Seeking Peace and Rejuvenation on the Roads of Kansas
An impromptu overnight trip south of Kansas City, MO with a focus not on the destination, but on smoothing over the jagged edges of a loss with bike travel.
Bicycle Adventurer: Greg Downing
When: Late September 2015
Accommodations: Lake Miola Campground, Paola, KS
Distance: 88 miles over two days
Bonus tips for this adventure:
- Once you arrive in Paola, if you have a little extra time and muscle power remaining, Paola Park Square is worth a visit. With a fountain, a gazebo, and an early twentieth century war memorial, it almost transports one back in time while imparting an iconic, American small-town feel.
- If you still have an energy reserve and are really, really hungry, take Silver Street south from the west side of the Paola Park Square. Eventually it will become the Old Kansas City Road again on the south side of town. Follow it to the Miami County Airport, located midway between Paola and Osawatomie. There you will find We B Smokin’, my go-to place for truly wonderful BBQ, burgers, ribs, fries, beans, etc.
I had planned on riding Missouri’s Katy Trail, the country’s longest rail trail, during the summer of 2015, but had to cancel those plans so I could care for my ailing best friend Zephyr, a collie we rescued in 2008. Zephyr suffered from arthritis of the spine and his pain eventually became too great. I had to let him go on September 2, 2015. The pain of my decision was nearly unbearable.
I often ride to relieve stress, but for two weeks I didn’t ride until venturing out to the riding/walking loop at Sunflower Nature Park just west of Desoto, KS. I managed seven miles. It felt like seventy. My heart just wasn’t in it.
Then, the last weekend of September rolled around and the weather promised to be perfect. I knew this would likely be my last chance to go on a bike camping trip this year. Thinking that getting away on the bike might do me some good, I decided to give a bike overnight a try. Maybe this was just the therapy I needed to begin to heal.
So that Friday morning, with no advance planning, I gathered my stuff together, packed my bike, left my home in Overland Park, KS, and headed for Lake Miola Campground in Paola. I had never camped there before, but I had ridden this fairly easy route with generally light traffic and no challenging climbs. Plus, my grandparents lived there when I was a boy and I have many memories.
The first six miles followed paved streets until I reached Indian Creek Trail, which I would travel on for roughly fourteen miles to the southern-most end. I seemed to be doing fine as long as I didn’t let my mind wander too far and remained focused on keeping a nice, even pace. I had eaten a late breakfast but soon my stomach was demanding lunch. I decided to indulge and stopped in Olathe, KS at the Subway, conveniently located near the trail.
Next up was Spring Hill, KS, a quiet little town that’s easy to traverse and offers places to rest and fuel up. On the south side of Spring Hill, I linked up with the Old Kansas City Road and continued south towards Hillsdale, KS.
As I moved through my surroundings, I became aware of everything around me, all connected. Me, the bike, the land, the sky, all of life and time itself. Oh yes, there were tears to be shed. But there was peace — the first peace I’d felt in weeks.
Fortunately, a feeling of peace stayed with me for the duration of the trip and I was on to the Lake Miola Campground. At the Highway 68 traffic circle, I left the Old Kansas City Road and took Hedge Lane south to the lake, arriving at the campground late in the afternoon. The campground is much smaller than the one nearby in Hillsdale, but it is spacious, open, and very pleasant. The small lake is visible from just about every location in the campground.
I chose a spot and set up my tent. At this point, I realized my large water bottle was missing. I had it in Hillsdale so it must have fallen off somewhere between there and the campground. I would have to remember to watch for it on the way home. I went to register with the campground caretaker and then headed into town for dinner and supplies. There is a Walmart and numerous eating establishments just a couple of miles to the south at the intersection of Hedge Lane and Baptiste Drive.
My preferred eatery in this area is The BBQ Shack which takes its decor and menu theme from one of my favorite television classics, The Andy Griffith Show. Might I suggest the “Bluebird Diner Chicken Fried Steak.” It’s awesome! Paola is a fun town to explore by bike. It has a friendly, small-town feel to it, though admittedly I might be looking at it through the lens of nostalgia.
After returning to the campground and ending my riding day with forty-eight miles under my belt, I pigged out on junk food before enjoying a nice, refreshing shower. I settled down under a nearly full moon, my trusty pocket radio in hand, and surfed the radio waves for entertainment from a simpler time. Away from the electronic interference of the city, there was nary a dead spot on the entire radio dial on either the AM or FM band. I heard broadcasts from points near and far, including Nashville, Chicago, New Orleans, and Atlanta. For a short time, Toronto came through under a thin layer of static. When the time was right though, I tuned in 91.5 KANU out of Lawrence to listen to “The Retro Cocktail Hour,” followed by an all-night Jazz show. Throughout the night, the sounds of passing trains and nearby highway traffic filtered in but it was not jarring or disturbing, rather subdued and lulling. I don’t know for sure when I drifted off, but it was a peaceful night.
The following morning I packed up and hit the road by 7:30 for my return trip. Between the campground and Hillsdale, I kept an eye out for my water bottle, but I never did spot it.
Overall, I felt good about the trip and was glad I decided to go.
This bike trip was different from the others I have taken. It wasn’t my favorite trip to date but I think it may have been the most important. The focus wasn't on the bike or the route or the challenge or the destination or even the fun. Those things were almost an afterthought.
No, this trip was about healing. It was about finding a piece of myself had been lost in grief and guilt. A piece of myself I didn’t know if I would find again. The bike, the route, the destination, those were simply the tools I thought might help me achieve my goal.
Did this trip heal me completely? No, of course not. Nothing ever will. My dear friend left a pretty big hole. It will fill in over time, but a depression will always remain where the surface was once level and solid. At least for now the jagged edges have been smoothed over, just a bit, by the peace and rejuvenation I found out on the road.
Your favorite local bike shop?
Turner’s Cycling and Fitness
8909 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, KS
Terrific, knowledgeable staff; always friendly and helpful. They have never steered me wrong.
Bike overnight tips and tricks?
The small radio I brought along really added to my evening’s enjoyment at the campground. Surfing the airwaves in an open, interference-free environment can be a fun and eye-opening experience. There’s no telling what you might hear.
HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!