Flint Hills Nature Trail

The Flint Hills Nature Trail is a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy project that has been taken over by the State of Kansas in May 2018 to become a new state park.  To be sure, it is a bicycle, walking and horseback riding trail that is not quite ready for prime time…and yet, is ready for exploration immediately.

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I love riding this trail.  When you ride the length of the trail, in part or in whole, you get to see the many different ecosystems of Kansas.   On the eastern portion of the FHNT you are often riding your bicycle along the Marais des Cygnes River and therefore you are in lowlands, farmlands or shaded, flat paths. This is especially true when riding from a couple miles east of Vassar to Osawatomie.

bicycling the flint hills nature trail
This stretch between Council Grove and Bushong allows you to see may a cattail and to look in to the cutouts created by the railroad to see the exposed flint rock.

Council Grove to Bushong, especially a mile or three west of Bushong, is gorgeous.  I mean gorgeous.  The Flint Hills, especially in the early spring/summer when the hills roll in emerald green and the prairie flowers are in bloom, are spectacular.  There are the endless sight-lines afforded by the climbing to the top of a hill to take in the deep ocean blue of the Kansas sky meeting the emerald green of the Flint Hills in Spring.

Oh! And in this stretch you can keep your eyes open for other rail lines long ago forgotten.  You’ll see the bridge abutments and it may take a minute or two, as I did, for it to register that the lands above those abutments are flat and with purpose.

Much of the trail around Vassar and to the east is well cared for and you sit very high on the Plains and can even see Pomona Lake off to the north.  When you ride from west to east here you get a bit of a free ride as the Kansas topography goes from higher lands to lower lands.  Of course, you’ll pedal harder going from east to west into Vassar from Pomona.

The ride from Ottawa to Osawatomie is just plain relaxing.  Much of this part of the trail is flat, shaded and easy on the eyes.

Treasure Hunt: Look for the bus in the Ottawa to Osawatomie section.

Flint Hills Nature Trail bridge
This bridge crosses US Hwy 75 between Osage City and Vassar.

Wild Life and Wild Flowers
As I have traveled and bicycled across the United States I am continually amazed at the beauty that can be found in each environment.  Here in Kansas I have a perpetual fascination with the prairie flowers found along my rides.  Different ecosystems and times of year provide subtle color and pollinator viewing opportunities on each ride.

Wild life I have encountered on my rides along the Flint Hills Nature Trail include;

  • Turkey (quite common to see)
  • Deer (quite common)
  • Reptiles of all kinds; black snakes, snakes of other species, lizards, skinks, turtles of all shapes and sizes
  • Bird species too numerous to mention, yet here are a few of my favorites; Meadowlark, Baltimore Oriole, Cardinal and the Indigo Bunting
  • Badgers…yes, badgers
  • Skunks, porcupines, rabbits, squirrels

Wind, Woods, Hills and Open Prairie
Depending on when you ride, please take the time to be prepared.  You will bicycle through dense woods, climb long hills (albeit not too steep…this is a former rail line, after all) and open prairie.  If you are not from Kansas and think it would be fun to sit on the top of a hill and watch a thunderstorm roll in, well, make sure you have life insurance. Lightning is not to be taken lightly.

And the wind. People from all over the world are struck by two things when they come to Kansas to bicycle;

  1. How windy it can be.  We may not have mountains like Colorado…yet ride in to a 18-22 mph headwind for five or eight hours and see how fun that is.
  2. How humid it can be.  (Aren’t we in the middle of the continent?)  When the jet stream pulls airflow out of the Gulf of Mexico it can become downright oppressive.  Make sure you carry, or have access to, plenty of water.

NOTE: Kansas is named after the Kanza peoples, the People of the South Wind.

Primitive Trail
In the past and up to this day,  FHNT has been a trail cobbled together by a band of volunteers pitching in on their time off from work to develop the trail as it exists today (July 14, 2019).  Their time and efforts should be appreciated by all.

Yet, for the casual bike rider, choosing which stretch of Flint Hills Nature Trail you choose to ride will go a long way to how much you enjoy the ride.  For instance, Vassar to Ottawa is well taken care of as is Council Grove to Allen.  From Admire to Osage City can get downright brutal with some of the large gravel rock followed by washboard ruts, etc. To me, this section is NOT recommended for skinny road bike tires at any speed…proceed with caution as you really should not relax and enjoy the scenery through much of this stretch.

