Sometimes I wonder if I’m the last person to find out about things. A reader who identified himself as "Jasper" mentioned a $100 hamburger when I put out a call for southeastern Kentucky travel suggestions. I thought he was referring literally to a hundred dollar hamburger. Such a thing does indeed exist so I didn’t rule it out as a possibility. Maybe he had a thing for ground beef wrapped in gold foil, infused with truffles and rolled in caviar, or something. I don’t know. I try not to make value judgments (and generally fail miserably).
Jasper provided a convenient link to explain the hamburger reference as term of art used in general aviation in the United States (perhaps with variations on the theme elsewhere?). A lot of pilots like to pick a random airport a couple or a few hours away, drop-in for a meal, refuel, and then take off again to fly back home. The sheer joy of flying seems to serve as the primary motivation, like someone taking a sports car out into the countryside for a weekend getaway. The $100 price tag refers to the cost of flying to a distant runway for no reason other than wanting to fly to it, and not specifically to any meal that may have been purchased there. It’s a euphemism, or a wink-and-a-nod, or both, even though fuel prices today would make a hundred dollar round-trip flight a bargain.
This sounds like the most awesome idea ever. I’d be all over it if I were a pilot. My county counting abilities would be over the top, too.
I had to check into this further. Various sources mentioned anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 different fly-in restaurants. The 100 Dollar Hamburger is a website for a book with the same name that provides a compendium of such locations although it requires a subscription. A competing site provides a similar service and takes pride in NOT requiring a subscription. Do I detect some bitterness, perhaps?
Jasper said he flew into London-Corbin airport for his $100 hamburger, stopping at The Hangar Restaurant found on-site there. That’s an example of a restaurant AT the airport, probably offered as a service by the airport’s fixed-based operator (FBO). It surprised me how commonly general aviation airports provided restaurants within their facilities, albeit usually in the larger ones. Their clientele extended beyond $100 hamburgers, though. Fly-in restaurants are patronized by airport staff and also by plenty of local residents especially in the smaller towns.
I consulted several websites in search of the best $100 hamburgers. One source included a list compiled in 2011. I can’t vouch for Rick’s Crabby Cowboy in Montauk, NY (map) or the Pik-N-Pig at Gilliam-McConnel airfield in Carthage, NC, although I liked both of their names so I thought I’d give them a mention.
The Hard Eight at Clark Field in Stephenville, Texas, came up on the list and also on several website forums where pilots share information. I figured those mentions qualified the Hard Eight as one of the better $100 hamburger opportunities. It was an example of a restaurant NEAR an airport, and looked to be about a ten minute walk.
Flickr by JMD Pix via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
I think my favorite location might have to be the Beaumont Hotel in Kansas (map). It’s a Bed & Breakfast inn, it’s a restaurant, AND it has its own dedicated turf runway. The hotel reportedly averaged about 38 aircraft operations per week.
Thank you Jasper for acquainting me with the $100 hamburger concept.
Has anyone managed to snag an invitation for the test version of the new Google Maps? Does anyone know how I can get one? — I did submit a request although I haven’t heard back. What’s a geo-geek gotta do to get a little map love?
The recently concluded Dust Bowl Marathon Series continues to play on my mind. Each of the five towns that served as our home base during the event rolled out the red carpet for us. Ulysses, Kansas stepped it up an additional notch above the high bar exhibited by the rest. They seemed to have a sense of professionalism to their approach, like they’d been through it before and knew what they were doing. I complimented some of the townspeople at the pasta dinner held on the group’s behalf and it was here that I learned the story behind their well-honed abilities.
They mentioned a nationwide bicycle race, and described how the town accommodated riders and their support teams as they passed briefly through Ulysses each year. Some quick Intertubes sleuthing uncovered the Race Across America which indeed routes directly through Ulysses, a town that’s been set along the course for at east the last several years.
First, let’s all understand that Ulysses can hardly be described as a "convenient" location.
Ulysses has the misfortune of falling directly within the middle of an immense rectangle completely devoid of Interstate highways access: 2.25 hours away from I-70; 3.25 hours from I-40; 3.5 hours from I-25; and 4 hours from I-35. Few visitors will ever drop into Ulysses by happenstance as they travel cross-country. No major historical events or entertainment destinations underpin an active tourism industry, either. Ulysses, like many other small towns falling within the freeway void, must rely upon its own wits to cultivate creative sources of income.
The Dust Bowl Marathon Series fits that definition, as does the Race Across America. Ulysses, by showing abundant hospitality, fills its hotel rooms, serve numerous restaurant meals and sells tanker-loads of gasoline to crowds spinning out from these rolling athletic circuses.
