As we begin our wander across Eastern Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, it has already hit us how different communities seem to be “prosperous,” “struggling,” or “dying” only a few miles apart. We’ve gone through towns in the last few days that half of the houses are abandoned, many of the hotels, restaurants, gas stations and strip malls are boarded up and collapsing; we’ve also been in towns that look spruced up, with new high schools, attractive main streets and trendy new bars and coffee shops.
Unlike a place like Singapore, when a dying industry is replaced by a prospering one — shop houses that once housed mobile phone distributors now have tutoring outlets; a components factory is replaced by a drone software startup — in small town America the loss of a local factory or mine or chicken processing facility can just mean death to the town. Pueblo was affected by the shutdown of the steel mills; in this part of Kansas there seem to be a lot of jobs associated with agriculture, meat processing, natural gas pipelines, etc. It’s a lens into “Trump’s America” — when people have to leave their communities to pursue employment they may just give up. Or the elderly watch the young drift to the larger cities and see their communities die. It doesn’t seem fair to them, even though the forces driving it are simply part of a growing, dynamic, more service-oriented, globalizing economy.
These towns don’t feel “dangerous”, but they are as depressing as a ghetto in Manila or India. There is just no life in them. You can sense the lack of opportunity and the rot of desperation.
Day 22 Ride: Very, very tough. One look at the group and you would have seen pure exhaustion. 121 miles / 1170 feet of climbing into a mix of crosswinds and head winds. Forced to work in a pace line. Rained for two hours — a cold, relatively heavy rain that wasn’t in the forecast. Almost 10 hours on the bicycle. Ended with the worst meal of the trip — a local American food place where the steak looked (and tasted) like shoe leather and when one person ordered macaroni and cheese it was Kraft — not even remotely “home made.” The brown gravy was threatening.
Day 23 Ride: A perfect day; 12/12. 102 miles with a wonderful tailwind, sunny but cool temperatures, nice shoulders on the road, only 971 feet of climbing (which is 10 feet per mile). I was able to spin at a high cadence (ignore the data on Strava — first I always forget to turn it off during breaks and I think I need to change the batteries — there is NO WAY my L/R balance is 67/33. I couldn’t bear another American meal (Golden Corral — a relatively low end American buffet) so Father John and I headed for Vietnamese food. Between us we ate three appetizers and three main courses.