And heck, to this point Osage City should be more than a little embarrassed about their portion of the trail. In fact, it simply disappears at one point because nobody has bothered to mow it down. The good news is, Osage City is one of the few places with many services for cyclists.  More on that later.

Flat tires in the flint hills
When you ride your bicycle in the Flint Hills, just be prepared. If the sharp flint rocks don’t get you there are still Goat Head Thorns might. You can ride all day with no worries…or have two flats in a day. Just be prepared.

What Kind of Bike?
In my estimation, and it is just a guess, I’d say about 38%-40% of the Flint Hills Nature Trail can be ridden by most anybody on most any bike.  Another 40% of the trail is good enough to ride on most any bike by someone paying good attention.  And the remaining 15%-20% should be ridden by prepared cyclist on wider tires such that you would find on gravel bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes or even sturdy cruisers.  I would NOT recommend, for skinny-tired “10 speed” style bikes, the Admire to Osage City portion of the ride. 

Kanza on the Flint Hills Nature Trail
Just south of the trail at 525 Rd just east of Council Grove is Allegawaho Memorial Park. There is much to explore here with the Kanza Heritage Trail and Kanza Memorial.

Don’t Expect Cyclist Services
Most of the trail you are on your own as a bicyclist. Unlike the George Mickelson Trail where trail heads were accompanied by bathrooms (though primitive) and, quite often, well water and even a few times bike tools stations, the Flint Hills Nature Trail is much younger and there are no such conveniences.  Heck, even the Prairie Spirit Trail that connects with the FHNT in Ottawa is far superior in the category of bicyclist services.  There is a stretch between Council Grove and Admire where there is a memorial park bench under a nice shade tree and the Boy Scouts of America (probably and Eagle Scout project) have installed more than a few park benches to rest on a stretch west of Bushong.

Yet generally, if you didn’t bring it, you don’t have access to it.  So make sure you have a spare bike tube or two…even if you, like I, run tubeless tires.  Last week I slashed a tubeless tire and without a handy dollar bill and a tube I would have been SOL miles and miles and miles from the closest available store to purchase a bike tube.

Oh, and your cell phone may, or may not, work.  Remember, you are in rural Kansas.  And by the way, this is part of the charm, right?  I mean, being on a nature trail doesn’t necessarily have to mean having the modern convenient world at your fingertips.

Water Tips and Services
Here are a few places that I know you can re-fill your water bottles and, if lucky, find a bathroom;

Osawatomie – Plenty of services before hitting the trail, including hotel.

Rantoul – There is drink machine “downtown.”

Ottawa – Plenty of services including hotels.

Pomona – A couple indy restaurants (pizza and Mexican food) as well as a Casey’s convenience store.

Vassar – A well pump in the middle of town.

Osage City – Plenty of services including a grocery store, Casey’s, Sonic, and a few small restaurants.  I cannot remember if there is a hotel around.

Admire – Bathrooms and water at the ball fields on NW side of town…never seen them closed.

Allen – There is a meat locker there that, when open, you can buy some water.

Council Grove – Plenty of services including hotel.

Osage County Flint Hills Nature Trail
Many of the bridges have no side railing at this time. So be sure to keep an eye on the young ones.

Listen, I love riding my bicycle in Kansas. And while the Flint Hills Nature Trail does not yet rate with it’s brother the Prairie Spirit Trail or the Katy or the George Mickelson, it is a great ride to be ridden.  It is my hope this post will allow you to be prepared and to be inspired to get out there and explore the FHNT.  If you see me there, say “hello.”


Riding the George Mickelson Trail in South Dakota

Riding the George Mickelson Trail in South Dakota’s Black Hills has been on my list since I first read about it in a magazine that Rails-to-Trail Conservancy sends me periodically.  So I scratched out a three day weekend here recently and packed my bike, gear and, oh yeah, my wife and fourteen year old daughter in to the car and up from Olathe, Kansas we drove.

Driving was part of the adventure.  We stayed in Omaha on Thursday night and took in their Old Market District.  Then it was up to the Badlands of South Dakota where I had my wife drop me off so that I could get in a twelve mile (or so) ride as they did a little hiking and visiting the Visitor’s Center.  Beautiful!  And there was this descent that would have been even more fun had it not been for the van from Nebraska in front of me… Yet, he was taking in the beautiful scenery, too.

bicycling south dakota
Pausing at the end of my short ride.  Such a beautiful place, the Badlands.

As a final “pit stop” on the way to our destination in Deadwood, we were legally required to stop off at Wall Drug.  I mean, anyone putting up that many signs for 500 miles deserves to capture at least a few of our expendable dollars, right?

