Crossing Kansas By Bike, As A Vegan
What it took to bring a body by bicycle across Kansas in 3 ½ days
Before I dip into the struggle and celebration of the Kansas cross, let me bring you back to the start. No, not Friday morning before I crossed the state line, but back to June when I routed and rerouted The Wellness Ride from Boston to Los Angeles.
I had planned to cross Kansas in 9 days. A 457-mile route across the northern part of the state, mostly on US-24W. I had been told and read the horror stories about crossing Kansas: No water, no food, 30 mph headwinds blowing east to west, days where the sun would beat down so hard that you’d seek shelter and only ride in the evening, and dogs. No, not the kind that offers a paw and let you rub their stomach, but dogs that disobey their pet parents and chase bikers in an attempt to rip them off their bikes. Dogs.
I had routed stops every 45–60 miles, looked for campgrounds, identified motels, and made a list of vegan restaurants along the way. I was prepared. Kansas was the biggest challenge of The Wellness Ride and I wasn’t going to let it beat me.
Kansas came quick, and on the eve of this leg of the ride, I was all set to have a deep sleep.
But, I couldn’t sleep.
At 3 am, 6 hours before my 9 am departure, I was refreshing wind and weather apps, counting the seconds between lightning strikes and thunder booms, and allowing fear to paralyze me. But with this ride, quitting or turning back has never been an option. Nor has hitchhiking or taking a bus to pass an area. I opted into this ride, I opted into the struggle and the suck. So, at 9 am I carried my bike down the back staircase of my friend’s apartment, waved goodbye and rode west across State Line road into Kansas.
By maintaining my vegan lifestyle I was hoping to discover the barriers to eating healthy food in communities across the country.
The focus of sharing my Kansas cross is not the hills, all 16,721 feet of them, nor the miles, all 471.67 of them, or even the time I spent on the bike, all 32 hours of it. What I am here to share is what it took to bring a body by bicycle across Kansas in 3 ½ days, when all those consulted said it would take at least 8 days going east to west. How the fuck did I smash Kansas?
During The Wellness Ride I am an athlete. I have returned to a previous me that focused on fueling my body. If I want top performance mentally and physically, then I need to care for my body a certain way. I need to recover a certain way. I need to nourish myself a certain way.
This ride comes with a commitment of eating plant-based, as an ode to all vegan athletes, and a statement to those who work to undermine the power of plants. But also, by maintaining my vegan lifestyle I was hoping to discover the barriers to eating healthy food in communities across the country. I carried food with me, found local vegan restaurants, accepted home-cooked meals and did A LOT of snacking. If drawn, snacking would be 80% of the pie chart.
For the ride, I packed bars, energy squares, nuts, and more. I used the bars as meal replacements, the squares to snack during pedals, the goji berries for a sweet tooth but to keep it healthy, the buffalo nut clusters for savory, and crunches to top oatmeal or cashewgurts.
Going into Kansas I was stocked. A plan to eliminate as many upcoming adversities as possible. If I can’t control the wind, let me control my plate, was my plan. But 18 hours in, I had eaten them all.
I was riding 50 more miles per day than normal and needing to continuously fuel my body. I had less time to find restaurants off route and needed to snack. The positive was that my body was loving it, and responding in an incredible way, but still, I had no more.
For those who right now are suggesting I stop at a local Whole Foods and restock, let me tell you about Kansas. A gas station’s best option is a cheese and bean burrito, or an almond butter snickers. You may even be able to find heavily salted peanuts, or the honey roasted variation. They have Gatorade with 40g of sugar or iced tea with 35, but water is free.
Options are limited. Food deserts are real.
So, unwilling to slow my pace, or compromise my commitment to eating vegan, I got creative. I used the ingredient lists of the snacks I packed. Hoping to find recognizable whole foods that I could purchase. So, I made a list: Coconut, Fig, Cashews, Sunflower Seeds, Dates, Almonds, Oats, Almond Butter, and googled the nearest Walmart.
All of these ingredients can be found in any Walmart market or grocery store. The inconvenience comes when one has to pit every date, then dip it into almond butter, and top it with coconut (that’s why snacking on pre-packaged bars and squares is so much easier). But in an extreme environment such as day two in Kansas, I made due.
Throughout this adventure, I have not counted calories consumed, or calories burned. I have not counted grams of proteins, ratios to carbs or anything along these lines. I simply listened to my body.
These snacks lasted me all the way to Denver: an additional 169 miles, 5389 feet of elevation, and 11 hours of biking, for a six day total of 641.38 miles, 21,660 feet of climbing, and 43 hours on the bike. I’ve often been critical of my performance but what I did through Kansas was downright impressive, and the most impressive part was how I felt. I felt invincible. At the end of this, I found myself 33rd in the world on Strava out of 500,000 athletes, pro and amateur.
Is that proof enough for you? Must I still worry about where my protein comes from?
Throughout this adventure, I have not counted calories consumed, or calories burned. I have not counted grams of proteins, ratios to carbs or anything along these lines. I simply listened to my body. I ate when I was hungry, I drank when I was thirsty, and I stopped biking when I was tired. Wellness is more than just a bike ride, a gym session or yoga. Wellness is a lifestyle, and it is anchored in how we nourish ourselves. Feeding the body is an ultimate act of self-care.
I am now 1,172 miles from my home in Los Angeles. I plan on finishing this ride strong in the next two weeks and my first challenge will be crossing the Rockies beginning in Denver tomorrow.
Let’s fucking ride.
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