First Attempt: Clinton State Park or Bust!

"What was I thinking? I must be insane! Why did I think I could do this? You don't do these kind of things! Other people do this, you freaking idiot!"

These were just a few of the choice thoughts running through my head on June 29, 2013, as I left familiar cycling territory while embarking on my first attempted overnight bike trip. The plan was to ride from my home in Overland Park, Kansas, to Clinton State Park, which is just west of Lawrence, Kansas. I had estimated that the trip, which would take me through the communities of DeSoto and Eudora, would require approximately 50 miles, each way, of output from my untried (over this distance, anyway) human power plant. How, at the age of 46, had I arrived at this point in my life?

It all started innocently enough. I had gotten back into bike riding during the summer of 2012 as a way of increasing my fitness. I hadn't been on my bike in about thirteen years, and even then it was just for short excursions around the neighborhood. I pulled my old 10-speed (which was a birthday gift on my 12th birthday!) out of the garage and got her ready for the road.

I started slowly and over the next few weeks my endurance, fitness level, and mileage increased while my body mass decreased. My wife and I went to Kauai, Hawaii, during fall 2012 and I rented a bike for the duration of the trip.

I rode all over Princeville, on the island's north shore, and took several rides up and down the phenomenal Ke Ala Hele Makalae: The Path that Goes by the Coast. It was my first ever "active lifestyle" vacation.

Upon returning home, I bought a new, modern bike, a Giant Escape 2. With my new steed, my gains became even greater. I fitted the new bike with a rack and trunk/pannier bag and began using it for errands close to home. I was becoming a new person, both physically and mentally.

By spring 2013 the idea of doing a long-distance ride started to form in my mind. I made lists of my expected equipment needs. I researched potential routes and destinations. I read books, articles, and online postings authored by others who had taken bicycle trips. I watched YouTube videos of other people's cycling journeys. I rode longer distances. I visualized the trip over and over again. Finally, it looked as if the weather during the last weekend of June would be nearly perfect. I had acquired the most basic set of gear I thought I could get away with, and managed to get everything loaded onto my bike and perform short test rides with the load.

I made the final decision just the night before the trip: I would leave in the morning for an adventure and test of endurance the likes of which I'd never experienced.

I set off on my journey at around 11 a.m., after an anxious and restless night (the kind that always seems to transpire when an exciting event is to take place the following day). At first, I was confident and happy, relishing the feelings of excitement and freedom. The first few miles were over familiar terrain.

But once I left familiarity behind and headed farther west, past Shawnee Mission Park and into the unknown, doubt began to set in.

I managed to make it to Highway 7 -- my first new waypoint, if you will. I should have felt a sense of accomplishment, but the doubt and the nagging voices in my head persisted. The roughly 25 pounds of gear I was hauling began to become more noticeable which each new hill I climbed. My odometer seemed to be malfunctioning, as the mileage increased very slowly.

I did have an abort plan in the event that I determined I just couldn't make the trip. I could dial up my wife and have her come extricate me. The thought crossed my mind a couple of times, but I squashed it. I wasn't ready to pull that ripcord just yet, not until I had given it my all.

I kept churning away, slow and steady. As I progressed into a more rural area, I became aware that the environment around me was quieting, had become more peaceful. Likewise, the voices in my head started to grow quiet and my thoughts became less doubtful. I still wasn't sure I could make my destination, but I knew I had a chance. Then, suddenly, I was looking at a sign that read "Welcome to DeSoto." The voices were back, but the tone was different now.

"You know what? You can do this! You can make it!"

From that point on I knew I could do it, and do it I would, come hell or high water. I stopped for a short rest at Miller Park and then rode through DeSoto on Lexington Avenue. Southwest of Desoto I passed the old Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant and then stopped at Sunflower Nature Park for another rest and lunch. After this I made it to Eudora and sat for awhile in a small park to rest again. By this time the wind had picked up and was blowing from the west at a nearly constant 25 mph. The remainder of my journey would see me fighting this new nemesis, especially on the stretch from Eudora to Lawrence. Along the Old K-10 highway there are few structures or trees to serve as windbreaks. It was a struggle to keep the bike up to even 5 or 6 mph.

Finally, I made it to Lawrence. I rode through town and reached my most important waypoint of the day, Yellow Sub! I refilled my water bottles and then slumped down in a chair to rest while waiting for my culinary masterpiece to be prepared. It's the first time I wasn't in a hurry for the oven-toasted sandwich to be ready. But I would not partake of this treasure until I reached the campground at my final destination, another 8 miles to the west. A nice bike path parallels the road leading west of Lawrence that would take me right to the state park. It took another hour and a half or so of riding against the wind and terrain to reach my final destination, but the thought of the sandwich jammed into my left pannier kept me going.

