Ottawa-Iola-Ottawa via Prairie Spirit Trail (part II)

May 6, 2012

I Woke Last Night to the Sound of Thunder
How far off, I sat and wondered…

I woke on Sunday morning around 5 AM.  Clean up, pack up the bike, go to the complimentary hotel breakfast at 6, then hit the trail.  But when I awoke and walked to the door, the sound of thunder was an ominous portent of the day ahead.  Sure enough, looking out, rain was falling.

Above:  The view from my hotel room shortly after waking up.

Not much to do, really.  I’d known when I left that unpreferable weather was a possibility for today, so now it was time to reap what I’d chosen to sow.  I ate a beautiful big breakfast to provide a solid base for the day, packed the last couple things in the bike, and was off.

I’d like to mention that a friend of mine, Mr. T.V., extended to me a very generous offer to come pick me up and drive me home if weather prevented the completion of my ride.  This would have been quite far out of his way, and the offer was reiterated a couple times.  I’m most grateful for this kind offer, and glad for both my and his sake that I didn’t need to take him up on it!

Above:  She’s all packed up and ready for the return.

By the time I departed, it wasn’t raining.  Good, I thought.  Looking over weather forecasts at breakfast, I was tentatively confident I could make it to Garnett before the rain got going, where my plan was to then stop for lunch, hopefully wait out the rain, and return.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The Rain
I made it perhaps 15-16 miles before the rain resumed.  Just south of Welda, it started.  I pulled into the Welda trailhead for some shelter, but it was clear by the sky’s appearance that it wasn’t just going to pass by.  I could either wait here in Welda for a considerable time, pushing my Ottawa arrival time to later evening, with no guarantee how long before the rain actually stopped; or, just push on. I chose the latter and got going.

Above two pictures:  From the Welda trailhead.

Naturally, I hadn’t packed any rain gear of any kind.  See “reflections” at story’s end.

On I rode, through unremitting rain.  The tree-lined canopy that covers much of the path was a small help, but only in the early going.  Within minutes, I could feel that basically every part of me was wet.  I continued to stop periodically for rests, and to eat my then-current nutrition (I’m upgrading in this area since this ride, see more recent posts), which was a whole wheat bagel torn into bite-sized pieces eaten at intervals.

The trail quickly went from not-great to positively bad, with the ceaseless rain.  Small puddles were everywhere, and the consistency of most stretches was reduced to a wet, sluggish beach-sand quality.

Welda to Garnett is roughly 10 miles.  With my normal 10-MPH pace slowed to probably 7-8 by the sloggy trail, I was hoping to have “only” an hour or so in the rain.  Garnett became the shining city on a hill that I pinned my hopes to.  Pull into town, get out of the rain into some restaurant or other, have a bite to eat, allow the rain to blow over, and head back out energized.

Garnett – Hi…and Bye
To my dismay, this plan fell apart a few miles outside town.  Stopping for a quick rest from the hard work of pedaling into the muddy trail, I dismounted and for the first time since the rain began, got a look at the bike.  What I saw was utterly horrifying:  the entire back end of the bike was coated – coated – in wet muddy sand.  I don’t exaggerate to say this stuff was over a quarter inch thick in places.  Opening the panniers was not to be recommended, not only because the dirt-coated zippers resisted, but because everything on the outside – rain, dirt, mud, etc – just fell into the bags, getting into everything.  The worst part, I realized immediately, wasn’t the fact that the bike was coated.  It was the implication this held for my own back.  In the steady rain I’d long ago failed to feel much of anything except unremitting wet.  But now, reaching up to my back, I realized I was covered head to toe, along my back and legs, with this same sloshy wet muddy mixture.  We’re not talking a little water and dirt – I looked like I’d slid down a muddy hill lying on my back, and digging my shoes and socks into the mud on the way down for good measure.  Right away I realized, I couldn’t go into any restaurant like this.  Going in soaking wet was going to be bad enough, but permissible – but this, wasn’t happening.  I was crestfallen to realize I would have to continue straight through, with only the in-ride nutrition and no proper lunch.

The next several miles are a blur of rain, occasional thunder, pedaling more or less without cessation (you couldn’t coast any distance in these conditions; a descending grade was a little easier but only a bit), and sand covering everything during another rest break.  My in-ride nutrition, the aforementioned wheat bagel, which lives in my handlebar bag, was now a sopping nasty bloated waterlogged disgusting clump floating in the water gathering in the handlebar bag.  I did have more in the panniers, necessitating fighting the sandy zippers and the invading mud, and I had a couple of Post shredded wheat “biscuits”.  During the remainder of the ride, I consumed those tasteless things interspersed with sandy bagel pieces and sandy water drunk from a sandy water bottle.  It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds!

And yet, I’m not complaining.  My first full PST ride, something I’d been awaiting for months, and it was glorious. I was well aware that it was likely that none of my hopefully several future PST rides would be this difficult again.  Factoring in my physical fitness, the terrible weather, the poor preparations – I’d picked a heck of a time to do this, and I was setting myself one of the hardest challenges I could have with this route.

