Life’s a TRip: Episode 11

By Ojijaak

Note:  I planned to make this submission not later than August 29. I failed, other conditions and considerations made it impossible to finish the draft, and this episode comes to amosmag late as a result. Since our return, each of the intrepid Trippers, Polly, Nokomis, and I, have faced “health” issues. All addressed, none resolved fully to this point. The fault is entirely my own. It is likely that the next episode may be delayed for similar reasons, and if so, I apologize to readers (both of them).

Stones cleared from fields were used to build fences. This is along the Native Stone Scenic Byway west of Topeka.

For years, decades actually, I maintained a negative attitude toward Kansas. It was not as though I had a bad experience there; it was the stereotype of the state reinforced by many trips to and from California that formed my opinions. Kansas was wheat fields. Silos, no trees, and tornadic storms that would transport the unwary to Oz or worse if they were lucky. 

Anything to get out of Kansas…

Then things changed. Later, when I began making at least one visit annually in repayment of an old debt, things really changed.I have made a conscious effort to explore different areas of Kansas on each visit. I have seen much that I bypassed at 80 mph in the old days. I now look forward to each Kansas visit. Really.

Those stereotypical views of Kansas are based upon reality to be sure. There are endless fields of wheat in places broken only by towering grain elevators that mark the locations of tiny settlements. Trees, especially large ones are confined to the lawns surrounding farmhouses that are often miles from one another, and, if you have never experienced a Kansas thunderstorm, you have not witnessed the absolute raw power ofnature. In each of these, though, I have found not just beauty, but grace and peace.

Yes, that IS a hill, and it IS in Kansas. To the left is corn, not wheat, and there ARE trees.

Early in this series, I told of how I would show those who were willing to come along some of the majesty of misunderstood Kansas. A route through the northern tier of counties was contemplated and even believed probable right up to the morning that we departed Topeka. That northern route was inefficient if, as I had become more interested in doing, a waypoint at the summit of Pike’s Peak was to be attempted. It would have required at least one more night of hotel expense, and I had already exceeded my planned budget in both time and money.

So it was that on the morning of July 29, having performed the morning ritual plus drying Polly with microfiber, we set out from Topeka westbound on Kansas Route 4, which soon after is designated Native Stone Scenic Byway. I had driven this route before, but not in the cool morning air with windows down and the rear zipped out. Polly was finally in her element.

I have written before of my attachment to Kansas. There is no need to re-state any of that here. I reject the supposition that I harbor a bias, preferring to say that I came to an appreciation for the place far too late in life. I have said that I look for new experiences on each visit in these latter days, and having Polly along made the quest both easier and a lot more fun.

For reasons that I choose not to explain further, this episode must be brief. Because I have described Kansas journeys previously, I will limit this to the identification of routes driven and add only some short videos and the odd photograph.

From Topeka westward to US Route 56 near Herington, Route 4 is anything but the view that many hold of Kansas. The hills (!) are green – much more so in this wet summer – and the road climbs, twists, and dives through the Flint Hills. In some small towns, you will find surprisingly good restaurants and good people who will leave you alone, or will readily answer your questions if they are not of a deeply personal nature. Mine are never that.

I have said before that you should drive the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, Kansas 177, if you have the time. Between Council Grove and Strong City (one of those little towns with a great barbeque joint), you can visit the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve. If you are lucky, as Nokomis and I were a few years ago, you can have a close encounter with a herd of bison. On this TRip, though, we did not have the luxury of time. Our evening stop was to be in Garden City, and that was still a long way.

The only “cities” that we visited were McPherson and Great Bend. Both, as it happened, were convenient water and dog comfort stops. The day was growing warmer…

It was in Great Bend (God love ‘em) where I went into an auto parts store to pick up some shop rags. I had discovered that not all fuel islands made disposable towels available. I use them to catch stray drips of gasoline after fueling. For the uninitiated, the fuel filler on Triumphs is located atop the middle of the rear scuttle, abaft the rear window light. “Is that an MG?” This from one of the store attendants.

I dunno…Polly was parked head on to a large window, and facing into the store. You might have noticed that her front license plinth displays a blue plate carrying the “Griffin Wings” or “Book” Triumph logo with large text reading, “TRIUMPH.”

Oh, God, you gave them eyes, but they cannot see.

I bought the rags, and one of the counter guys asked if he could take some pictures of Polly. Sure, why not? No license plate photos, and none of the driver. We have rules.

Beyond Great Bend, we left US 56 on Kansas 156 at Larned. No need to visit Dodge City; we have been there before. This is the part of Kansas that those who cannot shake their stereotypical views will point to and say, “See? Nothing here.” Yes, but there is. It is not, however, really great Triumph country.

Garden City at about 14.30 hours. It was good to be out of the heat. After a shower and a short rest, it was time for dinner. You may have noticed that I prefer my evening meal in a brew pub. I was referred to Flat Mountain Brewhouse by the hotel staff.

I may not have the facts exactly right, but I was given the impression that Flat Mountain is a business venture sought by the city to populate a vacant spot in the downtown business district. Like too many small cities, Garden City has been afflicted by WalMart. Yes, “afflicted.” I don’t like ‘em, never did; I met Sam in about 1979, didn’t much care for him, either. When WalMart is our only source for oxygen, I will choose asphyxiation.

Anyway, Flat Mountain Brewhouse was opened in January, 2019, so it is not yet one year in business. When I walked in, there was one patron at the bar, and a couple at a table paying their tab. It was around 17.30 hours, and I thought that the place should have been busier, even on a Monday night. More on that later.

I found a good IPA, didn’t record the name of it, and had a pleasant conversation with Carrie, my server. Carrie said that she is a K-State alum, and her day job is at the zoo where she can make use of her degreed skills. This is a nice pub. I hope they succeed. By the time I left, a dinner crowd was coming in. The tables were filling slowly. Good. The desk clerk at the hotel said that restaurant traffic like Flat Mountain’s was normal for Garden City. People get off work, go home to collect the family, and then they go out for the evening – together. I liked this town.

The next day’s drive was (relatively) short. The destination: Cañon City, Colorado. This is where the Plains would end, and the Rocky Mountains begin. It is also where a beautiful drive via blue roads begins that will take us to the approaches of Pike’s Peak. The mountain was my goal, or maybe Polly’s goal. In the next episode, we will tackle that project, and I will describe my Cañon City days. See ya.


The rant:

I have found it more comfortable to sleep during the bright daylight hours recently. As bad as they are, daytime television commercials are superior to the overnight variety. Nick Bolton selling me some cheesy sunglasses that people who have never heard of polarization should buy because they are “inspired by the glasses worn by our military heroes.” 

First, who told Bolton which end of a rifle is which? Second, the military has strict rules regarding eyewear. Third, trust me, your eyes are worth protecting with something better than these.

Then you have people whose “after” portraits still make me think “before” smearing “shale rock” on their wrinkles. Shale rock? Is that like walleye fish? Tooth dentist?

And NOOM. Hypno diet? “I feel like I’ve been on a diet my entire life…” Well, it isn’t showing, so you probably should stay on a diet.

The last few days, I have finally been able to read from my Kindle again. I have another uncomfortable period starting in a few days, but maybe I can adapt to Audible. Anything that keeps me from being harangued by these idiots.

Pretty soon, I hope to be out and about in the daylight hours when I only must deal with idiots in real life. “Is that an MG?”

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