Location: Paola

Join Me For a Winter Ride

Here’s an open invitation to any and all: I’m leading a gravel road ride on January 17th out of Paola, Kansas, starting at 10am from Wallace Park. It’s scheduled to be about 45 miles, but may end up being slightly more or less depending on conditions.

If you’re feeling a bit of cabin fever after all the snow and cold, this is a great opportunity to break free and ride!

The name of the route is “Paola Gravel ‘n’ Hills ‘n’ Trail”. It starts in Paola’s Wallace Park, then rolls west through some hilly country — not really long hills, but more the short-and-steep variety, but there are plenty of them. This section is known, according to local lore, as “The Devil’s Backbone”. The route takes us through the tiny, almost ghost-town of Peoria, named for Baptiste Peoria, leader of the Peoria Indians. Peoria was one of Franklin County’s earliest towns, established in 1857.

We’ll then take a short jog south and across the Marais des Cygnes river, near where an early wagon and stagecoach trail forded the river. From there, we’ll hop on the Flint Hills Nature Trail, a rails-to-trails project that will eventually stretch 117 miles. We’ll be riding the eastern-most section of the trail, first crossing a historic railroad bridge over Middle Creek, then passing through the small town of Rantoul, and then following alongside the Marais des Cygnes for several miles. I think this is one of the most scenic sections of the trail, with the path situated between the river and the bluffs, and nice little creek crossing (this is the one damaged by vandals last August).

Eventually, the trail will intersect with John Brown Highway, which we’ll follow into Osawatomie. There’s a great little park here, home of the John Brown Museum State Historic Site. John Brown, in case you don’t know, was a famous abolitionist who played a central role in keeping slavery out of Kansas during the mid-1800’s, a period of time known as “Bleeding Kansas” due to the frequent, and often bloody conflicts between free-staters in Kansas and pro-slavery factions from Missouri. John Brown lived in Osawatomie, and there are a number of historical sites in the area related to that time period.

Also in Osawatomie you’ll have a chance to re-supply at a convenience store before we head off on the last leg, crossing over the Marais des Cygnes once more, on a structure known as the Creamery Bridge, a beautiful triple-arch bridge built in 1930 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From there we’ll get a few miles of flat roads before we attack the steep hill leading up to John Brown Lookout Park, a high point which provides a great view of the surrounding countryside — you can see Paola, Osawatomie, and look out across the river valley. According to legend, this is where John Brown directed the escape of slaves by his Underground Railroad. From there it’s just a few short miles (and several hills) back to Paola.

Now, a word about the weather: Yes, it’s likely to be a little cool. The forecast is calling for a temperature around 40°F. But that shouldn’t be a problem; bundle up and you’ll be fine. But don’t bundle up too much — all those hills will make you work, and you’ll generate plenty of internal heat!

Roads are likely to be a mixture of gravel and snow-covered gravel. This may sound treacherous, but in my experience, it’s not a problem. You’ll want tires with aggressive knobs, though. These are not the conditions for road tires or slicks! As for your bike, either a mountain bike, a cross bike, or a road bike with knobby tires will do fine. Here’s a glimpse of what the road surface may look like:

And here’s a map and elevation profile for the ride:

This ride is part of the Guru’s Gravel Grinders series of rides organized by Chris Locke. The rides are free, but no support is provided. There’s also a Facebook page for the series here, with more details. An RSVP is appreciated, but not required. If you want to ride, just show up.

So join us, won’t you, for this fun little tour of rural Kansas!

About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

One response to “Join Me For a Winter Ride”

  1. Randy says:

    It was a tough but fun ride. Conditions didn’t quite turn out as anticipated, with heavy fog and muddy roads. Here are some ride reports and photos: Chris Locke, DirtBum (that’s my personal blog), Guru’s Gravel Grinders