Flint Hills Nature Trail / My third half-century

May 20, 2012

Yesterday (May 19th) I rode a round-trip on the contiguous 17-mile portion of the Flint Hills Nature Trail (FHNT) from Ottawa to Osawatomie as the foundation of a half-century ride. The original, and optimistic, plan was to finish this round-trip, then connect with the Prairie Spirit Trail (which conveniently begins less than a mile from the Ottawa intersection of the FHNT), take that to Iola, and overnight there, returning Sunday. However, both dehydration and very heavy wind cut that short. More about that in a moment.

The Flint Hills Nature Trail (FHNT) (website here) is a 120-mile rail-trail (akin to the Prairie Spirit Trail) in northeast Kansas. When fully completed, it will apparently be one of the 10 longest bicycle trails in the country. The trail is currently under development, with disconnected portions being in a ready-to-ride condition right now. Once again I’m fortunate as an Ottawa denizen, as the longest (I think) contiguous portion of the developed trail runs 17 miles from Ottawa to Osawatomie, beginning about a mile from my house.

I’d never been on this trail before. As with just about everything good in life (ok, slight exaggeration?) I first learned about the trail from the great folks at bikeprairiespirit.com. I’d read passingly online about it, but I educated myself on it through the bikeprairiespirit site and the official FHNT site linked above. I scouted out the start of the trail some weeks ago, but hadn’t yet made it out. Finally I did Saturday.

The trail is a lovely one, which I would describe as being a slightly “wilder” cousin to the Prairie Spirit. The surface is similar but slightly less maintained at this point in time. I could see myself volunteering in the future to help maintain it. Most critically, at least in the contiguous 17 miles, there are no trailheads – a change from those of us spoiled with the wonderful PS Trail. This along with my poor planning hydration-wise was to doom my plans for a longer ride. I packed, for the first time, a second water bottle, but left it empty when setting out from home. I’m not 100% sure what I was thinking, but the idea was basically to use it “if I needed”. However, having not been on this trail, how could I have known in advance whether I would need it? Poor planning.

I rode the full 17-mile contiguous portion of the trail, taking ample pictures along the way to document this new exciting terrain. These appear below with descriptions. I rode the 17-miles back to complete the round-trip into Ottawa.

There were a number of cyclists on the trail, of varying levels of “seriousness” (judging by style of dress, bike, gear, speed) and one walker.

After returning from that 34-mile portion, I was feeling ok but went downhill quickly. I’d brought only 21 ounces of water for this nearly 4-hour (clock time, not rolling time) trek, which for my size is about a quarter of what I should have brought. With no trailheads, there was zero opportunity to refill, unless I stopped at one of the few houses alongside the trail and knocked on the door.

I refilled my water at a c-store in town, drank a good amount, rode up to Pizza Hut and had a quick lunch. Shortly after leaving Pizza Hut, my body started to rebel. I got on the PS Trail and went a few miles, but a combination of the earlier dehydration, which snuck up on me, and the very strong 26-mph direct headwind which was unpleasant even in the tree-lined PS Trail, was just too much after ~40 miles of cycling. I began to face that there was no way I’d make it to Iola in these conditions. Chalk it up to learning and to very tough conditions for my fitness level. I turned back home and contented myself with only my third-ever half-century ride.

As a postscript, I referred back that evening to the good folks at Hammer Nutrition, for a study I’d previously seen on hydration – effects of dehydration, how much to drink during exercise, etc, and I took these ideas with me on another 46-mile ride this morning, with significantly better results. This (Saturday) ride was an excellent lesson for me, which I will retain. Now, I drink a small amount of water every single mile, period, with the intent to portion it appropriately on a per-hour basis.

Below, the pictures from the Saturday FHNT ride. I’m already very fond of this slightly “wilder” trail, and looking forward to doing it again!

Above: The start of the contiguous trail from Ottawa toward Osawatomie. Doesn’t look welcoming, but I’d previously read on their site that the gate is closed but the trail IS open. There’s a little rocky side-entrance just off-camera to the right, which gets you on the trail.

Above: In the first couple miles you come up to this blue-painted overpass. I’m not sure if this is I-35 or something else.

Above: Same overpass, picture taken on the return trip.

Above: The local artists apparently like to ply their trade at this overpass also. It wasn’t pleasant seeing this right out of the gate, a couple miles into the ride, but from this point on, all’s well. It’ll be nice when this is cleaned up.

Above: There were maybe half a dozen or so of these little half-gated crossings at intersections with gravel roads running perpendicular to the trail.

Above: One such intersecting road. Beautiful open farmland to the cyclist’s right.

Above: Took this picture to show how strong the winds were this day. Note especially the trees/bushes in the lower half of the photo. Very strong winds from primarily the south.

Above: This stately large rock stands guard over this portion of the trail.