I entered the campground at around 6 p.m. and chose the first quiet spot I found. I dismounted, leaned my bike against the picnic table, and flopped down on the bench. I had made it. I had done something that just a few months before seemed impossible. The trip odometer read 51.76 miles. My best prior to that point had been 33.61 miles. I sat for a moment and let the realization of my achievement sink in. Then I devoured that glorious sandwich in record time.

Afterward, I set up my tent, checked in with the campground host, and cleaned up (a campground shower had never felt like such a luxury). It turned into a perfect summer evening, so I sat out and read the paperback I'd brought with me until darkness arrived. With the vanishing light, I climbed into my tent and stretched out to watch the movie Blue Hawaii on the small tablet I had brought for just that purpose.

As the night wore on, I drifted in and out of sleep. I had anticipated sleeping the sleep of the dead, but I guess the excitement of the day was still coursing through my veins and overpowered the exhaustion that I simultaneously felt. The call of distant coyotes may have contributed, as well.

In the morning I rose, still feeling tired but also strangely refreshed. I packed everything back on the bike and set out for the return trip home at around 8 a.m. I had breakfast in Lawrence at McDonalds (uninspired, I know, but convenient and cheap), and then continued on toward home. Somehow my legs and energy held out. I rode through Eudora without even stopping. I paused just long enough for lunch in Desoto and then continued on my way. As I crossed Highway 7 and approached the western edge of what I consider home turf, it hit me again just what I had accomplished. I finally wheeled into my driveway at around 2:30 in the afternoon. Once settled, sleep came easily.

I've made the trip two more times since then and have started doing research on different and longer journeys for the new year. I'm a different person now, the kind of person who rides free into the world and experiences his surroundings more intimately. And it is really quite wonderful.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Since I was not quite sure of my capabilities before I set out, I chose my destination and planned the route for this first trip carefully. I was never more than a few miles from basic services or a place that could serve as an extended rest area, while waiting for rescue in the event that I needed it. I now feel confident enough in my abilities that in the future I'll be willing to stray farther from civilization.

Favorite local bike shop: Turner's Cycling and Fitness is my local resource for bikes, parts, and accessories. They may be smaller than the competition, but the staff is always friendly, helpful, and willing to spend quality time with the customer before, during, and after the sale.

 

36 responses so far ↓

Mandy - Jan 27, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Greg, congratulations! This was a wonderful post about your accomplishment. My favorite line is " I'm a different person now, the kind of person who rides free into the world and experiences his surroundings more intimately." I think this could describe all of us who challenge ourselves like you have. Tailwinds to you!

Stephen - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:16 PM

HUGE congradulations,my friend! Inspiring tale of your first overnighter/tour,makes me want to get out there in the cold right now and just go,hahaha! :)

Paul - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Nice going Greg. Sounds like a great ride.

A few tips for others who may not want to challenge themselves to the extent Greg did.

- Do more long rides unloaded before you try one loaded. For example if you're planning on a 50 mile ride loaded, try some 70-80 miles without the gear. You can also use these rides to scout your route.
- Get an early start! Like Greg, I'm usually too excited to sleep well the night before starting out on a tour. So rather than toss around in bed I try an get going as soon as it's light enough. You always want to give yourself plenty to daylight to get to your destination. You've got to assume you may get a flat, get lost, or have to detour around some road construction. Or you might just want to take a nap during the heat of the day.

Above all, have fun riding.

Greg - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:53 PM

Wow, thanks for the nice comments everyone. I had almost as much fun reliving and writing about the trip as actually taking it. I've added a front rack and panniers in anticipation of some longer quests this year. There's no telling where I might end up. Here's hoping for good weather and the chance to see you all out on the road soon!

Jim Guenther - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:24 PM

This is great. Welcome to the wonderful world of bike travel.

Peter - Jan 27, 2014 at 6:16 PM

Congrats. Multiday next time!

PS Fenders. Its not always sunny

Bill - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:32 PM

What a nice read! Thanks for sharing, Greg. I found it interesting that you didn't start off until 11am. I left on my first trip at 9am and felt I was getting a late start!

Like you, I'm relatively new to touring with a goal of traversing Ohio, northeast to southwest, this Fall. I've done two overnight trips thus far and will be doing a four day trip down the Great Allegheny Trail in a few months.