769 miles later we arrived at our hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota.  As my wife and daughter planned their shopping and sight seeing for the next day I readied my Masi CXGR gravel bike and supplies for the ride on the Mickelson Trail.  At 6:54 am the next morning I turned on my Garmin Edge 25 and made the first kick towards Custer.

You can find my ride on the George Mickelson Trail here.

There was some construction creating a single lane on the main road leading to the trail and yet it was early in the morning, traffic was light and a police officer was right behind me to block any aggressive driving.  As I pedaled I realized that one block to my right was “downtown” Deadwood so I hung a right and pedaled down and back the two or three blocks of brick covered streets to take in the sights and odd names of many of the stores in front of me.

Then it was on to the trail announced by bold architecture where I registered my ride and paid the fee for trail use.  I believe the trail use for one day was $4.00 I only had one $1 bill and the rest were $20s.  So, Merry Christmas Mickelson Trail!

One of my early observations of the ride was how well the trail was taken care of and, at least in the Deadwood portion, how it appears that they didn’t take up the old tracks. They simply covered the rails with chit gravel.  I know this because in more than a few places the rail bleeds through and my tires were riding on steel.  Not in a dangerous way, mind you.  I had just never seen that before.

My second observation was how beautiful the Black Hills are.  The smell of the pine and feeling the crunch of the gravel under my tires sparked my senses.  And there was the noticeable coolness in the shadows as the cold water cast off waves of relief in the unseasonable heat…even at 7:15 in the morning.  The sound of that rushing water.  Of our five senses…the only thing missing was the taste.  And with all the rain they’ve been having there wasn’t much dust to eat.

Riding the George Mickelson Trail
There were a couple of buildings protected by the fence.  Was the fence to there to keep the ghosts in?

Up and Up and Up or Down
One of the things I probably should have done, especially as a Kansan, is check the elevation map. Listen, I promise you Kansas isn’t as flat as you’d like to believe.  At least in the eastern third of the state.  Yet, we do not have anyway to simulate hills that climb for the better part of 16 miles.  Yes, our Flint Hills can have steep rollers, yet they do not go on for the distance per climb you get in the Rockies or Black Hills.

Look at the ride.  Essentially, I only “climbed” four hills in the entire 67 miles.  Yet, except for a very short respite, the first hill goes on for 16.9 miles.  AND, I ride at 800′-1,000′ most days.  This ride bounced me between 4,500′ and 6,200′ throughout the day.  With only one night’s sleep at “altitude” this may have effected me more than I realized as I was climbing and climbing.  Sure, my overall speed on the ride was respectable considering all the stopping I did for sightseeing and pictures along the way, yet I began to feel that ride in that last climb before Custer.

Mickelson Trail Black Hills South Dakota
Roughly 8 miles in from Deadwood there is this beautiful rest stop at the Russell “Uncle Russ” Vermann memorial picnic table. Thank you to whomever provided this in Uncle Russ’ memory.

LESSON: For my friends in western Kansas, southern Illinois  and most of Florida, you are either riding up and up or descending when you ride the Mickelson Trail.  Very little, if any, flat. 

And speaking of descents…WOW!  Look at that first real descent.  That’s over an 18 mile free ride!  Well worth the climbing that precedes.  I was torn between hitting speeds of 25 mph and taking in every sight as slowly as I could.  The experience was truly a remarkable time on the trail and perhaps my primary lasting memory as time goes forward.

A couple of snakes of unknown species, a deer clearly unafraid of my being on the trail, a chipmunk here and again…that was really the only wildlife I saw on the trail.  So I was disappointed on this front. It has been unseasonably warm in the Black Hills and this may account for the animals bedding down in the shade where I could not see them.

George Mickelson Trail railroad tunnel
One of the three or four railroad tunnels I traveled in my 67 miles. We don’t get many of these in Kansas.

I will write more about the George Mickelson Trial in the near future.  The trail was simply inspiring and I took more pictures and notes along the way. The journey was renewing, relaxing, exhilarating and hard work…all in the same day.  That is a good day of bicycle riding in my book.

Why I Strava: Heatmap

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cartography.  In elementary school my mother worried about my obsession with drawing maps of the world…especially as they related to World War II and how aggressive the Germans were and the Allies’ response…  I know. Silly, right?

Today I get my cartography fix through riding my bike and utilizing the Strava heatmap feature for premium members.

