Today is a rest day in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, Mennonite Country. After seven straight days of riding capped by a seventy-seven mile ride yesterday, it’s a welcome relief.
There are twelve maps from Adventure Cycling that cover the Transam route and we are on the fifth one. (Not shown)The spaghetti of the Ozarks
The corn chex of Kansas
(Red line is our route. Squares are one mile)
Riding through the Ozarks felt just like traversing a mountain range every bit as tough as the Appalachians, but in reality the Ozark region is a vast elevated plain that’s been carved up by forces of erosion rather than uplift. Consequently there are no “peaks” but rather, there are “knobs” of harder (erosion resistant) rock.
I loved the Ozarks! There are springs and rivers everywhere. It’s lushly forested with hardwoods and teeming with wildlife. We camped next to beautiful clear rivers and went river rafting on a rest day.
This saw-mill and flour mill circa 1895 is fed by a spring producing 80 million gallons…per day!
The legacy of this area is a story of scorched-earth capitalism run amok and a rebirth thanks to the government. Here’s the short story paraphrased from a NPS informational plaque:
Lumber operations ceased in 1919 leaving over 1000 unemployed. The forests were gone; forest dwelling animals had all but disappeared as had fish in the gravel-choked streams. The denuded land was sold or abandoned by the timber barons.
Unschooled in conservation, the settlers burned off the land each spring, destroying young trees and humus that covered the ground. Then they subjected it to more livestock than the land could support. Hooves compacted the soil–the rains came–the hills bled. The destruction was complete.
In the 1920’s conservation efforts began, led by the federal government.
Today, the same forces are at work: Some want unfettered opportunity to profit and portray government as obstructing their freedom. But when there is a mess to clean up, the government is the only one left to do the job. Privatize the profit; socialize the risk.
The great affirmation for me is the power of the earth to heal as seen in the Ozarks a hundred years after the devastation. As I swam in the river and watched an otter busy fishing and marveled at the beauty of a miniature heron, I thanked “Source” for the beauty of creation and the wonderful web of life that is earth. I collected a small sample of water from the Jack’s Fork river to contribute to the earth healing ceremony for the high holidays this year.
Of course, it isn’t all serenity and wonder!The roads in the Ozarks have soul-crushing gradients. On the long climbs I’ve learned to narrow down my field of perception to just fifteen feet of pavement in front of me. At only four MPH…there is nothing beyond that that you need to see! And when utterly hammered into submission…there is no humiliation in getting off and pushing the load uphill…..
On the western end of Missouri the last hill ended and just like that the plains stretched out before us and we could see all the way to Colorado! Adolescent cornfields and wheat fields dominated the landscape as we slipped over the Kansas border for our first night in the new state. It wasn’t until the second night that we realized we had entered the land of OZ.
We were camped out in Chanute, Kansas in the city park. It was the first city park camp where we were surrounded by locals, a refreshing change to observe the small-town culture up close at little league games and playing T-ball. Earlier in the afternoon several of us pedaled downtown to an old fashioned drug store with a soda fountain and enjoyed root-beer floats, shakes and sundaes.
At 3:00am the thunderstorm struck. This California boy had never experienced anything like this. It had been so hot that evening I’d not bothered to wear any night clothes and when the hammering gale threatened to collapse my tent I grasped the central tent-pole and tried to push pack against the broadside attack. I thought about putting some clothes on so I wouldn’t be left tentless and naked if my tent blew over and I had to start chasing after scattered belongings. But I didn’t dare let go of the pole; it was flexing like there was a fifty pound yellowtail making a run.
Two of us did have their tents blown over as the stakes were ripped up and the tents were sent tumbling with them and their belongings inside. One ended up hunkered down in the dingy bathroom. Wally, our ride leader, had a partial collapse and was busy baling out an inch of water inside his tent.
The storm lasted far longer than any of the afternoon thunderstorms that we’d already experienced many times on the trip so far: three hours with a full hour of maximum intensity with non-stop thunder and lightning. By first light a few of us began peeking out at the aftermath, shell shocked.
Unbelievably, our group rolled out for our scheduled ride for the day, less than two hours behind schedule. Yellow brick road.