Richmond – God Bless Richmond
I began to visualize Richmond’s trailhead as the new Beacon of Freedom, as I regretfully rolled right past Garnett.  I’d already learned Saturday that Richmond was my favorite trailhead.  I remembered the stone bench in the restroom, and I remembered the now-ironic story of Mr. K in Iola, who told a story of waiting out a wicked storm for quite a spell in that restroom.  I saw Richmond as being the end of the “dreadful phase” of this return ride – it was fairly clear from the skies and the earlier forecast that the rain would be letting up about my arrival time there, and I knew I’d be able to use the trailstop to sit inside the restroom, having some more food, rinse my clothes, bike, and myself, and leave somewhat recharged for the final ~15 miles.

I was able to execute this plan, to my great relief.  The final few-miles climb into Richmond, in this weather, was not fun; but upon arrival, it was time to put the worst behind me.  I locked myself in the restroom (I hadn’t seen a cyclist on the trail all tour, and there wasn’t going to be another fool like me in this weather), washed my clothes in the sink and dried them somewhat well with the hot-air dryers, rinsed the bike off via Camelbak by way of water fountain, and hopped up on the stone bench to let a couple friends know I was ok and to have some bagel & shredded-wheat “biscuit”.  Outside, the rain had actually cleared 10 minutes or so before my arrival, and it seemed likely to remain clear till I got to Ottawa.

I allowed myself to take my time in the Richmond stop, dry off, wash off at least minimally, and recover some strength.  At last, I set off for home.

Ending on a High Note
A few miles outside Ottawa, I got my last major surprise of the trip – this one a pleasant one!  Pulling up to stop at a couple benches on the trail, a couple gentlemen whom I saw approaching me southbound from Ottawa caught up to me and stopped to talk.  How are you doing, how far have you come on the trail, what’s the weather like down south, etc.  These two gentlemen do the roughly 20-mile round trip to Princeton several times a week, and have gone much further on the trail.  They were the first cyclists I’d seen on the trail all weekend, and it was nice to see they had a similar fondness for the trail shared also by myself and Mr. K.

Imagine my surprise when one of them knew my first AND last name, and had been following my blog!  So, Jim and Bill, thanks very much for reading the blog, it was great to meet you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again on the trail!

I arrived at my house somewhere around 4 PM.  Tired, weary, extremely hungry, but also elated.  Again, this was a goal several months in the offing, and I could hardly have picked a harder set of conditions for its success – but I’d stuck with it and made it.  My first half century, followed by my second half-century.  My first full PST ride.  A few wonderfully friendly cycling friendships begun.  Not bad for a weekend’s efforts.

In which I share my random thoughts, lessons learned, things to remember for future times, etc:

Obviously, it’s preferable not to undertake a trip like this if the forecast for rain is highly likely.  If you’re hellbent on doing it, rain gear is a must.

Two words – bicycle fenders.  This would have saved me much grief.  I’m not in a tremendous hurry to add these, but I will do so.  Will be very useful for longer rides.

My in-ride nutrition has evolved over time, and I’ve been fully aware that this process continues.  My current habit of eating small pieces of wheat bagel is better than nothing, but it’s not ideal in various ways.  Since the time of this ride, I’ve made some progress in exploring other options, see future posts.  For this ride, it was fairly ungainly to carry a full package of half a dozen wheat bagels in the panniers.

Starting now, pizza is my official “special ride” gift to myself.   I had pizza in Iola and pizza again in Ottawa upon my return.  I’m not eating pizza very often these days, with the focus on healthier eating, so I’m primarily going to reserve it for only special bike rides.  All future PST rides will include at least one pizza stop  🙂

The bottom line – I cannot WAIT to do the full trail again.  I recently watched a YouTube video to the effect that everyone has “two selves” – an “experiencing self” and a “remembering self”.  More about this, possibly, in a future post.  Basically, my point here is that while most of this ride was actually hard and unpleasant, I come away from it with only very positive feelings, great memories, a terrific sense of accomplishment, and an eagerness to repeat this route many times in the future, no doubt under less-adverse conditions.

Want to close once again with a shout out to  It’s been a fantastic resource for me over the past many months, both in building knowledge about my planned undertaking as well as to fuel my enthusiasm for the journey.  I was thrilled to meet Mr. K in Iola and Jim and Bill on the trail, and would love to ride with these guys in the future.

My next major cycling-related challenge, the final one for 2012, is to bike the full Katy Trail (only one-way, not round-trip :)).  I turn my focus to that, and this blog will reflect it.  But, Prairie Spirit retains a very warm place in my heart, and I hope to return for this full route again very soon.  I’m making it an official, stated goal to ride the FULL trail (roughly 100-120 miles depending upon the progress of the planned extensions) within a single day sometime in 2012.


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