The featured image above is the Strava Global Heatmap for Kansas (pictured here and above) of June 23, 2019.  What is really cool is you can see the plainly see;

bicycling in the United States
A quick glance shows the places I ride a lot. Further examination shows travel that I have enjoyed on my bicycle.

Take a look at the map above.  The blue shows routes…the red shows frequent use. Clearly, without knowing anything else about me, you know I reside in the middle of the country…Kansas! And you can clearly see that I have had great bike rides in;

  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Missouri
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Maine

In addition, though it can be hard to see without zooming in, there are traces of blue in;

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Washington DC/Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Tamarindo, Costa Rica

So, as a guy that loves cartography and bicycling you can see how I have come up with my #50Miles50States hashtag that can be searched on this bicycling blog. And clearly, I still have a lot of work to do.  Yet…that is the fun, isn’t it?

How can Strava heatmap help you create purpose and fun in your cycling?

Cycling Kansas
Clearly, I live in the southern suburbs of Kansas City and I get to ride quite a bit around Emporia, home of the Dirty Kanza and the Flint Hills.

Both of these Strava heatmaps are accurate as of June 23, 2019…except…

When I first started riding, I mean really paying attention to my riding I adopted Map My Ride. Map My Ride shows me with over 14K miles since I started tracking in mid-Summer, 2013.  And I still like Map My Ride. I just like the interface of Strava better along with the being able to track my miles per bicycle AND the heat map, of course.

I didn’t really start using Strava until the Fall of 2017…though I did go in and backlog some of my more significant rides…like Dirty Kanza, Seattle to Portland, Biking Across Kansas (BAK),  etc.  Strava has me at just barely over 9K miles.  Imagine how much more red the Kansas City area would be with those extra 5K miles!  Oh, how it pains me to think of all those uncharted rides.

Power meters and heart rate monitors  and the like are not how I interact with technology to make bicycling more fun for me.  Yet Strava heatmap is a classic case of how technology is helping someone like me to enjoy bicycling just that little bit more.  Thanks for reading.  I hope you feel inspired to turn a crank today.

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Flint Hills, Kansas Gravel Riding

I often have the pleasure of riding my bicycle in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Rolling. Rugged. Steep and flat.  And in the spring, emerald green.  As I pedal the miles away I am often torn between riding for time and miles or, as what usually wins out, is that I ride and stop, ride and stop, ride and stop and wonder.  The rides are for thinking, exercise and prayer.  The stops are to photograph, observe and to wonder.

Fascination has always clouded my logical thinking when I come upon structures that time has forgotten.  Of course, this isn’t true with just the Flint Hills…yet the wonder is especially amplified as I pass through this rugged land.

The photographs used in this post were taken on April 20, 2019 on a 32.96 mile ride through Chase County, Kansas.

Gravel Riding Kansas
An unnamed tributary of Buckeye Creek flows over an otherwise dry road.
Gravel riding in Chase County, Kansas
When you look back in time you see the men wrestling with the cattle to get them where they want them. Note the storage barn built above flood stage of the creek from the previous picture.
Flowers in bloom on the Flint Hills
A small concrete foundation remains. These flowers remain. The family and their stories are long since gone…as are the integrity of the structures they left behind.
Kanza gravel biking
Riding in the Flint Hills is a surprise to riders from all over the world. The endless stacatto of each rise and fall in a cloudless sky…humidity rising.
gravel riding in Kansas
Some see this and think…Kansas, boring. Yet when I ride I feel at one with my surroundings and the God that made me. This is a time to reconnect with our soul. No stop lights. No cars dangerously close. Only the sound of an endless array of birds.


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Why I Ride My Bike

This morning I was watching a newer video by GCN – Global Cycling Network that had tips on how to know if you have lost sight on why you ride your bike.  And it got me to thinking about Why I Ride My Bike.

I’m +50 years old and sit in an office most of my work days and talk with people. Not many calories burned there.  When I ride, I like my body.  I breath better, feel better, sleep better.  I look better.  When I take extended time off the bike, all those positives begin to dissipate.

Another reason why I ride my bike is hidden in the first reason; I talk with people all day.  Happily, my work office sits right in front of a paved trail that can take me on a 33 mile loop. I can get on my bike and just ride. Then I can think…or not think.  I can ponder issues to be tackled or I can just consider my cadence and speed.  Or I can choose to concentrate on any wildlife I may see.  It’s “me” time.

