Garrett (garote) wrote,

Day 6 - An Epic Ride To Hutchinson

11:30am - Out on the road! My first order of business today was to pull in to the local Walmart and shop for some additional sun protection.  I ended up buying a cheap cotton "hunter's hat", made in China, sawing off the front half of the brim, and throwing away the rest of the hat.  I then ziptied the brim onto the front of the sun-visor on my bike helmet, extending it an inch in front and two inches on either side.

Here's a few shots of it from later on:


12:00pm - While I was tinkering with the hat, sitting in the lobby of the Walmart with my bicycle propped nearby, a woman came striding out of the interior doors and stood before me. She was about my age, with a pretty face, and grinning enthusiastically. She was dressed in the official Walmart uniform. My first impression was that she was going to tell me "you can't park that thing in here; go outside, vagrant!"

Instead, she began asking me all kinds of excited questions about where I was riding from, what my bicycle was called, what the weather had been like, why I had chosen to cross Kansas, et cetera. I was caught off guard. I was also in the middle of an operation on my helmet, and anxious to get on the road, and having trouble hearing the woman over the blast of the cooling fans perched in the outer wall of the lobby. I could tell she was a nice person, and I usually welcomed questions from strangers, but the environment and the timing were all wrong. I was probably rather cold to her.

Eventually she ran out of questions, and held out her hand for a handshake. I shook it, finding it soaked with sweat, and suppressed the urge to wipe my palm on my pants as she stood there. That would have really embarrassed her. Then she waved goodbye and went back inside.

I threw away the scraps from the hat and the ziptie pieces, and briefly considered going back inside to apologize for being so standoffish, but ... what would have been the point?

2:00pm - I finished "On Call In Hell" and started listening to "Outliers", by Malcolm Gladwell. About two hours later I quit the book, and will probably not return to it. I found the introduction and the first chapter - about Canadian hockey teams - intolerably slow. The evidence presented, and the conclusions reached, could have been summarized in two paragraphs.

I did have one interesting take-away thought from it, though. Gladwell postulates a "10,000 hour rule", claiming that to achieve mastery in any field of study, one must practice at least ten thousand hours at it. He also emphasizes the importance of an early start when practicing. During my own childhood, I easily put in at least 10,000 hours learning how to make my Apple ][ computer do tricks, which eventually snowballed into a career. But the thing about computer programming, unlike, say, Malcolm's examples of Canadian hockey or playing the violin, is that it's an endlessly expanding field of study. There has been constant, relentless innovation in the computer industry for 40 years, and the fine details of a language or a machine design that were relevant one decade can - and do - become totally irrelevant in the next decade. Ten thousand hours of practice in this industry doesn't get you a foot in the door so much as a spot on the treadmill.

So for me, and for everyone else in my profession, it's a process of working a continuous stream of hours, to adapt our "mastery" into a more relevant form. This makes me wonder: Since five years at Apple is at least 10,000 hours, what exactly have I now achieved "mastery" in? Build engineering? Test system design? Database or web programming? What kind of label could I apply to myself? I suspect that the right label doesn't exist.

With "Outliers" set aside, I decided to listen to something lighter, and began "Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett. It's a ten-hour listen. Little did I know that I would be on the road long enough to finish the whole book.

Some photos from the rest of the daylight hours:


10:00pm - I parked by the side of the road and changed from regular cotton socks to thick hiking socks.  As I sat in the saddle re-plotting my map, a cop pulled over behind me.  He got out and said, "Everything alright?"

We talked for a while about my bike trip, and about the weather.  "Okay," he said, "I was just making sure you didn't need any help.  I'll leave you be."

"Thanks for stopping to check," I said, "I appreciate it.  You did the right thing."

11:00pm - A train passed in the night, 1000 feet to my left, whistling and hollering.

