I bailed out of Council Grove in the early afternoon, glad to see the back of it. I was 30 miles ahead of schedule so I wasn't in a hurry, and that was just as well because highway 56 was throwing some pretty steep hills at me. If I made it to Topeka that would be great, but if I just got to Osage City or Scranton, that would be fine too.
The weather was beautiful. Warm and breezy. I started out wearing my blue sweater but packed it away after the first hill.
At the top of the next hill I saw some fascinating rock layers:
I sent a photo to Erika, who immediately dug up some interesting info about them:
The shells of many animals, those that live either in the sea or in freshwater, consist of calcium carbonate (calcite and aragonite). When the animals die, their shells are left on the ocean floor, lake bottom or river bed where they may accumulate into thick deposits. Most limestones are marine deposits, but some are formed in lakes, rivers and on land.
The landscape I rode through was a feast of autumn color. The hills were piled with layers of shiny red grass and brittle orange leaves, wild ochre berries, delicate yellow thistles, defiant streaks of late-season greenery, and twisted, skeletal branches. Occasionally the colors would bottom out in the gritty black of a dried-up pond. Loose herds of cattle picked their way disconsolately across the fields. Hawks roosted in the treetops, taking flight as I rolled quietly by.
The landscape, the air, the sunlight, the sounds - it was all so pleasant that I stopped at least a dozen times to get up close and personal. I took so many photos that the camera began flashing "battery low".
Every bridge was another feast for the eyes, and an excuse to stop and drink some water and lounge around in the sunlight. My Bryant and May audiobook felt rather incongruous because it was all about rain and sewers and darkness, but I only had a few hours left on it, so I let it run to the end and then switched to some airy guitar and harp music. Aaaah!
There were plenty of critters about. They were all a bit too large to poke with a stick, but oh well!
While cruising along near the town of "Admire", I spotted an abandoned house. It was quite a thrill to explore.
I also saw a sign declaring a private wildlife preserve, with a nasty surprise on top. I don't know whether it was left there by a hawk or a human.
Can somebody tell me what kind of fruit this is? It grows on trees in disused fields, or by the side of the road, and the fruit rots where it falls because the animals won't touch it. It's pretty hard, like an underripe orange. Anyone?
The whole of the day passed in fascinated exploration of the landscape. The shoulder was narrow but the cars were polite, moving all the way into the opposite lane when possible. I kept riding until the sun set, and then I rode on, making for Topeka.
Then, things got even better.
Just before the sun set completely, a haze of low-lying mist began to creep over the road from the fields. For a short while I was coasting along through a river of the stuff. It was some straight-up Washington Irving-style set decoration, so when the opportunity came along to up the ante, I went for it. Observe this SMS exchange with Erika:
"Dude. This is pretty amazing. It's the night before Holloween and I am sitting on my bike in the middle of some random graveyard at dusk in Kansas. I just spotted it and turned off the road on an impulse. Now I've shut off my headlamp to avoid detection."
"Sounds eerie and awesome."
"It would be spookier with the mist and everything but the passing cars make a constant rush sound and their headlights are wrecking my night vision. Oh well, still pretty cool."
I made a pit-stop in a little town to grab snacks and put my windbreaker on, and when I got back on the road I started listening to a radio performance of "The Crucible", complete with cackling witches and crackling fireplaces. The night grew deeper. I steered with one hand and crunched corn chips from a bag in the other, and listened to the voice-actors storming around in my headphones. I had no idea The Crucible was such an overheated drama.
I passed through a succession of small towns, the houses all bedecked in happy Halloween ghoulishness. Pumpkins glowing on porches, streamers and fake statues and seasonal lighting, the occasional coven of children and adults blundering around in costume and pausing to gape at my bicycle. Some of the yard decorations were way over the top. I saw a red mechanical tiger, made of plastic and lit from within, crouched down with its leering head rotating back and forth. A local brewery had wrapped netting and cardboard around the bulbous tree on their front lawn, making it look as though demons were bursting out of it. A house set back on a hill, visible through the skittering trees, was surrounded by a moat of dozens of lit jack-o-lanterns, each a different crude expression.
People out here are really into it, and I think it's lovely. It helps that they have all the raw materials and the time.
Eventually the play ended and I switched to creepy music, keeping the atmosphere going. The temperature rose again, from the low of 35, as I pedaled my way into Topeka. I arrived late but not exhausted.
What a wonderful day!