In all of us there are contradictions.  I like my “me” time to recharge. And I like to ride with like minded bicycle riders.  In fact, I lead a Meetup group here in Olathe, Kansas called BOB – Bicycling Olathe and Beyond.  We have strictly social rides and we have rides that go out for 50-60 miles.  Generally, people group themselves pretty well.  You can really get to know people when you spend 4 hours with them cycling week after week.

Perhaps most importantly, I love feeling the wind through my hair as I zig zag down a street switching my body weight from one side of the bike to the other.  Now, those of you that know me know I don’t have any hair, so that may have been figuratively speaking, mind you.  The point is, riding a bike is just plain fun for me.

I would love to hear from you why you ride your bike now that I have shared with you why I ride my bike.

Bicycling Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor

As we sit here planning our bicycle adventures for 2019 I had to stop and realize I had never shared our video of Marie and I when we spent a week in June of 2017 Bicycling Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor.  What a great time that was.

bike tour maine

Click to View Video

Husband and Wife
First, it is the first time I have ever gotten Marie to do a “major” ride with me.  The promise of all the romance Maine had to offer was certainly a factor…not to mention the lobster.  The rides we rode to train together were great, too.  Away from the kids and the chores of daily life we could just be husband and wife, friends.

Summer Feet Cycling
To arrange the tour we used Summer Feet Cycling to make our lives easier.  They shared with us bike routes, made reservations at B&Bs and shuttled us from place to place when the route called for it.  Knowing that we would be staying at Bed and Breakfast establishments as well as getting the occasional car ride really helped me to sell the trip to Marie.

Summer Feet did a great job. We were well pleased with the B&B accommodations, locations chosen and most of the route.  There were some minor things I would have changed about the route. Then again, if I had gone on my own there wouldn’t have been a route!  I would have just set off from place to place and wandered in between.

bike touring Maine

Mountains and Coastline
By far, I think Marie’s favorite parts of the ride were the coastlines.  Me?  I was in agreement though I did enjoy the mountain climbs and the views from on top.  Marie was really NOT in to the climbs but was a good sport about it all. No, we didn’t see any moose.

The Cities
I had no idea how cool the cities in Maine would be.  I loved Portland and Belfast.  Marie got a great deal of pleasure at the shops in Bar Harbor.  The brick buildings and water views and, well, for these landlubbers the cities had a lot to offer.

bicycle vacation maine

Ice Cream, Beer and Cod
All you ever really hear about in Maine is the lobster.  And it was good.  Marie had it many, many times.  Me?  I loved the beer culture in Maine.  Holy cow!  Every city seemed to have its own brewery, or two.  Every city had ice cream everywhere. And the Cod?  I fell in love. I ate far more Atlantic Cod than lobster.  Then again, I’m a steak and bbq guy.

We Just Were
All told, we rode 228.82 miles with 12,157′ of elevation gained. Not a sprinter’s pace, to be sure.  Still, I didn’t write at all while on this bicycle tour.  The moments were simply enjoyed…and photographed.   I’ll let the video above and the pictures tell the rest of the story.  I’m just glad I was blessed to take the trip…with my wife. That will always be my memory of bicycling Maine.


Olathe Area Bike Rides

2018 was a year of not-enough-rides by Bicycling Olathe and Beyond…BOB for short.  There were personal reasons for that.  2019 will be different. We now have darned near 500 members, most of which I’ve never met.  Here is what I am asking from you…

Additional Organizer
I’m looking to add one additional organizer who will be in charge of the more recreational rides. Rides like 5-10 miles on the Indian Creek or Tomahawk Creek Trails, or just tooling around Shawnee Mission or Heritage Parks.  These rides are strictly for the fun of it.  No drop.  No requirements other than to have a good time.  Social rides, if you will.  Definitely family friendly rides.

Social Organizer
I’m looking for someone that will organize 2-3 Meetups for bicycle riders around southern JoCo.  Not a ride, but a gathering.  Maybe we reserve the back area of The Other Place in Olathe, or space at the new Peanut in Olathe?  Anyone willing to take this on?

Mountain Bike Organizer
Frankly, I gave mountain biking up.  I don’t like rock gardens.  Yet, we have quite a few people that inquire about mountain bike meetups.  So if you’d like to take charge of this, let me know.  We’d love to help you facilitate those.

Contact Chris to be an Organizer

Gravel Rides
Over the last couple years I have really gotten in to gravel riding.  And as luck would have it, I have a small place out in the Flint Hills  about halfway between Emporia and Council Grove, Kansas.  As such, I will be hosting gravel bike rides out there on some Saturdays throughout the warmer months.  So look for those gravel bike rides to come.