11:30pm - I was biking northeast, past Belpre, and I felt the wind changing.  I wanted to figure out what the new direction was, so I began to zig-zag the bicycle back and forth over the road, feeling for the way the wind affected my momentum.  During one outward swing, I caught the profile of a coyote in the headlamp.  When I swung back, it was still looking at me.  (Coyotes are quite common in Kansas)

12:30am - I saw a grey shape on the center divider of the road, about 2 feet tall.  As I got closer, I saw it move.  The top part swiveled, and I saw two yellow eyes.  It was an owl!  As I drifted past, it spread its wings and flapped up into the trees north of the road.

12:45am - The constant crosswind was making me chilly, but I was still enjoying the ride as I cruised along the open plain and listened to "Sourcery". It was dark all around and the stars were out.  Then, I noticed some odd blue lights on my left.  Two long lines of bright blue lights, on the ground, and something that looked like a lighthouse at one end.

As the rows passed closer I observed that they were at right-angles to the road.  Eventually I rolled to a stop, confused, because I could see both rows of blue lights, one ahead of me and one behind, extending directly away to the north, as though they were outlining the edges of a road. But if this was a road, shouldn't I be in the middle of an intersection? I looked down, and saw that the curb continued without interruption. What was going on?

Some pokery with my phone revealed the answer: It's the Stafford Municipal airport!

Later on I discussed the find with Erika and she explained that the blue lights I was staring at were a taxiway, not a runway.

"Runway edge lights aren't blue. At an airport like that, the runway lights are usually activated by the pilot keying on the radio to a certain frequency - but some untowered airports (which Stafford is) have dusk-dawn lights. Also, it looks like the runways are turf, which is basically grass, cut short."

Ah hah! That explains why there was no intersection.

1:30am ... Picture this:

I'm on highway 50, heading east, being buffeted by a freezing 30mph crosswind.  It's late at night and I'm trying to make Hutchison because the motel in Kinsley was closed and St John is 5 miles north straight into the wind. The stars are out above me, but I can see the glow of Hutchison in the far distance, reflected on a layer of clouds.

I keep riding, and riding, and riding.  I spot field mice running along the embankment of the road. The temperature drops from 60 to 55 to 50, and the highway traffic gets lighter and lighter until it's just me. I'm staring down the highway, listening to my audiobook, plugging along at about 7mph in the irregular wind, and suddenly I see three massive forks of lightning crash down out of the sky, 15 miles ahead of me.

They light up the horizon, and for an instant I see a big round hole in the clouds, where they all came from.  Then the clouds shimmer with thunder, and I see cross-lightning, arcing down out of the hole and into the opposite cloudbank. WHAM! Then lightning starts smacking into the ground, 10 miles to the north, and 10 miles to the south, and ahead of me. Every five seconds, and WHAM, more lightning.

The wind picks up, and begins flicking raindrops into my face. Not enough to make a rainstorm, but enough to make me blink.  The lightning and thunder continue.  For the next four hours I push the bike, getting colder, and colder.  My face goes numb.  My feet go numb.  Hunger forces me to stop and eat my remaining chocolate and peanuts and drink water, sitting with my back against the side of the bike as an inefficient windbreak. I look up and see that the clouds have now obscured all the stars. I worry about being struck by lightning. After 17 hours, my GPS runs out of power and quits.

The road changes and I am forced to turn northeast, directly into the headwind. Gusts of freezing air punch right through my sweater as though it were made of fishing net. My pace slows to 5 miles per hour. I begin yelling at the weather. "Think you can stop me? No way! Nnnnoooo... Wwwwaaay!! GRRRRRR!!!!"

Eventually I struggle my way into town and stop at the first restaurant I see - a McDonalds.  There I devour two egg sandwiches, barely tasting them, and then ride north straight into the wind for another mile to the motel. By the time I crash into my sleeping bag on top of the bed, it is 6:00am the next day.

Erika says: "Here, in honor of your night out, a snippet of poetry.  This is from Hafiz, another Sufi mystic poet, like Rumi."

"I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious--
So kiss me."
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