Flint Hills Nature Trail: the dehydration chronicles

In Blog by Eric Benjamin2 Comments

The Photography Assignment

I accepted a photography assignment for KANSAS Outdoors Magazine. They are working on a story about the Flint Hills Nature Trail and need images to show the trail. I thought that would be easy enough to do. I have ridden on the Rails to Trails bike trail plenty of times and it is not far from my home. It seems that they have done a lot of work to it and it gets longer and longer every year. I haven’t been on it in maybe a couple of years. I remember it being full of big chunky rock and although a scenic ride, not a very easy ride because of the big rock and sandy-like feeling that made it a tough ride. Seems like that has all changed, at least in the section between Bushong and Council Grove. Pea sized gravel now covers the trail and it’s much more pleasant to ride. We even saw other cyclists out on the trail.

But let me start at the beginning. I asked (on the trusty Facebook) if anyone wanted to model on the Flint Hills Nature Trail (FHNT) on the following weekend. It was pretty quiet on the AM Facebook page. I got one response. Bummer. I really needed to get the pictures taken as my deadline was quickly approaching. I talked with my buddy, Scott, and we discussed cycling, the AM garage sale and this photo shoot. He suggested I get the posse together for a ride the next day. It would be easy enough to do a little section of the FHNT along the way. Great idea Scott. I got right on this but had some reservations. I knew I would get some of the High Gear racing crew and I worried about keeping up. But it would only be a 40-some mile ride. No biggie right?

I had the Salsa Fargo ready with a Revelate seatbag on the bike to hold my full-sized Nikon dslr for the shoot. That combination made for one heavy bike. I also had four water bottles, food, tools and tubes and the point and shoot for shooting while on the bike. The bike was straight up heavy. I would be riding with a bunch of carbon machines. I was a little concerned, but this was a chilled ride, so no worries.

Fall Cycling in the Flint Hills

The day started out great. It was a bit nippy and looked like it might rain. I was hoping for a partly cloudy day for some good Flint Hills images. Oh well. I can’t change the weather. We started out fairly fast to get out-of-town, but then we slowed to a chilled pace as we hit gravel. I was paying attention to my heart rate as to not blow a gasket. I didn’t feel like I was pushing it too hard.

Chris had two flats early in the ride. This led to much talk about tires, air pressure, tubeless vs tubes and other topics cyclists talk about while changing flats. I didn’t mind the breaks but hoped we wouldn’t be changing flats all day. Luckily this was the last flat. We were in some pretty country with the colors of Fall surrounding us as we filled the air with the sound of gravel crunching. All was right in the world.

Midwest cycling. The big farm machinery gets the right of way every time.

We hit the FHNT just east of Bushong about 16 miles or so into the ride. My HR stayed consistently high throughout. I wasn’t too concerned as we would take some time for picture-taking and we were only going 45ish miles for the day. I would be OK. I used the P&S camera until we got to some scenic sections of the trail. Then we took time to stop, let me get into place and stage some pretty cool shots.

Let the Photoshoot Begin



 The Crew

 The FHNT is quite scenic and easy to ride. You should plan on riding it for a nice bike ride or run.

After taking a few shots that were OK, but not great, Jed suggested I climb up the hill to take pictures from above. Hmm. Seemed like a good idea. It ended up being a great idea for this section. There’s some big cutouts and lots of exposed rock in this area. It almost doesn’t look like Kansas anymore.

 Wow, I was up there.

 The views were awesome up there, pretty windy too.


 The beauty of the Flint Hills

The views from above were pretty sweet. Getting all itchy as I climbed through all the brush to get up there was worth it. As I climbed up the last big hill to get into position I was a little worried as my HR skyrocketed and my leg tried to cramp up. It wasn’t my health I worried about, it was finishing the ride. The doctor has given me the thumbs up. So I feel OK about riding and pushing a little. I am just out of shape and trying to get back to where a 100 miler is not out of the question. That is taking way longer than I expected. I figured this ride wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but when I felt a cramp hiking up the hill I hoped the next 20-some miles wouldn’t end up being a sufferfest.