Road Bike Rides
And, of course, we’ll re-launch road bike rides.  We have plenty of road riders of all abilities at this site.  Be sure to read our What We’re About link on our home page to get a good feel for our rides and where you would fit in.  Some are no-drop, some are all-out-get-after-it.

And most of all, remember.  This is about fun and exercise and making some good friends.  BOB is not about getting you ready to win a gold medal. It’s about enjoying life.  If that’s you, we’d love for you to join us in 2019.

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fun bike riding

Riding the Prairie Spirit Trail

Yesterday I found myself riding the Prairie Spirit Trail in the eastern third of Kansas for Rick’s Birthday Ride.  (Find our riding group at Meetup’s BOB Rides.)  The Prairie Spirit is a rails-to-trails ride running about 52 miles with Ottawa and Humbolt as the trial ends. Over the years I have ridden this trail several times in bits and pieces including the 50 mile round trip (almost exactly!) from Ottawa to Garnett and back.

riding a rails to trail project in Kansas
It’s a long video and yet it shows you the ride and stops. To see the video, click the link below.

Watch the Prairie Spirit Trail Ride

The trail has little elevation, as do most rail-to-trail projects.  In fact, my Garmin showed 745 feet of total elevation over those 50.01 miles. Therefore, recreational bicyclists should feel comfortable that they can ride without too much stress and that way they can just focus on the miles, rather than the hills.  Of course, in Kansas our winds can definitely make up for the lack of elevation in this part of the state.

On this day, however, the winds were minimal and out of the due north.  What I love about this trail is that it is a great trail on which to get back in shape.  Through the city limits of Ottawa and Garnett you are on paved bike paths that are well marked.  Once outside those two cities you are on well cared for crushed limestone. Even 28mm road tires would perform okay on about 85% of the ride, though I definitely recommend something a little wider and not slick.  You will also find restrooms in Princeton and Richmond, though it must be noted that they were closed yesterday and I suspect most of the winter.

As you ride, even in winter, you will see animals scurrying here and there.  Mostly cats, dogs, squirrels, etc., though I have seen wild turkey, deer and a coyote or two.  In spring, flowers abound and birds chirp happily.  Because this is an old railroad line, there are walls of trees that line the trail outside the city limits and can really cut down on the wind, making almost any day a pleasant day to ride.

To all the volunteers that have tended this trail over the years I want so say a hearty “Thank you.”  As I understand it, beginning January 1, 2019 I will no longer need to purchase a permit to ride the trail.  Hopefully, that means more people will get out and enjoy riding the Prairie Spirit Trail.

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Gravel Riding in Costa Rica

There was a moment when I stopped, listened carefully to the sounds of the jungle and wondered what Marie (my wife) would think when she got the call exclaiming “We found him!” Logically, I knew I was only a mile or so from some kind of sign of civilization. Yet here I was at road’s end. Yes, the road had simply stopped at a stream. This is where I found myself on a bike ride in Costa Rica a couple weeks back.

***  ***

Earlier in the day I had rented a bike several notches below my usual standards, as I wrote last week, for my inaugural ride in Costa Rica.  A short ride, to be sure.  Yet a ride that brought smiles.  On this ride I had decided to be a bit more adventurous.  Without much thought and certainly very little planning, I took a glance at my Google Maps and headed off from the Tamarindo Diria Hotel.

The noise and cars of Tamarindo soon began to disappear quickly as the asphalt road turned in to gravel as I was heading up a slight incline past the Banco Nacional.  I smiled to myself having to admit that I had never seen a bank so modern and protected by security fences located on a gravel road.  Surrounding the bank was an area I can best describe as Hostel territory.  Apparently, as I learned upon arriving, Tamarindo is well known for its surfing.  (See the video of our adventures below.)

Bicycling Costa Rica


As such, the hostels bubble over with the young and adventurous looking to spend a week or month or year chasing the perfect wave with little on their minds but how to get just enough work done to survive until tomorrow’s ride.  As a bicyclist, I immediately could appreciate the sentiment.

As I continued my ascent I would see a sign pointing out some sort of establishment here and there and was really quite stunned how quickly I was “out of town.”  I looked down at my Garmin Edge 25 and, if memory serves me, I was less than two miles from the hotel. As I continued up the hill, nothing too steep, I caught a glimpse of a sign that said “Lots –>”  As it is my fantasy to someday live in Costa Rica, or at least have a part time residence here, I followed the arrow down around a dog-leg left, up a small rise and down a  bit followed by a serious, serious climb.  As I am still not back in bicycling shape I am sheepish to say the hill was so long and steep that I did walk my bike the last quarter of the climb.