I’d never heard of the Race Across America before. It’s fascinating. Here’s the basic story courtesy of YouTube:
Bicyclists ride between a starting point in Oceanside, California and a dramatic finish in Annapolis, Maryland (for the 2013 version), and check-in at 54 intermediary “Time Stations” along the way. According to the RAAM Frequently Asked Questions, time stations "are approximately 40 to 90 miles apart" and provide a place for riders to report their progress to the race headquarters.
RAAM provided tentative lat/long coordinates for the 2013 Time Stations which I’ve dropped into a Google Map. I’ve noted the Time Station for Ulysses, Kansas with a red marker.
Time Station locations vary from someone’s home, to bike shops, to city parks, to the Capital Building in Jefferson City, MO. About half of the Time Stations are staffed. This staff is invaluable in building awareness of the race in the local communities along the course. As racers pass through, the Time Station staff is the cheering section and most importantly there to help racers and crews find services in town. Time stations have offered hotel rooms, gas, showers and food.
The field spreads out as it races across the continent, either as part of multi-person teams or as solo competitors. Solo racers will finish in about ten days, and in any case they must be done within twelve days to be qualified as RAAM finishers. Remember, this is on a bicycle! I thought five marathons in five states in five days for the Dust Bowl series was extreme. RAAM brings physical and mental brutality to an entirely different level. I can’t say I truly understand either event although I respect the participants. Nonetheless I was quite content to serve as non-running support member for the Dust Bowl series.
Speaking of support,
Besides the entry fee, every racer and team has to provide their own support crew and support vehicles. Depending on the number of crew, the number of vehicles, and how deluxe your race is, the costs starts at $20,000.
I enjoyed my brief time in Ulysses, a burgeoning capital of extreme sports layovers. I’d love to be there again to watch RAAM roll through. Just don’t look for me on a bicycle.
It’s good to be back home although I will always cherish my brief journey to the Dust Bowl territory of the lower Great Plains. I enjoyed and appreciated the beauty of the emptiness, the towns appearing fifteen miles distant first noticeable by their distinctive grain elevators, dodging and getting caught in clouds of dust, and tracking a history that runs deep, of Native Americans, of pioneers, of financial and ecological hardships during the Great Depression.
People work hard here, making an honest living with their backs. They are farmers, truck drivers, oil workers, builders, wind turbine cowboys, and laborers of all stripes. I’ve never seen so many weathered, dusty, so very obviously workaday pickup trucks anywhere else. One also gets a sense that this land hasn’t yet recovered from the recession of the last decade and that times were probably tough for many of the folks even before that happened. I’ve never met a friendlier, more hospitable group of people though.
It seemed to track closely with populations of the various towns on our circuit:
Clayton, NM – population 2,980
Ulysses, KS – population 6,161
Dalhart, TX – population 7,930
Lamar, CO – population 8,869
Guymon, OK – population 11,442
Clayton and Ulysses practically rolled out the red carpet. Lamar and Guymon didn’t much notice our presence. Dalhart fell somewhere in the middle. I can imagine that a group dropping into town, occupying a bunch of hotel rooms on a random weekday in late winter, buying meals, and filling gas tanks would give a small town a nice little financial bump. Then our circus would head to the next small town and drop another windfall.
The Water is Down in Clayton Lake Reservoir
Every town, every hamlet, every place we wandered, people mentioned the drought. Examine the U.S. Drought Monitor and one will understand why. All of the towns we visited were considered "D4 Drought-Exceptional" or nearly that, and have been in a difficult situation for a long time. The conventional wisdom, the oft-repeated phrase in each town where we stopped was, "we’ve had less rain lately than the Dust Bowl years." I don’t know if that’s true or not although people living with the dry spell every day certainly believed it.
Those who settled here in the 1920′s and 1930′s were sometimes called "next year people" because they held a certain faith that conditions would improve, that rains would come, that life would get better if only they could last one more year. One person I spoke with suggested that the expression might have to be changed to "next decade people" because a single year didn’t seem like it would cut it anymore. We’re save from a new Dust Bowl only because of improved soil management techniques, center-pivot irrigation and millions of acres of restored grasslands.
I found I could track my travels via Google Analytics. I don’t get a lot of 12MC visitors from this very rural corner where Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico come together in such close proximity. I took a screenshot covering the five days we roamed the plains. Those are my dots. Maybe my recent travelogues will attract a few new visitors from these parts and I can begin to fill-in the map a little more.
Twitter seemed to work. I know that many of you subscribed to my new Twitter feed so you could follow along. I hope that you enjoyed watching the adventure unfold in near-real-time and getting a sneak peek at photos and stories that would be appear in more detail a day or two later on 12MC. Often I could send a tweet from literally the middle of nowhere because mobile phone coverage was surprisingly good. Every town had at least one cell tower and of course there weren’t any topographic features to deflect their signals; just flatness to the horizon.