Thanks again for sharing. Happy Trails!

Ginnis - Jan 28, 2014 at 4:26 AM

Nice story. Lots more to come I'm sure. The Katy is really wonderful ... I live in Michigan and I rode the Katy two years ago.. during the super duper heat wave.. and I'm almost 60. :)

Greg - Jan 28, 2014 at 9:14 AM

Bill, I had intended on leaving earlier, but some last minute double-checking, gear rearranging and saying my goodbyes (my wife was convinced I was riding to my doom!) delayed me. But since it was late June I had plenty of daylight time.

Ginnis, the Katy is definitely on my list of future rides. I've read so many wonderful trip reports about the Katy, I feel like I already know the trail.

Steve - Jan 28, 2014 at 5:45 PM

Greg, I really enjoyed reading about your adventure; thanks for sharing! I did my first bike overnight last fall; but much closer to home as there are a number of great places to camp within 20 miles of where I live near Stockton Lake. I've toured the Katy in three stages. It really is a great way to tour Missouri. There are many wonderful bed and breakfasts along the way as well as camping and motels. I recommend you check out the Katy Trail interactive website which is a wealth of information about the trail, lodging, and other resources. Looking forward to hearing of your future biking endeavors!

Susan - Jan 29, 2014 at 8:37 AM

What a great story. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Ron - Jan 29, 2014 at 11:14 AM

Wow, Greg. Awesome story of your great bike adventure. It's even inspired me to get more active.

Reggie D - Feb 1, 2014 at 7:43 AM

Great story! several years ago, while on one of my summer weekend rides I met a man who was riding the southern route. San Diego to St Augustine! I've been hooked on the idea ever since. Your story is a great first start! Keep it up!! Ride Happy

Dallas - Feb 5, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Greg - I was so pleased to read your story about your ride to Clinton SP. I live in Lenexa and have been toying with a three night loop to Hillsdale, Pomona, Clinton, and back home. I've done a bit of touring but am far from a veteran. Feel free to contact me via e-mail if this might be of interest to you. Also, my wife and I have done the KATY end-to-end several times. It's great and you can leave the tent, sleeping bag, pad, etc. at home. Dallas

Cybil - Feb 5, 2014 at 12:08 PM

Thanks for the fun recount of your adventures! My husband and I moved to Manhattan, KS, 4 years ago and have been exploring various places in KS to bike. We've actually vacationed in KC a few times just to avail ourselves of all the off-road bike trails there!! Now that we know about it, we'll try the one out of Lawrence next!

Andy - Feb 5, 2014 at 1:45 PM

Greg! Great success story, the kind all can learn and be inspired by. Ours is a cycling family, and we love meeting those along the way in our camping/cycling adventures. Bravo, and be sure to pass it on to others when you can...

Ed Gross - Feb 5, 2014 at 2:11 PM

Greg, A wonderful story of your first tour. I can tell you are hooked! My first day ever was 30 miles from El Paso,Tex to Heuco Tanks State Park. Even though I'd forgot my stove fuel, had way to much gear, and the wind was blowing 25 mph I was on top of the world at age 62. Thousands of miles have followed. Happy trails.

Don Lawrence - Feb 5, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Greg! Congrats! All of us who tour identify with your "first" trip! Now that you are 'hooked', ride safe and take a friend along. You will have life-long memories of fun and adventure! Ride safe!!

Joe B - Feb 5, 2014 at 7:28 PM

Way to go buddy! Come out to Iowa this summer and ride RAGBRAI with us.

Bob M - Feb 5, 2014 at 10:19 PM

Greg, thanks for a great story. It was fun to read and inspiring.

Curt Moore - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:22 AM

Your thoughts and planning was the same for me when I decided that I could tackle a long ride. Only difference I talked myself into riding across Missouri on the Katy trail with the additional 50 miles so it was Kansas to Illinois. Kept riding it does wonders for you pysche

Dan Stockwell - Feb 6, 2014 at 6:50 AM

Great story, great accomplishment for you. Keep it up! When you are ready, join us in Michigan for a ride called DALMAC. I rediscovered the joy of riding on the DALMAC and have done the ride for the past 9 years. It seems a daunting ride, but you can do it!

Richard Bosworth - Feb 6, 2014 at 7:10 AM

Welcome to the club Greg of inspired adventure cyclist. Your story brought memories flooding back of the doubts and fears as I cycled across the UK from Coast to Coast and the exhausted exhilaration of arriving in the north east port of Tynemouth.

