Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How Strangers Go out of Their Way to Help a Bicyclist

(Note: This one continues from Bob's bicycling log I posted yesterday. Before you read it, there's more to the story you need to know. That day when he was heading toward Burdett, KS, Bob called around noon from Great Bend to tell me his target, which was on Route 156, in an area that looks largely uninhabited. After our chat, I Googled to see if I could find a campsite for him, but with no luck. Just when I was about to give up, to my delight a place called "Elaine's Bicycle Oasis" popped up in the search results. It is in Bazine, about 20 miles north from Burdett and "a nice resting place for cross country bicyclist." But I had no way to tell Bob this because there was no cell signal in his area. The only thing I could do was wait for him to contact me through his computer. It was quite frustrating.

After he arrived at Burdett in the evening, not only there was no cell signal, but his laptop phone also stopped working. Fortunately we could still communicate through email.

With his unexpected bike trouble, there was no way for him to reach Elaine's Bicycle Oasis. Worse, it didn't look like he could find a bike shop anywhere close. I decided to take a chance and call Elaine's Bicycle Oasis, hoping to find help somehow. Can you imagine? Elaine, a woman I've never met and who didn't even know me, was so kind and helpful! As soon as I explained Bob's situation to her, she said she had a friend Dave living in Burdett who might be able to help. She called Dave right away, and Dave drove east of Burdett about 4 miles to look for Bob, but didn't find him. At the time I had lost communication with Bob again and couldn't find out his exact location either. I sent Bob Dave's email address, which Elaine gave me, hoping he would contact Dave in the morning. I myself also had a few brief email exchanges with Dave, who said he would go look for Bob again at sunrise. I could tell from his words that he's a man with a great kind heart. For some reason, I felt he's probably one of our generation, because it's hard to imagine young people these days would go out of their way to help a stranger like this.

Anyway, I'll let you read Bob's log now and, if you are a bicyclist who might ride across Kansas, you should definitely consider stopping by Elaine's Bicycle Oasis, for she surely will be the kindest host for you. And if you pass by Burdett, please say Hi to Dave for us. We'll never forget his generosity! – Xujun)

Burdett to Garden City KS 77.7 hot noisy difficult miles

by Bob Eberlein

Burdett, KS – I wake up lacking the enthusiasm to do too much, but still around 5. As my computer had died and I had gone to sleep last night Xujun had gotten in touch with Elaine who runs a bike hostel who had gotten in touch with Dave who lives in Burdett. Unbeknownst to me Dave was driving around looking for me. He was looking in the wrong direction, and would not have found me anyway. I hide well when I camp by the road.

I send an email to Dave and he replies right away. I tell him where I am and he says he will drive out to meet me in half an hour. I push my bike partially packed up to the side of the road so Dave will see it if he drives by then go back down the hill to break camp. I am just adjusting all my attachments when Dave drives up. We throw the bike in the back of his truck and he takes me to his house. It is getting to be around 7 in the morning.

I went to take another look at my wheel and tinker with it a bit. In addition to the bearings gone haywire the axle which has one part sliding onto another is not staying together. Between my seat which is starting to come apart at the seams and my wheel it looks like my ox died and my axle broke. I really feel like I am on the Oregon trail (though actually it is more the Santa Fe trail at the moment and I have had the nerve to attempt a short cut.)

We pop a little tyvek in as a spacer for the axle and hammer it down. The bike seems a little bit more manageable than it was last night, and I decide I can probably press on from there myself.

Thank you, Dave and Cathi! (Photo by Bob Eberlein)

Dave’s wife Cathi makes me some breakfast – cantaloupe, pancakes and eggs. It is a wonderful treat to get something cooked instead of eating jam on bread. Though I guess I am getting spoiled because when I was young I used to think just peanut butter on bread was sufficient fare for every meal of the day. Dave manages the computers in the local schools and tells me a bit about the system. It really is a different world from what I am used to. They expect to have 10 kids in the sixth grade this year. The vast difference in population density from suburban Boston makes me reflect on the nature of education and the educational system. Then I reflect, ironically, on what the METCO program (the outgrowth of the court imposed school desegregation action) would look like in Kansas. Get on a bus, 48 hours later get off. Then class? I guess it would be tough.

Dave prints me out what he can find on bike shops in Dodge City, about 40 miles away, and Garden City, about 75 miles away. The Dodge entries are old and suspect. Dave advised me to go to Jetmore then phone around to see what is really in Dodge, figuring things will be open by then.

I thank Dave profusely, get on the road and warble off. My wheel is still pretty flakey and will go for a while then push itself into the fender or make a grinding noise. It is kind of like hitting the breaks every few seconds. Still, I muddle on to Jetmore not feeling too confident about getting any distance that day. In Jetmore I stop and get some bananas and milk (ok and a little chocolate too) for a snack. I have a good internet connection and call the numbers in Dodge that Dave found for me. One is a different business. The other is a generic voice mail. I Google bike shops, find a sporting goods store and call them. They sell a few bikes but not parts and the man says he thinks Country Pedaler is still in business. He looks up the number and it is the same one I tried before.

Discouraged, I decide to try for Garden City, which is 50 miles anyway. Still, I am not hopeful and expect I will end up hitchhiking in the end. A few miles out of town I drop the packs and pull off the read fender. This, I figure, will at least get rid of the constant braking from the tire hitting it. It works. I have gotten the bike to the point were it just constantly grinds, bumps and wobbles. What an improvement.

It had rained a tiny bit in the morning, but as the morning wears in to afternoon the sun comes out and it turns pretty hot. About 20 miles out of Jetmore I get to Kelvesta. Not much there, but there is a Church with a water spigot. I drink some not hot water and fill my water bottles. That is the last nice place to stop before Garden City. It is too hot to feel hungry so I press on about 35 miles to go.

After a while I decide it would be a good idea to eat something even if I don’t feel hungry. I stop at one of the rare trees and eat the rest of my fig bars with warm water. The thought of sandwiches just does not do it for me. I have forgotten about the banana I bought but did not eat – perhaps that will become a late night snack. No cell signal – not even sure why I checked.

I get back on the road and ride. The bike is noisy, the traffic is a little heavy, the road is narrow, it is really hot and my feet hurt. I keep thinking how nice it would be to walk instead of ride so any time I want to snap a picture I could just do it. This is ironic since all I really want to do is get off my bike and get it fixed. I press on but my feet hurt so much I need to stop for a minute. There are no trees. I stop in front of a sign that advertises some organization is keeping the road clean and position myself just right to get shade. I ponder what it must have been like to cross this land with a cart drawn by dead oxen. I guess I am lucky.

The water bottles are so hot it is disgusting to drink from them, but I still try. I know I am not keeping up with my sweat, but the distance to Garden City is counting down. There are little sign posts 16 miles, then 14 (how could that have only been 2 miles), 11, 8, 6 then a sign welcoming me to Garden City. Actually nothing much changes except that the water towers are visible in the distance.

Eventually things resolve themselves and there are the Home Depot and Wal-Mart that Dave said I would encounter. I see a cop stopped at a light and decide to ask him directions. As I ride up he waves and smiles at me and drives off. Pretty strange I think, but a little down the road he stops under a bridge and gets out of his car. Apparently he wanted to give me some shade to talk to me.

I ask him about a bike shop and he points me at the most obvious candidate from Dave’s list and tells me they are closed on Mondays (a common thing for bike shops) but I can look in to see if anyone is working. Otherwise it will be Tuesday morning. He also tells me if I ride through town there is a motel that is not expensive and clean, though I don’t remember the name he tells me.

I ride to the bike shop and indeed it is closed. I can’t see anyone inside so decide to go eat some supper and start rehydrating. As I am returning to the strip with fast food places I double check the list Dave printed for me and there is another candidate nearby. I head there, a place called the Tinker Shop. It is run by two old men and is semi organized chaos. I like it, and they do have all kinds of wheels hanging from the ceiling. I go in and they hunt around for a wheel and can’t find my size but do find one that is a slightly different size (mine is 27 inch and they have a 700C rim which is a little bit smaller). It will work, but I need a different tire and all the road tires they have are 27 inch. That is actually the reason I chose that size some 25 years ago – easier to find tires. Go figure.

So still on the burping bike I head to McDonalds for an Angus Burger (these are actually pretty good) and lots and lots to drink. I check the internet for motels in town and all are over $65. I decide to take the cops advice and ride to the other side of town. I am also quite cold because of the air conditioning and want to return to the warm outdoors. A bank thermometer puts the temperature at 98 – pretty warm I guess, so it is not long before I again don’t like the sun. After riding through town I do find another motel – the Soft Pillow Hotel – it calls itself though everything inside says Super 8. Apparently it recently disfranchised. The rooms are only $45 so it seems a good place to put my head. I can get a good night’s sleep and catch up on things I need to do.

77.7 hot noisy difficult miles today.


Scott W. Galer said...

Xujun, thanks for sharing these posts from Bob's trip. I've really been enjoying them. I look forward to hearing the resolution of the bad wheel!

Xujun Eberlein said...

Thanks for reading, Scott. The resolution is coming...