1984 Bike Tour: Day 31 – Shortcut proves hazardous

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Tuesday, June 12, 1984
Chanute to El Dorado, Kan.
99 miles

Locater map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984.  More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Gene’s Journal

We’re staying at a motel across the tracks in a town with the unlikely name of El Dorado after Bruce had a close call with an oil tanker truck on a busy highway today. Bryan, who put us up the night before, suggested we take that road to avoid gravel stretches on the Bikecentennial Route; not  good advice, in retrospect.

Sunflower Motel

We had tailwinds in the morning (but we stayed together; no more separations) and could see for miles all around when we picked up US 54 heading west. Mostly I kept my eyes glued to the pavement, though. The winds from the south pushed my loaded bike to the right, so I’d muscle the bike toward the left to counteract them. When a passing car or truck blocked the wind, the absence of pressure caused the bike to veer left toward the traffic.

We stopped at a truck stop in Eureka for pie and iced tea, then continued on as oil tanker truck traffic increased. There wasn’t much room for a truck to pass a bike when a truck was coming the other direction, but that didn’t prevent them from passing. We were gripping the handlebars tightly.

One truck passed so close I could feel the heat of its wheels on my arm. I braced for the next one, when I heard him brake hard. I looked up and saw Bruce standing in the middle of the lane with his bike down. He had been blown, pushed or forced off the road and tipped when he came back on. It all happened so fast that he didn’t recall what happened. The truck that passed me so close pulled over, momentarily, then pulled away again.

Limping to El Dorado

Bruce was skinned up, but OK. We dragged his bike off the highway and bent his twisted front wheel into some kind of shape so we could proceed. We limped into El Dorado, hoping there’d be a bike shop downtown. We found one, but it was closed. The owner of the building noticed our plight, and got us out of the heat and up to her cool apartment while she tried to locate the bike shop owner and find us a place to stay.

We ended up in a tourist cabin at a motel across the street from the Getty oil refinery, the destination for all those trucks that made our life hell today. The bike shop owner drove out to our room, picked up Bruce and his wheel, and tried to fix it at his shop. He couldn’t, but did sell Bruce a new steel wheel to use until he could get the aluminum rim round again. When he got  back, we made plans to get back on the lightly traveled TransAmerica Route regardless of the gravel.

Headline: June 12, 1984
“House to debate immigration bill despite pleas
from Hispanic groups”

Bruce’s Journal

We decided to take 196 to Iola and then 54 West across Eureka and into El Dorado. That would avoid the gravel sections our maps took us on. Our mistake was not figuring the traffic–the truck traffic–on 54, and that was a costly mistake.

About 10 miles from El Dorado, after traveling some 80 miles, a truck ran me right off the road and sent me down on the pavement, my second accident of the trip. My front wheel, trued in Carbondale, is a complete wreck, and just as I was healing from my last scrapes, now I’ve got a completely new set: right knee, right elbow, right biceps. Plus my gloves are shot, too.

Vintage postcard of Main Street, El Dorado
Vintage postcard of Main Street, El Dorado

Pannier torn off

We hobbled into town. The truck, incidentally, never stopped. It was so close to me that for a moment I thought it actually hit my back panniers. I fell to the right, off the road. There was no shoulder to retreat to. The bike, somehow, was forced by momentum back into the road. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had fallen toward the truck instead of away from it.

My front left pannier tore away from the rack and literally went flying up the road and off into a field.

But we finally made it to town and located a bike shop. There was a chain saw ad in the window and the place was closed. It was about 6:30 now. I had a bad feeling about this bike shop. As we were peering in the window, a woman came out of a door next to the place and asked us where we were from. It turned out she and her husband lived above the shop and owned the building–right on Main Street. She invited us up for iced tea and said she would call the shop owner. He wasn’t home, but she told us about herself and the town.

She was program director for the local radio station and formerly PR woman for the local community college. Her husband had a TV business and sold satellite dish TV things.

Urban dwelling in Kansas

Their house was refurbished very nicely. The high ceilings made me think of it as an urban dwelling, not out in Kansas country. It was probably once a warehouse, but now carpeted and appointed with paneling, grand piano, ceiling fans. It was also very large. Jean Plummer was the woman’s name and she told us several times that she and her husband were considered “different” from most of the other town folks. They had lived all over, she said, including New York. One son who lived in town wanted to go into Christian service, but currently he was working for his father.

She called around for us and located a $15 motel room at the “Sunflower.” It turned out to be a nice place–air, TV, even a fridge in the room. We saw the last two minutes of the NBA championship game. I would have seen more of the game, but Rick the bike shop owner had come over to help me out.

I had called him at home while we were eating dinner at a pizza joint on Main Street and explained my dilemma. He said he didn’t have a wheel trueing stand, but he would swing by the motel after he had a bologna sandwich “and see what we can do.”

Wheel repair

It was about 8:30 at that time. He got to the place about 9 and said he could probably get the wheel straight on the “dial indicator.” I didn’t know what that was, but I was game for anything. I felt pretty beat up by this time. Several beers hadn’t even done much for me.

Rick was in his green uniform and he was as dirty and scruffy looking as we were. We offered him a beer but he said he already had one in the car. On the way to the shop, he explained that he had inherited the bicycle shop from his father-in-law, who had died. He was primarily into lawn mowers, chain saws and Rototillers. That was a telling remark.

He put my wheel on a very strange contraption he called the dial indicator, and proceeded to screw it up worse than it ever was. I finally just bought a cheap wheel from him for $20 and got the hell out of there.

He was a real nice guy, to come out and try to help me, but he knew less about bikes than nothing, and he didn’t even have any tools .


Day 32 — “Limping Across Kansas”

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  1. […] Day 31 — Shortcut proves hazardous […]

  2. […] 1984 Bike Tour: Day 31 – Shortcut Proves HazardousEL DORADO, KAN. – We’re staying at a motel across the tracks in a town with the unlikely name of El Dorado after Bruce had a close call with an oil tanker truck on a busy highway today. Bryan, who put us up the night before, suggested we take that road to avoid gravel stretches on the Bikecentennial Route. In retrospect, not good advice. We had tailwinds in the morning (but we stayed together … Read News […]

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