Walking the bike did not help my heart rate.  My thighs burned and lungs cycled quickly because after spending most of the year grieving my daughter the bike had been put aside.  Why?  I really don’t know and didn’t realize it for the longest time  Without my usual miles at this time of year I had to admit to myself, “Chris, this isn’t Kansas.”

gravel bike ride

As I reached the peak I had found the “Lots.”  Luxury homes poked up over the right side and still more up and up.  The road laid out in front of me with a downhill that beckoned, the tree down over three-quarters of the way over the road be damned.  “Maybe that should have been a clue for the initiated,” I would later think to myself as the road quickly turned in to what I would most definitely deem to be a “minimum maintenance road.”  To say the very least.

No worries.  I’m here having fun with no real direction to go and so long as I beat the sun, I’d be okay.  I stopped to take a picture of the road and after crossing a stream, the first of three, I stopped to set up my GoPro to take those video snippets in the video above. It was fun and I was enjoying myself.

Sure, the mud leading to the flowing stream had paw prints I had never seen before.  And yes, the howler monkeys were howling away somewhere in the distance and, “Hey, what was that?” was happening here and again as unknown leaves would rustle not that far from the road.  Yet, this was my first jungle experience and I was tickled to death.  Without the power of a bicycle and the courage to rent one an go I would not right now be sitting here, out of breath, enjoying all that God had provided around me.  Pretty cool.

Which, after crossing another stream with unknown prints around it in abundance, brings me to where the story began…in the middle of nowhere with only one safe way to go…back the way I came.  So back I went.  Remember that hill/mountain I had to walk part of the way up? Well now let me tell you, that was a lot of fun on the way down!

Soon I found my way back to the “Lots–>” sign and continued my original direction, up and up the hill, on gravel, on a bike that did not fill me with confidence.  Finally, and not too far up the road I saw a weather-worn sign pointing out the DreamSea Surf Camp to the left and (happily) I cut the climb short and took the sharp left with a quick downhill.  It wasn’t too long before I saw the camp on my left with what looked like a showing agent convincing someone this was the place to stay.  Frankly, if I were a surfer I’d give it a go.  After all, it’s surround by nothing.  What a great place to hang after a tension filled day of finding the right wave and not hitting the volcanic rock if the tide is out.

It wasn’t long thereafter that I headed up what I thought was a hill and then quickly realized as I turned slightly right that it was mountain…with a sharp switchback followed by the steepest, straightest climb I have ever attempted.  Now understand, while I do live in Kansas, I do ride the Flint Hills.  What are the Flint Hills you ask?  The are a beautiful ecological tallgrass challenge that run north and south in Kansas and made bicycle-famous by the Dirty Kanza.  Hop on over to the DK200 website to find out more.

That said, this mountain kicked my bicycle hiney.  Can I blame it on the bike?  Probably not.  I stopped three times on the way to the top. And, at one point, I found it curious that a motorcyclist cut his engine at the peak and as he came over he was super slow and using his brakes. He stopped next to me and said in broken English that I was just about there and with a smile, he was gone again.  Helmet on, engine off as he went down the steep descent.

Mountain Keeps Going
The mountain just kept going up!

Encouraged, up I went and was so relived when I hit top.  So relieved.  I stopped and took a picture where you can, if you look closely, see the Pacific Ocean a couple miles off.  (See feature image.) And then down I went. Another ordeal.

You see I came to Costa Rica without bicycle gloves or a helmet.  The clipped shoes I remembered though the shop didn’t have clipless pedals.  That descent?  That motorcyclist with his engine turned off and ever so slowly going down the other side? Me not wearing a helmet?

Off I went. Terrified.  This I should have walked! It was probably a 350 meters long and my guess is a 15% descent, or more.  Maybe some smart guy can look at my Strava and figure it out for me.  As the gravel would fly by I glanced down at the Garmin and saw speeds creeping past 26 mph even as I feathered the brakes as best I could.  One ounce of pressure too much and the back brake kept locking and sending me in to very uncomfortable skids.  Keep in mind, I am an experienced gravel rider.  Yet with this negative pitch, large chunks of gravel, rain trenches snaking and cutting their way through the Costa Rican dirt roads leaving trenches inches deep and, remember, no helmet, I was a little stressed.

