Bike Camping at Hillsdale State Park, Kansas
Winter had stayed too long; although I had been active -- walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and cycling for transportation -- I had not been bike touring. I felt the need to do something that would pare the fat off the soul, and maybe even scare the **** out of me. Even though the adventure was going to be only about 90 miles round trip and close to home, the bike with gear weighed 60-plus pounds and we were taking a route I had never been on. So, my imagination wandered, but I was ready for the new adventure.
Hillsdale Lake was our destination; you can see our route here.
We started out from Family Bicycles in Kansas City, Missouri. Me, Bill Poindexter, a self-proclaimed, and practicing Carfree American, bicycle tourist, and Yogi who's into all things healthy; and Jano Mossman, a self-proclaimed product tester, kayaker, cyclist, and adventurer.
From the start, the feeling of excitement, nervousness, and adrenaline that traveling by bicycle brings was exhilarating. Once we got to the city park in Leawood, Kansas, and the beginning of Tomahawk Creek Greenway, we decided to by pass up the high traffic of Mission Road and take Tomahawk Creek for 10 miles before heading south on unknown back roads around Olathe. I love riding the creek trails: the wooded feeling, people running and walking, kids playing, cyclists riding, and zero cars to worry about.
No good bike tour goes 100 percent smoothly, and sure enough, about 16 miles into our adventure Jano's seat post clamp was not holding. Luckily, this happened to be about a mile from a bike shop, so we were able to make a simple detour for repairs. As we knew, having a good attitude and a willingness to adapt is key when bicycle touring; so, with smiles, we headed to the the shop and took advantage of the bathroom and water fountain, and had a snack.
In a few minutes Jano had a new seat post clamp. We headed back to the trail and its wilderness feel. Soon we transitioned onto Pflumm Road, which took us into the countryside. Our intention for this ramble was to stay on mostly paved roads, but gravel roads are abundant in our area (someone once told me that more than 80 percent of the roads in Kansas are gravel). Indeed, gravel was in our destiny.
We were not the first sojourners to explore this part of the country, by any means. The Kansas City area is rich with frontier trails that intersect with many of the roads we travel on today. I am always humbled when I consider the hardships our ancestors endured pioneering the way to the South and the West.
We would roll down one road, then hit gravel, hit another paved road, make a jog, then hit gravel again. It was great fun exploring all the back roads.
Mile 30: We came up to an intersection where a fire station was located. They had a nice picnic table under a tree that looked like a great spot for a break. On most tours I love stopping at fire stations for water and bathrooms, or even as an emergency camp spot. The firemen/women are glad to have the company and are always interested in hearing about adventures. It's also a good opportunity to let them know how much you appreciate their service.
While eating, Jano was telling me about one of his many sea-kayaking adventures, when two cyclists pulled up at the intersection. They saw us and came over for a stretch and some water. Invariably, when people see loaded bikes they are curious. We had a great conversation with these fellow cyclists.
Maybe it's that I subconsciously seek out gravel. I like adventure, and gravel roads crank up the adventure rating of any bike tour. You never know what type of surface you are in for -- packed, slushy, slippery, soft, layered, clay, dirty, clean, dusty, bumpy, rocky, chitty, washboard ... But gravel is your friend. There is less traffic, and you see things you don't see on paved roads. The locals are usually friendly, and there are more dogs and other critters. You have to focus on the road ahead and "keep a line," so you don't drift off into loose parts. Your focus and balance skills as a cyclist vastly improve. You may go slower, but what's the hurry?
On one of the gravel roads we encountered dust and smoke, as a farmer was burning a field to prepare it for new crops. Jano, the self-proclaimed product tester, was prepared. He lifted his Buff over his mouth and nose was able to stave off the effects of the smoke and dust. I, too, had a buff, but it was packed away, so I decided to blow through the bad air, occasionally holding my breath ... not one of my finer strategies.
We made our way to Old KC Road (I love that name) for the final 9-mile push to Hillsdale. Dusk was fast approaching, and a slight headwind had kept us behind schedule, so we pushed hard to the campground. When we arrived at our primitive camp spot just off the lake, both of us were a little grumpy, hungry, cold, and tired. I paid the campground host the $13 per tent fee (seems high?). Although the ride, with bike shop detour, was only around 46 miles, neither of us were use to carrying the extra 30-plus pounds of gear, food, and water. This does make a difference in the amount of calories burned.
Once the tents were up, firewood collected and ignited, and food and hot beverages in our bellies, life was good again.
We spent hours standing around the campfire talking about past adventures, gear choices, and our loved ones. We crawled in our tents at about 11 p.m. I had intentions of reading, but I quickly drifted to sleep, lulled by the squawking of blue herons on the lake, and Jano snoring in his tent.
Excellent first half of our bike overnight.
We were up by 7 a.m. The temp was in the high forties, and the sky was cloudy. We ate a leisurely breakfast. I had almonds, banana, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, Starbucks instant coffee, and cheese. Jano went the freeze-dried route, and rolled it up in low-carb tortillas. I loved his Primus stove, and will put that on my wish list.
As I was breaking down my tent I heard, "Do I see a Long Haul Disc Trucker?" One of our neighbors, Kelly, came over for a chat. He'd ridden rode his motorcycle up from Oklahoma for the retirement party of a friend. Kelly was also an avid cyclist, and was currently preparing for Biking Across Kansas. Like Jano, he's a gear aficionado, and the two of them spent the next hour talking equipment. Kelly was great, and very nice; I am hoping to get together to tour with him someday.
Jano is a man of all seasons. He believes in being prepared. Whether it be the odd grizzly bear in Kansas or a mean dog, he was not taking chances!
I'm not sure exactly what time we left our camp, but it was later than expected. That was fine; we were not on a schedule.
Just past 164th and South Ridgeview Road we hopped on another greenway trail, Indian Creek, and took that in. Seventeen miles of no traffic was awesome, and it would allow Jano to take a more direct route back to his digs in Kansas City, Kansas. Before parting ways, we stopped at a restaurant at 119th and Quivera Road for a Sunday brunch of steak, eggs, grilled asparagus, and whipped cauliflower. Jano and I had more conversations about life, adventures, pets, and friends. One of the great things about bicycle touring with someone you like is you get to share in their life and they in yours.
We toasted the tour, then rode another 10 miles together before parting to go our respective ways. A successful Bicycle Tour of KC Bicycle Touring Meetup.
Jano's gear: Eureka Splitfire 1 tent, Sea to Summit down quilt/sleeping bag, Pacific Outdoor Equipment air mattress, Primus isopropane stove with pizo ingitor. His bike, GT Touring.
My gear: Marmot Aspen 2P tent, Marmot synthetic sleeping bag (rated for 30 degrees), Therm-a-Rest foam sleeping pad, cheap ground tarp from hardware store, Arkel XM-45 panniers. My bike is a Surly Long Haul Disc Trucker.
Tips for this adventure: Check out Buffs so you don't have to hold your breath in the smoke and dust while bicycling fast. While touring make sure you eat 200-plus calories per hour to ward off bonking due to low blood sugar. Bring ear plugs in case your companion is a snorer. :)