Thursday, July 14, 2011

Prologue: goats, giant prairie dogs, hard times in Wilson

I made a promise to my girlfriend some time ago. I promised her I would take her on a bike tour. And I had a good first ride for bicycle touring in mind: the Katy Trail across Missouri. I wanted to ride the Katy badly, so it wasn't much of a sacrifice on my part.

The Katy Trail is a state park- ten feet wide and 237 miles long. It's the former railroad roadbed of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. After the trains stopped running, the Katy became the longest Rails to Trails project to date. The Cowboy Line in Nebraska will be longer, but it's not finished yet.

Here's some information:
Katy Trail State Park website
Bike Katy Trail
(I planned the whole ride off of the Bike Katy Trail website. Painless, and a never ending wealth of information.)

So, on the 10th of June, buoyed by the news my girlfriend got straight As in her last semester of grad school, we loaded our bikes in the back of the 4Runner with our panniers, and some clothes to wear during a side trip to St. Louis, and we went east.

First, we stopped at Oakley Kansas. Why, you ask? What could possibly be interesting in a little podunk town in Kansas?

Why, the "Largest Prairie Dog in the World" at Prairie Dog Town!

It towered over us, like some horrifying monster from a B movie.

They have signs advertising this place fifty miles in advance- in traditional roadside attraction/tourist trap/freak show fashion. It has animal freaks like six legged cows, a box of rattlesnakes, and goats to feed.

I'd always wanted to stop, but never had. It was just as weird as I imagined.

Worth the visit, if you like the surreal:
Prairie Dog Town

We also stopped at Wilson, Kansas. One of my favorite small towns. But things there had taken a turn for the worse. Not an open business on Main Street. The restaurant and bar that were booming when I visited last were shuttered. It was quiet, not a soul on the street. I stopped and took a shot similar to the first time I had visited the place:

It was so different. Last time the place was bustling. The granaries to the back and right full and busy, the grocery store full of folks, the town felt alive. This time, the wind blew through the empty buildings, the grocery had no customers, only two people talking quietly about the inability to pay a bill. The Opera House had burned, leaving only a partial shell. The gas station had pumps shut down and couldn't process my credit card. It felt as if the town was breathing its last. I was happy to leave the place, knowing better times and places were ahead.
Thirteen total hours in the 4Runner and we were in Clinton Missouri. In the morning, we would go and find the trail head, and start the ride.

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