Should I lay it down and take the road rash?  Should I keep going and do the best I can?  Which tree exactly will I be hitting?

Finally, the road began to level.  Slowly but surely.  Almost to the end of the hill I found three men changing out a radiator on a very used Toyota.  I’m not sure what the deal is with radiators in Costa Rica but the one hour ride from the airport to the hotel featured several radiator repair shops.  (Make a note: I’ll need to look in to that.)

And like magic, the pavement of the “highway” appeared in front of me in perpendicular fashion.  Since this road is the major way in and out of Tamarindo I slowed to be sure I could make it and jumped the highway to a path running parallel just off the pavement.  Though not cared for this path had to be safer than the road itself, at least in my current jittery mode having survived the longest, bumpiest, gravelliest, steepest, straightest descent I have ever ridden.

tamarindo costa rica bike rideAnother mile or so and I was back at the bike shop before they closed for the day so the blonde German girl could check me in as she made plans to go out for the evening immediately upon her release from work duties.

From there I walked across the street and headed back to my hotel.  It’s a short walk from Kelly’s Surf Shop to the Hotel Diria with the merchants interspersed on both sides of the road, the Pacific Ocean calling on the west side only, the sound of waves crashing muffled slightly by cars passing and music from the open air bars. As I took one quick glimpse at my Garmin before shutting it off my bike ride had totaled 6.4 miles and 222 calories burned. Are you freakin’ kidding me?


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My First Bike Ride in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Wherever I travel I try to get on a bike.  This last week I took my wife and daughter on a trip and I thought I’d share a little about my first bike ride in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Since I didn’t travel with one of my bikes (this time) the first job is to source a place to rent a bike.  I found three or four “Bike Rentals” signs in stores but quickly ascertained that Tamarindo doesn’t have a serious bicycle shop.

There were a few places to rent beach cruisers and there was even one place that rented upper end electric bikes but I was looking for a higher end gravel or mountain bike.  I did find one shop that had mountain bikes, Kelly’s Surf Shop.  While they had a few mountain bikes to choose from and they did make sure the back tire (not the front) had “enough” air you should be able to ascertain by the name of the business that, although very nice people, bicycles aren’t their specialty.  Quite simply, I may have overpaid at the $15.00 per day fee I agreed to.

bicycle riding in costa rica
Looking out over the volcanic lava to Tamarindo Bay.

But off I rode on this beautiful warm day with the salt air in my nose, the beach to my right and my Garmin Edge 25 tracking my miles on a very used mountain bike in need of a serious tune up and, frankly, chain lube.  Never-the-less, onwards!

My first ride was just 3.58 miles while my wife and daughter hit the spa.  I headed southwest through the heart of Tamarindo with merchants, beachside bars and restaurants on both sides and the sounds of Central American wafting out across the open air.  I veered to the left leaving Calle Central for Central Avenue. What’s the difference?  I really don’t know.  Then it was up the small hill to down again and around another curve, this time to the right as I headed south on Calle Cardinal.  Now be sure to note that I am glancing at Google Maps as I write this because I don’t really remember seeing any street signs.  That kind of information doesn’t seem to be too high a priority.  Hey, it’s Pura Vida. You just go with the flow.

Awaiting me was a shallow climb past luxury resorts, condos and homes. Quite scenic really.  It’s amazing how so many buildings seem to be suspended in construction while others look as if they have stood the test of time.   The ride was a mix of pretty good blacktop streets drifting in to questionable pavement leading to gravel in varying stages of attention and back again.  After finishing the closed loop that is Calle Cardinal and it’s extensions I headed back to my hotel to meet Marie and Piper.  This time I cut through a neighborhood with beach access and casually rode along the beach.

A cool mural in Costa Rica
Propping my bike up against a cool shop sign. Selina looks to be an automotive repair business.

While the distance of the ride is what I consider to be quite short the enjoyment of the ride was quite high.  I simply cannot express the joy I feel as I pedal through places I have never been. Seeing the world at bicycle speed feeds my #BikeCompulsion.  There is something childlike, explorer like throughout the whole process.  I can quickly slow down to notice the details like an iguana scampering up a tree or a child chasing a scorpion on his driveway.

Later that day I carved out more time to go on a longer, much more adventurous ride and I’ll link to that when the post if finished. At this point I just wanted to share that first bike ride I had in Costa Rica.  The ride made me smile.  I hope it inspires you to do your own exploring on two wheels…even if it is through your own neighborhood. You’ll be amazed at what you notice at bicycle speed.

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