By Kevin Boyle
If you’re a regular reader of Facts You Probably Don’t Need, you probably already know Kansas is a long ass state in the middle of a long ass country. As I often doubt the facts presented by the factologist in this newspaper, I had to see for myself if Dorothy would’ve been so happy to get back there after following the yellow brick road.
Some weeks back, Rick Horan and I set out on bikes to check out Kansas on our way to check out the Pacific Ocean. We started in Hilton Head, South Carolina and as some traditionalists do, we dipped our bike tires in the Atlantic Ocean to mark the official starting point.
Cute idea until my bike fell over and got washed by a wave. What a way to start. I had a flashback to high school English class. Mr. Settanni would’ve called that “foreshadowing.” Uh-oh.
Once on our way, we sought out back roads and country lanes, but Google maps makes sure you get some dirt and gravel roads and then occasionally tells you to bike through somebody’s private property. In the south? I don’t think so. They’ve got dogs and shotguns and sometimes they have dogs with shotguns.
As we pedaled our way through rural South Carolina, Georgia, and then Alabama, we saw rolling farmlands and lush forests, some sitting in a lime green swamp. Which sounds gross but looks pretty cool.
We saw lots of places that had buildings that they never bothered to tear down. And we saw Bud Light cans. The familiar litter in Rockaway is a thing in the south, too. We don’t think they were thrown on the side of the road as some kind of protest. We just think Bud Light drinkers are slobs.
And maybe they’re tidy in Kentucky because we didn’t see any cans along the road in the bluegrass state. Or maybe they just drink moonshine…
We’ve stayed in Airbnbs, motels, been guests in Warmshowers homes (a great thing where people open up their homes so cyclists can stay overnight, get a warm shower, and breakfast) and we’ve even camped. Tents and everything.
The motels have been one level of fleabag or another. A lot of them are owned by Indian Americans, like people that you see in Queens. I mention that because even in Alabama or Tennessee, they sound like they’re in a 7/11 in Ridgewood. And it was just with such an accent that my friendly motel operator replied to me when I asked what the rate was.
“What’s the charge?”
“Sixty?” I asked.
“And that’s all night,” he said.
“All night” cracked me up and yes, I fought the urge to ask for the 5-hour rate. Of course, they should’ve paid us to stay here. This gem in Shelbyville, Tennessee remains the scummy standard by which we compare all others.
The ride has offered a fascinating look at small towns across this big ass country. Some are clearly in hospice while others seem vibrant and welcoming. We’ve seen goat pageants, had a herd (a herd!) of cattle following us as if we were leading a cattle drive across the prairie, and seen funny signs, at least to me. “Dirt for Sale” directly across the street from a cemetery had me chuckling.
As for Kansas. It’s Groundhog Day. Wake up and bike. The scenery of a farm that doesn’t seem to be growing anything never ends. Do it again. And again for nine more days.
There’s really only one thing to look forward to now. And that’s quoting Dorothy.
“Hey Toto, (which Rick goes by now) I have a feeling we’re not in effin’ Kansas anymore…”