Samantha Jones and Laura Denneler did a thing! They entered the August LMBC bikepacking trip story into the 2019 38 North Fest, and they won third place! Read the submission here.
A Century of Memories
2019 LMBC Bikepacking Adventure
It’s a little before 7:00 am on Sunday morning and a thunderstorm is raging. Rain is pummeling our hammock and tent flys as we try not to think too hard about riding almost 50 miles home in a downpour.
Of course, to say it has been a rainy summer would be an understatement. The Lawrence River Trail, home single track for the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club, is having a rough season. A high river, wind, and rain means the trail has closed, been cleaned up and re-routed by volunteers only to have the river rise again and the whole cycle started over.
Planning this bikepacking trip seems like a great diversion from the water woes. We will ride, camp, and then ride some more on some awesome mud-free gravel across Douglas, Franklin, and Osage counties.
Now, we lie awake and listen to the pouring rain.
It’s August 11 and we had loaded our bikes yesterday with camping gear, snacks, and clothes and took off on a planned route down gravel back roads from Lawrence to Pomona State Park, about 50 miles away.
It was a warm afternoon and the sun was out as we pedaled off toward the historic Chicken Creek Bridge. An additional club member caught us as we hung out there for a few minutes admiring the bridge in its little county park and then it was off again towards our resupply destination in Overbrook.
It was a rolling hilly route around the tip of Lone Star Lake and on past a field of sunflowers in full bloom. We climbed on loaded bikes to crest hills and then fly down the other sides. We gleefully laughed as a lanky farm dog took up stride with us for almost a mile then stopped dead in his tracks when a cow looked at him sideways from the other side of the fence. We kept on spinning past the rest of the herd as our four-legged friend returned home. Eventually, we turned a corner to head up some fun, rutted minimum maintenance B road where the grass was tall, but the two-track was dry and memorable.
We continued the remaining miles on gravel roads with hardly a car in sight and arrived in Overbrook to discover that they were hosting the Osage County Fair and town was hopping. After hitting the Casey’s for water, snacks and fancy hydration drinks like Cokes and a cold bottled mocha we made a brief visit to the fairgrounds admiring the carnival as we headed to catch a section of the Landon Trail.
Turning to ride through town we suddenly noticed that people were lined up in chairs on both sides of the road- we had stumbled on a parade path and a crowd that seemed ready to get their party started. As we rode through, the announcer used the loudspeaker to call out to the crowd that we were the “International Bicycling Association”. The crowd laughed and we did too as we waved and rode past. We soon saw that they wouldn’t have much longer to wait as their actual parade was assembling near downtown. The high school drumline warm-up made a good cadence for pedaling our way on out of town.
A short section of the Landon Trail put us back on gravel roads riding around Pomona Lake to get to the state park on the south side. It was dinner time when we rolled up to the park entrance booth to pay our park fees. We promptly devoured whatever trail food we had managed to squirrel into our packs.
It’s quick to make camp when you only have what you can carry on your bike and soon tents were up and hammocks were strung from nearby trees. It was a beautiful evening and a fellow club member came out to visit, and provide us with some additional refreshment. Reminiscing around the campfire was a very satisfying end to a pretty great day on a bike.
The rain started around 2:00 am, first a light rain with rolling thunder in the distance but eventually the wind came up and the storm rolled in with great flashes of light followed too closely by booms of thunder. We waited and wondered.
By 7:30 am the rain finally started to lessen so we rode to a local restaurant to try out their breakfast buffet. With our bikes all carefully snuggled in their entrance way we enjoyed hot coffee and all the breakfast we could eat. When we finished the rain had passed, so we broke camp and loaded our bikes for the return trip.
Twenty miles on the Flint Hills Rail Trail had us moving along on a surface that was surprising solid for being so wet. Our worries about a more challenging return trip vanished and we stopped to enjoy a pond of enormous, blooming, delightfully fragrant water lilies before arriving in Ottawa to resupply with snacks, drinks, and pizza.
After easing the locals’ concerns that we were lost or putting our lives in danger, we politely excused ourselves and used the gravel alleys of town to find our way back out onto the county roads. As we rode, we first passed Norwood, then Nowhere, the stations for the Midland Railway. The sky had cleared and it was a warm and beautiful day. We now appreciated the rain for making the gravel damp and eliminating the dust that often flies when a vehicle goes past.
Arriving in Baldwin City, we visited the Palmyra Well, a water resupply location for the Santa Fe Trail after having resupplied ourselves at the modern-day local well called the Kwik Shop. The road out of town took us up to Signal Oak another historic location from which lanterns were hung to warn of the approach of border ruffians before the civil war.
We paused at Signal Oak to look down into the Wakarusa Valley and Blue Mound and across further to Mt. Oread. We could see our destination ten more miles to the north. On our bikes again, we rolled down the huge gravel descent into the valley and home.
One hundred miles, a thunderstorm, and memories enough to last through the next rainy day.