Heart in the Heartland- Media Unit
In story development like such as a three-act play, the Second Act is characterized by emotional challenges and the character’s introspection. Matt touched on this theme in an earlier post, which we discussed Pueblo before we embarked on Act II. It was an accurate foreshadowing, Kansas turns out to be the geographic center of the United States and symbolically, a point of no return for the riders. If you ever happen to find yourself in Kinsley, Kansas, you will be standing at the half way point between San Francisco and New York City. Once we passed through it was farther to return from where we came than to continue on.
We descended into the Sunflower State from the high altitude of the Rockies. The night before the team watched the approach of a severe thunderstorm. It brought monsoon rains, sixty mile per hour winds, assorted lightning visuals and thunder percussion. Storms, in this part of the country during the summers, are caused by the movement of the warm, moist air from the Gulf up through Texas and Oklahoma. This mass collides with the cool, dry air that descends from the western Rocky Mountains. The collision produces some of the most violent weather patterns on earth, capable of creating tornadoes. We awaited the storm, setting up lawn chairs as if we were watching some late Fourth of July fireworks. The lightning covered the sky like a strobe with sheets covering the sky and frequent strikes on the ground. Winds swiftly increased and rain poured, forcing us into our rooms to hold out for the night. It was a beautiful and violent spectacle Mother Nature put on for us.
The next morning we departed and the riders encountered their first challenge- a ten mile plus ride in the wrong direction. However, with ease the team ‘adjusted fire’ and they were back on track. Upon hitting the border of Colorado and Kansas we stopped for our usual photo opportunity. It is Kansas’s 150th birthday this year, after being admitted to the Union in January 29, 1861. The state’s early history as a U.S. territory was one of the numerous lead ups to the start of the American Civil War. Historians remember the events as ‘Bleeding Kansas’, a three-year period where settlers in support and against slavery fought several bloody skirmishes. The infamous radical abolitionist John Brown operated in the area before making his way east.
As we passed through Kansas, we noticed a potent odor of cow manure. We travelled by several large cattle feed yards and granaries at each town, connected by railroad lines. The most striking feature of the landscape is the flatness. I felt hypnotized by the lack of visual obstacles and the endless horizon. Towns emerged at the horizon from the prairie. I was unsure of what to expect as we crossed the border, but the Kansans showed the warmest hearts. In every town from Garden City, to Dodge City to Larned, we were all welcomed with open arms. Police and Patriot Guard escorts made entrances into town feel like a homecoming. Our entire team hails from Pacific and Atlantic coastal states, unfamiliar with the country’s Heartland. However, the kindness and hospitality will leave a lasting impression on us. There is simplicity out here that should always be treasured and hospitality not easily overlooked.
While the team rested in the small town of Cimarron, halfway between Garden City and Dodge City, tragic new befell the team. One of Kevin and Matt’s friends and lacrosse teammates Ryan Sanderson passed away the night before. Both felt the emotional hard ache of losing a friend and took some personal time to reflect. Later that day we arrived at the old Wild West town of Dodge City. The town invited us to their September 11th Memorial, erected with artifacts from all three attack sites. It was sobering and melancholy moment for all of us. Our cameras and eyes were directed toward Kevin who relived many of the memories from that day. 9/11 emerged as a definitive central theme to this ride.
Americans are still trying to reconcile and heal from the horror, sadness, and fear from that day and confront the pain of their memories. The Ride is indeed taking that fateful Act II turn inward. Memories are often difficult and painful places to travel to. Perhaps a bike, a tail wind and some blessings can make that path a bit easier.
The Journey is the Reward and To the Limit,