Our Fling with the Flint Hills

As part of our Middle West Meander we headed south to the Flint Hills in Kansas. Although we mapped out a solid bikepacking route that would begin in Emporia and dip into parts of the Flint Hills Nature Trail and Prairie Spirit Trail and return to Emporia at the end of the day we opted out of bikepacking. Why?

Kansas was exceptionally hot the week before (highs in the low 100’s) and we thought it might be fun to do some loop riding instead of out and back rides since that’s what we just did on the Mickelson and Cowboy Trails.

So pivot we did to a car camping and cycling tour of the Flint Hills. Car camping opens up a LOT of options like finding drop-in pickleball games when it rains (we brought our paddles), seeing a movie, attending Mass, visiting local museums, and choosing restaurants and breweries based on preference instead of proximity.

We felt right at home in the town of Emporia. Did you know it is the founding city for Veterans Day? 🇺🇸 And it’s known for its robust glassblowing and engraving communities. Emporia is also considered the disc golf capital of the world and the main attraction for us? Her gravel roads. There is a cycling event held each year called Unbound Gravel and although we don’t race gravel bikes, we sure love to ride them. So we figured we’d download a couple of the routes from the Unbound event website.

Our plan worked well! There are SO many world class gravel roads to ride around Emporia it’s worth a return trip for us. Not to mention Radius Brewing. Their beer and scotch eggs are👌🏻

After a couple days in Emporia we moved on to towns along the Flint Hills Nature Trail including Osage City and Ottawa. I mean, we had a car so easy peasy.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the heat that was oppressive in Kansas. Instead we brought the farmers some much needed RAIN! And rain it did. Although it puts a crimp in riding at times, we were happy to oblige. ‘Cause like I said, when ya have your car, ya have lots of options.

By the end of our fling with the Flint Hills we’d ridden loops out of Emporia and Ottawa and long segments of the Flint Hills Nature Trail and Prairie Spirit Trail.

The last stop on our Middle West Meander was Stillwater, OK where the Mid South Gravel race is held each year. Again we snagged a 55 mile route from the event website to get our ride in for Oklahoma. The ride was a good mix of gravel, some red mud and even some swampy muck.

Our three week Middle West Meander couldn’t have gone any better. Plus on the way home we get to rendezvous with pickleball friends we met last March in Costa Rica and take in a Cardinals game in St. Louis.

Not gonna lie though… it’s not all rainbows and unicorns all the time. I have more skeeter bites on my body than I can count. Yesterday I drilled Tom in the face with my PB paddle because we both went for the same ball #ouch

And my sleeping pad popped a hole somewhere in New Mexico last summer and I forgot to replace/repair it before our ride so I had to blow it up again in the middle of the night every night 😂 And finally, the flies in cattle country. Dayum. I’ve never seen so many flies… they land on everything! Like my food- after they sit on 🐄 💩 All this and more comes with the territory and makes the easy days that much easier.

We’ve met some fellow bike travelers the past few weeks, most of them cycling across the country. It’s going to be a lot of fun keeping up with them when we get home. Pedal on friends, Mike and Steve aka the Ready Riders, Steve and Sissel from the UK, and Mike and Sue who are finishing up their last leg of pedaling the perimeter of the lower 48 states.

As for us, we have a couple of big bike tours in the hopper and we might try to squeeze in a five state bike tour of the North East before it’s time to start raking leaves in Indy.

Thanks so much for the follow everyone! 😊

Click on the image below for more pics and videos of our visit to the Flint Hills.

The Cowboy Trail 🤠 Yee Haw

Oh Nebraska, how you surprised us with your bountiful landscapes and beautiful people. You can keep your headwinds but we’ll forever remember your kindness.

After finishing the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota we drove three hours to Valentine, did laundry, cleaned up a little and then set out the next day to ride 190 miles eastbound on The Cowboy Trail to Norfolk, Nebraska.

Day 1: Valentine to Bassett, NE | 67 miles, 440 feet of elevation climb

We first encountered Steve and Mike from Santa Barbara riding the Great Rail Trail. They actually diverted their westbound bike adventure and travelled through Indianapolis, our hometown!

Flatter than griddle cakes, this trail just about bucked us right off of it the first day. Yes it’s hot. Yes, it’s monotonously, yet beautifully flat. And yes we did get a late start but dang those goat heads! Right around Ainsworth we discovered narly little burrs in our tires, between 10-15 in each tire. These caused tiny punctures in our tires and when pulled out, air leaked before the hole sealed and repaired itself.