Twelve months later I set off from Vancouver down the Pacific Coast arriving in Tijuana forty nine days later.

So, by my reckoning you'll be ready to join me on the 2016 Transam Tour

Robbie Sweetser - Feb 6, 2014 at 5:54 PM

Way to go Greg! The excitement of the "first" frequently leads to many more adventures. And leaving real early as Paul suggests can be good as a way to see the unexpected...such as the bobcat darting across the road 20 feet in front of me on an early dawn.
After years of day rides, then multi-day rides, I had my first cross country ride in summer 2013. You might enjoy reading some of the weekly blog posted on robbie41.blogspot.com.

Greg - Feb 6, 2014 at 9:35 PM

WOW! I am stunned at the level of interest generated by my story. Who would have guessed that pulling my old 10-speed out of the garage a few months ago would lead me to this new life? And who knew anyone would actually be interested enough to read about it?

I guess I struck some universal chord, at least as it relates to those who have embraced the joy of bicycle touring. Whatever the reasons, thank you everyone for all of the wonderfully positive, kind and insightful responses. They are all very much appreciated.

D'Arcy - Feb 9, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Great job Greg, like anything in life you have to start somewhere and getting the courage up to plan is the first step. You will be surprised that when you get out there, life takes on a whole new meaning, my first overnight trip in 2005 have now exploded into a yearly 4 week self supported bike vacations, with a comfortable recumbent and bob trailer to haul my stuff. Be prepaired, stay alert and always have a back up plan because anything can happen beyond your control. You can always checkout warmshowers.org, another family of fantastic cycling supporters always ready to help and host you on your journey. Welcome to a healthier lifestyle and enjoy it while you can.

David Vitro - Feb 9, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Thanks for sharing your story Greg. It was like someone was writing my story. Last year, at forty six years old I shared the same experience as you with my first overnight. The excitement, doubts, and sense of accomplishment all mirrored what I went through. I, like you, love my new found lifestyle. I am filled with child like awe and wonder every time set out on my bicycle on a new adventure.

Lynn Babcock - Feb 14, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Wonderful story - I hope to try this over the summer. I have always wanted to do a trip on my bike. I am scheduled to take the self-contained road touring class from Adventure cycling this may. Can't wait! and after reading your stoey I am even more excited. Great job!

Dennis "K1" Blanchard - Feb 27, 2014 at 8:04 PM

Long distance biking and hiking is not a spectator sport. Watching it on television would be extremely boring, unless masterfully done as a documentary, Tom Vernon's, Fat Man On A Bicycle, was one such case.

What is so wonderful about your adventure, is the discovery. You've discovered things about yourself, the area you live, and the thrill that comes from setting a personal goal, and reaching it. You'll find, over time, the goals will only become more challenging, I can speak from experience there.

More power to you Greg! Hopefully, one day, our paths will cross.

william - Dec 8, 2014 at 1:17 PM

Dallas that is the whole reason for the trip is the adventure leaving the sleeping bag and tent and staying in a motel or b&b is not a adventure hell you might as well stay home then you are going for a change of pace But awesome trip Greg keep it up I got a few planned this coming spring of 2015 .

Mac - Dec 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

William, "management" couldn't agree less with your statement. Getting out on the road or trail is the adventure; sleeping on the ground doesn't have to be part of it. Some like it, some don't.

william - Dec 8, 2014 at 3:42 PM

I like the getting out part to mac but there is nothing like pitching your tent setting down to a warm campfire on a cool night listening to the sound of the fire crackling and roasting marsh mellows . And a couple of hot dogs while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate and as it gets late retiring to a nice warm tent with a good down sleeping bag and a soft comfy pillow. Maybe here a ole hoot owl in the tree once in a while or a coyote hollering in the distance .But that's just me .I don't have no need for credit card touring that is just me though also.

Mac - Dec 8, 2014 at 4:15 PM

I'm with you, William; I love camping. I just don't want to discourage non-campers from trying bike touring. Thanks for your continued comments.

william - Dec 8, 2014 at 5:05 PM

oh that's fine I just a Traditionalist I guess what ever gets people out on theyre bikes is what it takes

Mark - Dec 15, 2014 at 6:43 PM

Greg, I am planning my first overnighter at the young age of 54. Your story has answered some of my questions like what if I cant make it or what if I have a breakdown but I know I can do it..Thanks again!

william - Dec 15, 2014 at 9:03 PM

You sure can mark It does not half to be far it is just the idea of getting out there

Leave a Comment

Leave this field empty: