to a plastic spoon, across the table for my attention. It was a cyclists' guestbook. And then I realised I was in the fabled Lizard Lips café, which will never make four Michelin stars but is far enough from any other café for cyclists to drip their way indoors in relief.

Well, the burger was less appealing than the chance to eat it in the cool. And the road to Eureka was of even less charm. But both did the job, one to revive and the other to get me to a town and its park and swimming pool that I remembered from my failed attempt to cross America by the Transam eight years ago.

I pitched in the park alongside a Canadian from Ottawa, Mark, who was about to spend his first night in a single-skin tent he had bought by internet. To my alarm, but less to his, it had come with instructions to waterproof the seams before sleeping in it. He was spending 20 minutes brushing his tent with a colourless liquid from a can.

I suggested, I hope politely, that the least I'd hope of a new tent was that it was waterproof, whether the seams or generally. But Mark just shrugged and said the company made only a small number of tents a year and that "it keeps the price down if they send them out without sealing the seams."

I hope he's happy.

The Flint hills, a rolling expanse of blue-stemmed grass (hence the name of the music that appeals to people wearing dungarees) on which cattle roam free
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Today's ride: 88 km (55 miles)
Total: 2,685 km (1,667 miles)

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