 Man, Shawn looks so hard-core here. You almost can’t tell how nice of a guy he is.

We got done with the photography part of the ride. I put the camera back in the seatbag and got ready for the ride back to Emporia. We would head south into the wind on Road D. There are some big hills on the way and the wind was kicking. The racers told me to hang back and draft off their wheel. I was glad to have these guys with me. We have a great group of cyclists in Emporia, some of the best people in the land. I was glad to ride on their wheel as they blocked the wind. But then my legs started screaming.

Let the Cramps Begin!

We hit a few big hills. Hills I have climbed in the past without a problem. But on this day the ride was starting to feel epic. If epic can have a negative connotation  then that’s what I mean. If I keep my HR around 145 like the doctor prescribed, I can ride and ride without cramping or feeling bad. As time goes on and I get back into shape, I should be able to keep my HR at 145 and my speed will go up. Well on this ride my HR was up in the 160’s a lot of the time and climbing one of those hills it got into the 180’s. The good thing is that my heart can handle that just fine. The bad news is if I don’t keep my HR in the 140’s these days, it taxes the rest of my body. My leg, specifically my vastus medialis decided it had enough. Most of the fibers in this massive muscle contracted, leaving me with a leg hanging from my body that could no longer push down on the pedal or do anything else for that matter. Yes, it was a cramp. I had to get off the bike and stretch it out. I had become that guy.

I was to the point just outside of Americus and I was thinking about calling it quits. My legs were cramping and I couldn’t get my HR down to a normal level no matter how easy I took it. Was I dehydrated? It felt like it.

I stopped again, drank water and Sam gave me some enduralytes to help out the cause. I told the group I would make it to Americus, stop at the Casey’s and decide what to do from there. I drank all four water bottles and at the Casey’s refilled twice to get some more water in me. I never once had to pee the whole ride. I was thirsty. Weird. Maybe I didn’t drink enough the past few days, I wasn’t sure. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that mug of coffee before the ride. It didn’t matter. What mattered was where in the world was that woman behind the counter at Casey’s from?

What kind of accent is that?

I walked in the door and asked the woman behind the counter if I could go into the back to fill up with water. She responded with something that made my neck jerk around. I was in small town America and I heard some kind of accent that I couldn’t quite place let alone understand. I came out and talked with the other guys about it. I thought she sounded Cajun, like the guy in the Waterboy that no one understands. Jed just knew she was German, like his favorite bike components. Someone else thought Irish. I went back in to refill and tried to pay attention to her accent this time. Still sounded Cajun, but maybe Irish. Maybe my tired mind couldn’t tell.

I knew Sam well enough to know that he would ask her where she was from if I asked him to. He’s a family doctor and has to ask people all kinds of way more embarrassing questions than that. He went straight in and asked. I think he likes a good uncomfortable social situation. I love that about Sam.

He came out with the answer. We listened with anticipation to find out where the mystery woman in Americus, Kansas was from. Sam went on to give us our answer.

“She is originally from Germany but moved to Louisiana where she grew up.”

I can only imagine what she thought of us as Jed and I high-fived when Sam gave us the news. But seriously, how often do you meet a German-Cajun in Americus? The answer is never. Except for this one fateful day.

The rest of the way home I concentrated on the rear of these two guys.

I did all I could to hang on their wheel to make it home. I hate giving up. I even told them that earlier when I was stretching on the side of the road and Shawn reminded me of the “Never Give Up” on the side of all the AM jerseys. I hate giving up. With the help of my friends, I made it all the way home AND got the images I needed for the photoshoot. I have good friends. Thanks guys!

This ride gave my body the feeling a dirty century usually does. But I think we ended up with 46 miles. I was sore the next day too. I haven’t felt that alive in a while. I needed that.

Feed Your Monkey!