We figured if the entire trail was like that we’d have over 100 punctures on each tire by the time we got back to our car.

We cooked up a little din din and talked about bagging the rest of the ride. It was going to be stifling hot and the goat heads were waiting, not to mention a forecast calling for 20-30 mph headwinds.

We decided to wait until morning to literally see which way the winds were blowing. If it was a stiff headwind, we’d bag it and save ourselves some goat head grief.

Day 2: Bassett to Ewing, NE | 76 miles, 226 of elevation climb

We got up and rode to a nearby gas station for coffee then rode to the trail head in Bassett. Tom licked his finger, stuck it up into the already prevailing wind and… a side wind. Now what to do. Go forward or go back?

It was going to be 20-30 mile an hour wind day, temps of at least 100 degrees and would there be any more tire punctures?

Onward we went since we figured a side wind would feel the same whether we travelled east toward Norfolk or west back to our car. And we hadn’t picked up any more goat heads since Ainsworth.

We finished the day adding 12 more miles than we’d planned just to get to the town of Ewing that offered more services.

We found a city park adjacent to the baseball fields and pitched our tent near two other cross country cyclists. Anna and her son Tom are traveling eastbound and will finish their coast to coast ride in New York

Day 3: Ewing to Norfolk| 55 miles, 223 of elevation climb

We awoke to the sprinklers in the city park coming on at 5:11am. Since the forecast called for a warm, dry night we were sleeping with the tent fly off. Before the powerful water stream drenched the inside of our tent we scrambled out of it to get the fly on. Apparently we bed down near three sprinkler jets. Our UK neighbors got a morning surprise too.

Despite the day’s damp beginning, the rest of it was hot and dry and we reached the east end of the Cowboy Trail in Norfolk.

Day 4: Norfolk to Ewing, NE | 55 miles, 495 feet of elevation climb

The best part of the ride? No doubt it was the people! Whether it was chatting with early risers getting a coffee at the local gas station, or swapping stories at the local pub at the end of the day, we learned so much from everyone we met. Geri and Tim the kayakers, Don who had more stories to share than we had time to listen to, the octogenarians in Tilden and many more. Who knew about aquifers and that Nebraska sits on one of the largest in the world. Little wonder the corn looks gigantic. And why did cattlemen switch to raising Angus? And how do Nebraskans live so long, so well and so happy?

Day 5: Ewing to Bassett, NE | 70 miles, 535 feet of elevation climb

Finally a nice tail wind today! Other than that we enjoyed visiting the small towns we stopped in on the way out. Still flat. Still hot. Still riding in the right direction. And still finding humor in the way the cows looked at us when we rode by.

Day 6: Bassett to Valentine, NE | 64 miles, 869 feet of elevation climb

It was our last day of riding and we could smell the barn so to speak. I hadn’t climbed a top a hay roll since our cross country ride in 2018 soooo…

We were hot, hungry, thirsty, dusty and dirty but we were done. Once back to the car, we took the bags off the bikes, loaded the bikes on the car and took off for Emporia, Kansas via Kearney, Nebraska.

Note to cyclists: We’d heard the Cowboy Trail was a tough ride in the summer due to the open areas and exposure to sun, heat and wind. We’d also heard about the goat heads and the sandy surfaces that make riding a bike more difficult. There’s a little bit of the above but not enough to keep you from riding the trail.

The only part we encountered goat heads (sand spurs) was between Ainsworth and Johnstown. On our return ride to our car, we jumped on the road to avoid them. On another note, most all Nebraskans were uber courteous to cyclists and gave us plenty of room while passing. If you’re not cycling with tubeless tires, count on taking the highway between these two towns else you’ll undoubtedly get a flat tire (or two ore three).

Cycling with wider tires (we run Maxxis Ikons with a tubeless setup) will help you navigate the sandy parts of the trail which make up less than 5% of it. There are several stretches of exposed trail that when hot and windy make for challenging riding however there are towns almost every ten miles or so with water sources or c-stores. Not much you can do with a head wind except keep calm and pedal on.

Click on the image below to view more pics and videos of the Cowboy Trail.

