Up to the Flint Hills - Midwest Spring Flings - CycleBlaze

May 25, 2019

Up to the Flint Hills

 I arrived in Kansas yesterday for the last of my Midwest Flings, a 3-day supported ride organized by the Kaw Valley Bike Club.  The Cottonwood 200 starts in Topeka, KS and travels through the Flint Hills and the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve.  Kitty, a fellow cyclist from South Dakota whom I met on an Adventure Cycling Tour last winter, is joining me and about 200 other folks on the ride. Kitty and I spent a wonderful evening last night with Tobias and Abby, “friends of friends” who live in a rambling 19th century house brimming with artwork, pottery and warmth. We were feted with a delicious Mediterranean dinner and lively conversation - ranging from bicycle touring and the intellectual history of Topeka to religion and politics.

Between the Turkish coffee, the stimulating conversation, and the overnight storms, I had a somewhat sleepless night. We were out the door by 6:30 am and headed to the ride meeting point where we loaded our gear into the truck, signed in and got our swag bag. This is the 43rd year of the Cottonwood 200, and there is a lot of local enthusiasm and support for the ride.  A group departure of ~200 riders was accompanied by a police escort for the first few miles out of town, then we headed up the hill and were on our way – 73 miles through the Flint Hills to Council Grove.

The delightful Tobias and Abby
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Although the skies looked a bit ominous, the forecast was partly cloudy, windy, and thunderstorms not until later that evening. Leaving Topeka, we headed southwest on Kansas state route 4, directly into a 15-20 mph headwind.  And lest you think that Kansas is all flat, we were headed to the Flint Hills. The headwinds turned what may have been a “fundulating” ride into something a bit more challenging. The SAG stops were a welcome relief, providing not only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but also friendly faces and knowing words of encouragement from the locals. 

An unintended consequence of riding “head down into the wind” was noticing the variety of roadkill along the Kansas roadways – a variety that included countless box turtles, giant bull frogs, and the occasional rattlesnake. Late spring and early summer is breeding season, when turtles cross the road looking for a partner or a nesting site. Also, the frequent rains and flooding this year may have caused increased turtle movement. As you can imagine, a turtle crossing the road has no real defense against cars – a speedy evasive maneuver is not in their repertoire. One of the Kansan cyclists said some riders who spot turtles in the road move them – but it is essential that they are moved directly across the road in the direction they were traveling.  Indeed, we did spot a biker ahead of us stop in the middle of the road to safely relocate a turtle in jeopardy. Unfortunately, I witnessed many more turtles whose crossing was much less successful.

Variable weather across the Kansas skies - hoping for more and larger patches of blue
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The rescued box turtle
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Bill ShaneyfeltNice rescue! Not a box turtle. They are smaller and have high domed shells. Might be a river cooter.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_cooter
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3 years ago
Susan CarpenterTo Bill ShaneyfeltThanks Bill

I had asked a Kansan about all the turtles - she said it was probably a box turtle. The ornate box turtle is the state reptile of Kansas, but this one doesn't have the coloring, or the shape. So I'm happy to go with river cooter.
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3 years ago

The sun came out about mid-morning, but it seemed the wind speeds were picking up. After 34 miles, we pulled into the town of Eskridge and found a bench in the shade of main street where we idled for about 30 min, taking in the sights and sounds of this small prairie town.  Refreshed, we headed downhill and due west out of Eskridge, and were immediately hit with some pretty fierce crosswinds.  Leaning into the wind, I struggled to control the bike against the frequent gusts that wanted to pitch me into the ditch. It had us all longing for the headwinds!  Soon though, the winds abated a bit and I was again able to appreciate the landscape – big skies and rolling grasslands.  The Flint Hills are so named for flinty limestone bedrock that was formed about 250 million years ago. Not much grows on the shallow limestone bedrock except prairie grass and the Flint Hills represent one of the last large areas of tallgrass prairie in the US. 

Main Street, Eskridge, Kansas
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Eskridge mother and her three children headed for the lake on this Memorial Day weekend
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The shallow limestone bedrock of the Flint Hills
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Cattle grazing in the treeless prairie of Flint Hills
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We made it to Council Grove by late afternoon and found our lodging for the next two nights – the local middle school gymnasium. Kitty and I secured prime spots in the upstairs “mezzanine” area behind the bleachers. After cleaning up, we headed for dinner at the historic Hays House, a restaurant built in 1857 by Seth Hays, a great-grandson of Daniel Boone. A TV in the corner of the dining room was set to Storm Team 12, continuously showing Doppler patterns of an approaching storm system. When we returned to the middle school, we learned that heavy rainfall and rising waters in the nearby lake might force a release of water from the dam, with potential for flooding the middle school. This would require us to evacuate the middle school - to where was not clear. Although all bikes were safely inside the school, some concerned cyclists in the mezzanine brought their bikes upstairs. Others were worried about a middle of the night evacuation in their pajamas. I was worried only whether I would get a good nights sleep.  I had no WiFi access so settled into my sleeping bag, thoroughly satisfied with another great day on the bike.  I was asleep before "lights out."

Main street Council Grove and the historic Hays House restaurant
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The weather is must-see TV, especially this year
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Sleeping with bikes in Council Grove, Kansas
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Today's ride: 74 miles (119 km)
Total: 224 miles (360 km)

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Scott AndersonI’ve never heard of the Flint Hills, or biked in Kansas at all. This looks like a lovely cycling area, just the kind of place I’d enjoy.
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3 years ago
Susan CarpenterTo Scott AndersonHello Scott,
I agree that you might enjoy it. Many folks think the midwest is all flat, boring, and windy. It's not all flat, not all boring, and the wind can be challenging. I look forward to exploring the region a bit more in the next few years.
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3 years ago