An old Phillips 66 pump that still reads 26 cents a gallon....those were the days!
As I left Colorado Springs my confidence was high, my spirit was soaring, and I could not wipe the grin off of my chops. I stopped at a petrol station to fill up, look at my map, and asked directions to make sure I was headed in the right direction toward Bob Dole’s home state of Kansas. I honestly do try to eliminate errors and risks whenever possible when riding Captain America. After this intensive route review “Mr. Genius” departs with the confidence of the defending Super Bowl Champs (Eli Manning and his fellow team mates) embarking on the 2009 season. There were few signs and all the roads seem to twist and turn and trying to determine one’s true direction was not an easy task....honest! The long and short of it, after about two hours of riding I somehow ended up back within three miles of where I started from. I found myself saying, “Dave, you idiot!” over and over again and then just started laughing. With this “slow start” I decided to stop for lunch and regroup. Over 3 hours after I left town the first time I was ready to give it another go. Oh well, so much for my great idea of sending my GPS system home with the camping gear!
The Plains of Kansas
As I roll into Kansas I do know what to expect. I have been through the entire region many times during my past rides. A lot of people feel that they need to see tall mountains to feel the beauty of nature. I personally do not share their belief. I feel some of the most wonderful scenery is the farm lands of the Middle America. This is especially true in the late afternoons when you have the warm summer sun, contrasting shadows, a cornucopia of yellows, greens, and tans to focus on in all directions depending on the crop and harvest schedule. This is especially true when you are riding a 96 cubic inch Harley Davidson and can smell everything that the countryside has to offer (both good and bad). Also, because the spaces tend to be more wide open and the roads straighter than the mountain regions, riding is more relaxing and you can focus more on the scenery.
I decided to go back this year to see the progress and how the residences were dealing with the aftermath of this life changing event. I have attached some pictures from last year and some from this year so you can see the difference that 12 months has made. I think you will agree that some progress has been made, but I was surprised at how little has been rebuilt to date.
· Her deep belief in God
· Her optimism about the future
· Her lack of bitterness
· Her focus on the future and not the past
· Her incredible appreciation for the Red Cross and United Way (literally they put cloths on their backs, fed them, and provided a place to sleep)
· Her obvious disappointment in FEMA – surprise, surprise!
· Her family’s desire to earn enough money to be able to rebuild their home back in Greensburg - home is home!
· The total sense of calms that this young lady exuded in every breath she took
For the first 100 miles after I left this gas station I found myself utterly blown away by what I had just heard. She and her entire family had their lives turned upside down in a period of time less than a couple of minutes and yet she seemed to be focused on a brighter future. She mentioned that later that afternoon after getting off at the gas station she had to take her daughter to dance class. Life goes on! Wow, I was in awe of this young women and what she and her family had been through and are continuing to go through. I think there is a real life lesson for us all in her story. I find myself still thinking about her almost everyday as I am motoring along the back roads of America.
It is always fun for me to go through Dodge City, Kansas for a couple of reasons. This is called by many (or at least me) “ground zero” for the old TV westerns that I watched religiously when I was a kid. In a gas station I ran into a guy riding a brand new 105th anniversary edition Harley and he also had all new Harley cloths, etc. I said, "it looks like you are sporting a new bike and all new gear here. What is the occasion?" The guy was in his late 50's and he looked me dead in the eye and told me, "My old lady just ran off with another guy so the first time in my life I am doing what I want to do when I want to do it!" He said he called the guy on the phone and thanked him for "taking out the trash"! This truck driver was a biker back in the 70's, but he said that "marriage, kids, and work had gotten in the way and that he was now finally alive again". Bitter, yes, but I felt this guy was truly happy because he couldn't wipe the grin off his face as he roared out of the parking lot as he headed east toward his home which was about 100 miles away. I then decided to head north toward Nebraska on Hwy 83 North. Little did I know what was in store for me on this next leg of my journey?
It was in the late afternoon on Hwy 83 North (about 15 miles north of Scott City) that my life once again flashed before my eyes. For some reasons during my first 62 years on this earth I have had a number of very close calls with death, but this one was as close to all the others and maybe even closer.
Hwy 83 is a two lane rural road (one lane each way) and on this late afternoon there was very little traffic in either direction. The speed limit is 65 miles an hour and I was travelling north at about 70 MPH, but my speed was a non issue to the event that was about to take place.
For those of you who have not been in Kansas before, the roads are very straight, relatively flat, but there are always some small hills and valleys that are barely noticeable. As mentioned there was very little traffic coming south as I was headed north. As I was nearing the bottom of one of these small valleys, I noticed several trucks coming in the opposite direction over the hill that was not that far off into the distance. No big deal until I saw a car passing them. The car soon ducked back into his lane in front of the trucks and although I felt it was a little close, it was not really a big deal. Just then I could now see that a second car was also passing right behind the first car. This guy immediately ducked in between the first double semi and the second 18 wheeler that were rapidly approaching me at about 70 or 75 MPH.
Now, here is the real problem. There was a third car (a white pickup truck) also passing the trucks and he must have been doing about 85MPH. Within a fraction of a second, both he and I realised that this was a very serious situation. I was able to break to only about 55 MPH and he was able to break to about 65MPH. It was key decision time for the two of us. I decided to keep going straight (not that I had a lot of choices) and at the very last second he decided to go around me on the shoulder to my right ride! Yes, I ended up threading the needle between these two vehicles!
So folks, I have the double semi going by me on my left at about 75MPH and this jerk going around me on the right shoulder at about 65MPH. There was a huge drop off (about 10 or 15 feet) just off the right shoulder and I can remember seeing the pickup truck’s left front and rear tires kicking up dirt as his wheels were fighting to stay on the shoulder pavement. I was not sure if he would roll the pickup into the ditch, turn it back into me, or shoot the shoulder so we could all make it through this total mess.
This entire situation started and finished in less than 7 to 10 seconds and virtually everything was out of my control…..except for me flipping the guy the bird as he went by me. I vividly remember seeing the whites of his eyes and he had a look of total terror on his face as he flew by me. No question he knew he screwed up big time!
It took me about 5 minutes to really assimilate what had just taken place. Needless to say, I figured it was just not my time! Since that near disaster, everyday I find myself wondering if the guy in the white pickup truck even thinks about what he almost did or is he just one of those people who is oblivious to everything other than his own wants and needs. I will never know the answer to this, but will no doubt I will reflect upon that afternoon's event for the rest of my life.
Meeting Some Great People Along the Way
Michael is a hard working guy doing right by his family. We started talking about life, motorcycles, his job, and my Cruising for the Cure ride. Without me every asking for a donation, he walked over to his well travelled pickup (by the way, it was not the white one discussed above) and proceeded to open a file and pull out a $20 bill and then he handed it to me as a donation. I was blown away!
I told him that I would only take it if he would get on my bike so I could take a picture of him for my blog. He was so excited that he just about jumped onto Captain America. We ended up talking for about 30 minutes and I consider him to be one of the real jewels that I have found my journey. I hope you enjoy his picture on my bike as much as he and I did as we took it.
Michael was a real gentleman and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent just talking about life. I hope one day to run into him again at another petrol station or if I ride through Grande Cane. Guys like Michael really help me to restore my faith in mankind!
More to Come
A lot of great things have happened since Kansas and I will provide a complete update to my blog within 72 hours. Please stay tuned and I hope you enjoy your week.