Another Bike Ride | Just in the “Mick” of Time

We haven’t had our bikepacking bags on the Cuttys since we took them off in Antelope Wells last August. Needless to say, we were a bit rusty!

Undaunted and maybe even a little underprepared we set out to ride the George S. Mickelson trail from Edgemont, SD north, a little over 100 miles to Deadwood and then turn around and ride back to our car. Done and done!

On the drive out we stopped in Sioux City to check on a local brewery and so we’d also have time the next day to cruise around the Badlands and visit Custer State Park.

The scenery (even from the car) was spectacular. We chose some lesser travelled gravel roads once we got to Custer State Park and got to watch a lone bison for a while just doing what he does best, graze and grunt.

When we rejoined the Wildlife Loop, we found ourselves as others often do, surrounded by a huge herd of bison. They are magnificent! The herd was so close to our car if I rolled my window down I could have pet the critter.

Day 1: Edgemont to Hill City, 64 miles, 2677 feet of elevation climb

Super nice ride with a bit of a headwind at times. We did NOT expect that a nearly 40 mile climb at an average of 2% grade would have any effect at all on our legs. Whoops… like a headwind, it wears on ya. And since we were now hauling bags that made a difference.

There were three breweries close to our campsite in Hill City which happened to be a little off route but worth it. We camped at Firehouse Campground and had showers, wifi and electricity – all the necessities.

Day 2: Hill City to Deadwood, 51 miles, 2220 feet of elevation climb

We were looking forward to this part of the Mickelson as we’d run a marathon on it in 2015. It was even better than we remembered and we were shaking our heads in wonder about running uphill for the first 13 miles of the marathon. Cycling again on this day was stellar with bluebird skies and clear air.

At one of the trail heads we met Steve and Sissel who have come to the US from London to ride bikes from DC to Portland. Steve is FundRiding for Multiple Sclerosis. We exchanged notes on routes and gear as bike travelers often do and we were on our way.

Patrick and Janice, from Fort Collins, have been retired just one week and didn’t waste any time at all getting out in their RV and on their bikes.

Deadwood came early and we quickly found a campground at Whistler’s Gulch. Our camp host sent us to the “back 40” and straight up what seemed like Mt. Everest to tent site #10. Again it was gorgeous even if we did have to work for it. We unpacked bags, set up the tent, and took a dip in the pool (back down the hill) even though we had to improvise a little on bathing suits. 😬 Then into town we went, smelling more like chlorine than dust and sweat from the trail.

Day 3: Deadwood to Custer, 65 miles, 3050 feet of elevation climb

The days begin to melt into one another on bike tours. I’m always amazed that these old grandma and grandpa bodies of ours rise to the occasion without too much protest. The hardest part for me is getting up off the ground and out of the tent in the morning. 😂

We jumpstarted our 4 minute plank and 100 push ups a day routine. I mean I had to. Our grandson Archie squeezes my arms and tells me they’re “fluffy.” 😂

The coolest thing about the whole day was meeting Jerry Baldwin as he was out riding the Mickelson with his family. As a side note, Mr. Baldwin was a college roommate of former South Dakota governor George S. Mickelson for whom the trail is named. Gov. Mickelson’s life tragically ended early while he was still in office in a plane crash. Back to Jerry, now in his early eighties, he helped champion the creation and development of the Mickelson Trail. He explained that it wasn’t easy in the beginning. There was a lot of push back but he persevered. Not surprised and grateful for his vision, intelligence and persistence. #trailboss

Day 4: Custer to Edgemont, 45 miles, 515 feet of elevation climb.

Recall that first day coming out of Edgemont when we punched those pedals on a gradual uphill for about 40 miles? Well today we sailed down that grade for an easy cruise back to our car. And now it’s on to Nebraska for a spin on The Cowboy Trail.

Note to cyclists: The George S. Mickelson trail is the real deal! It’s a hallmark rail trail. It’s so well maintained with nary a rut or washboard to be found. There’s no litter and the edges of trail are well groomed. There are clean vault privies along the trail as well as shelters. Historical markers also highlight the trail’s past.

If you’re going to start in Edgemont as we did, the Edgemont campground will let you park there while you ride the trail. Their camping fee is just $15 and they provide bathrooms and showers. It’s a bit noisy however with the trains passing throughout the night hauling coal back and forth but that’s all part of the experience.

Click on the image below to view more pics and videos from our ride.

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