Day 91 • May 31, 2012 • Oberlin to Norton, KS • 37 miles
Almost a decade ago my friend Bill embarked on the TransAm route on his recumbent. His story wasn’t so different from ours except that he travelled a lot faster and didn’t have a nine-year-old in tow. Lessons from his experience were banging around in my head as we battled Kansas. The net of it for Bill was that Kansas ended his trip. After travelling across the west, hopping over the continental divide, and traversing most of Kansas, Bill had finally had enough and hopped a plane home. He had a number of things going against him at this point in his trip but the one that struck me most is something I like to call The Vaglienti Effect.
The terrain is flat enough and the air clear enough that you can see a long distance in Kansas, and what you often see above the endless wheat fields is the next town. You pedal and pedal but don’t seem to get any closer to the town ahead because it’s pretty far away and you’re moving pretty slow. What’s more, all the little towns look kinda the same– Grain silo, check. Water tower, check. Railroad, gas station, outcropping of trees; check, check, check. Add a little headwind and a little heat and you’ve got the recipe for some serious mind games.
Zoe and I chose a more northerly route through Kansas than the Adventure Cycling route because we wanted to pick up Manhattan and Topeka, and because I think it’s more scenic. It’s also hillier which may explain why we weren’t as affected by The Vaglienti Effect. But I’d seen something similar during my first solo cross-country airplane flight back when I lived in Topeka. Try navigating visually, without any radio aids, in western Kansas and you’ll get a taste of it. Legend has it that a prior member of Aviation Explorer Squadron 8, where I got my pilot’s license back in high school, had to land and ask a person what town he was in during his solo cross-country training flight. Maybe that was just urban legend, but it wasn’t me.