Sunday, October 26, 2014

Swimming at 6 a.m. and the Milky Way at midnight - Day 4 - September 18

Day 4. Swimming in the morning is wonderful. The previous day found us at the Aloft in Overland Park, Kansas City. We got up super early and went down to the gym and pool. I ran on the cross trainer for a while and then jumped in the pool with Jeff. There was no one else awake I think, except for this super pumped body builder type woman, who was awesome to look at! I bet she spends every waking second working out.

As we were walking out of the pool room into the hallway to the elevator and I slipped and fell on the super high polished concrete floor. I just went right down with my wet bare feet. I probably could have crossed the floor like a seal it was so slick and highly polished!  Out of all of the hotels we stayed at on our trip, the Alofts were the best ones.

Out the door early, we got a chance to drive into Kansas City, MO, to the Chezelle Creperie. It's in the newly converted historic Summit theater building on Summit Street. I had a cheese blintz and Jeff had a pesto, bacon, and brie crepe. So good, and the cappuccino was the best on the trip so far.

Photo credit: Wade Johnston, found here

Fat and happy, we headed out onto 35 W, taking us into Emporia (a liquor store with "Liquid Deliciousness" on its sign out front.  35 takes you through the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. It once covered 170 million acres of North America, and less than 4% remains of it today.  Found in the Kansas Flint Hills, it's a beautiful and remote landscape to drive through. Rolling hills of endless grassy terrain, and so dry. The park covers 11,000 acres of protected land, run by both the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. 
It looked a lot like this dashboard shot below. All day long. Very flat, wide open landscape on both sides of the road. Hardly any hills or mountains in the distance. 

Two or three hours into our day we encountered a spot of rain (one of only three or four rain moments out of the whole trip). I say "moments" because there was never an actual rain day. The drought is happening, and I think it extends well into the country.  Just when the rain was quitting we spotted a sign for a quilt shop, believe it or not!  Out in the middle of nowhere. So we decided to stop and take a look. Hillsboro, KS, is a little town that time has totally forgotten. 

The quilt shop was called Kessler Kreations, and we got a chance to hang out and talk with Marie Kessler, as she was sewing on her giant long arm machine in the back of the shop. She has a Gamin 30" machine (if I remember correctly)... it's got a huge range. On my Innova, I can sew about a 13" strip ...  this one has to be at least 28 inches of reach in one pass!  I'll stick with my Innova, I think the big reach would kill my back even more!  Marie didn't seem to have any trouble at all. 

We found the one and only post card in town at a little gift shop that was inside someone's house down the street. I think I sent that one to my sister... I can't remember.  We loved Hillsboro and talked about what it would be like to live is such isolation in the middle of nowhere.  We texted some of these images to our friend, Christophe, and he informed us from afar, that we could buy a nice little house in Hillsboro for $6,000. Truly, if you wanted to disappear, this would be the place to do it. I think it's at least two hours in any direction to get to another town of any significance. 

Kansas is about 430 miles across.  We drove through all of it. Through McPherson, Great Bend, Ness City, Dighton, Scott City, Leoti, Tribune and Horace on Routes 56 and 96. Some of these places were surprisingly small, with boarded up buildings and just a few scrappy houses to be seen.  

Finally, we reached Colorado!  We got our first view of the Rocky Mountains at about one to two hours outside of Colorado Springs.  Just before we reached Punkin Center...  yes.. not Pumpkin Center, Punkin Center (population: 4 and 5,360 feet above sea level).  Apparently the first guy to build anything at the junction of 71 and 94, built a gas station and market, in the1920's, painting them bright orange - the spot was named for color of the buildings which eventually faded to a dull orange. I guess they didn't know how to spell Pumpkin, or thought Punkin was cuter.  The owner was robbed a couple of times and the second time he was fatally wounded and left for dead. Sometimes, when we stopped in such desolate areas, I wondered about our safety, especially when you don't see another car for an hour (which didn't happen in Kansas, but it did in the desert). Just in case, I tried to always know where our can of bear spray was in the car.  

From our experience, I think that most of the time people would give you the shirt off their backs to help you out if you have some trouble. People seem to be friendlier, and much more eager to make a connection, the farther you get away from New England. Maybe it has something to do with less population and it's good thing to see another face, even if it's a stranger's face. 

Turning onto 287N, we jumped up to Kit Carson, CO, and then across on 94E to Colorado Springs. About 639 miles this day, and it took us 13 or so hours to finally reach the Pikes Peak Paradise Bed and Breakfast in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. First, there was a visit to the local Whole Foods in Colorado Springs for provisions. We were both shocked by Colorado Springs, being not what we expected, and more like an endless strip mall.  I'm sure there are parts of it that are beautiful, and the mountains to the West were spectacular, but this area seemed more like a sprawling mall than anything else. There was good food to be found, however, and the cheese and wine was much appreciated after this long, long day.

The view from Pikes Peak Paradise. That is Pikes Peak off in the distance. The rooms were very nicely appointed. Ours even had a giant tub/spa right in the room.  TOO tired to use it, we opted for going out on the porch to enjoy the wine and cheese and we watched the stars and the Milky Way. What a spectacular view from up here.  We did not arrive until around 9 p.m., exhausted, shaking, hungry, and tired. We got lost trying to figure out the road up to the inn, which snaked through the woods on a bumpy and nearly washed out dirt road. Luckily, a guy showed up in his giant BMW and asked if we need help, and lead us up the mountain to the inn.  

Highlights from Day 4

  • Early Swimming
  • Crepes!
  • Hillsboro, KS
  • Finding Colorado finally
  • Outlook just before coming into Colorado Springs
  • a comfy bed on the side of a mountain
  • The Milky Way and countless stars
  • 639 miles

What we drove
Got on 35 down through Emporia, turns into 56 then into 96, stopped in Hillsboro, then out through McPherson, Great Bend, Ness City, Scott City, Tribune on 96 then into Colorado, onto 287N into Kit Carson.  Got on 94/40 west to Ellicott, and into Colorado Springs. 639 miles.

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