By Emily Brock,
Kansas is stranger country than most of us are willing to admit. In 1541 the Spanish conquistador Coronado marched a small army across its scorching midsummer plains, searching for gold in the Land of Quivira. He found nothing. On the dusty plains of central Kansas, Coronado finally lost hope of ever discovering cities of gold. He turned his men around and trudged back again, retreating across that dry indifferent landscape.
We like to think we’ve outwitted that vast lonely place of the past, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Dropped off the back of a paceline, pedaling alone, thirsty, tired, and facing into a hot wind, the Plains are just as they always were. Illusions shatter. Those distances can’t be compressed. The turns are rectilinear as the gravel road hugs the lines of the patchwork: precise squares of open range, wild prairie, and yellow wheat. The plain truths of geography, physics, and physiology become evident: the only way to get to point B to keep on pedaling.
Kanza, the Kaw Nation, have inhabited the plains and understood their austere beauty longer than any. Waves of people have hurried across this landscape since Coronado, cursing its vastness, but Dirty Kanza is about loving this place. Look at the immense sky, and the people patient and brave enough to live under it. 200 miles is just far enough to feel how strange and fierce this nation once was, and still is. I come back to Kanza because I want to be present in the wild center of America.
Stay tuned for more coverage of Dirty Kanza this weekend!