I had high hopes of hitting the Switchgrass Trail in Wilson, Kansas on Friday. Checking the radar when I got up suggested a little mixed precip was in that area. I didn't want to risk 6+ hours round-trip drive only to find the trails greased up. I wasn't motivated to spend that much time in the car to begin with, no matter how cool of a riding destination. So I heeded the advice of a Hill Junkie reader who used to live in Kansas and picked a much closer destination.
There are two trail systems not far from each other less than an hour west of Kansas City. One is at Clinton Lake, close to Lawrence, the other a bit north on Perry Lake. These are huge man-made lakes. The trails are on Army Corps of Engineers land and purpose built for mountain biking. Perhaps I'll get a breather from the rough terrain on Thursday? Yeah, right...
It was another seasonably mild day but heavy, dark overcast. Very gloomy, but very dry. The water reservoirs around here are crazy low from the severe drought this summer. Water levels look like they are about 20ft low. Bad for agriculture, but it makes for clean riding.
The Clinton Lake trail system is a folded loop. I went out on the white trail, the up-slope trail from the lake. I returned on the blue trail, which was sandwiched between the white trail and the shoreline. I could often see the blue trail below me while riding the white trail. If you didn't like the terrain heading out, you probably weren't going to like the return trip either. Or so I thought.
Not 60 seconds into the ride, I had a WTF realization. I was in for another rough ride. No buff singletrack here. I thought the heartland of the country was flat grasslands? The white trail "contoured" just below the rim, or the height of land. That meant it was always rocky, as there was often a rocky outcropping just to my right from which chunks over the millenia must have broken off from.
After a while, I didn't bother shifting to my middle ring. I just left it in the granny. You could never let your speed run out for more than five seconds anyway, then you be right back to 2.5mph, chest to bar, barely grinding up another boneyard. Another estimated riding time blown way out of the water.
I was so glad I replaced the Racing Ralph tires with sturdier Panaracer Fire XC's. The RR's wouldn't have lasted five minutes on this terrain. A 29er would have been nice on this terrain, but I'm glad I didn't bring my 29er hardtail. I was taking a beating on my dualie the way it was. I would have taken my hardtail had it fit better in the shipping box.
After about two hours, I reached the far end of the loop, covering all of about 14 miles. For those familiar with the Long Trail at FOMBA, this was just like that, except rockier and with much bigger, steeper climbs.
All my pre-conceptions about riding in the heartland were being destroyed. Is this good or bad? I tend to enjoy more flow, steady aerobic output and speed. I must say, riders from around here would do just fine on the burliest trails in New England.
My legs were torched at the return point. A hundred 1000W bursts trying to clean steep rises will do that, especially not doing much interval work right now. Fortunately, the blue trail heading back had much nicer flow to it. It was further down from the rim most of the time with lengthy stretches you could haul-ass on. I met two solo riders heading out on the blue trail on my return. Otherwise I had the place to myself.
I finished with 23+ miles in nearly 3hrs moving time, a testament to how technical this terrain is. I quickly packed the bike to head to my afternoon riding destination, Perry Lake.
Clinton Lake photos, in no particular order:
White trail heading out, just below rim
Blue trail coming back
More blue trail. Clinton Lake reservoir crazy low.
Baked dry, hard as concrete.
Massive terrain park with dozens of big features
End to end see-saws.
"Steeper than it looks." Almost cleaned it.
My WTF realization seconds from parking lot.
I thought surely Perry Lake will offer up some buff singletrack. I couldn't handle another couple hours of pounding. Plan was to ride the full perimeter, then see if I wanted to add an inner loop. Heading out, I thought this is more like it, finally being able to carry a little speed. But initial elation was crushed when I encountered more choppy terrain. Perry lake was looser. The thin slabs of rock would sing like rock chimes as the flipped up.
The half box of wheat thins I inhaled between rides didn't serve me well. I should've eaten more during the morning ride. I bonked hard, one of those hallucinogenic, detached body kind of bonks. I started seeing trail gnomes even though the place was deserted. Not a good situation, riding 1400 miles from home, extreme terrain and spotty cell phone coverage at best.
Eventually the wheat thins kicked in and I came out of my bonk. I cleaned some pretty hairy stuff. The terrain wasn't fear of permanent loss of bodily control like at Landahl the day before, but certainly fear of great bodily harm.
I worked my way north on the Copperhead trail. This trail was chocked full of gratuitous dive bombs into gullies, with saddle to sternum, only grind 2.5mph back out of them with saddle to tailbone. Copperhead was the lower trail, and I feared returning on the upper Twin Peaks trail would be even more challenging. I lucked out. Twin Peaks tended to stay up top more and flowed nicely in places.
I finished with nearly 16 miles in just over 2hrs on the Garmin. Another very hard, slow ride. There certainly seems to be a recurring theme in the riding around here. 7.7hrs of rough terrain riding in two days has beat me up more than a full week of riding in Durango with much more climbing. It's what I came out here for. I want to experience trail riding in all parts of the country. I'm planning to ride in Nebraska on Saturday. A mellow "gravel grinder" is sounding pretty good right about now.
Self portrait on rare buff section
Perry Lake is probably the biggest man-made lake I've seen.
Lots of switchbacks
Typical climbing terrain
Typical descending terrain
The trails are litterally "stacked" here.