Above: Very representative section of the trail. Unlike Prairie Spirit, which is in most parts a fairly wide single-track, much (not all) of the FHNT has grass and stuff growing in the middle as shown above, creating a true double-track. In places the trail peters down to fumes, in places it’s a nice wide single-track like PS Trail, but large stretches of it are very similar to the above.

Above: A beautiful old red bridge the rider encounters a few miles in.

Above: Shot from atop the bridge. This was a nice place to relax for a second and look around.

Above: I love the old branchy vines hanging from this portion of the bridge. Lends the place a really cool “place time forgot” kind of feel.

Above: The trail has perhaps a half-dozen of these short bridges spanning water or recessed land below, with only a small “lip” at each side serving as a rail…

Above: …and it has 2 bridges like this, with NO rails of any kind. Both are short, and without major worry, but one of them is longer and higher up than the other, inducing in me a fear of sailing right off if I should hit a rock or something.

Above: Beautiful view of the early morning across wide open space. The trail at this point (I’d roughly guess this is the halfway point in the trail) opens into this big wide-open space, almost like a big gravel parking lot, with the trail stretching off toward Ottawa and Osawatomie from different corners.

Above: A better view of that “parking lot” portion. Very distinctive part of the trail which is at basically its midpoint (of the current contiguous 17-mile portion).

Above: Like Prairie Spirit, the FHNT has sections that are fairly open and free from the tree canopy that predominates. The above picture is taken from one such portion and looking toward an even more open portion. Beautiful stretch of the trail.

Above: Probably my favorite picture of the bunch. This is trail riding!!

Above: The trail peters out into a short, steep, rocky whimper here emptying onto (I think) John Brown Highway. This represents the end of the 17-mile contiguous portion of the trail.

Above: Look back at my bike from that rocky ending of the trail.

Above: A shot of where the trail, in some condition, picks up on the other side. I started to go over to check out the condition, but a fairly intense-looking dog (I think it was a dog!) was watching me from this opening when I first arrived, so I let him be 🙂 Will check this out in a later return trip.

Above: A final shot looking back down toward the end of trail, having now brought my bike back a little way.

Above: A beautiful look at rolling Kansas farmland on the return trip. There were several such vistas available to the rider, including a very beautiful one that was more prevalent on the return than the first half, and which I regret not stopping to photograph.

Above: Don’t roll over this portion 🙂 This stuff was to either side of the trail at one point. Some kind of shattered glass/hard plastic door or window. Excellent cleanup project for someone who will give the trail some TLC.

Above: Don’t roll over these either 🙂 This little guy almost found himself right under my wheel as I made good speed on the return trip, but I saw him in time and avoided him. I did see a couple turtles on the trail, and heard very lovely symphonies of birdsong for pretty much the entire ride.

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5 Responses to “Flint Hills Nature Trail / My third half-century”

  1. kansascyclist said

    FYI, there’s a self-service stop in Rantoul for drinks, as well as the Soft Rock Cafe (when its open). There may be water at the Post Office as well. Lots of services in Osawatomie, of course.

    Looks like you stopped at Indianapolis Road (the missing overpass that the county removed and has not replaced); the trail goes on for another 1.5 miles or so from there, then another 2 or so on the road into Osawatomie.

    Love the section of the trail along the Marais des Cygnes River!

  2. Thanks Randy, you’re correct as usual, I reached Indianapolis. I’d read that there were about 17 contiguous miles, which is about what I’d gone, and with that rocky little ending I assumed I’d reached the end of the developed trail. Had that dog not been on the other side, I might have seen that it does go on for a little bit further.

    I learned about the Rantoul self-service stop only later. Good to know for future.

    The dehydration was unfortunate in that I wasn’t really aware of it till later in the ride. I wasn’t panting thirsty in Osawatomie or anything, just realized I was a little light on water – but I didn’t realize how deficient I was. Now, I pack plenty and drink frequently. And I want to again counsel the FHNT rider to make sure to bring plenty of water as the fortifications along the trail are sparse.

  3. jd said

    Those two embankment ramps replacing the missing trail bridge at Indianapolis Road are tricky I think. Both of them (one on each side of the road) also channel gobs of rain water. Thus they’re washed out and very rocky much of the time. Might be best to walk them…their steeper lower parts anyway. This road isn’t a good place to get blind-sideded.

  4. jd said

    The steep side ramps at the Indianapolis Road crossing 1-mile west of the John Brown Hwy are now gone. The trail has been graded directly down to this road on both sides of it. These grades are not steep, so the climbs on the opposite sides are easy to do, much easier than doing those rocky washed-out ramps. 🙂 Nice improvement.

  5. Ah, nice JD…thanks for the heads up! I’ve been wanting to return to the FHNT for another round-trip on the Ottawa-Osawatomie section…now sounds like a fine time 🙂

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