Highway 36

Day 93 • June 2, 2012 • Phillipsburg to Smith Center, KS •  32 miles

We spent enough time goofing off in Phillipsburg that we didn’t make much progress today.  In Norton we learned our lesson about eating Mexican food in small Kansas towns—when the clientele is wearing suspenders and overalls, decidedly not Mexican, stay away.   So tonight we picked steak for dinner which worked out much better.  We even got help from the staff in finding a place to stay for the night.  They called the police and found out we could stay at a rest area beside Highway 36 and also gave us tips on the best motel if we decided we didn’t want to camp.  They were worried about a thunderstorm that was heading our way but in the end it was Zoe’s allergies that made us opt for the motel.  She wasn’t feeling well and a clean environment might help.  As we were pedaling toward the motel after dinner, a cop pointed at us and made a quick u-turn to pull us over, our second traffic stop of the trip.  I was preparing for the “do you know why I pulled you over?” question but drawing a complete blank when the cop walked up and apologized for stopping our momentum (we were moving pretty fast).  She went on to explain that she’d talked it over with her colleagues and decided that the city park would be a better place for us to pitch a tent as it had bathrooms, showers, and more shelter in case the weather turned bad.  Now that’s service—apparently our situation was the talk of the town and lodging solutions were seeking us out.  We thanked her and explained that we’d opted for the motel.

Especially along Highway 36, Kansas towns consistently had excellent camping options that were either free or very inexpensive, and sometimes better than RV parks we’d paid as much as $35 for iIMG_0188n other states.  If camping options weren’t made obvious through signage, a quick stop at the chamber of commerce or police station always turned up something for us.  The police station was particularly effective because they kept later hours than the chamber of commerce and would usually step up patrolling the park once they knew we were staying there.  One theory we heard explaining the abundance of city-sponsored camping was that it was an attempt to accommodate and attract long haul truckers back in the days when Highway 36 was the primary route between Denver and Indianapolis, before the interstate highway system.  I don’t know if I believe this though because the parks we saw didn’t seem to be suited for big trucks. 

This was our last day riding Highway 36.  Tomorrow we head south to pick up Highway 24 and bigger towns like Manhattan and Topeka.  Choosing Highway 36 was a bit of a gamble that turned our well for us.  The road was in good shape and usually had good shoulders and traffic was light, especially in the west.  I think it was a bit hillier than more southerly routes but I believe it was also more scenic.  The biggest issue was scarcity of services in the ghost towns of eastern Colorado, but that was pretty manageable compared with even more desolate areas we’d already survived in the desert southwest.

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