XC gravel bike, DK200

Soul Cleansing in the Flint Hills

In Blog by Eric Benjamin Comments

Before I knew of the heart condition, I was cycling and trying to get better – faster. Now things are different, at least in my mind they are. When I ride I am paying more attention to how I feel. I am trying to assess my stamina and ability and see where I am physically. Now when I feel tired I try to pinpoint where the tiredness is coming from. Is it because of my mitral valve leaflet folding on itself instead of slamming shut keeping blood flowing to the body or is it just that my muscles are tired from riding? It’s hard to tell and it could be a combination of both. I do know that I have experienced some fatigue on rides that was surprising to me at the time. Makes more sense now.

Am I doing the  SC400 in April or not? This is what I need to figure out.  My rides this year have been on the shorter side(4oish miles) and indoors on the trainer. It is time to see how I feel on longer rides. The SC400 will be something like four days of dirty centuries (the course is about 80% dirt) through mountains and desert. I need to be sure I can do it before heading out there.

You see, at this point I know I am going to have surgery, the question is when. Oh and the other question is can I do this big, beautiful, California race before having surgery? I think I can, but I need to be sure and I need to prove to Jen and family that I can do it too.

So with that in mind, I hurried home after dropping the kids off at school last Friday to become a super hero. Or to put on the costume at least.

Cycling kit

Should I smile, look into the distance or . . . well this is what I got – a look of constipation.

I liked the way the Pearl Izumi warmers and my Adventure Monkey kit looked together and I thought a pic in the AM HQ would look cool, but I always think I look like a dork in my pictures. One reason to stay on the other side of the camera.

I set up my camera and put it on a bar stool (no, no bar in the garage) to shoot this goofy picture of myself. I’m in my amazing garage that is still needing some work before it is transformed into the Adventure Monkey Man Cave. You can see the Fargo getting ready for its bikepacking tour on the stand with the handlebar bag containing a tent and sleeping pad. The trainer is there in the front and that black case on the floor holds a filet set to gut and filet fish, but instead it’s used to set my front wheel on when I ride the trainer. Behind me is a sweet stereo from the 80’s that my mom used to rock out to. There is also a sink to my left and behind me I hope to have pegboard on the wall, under the Fight Club and Rocky posters, to store all my tools in a nice, orderly fashion. Yep, I’m living the high life. Now, where should the flat screen go?

I decided to ride the Trek X01 with the Kenda Kommandos pumped to 50 psi instead of 60psi. Soon I will ride the fully packed up Fargo to try out my Ultralight kit and get used to riding the fully loaded Fargo. But on this ride I hit the road on my lighter, faster XC bike.

We had some precipitation so I wasn’t sure how my route would work out. I planned to hit some low maintenance Flint Hills roads and head towards the big Matfield Green AT&T tower before turning and heading toward Madison and doing the first leg of the DK200, 2011 backwards. There was practically no wind, amazing for Kansas, and it was supposed to get into the low 60’s. It was a perfect day to get outside. It was a perfect day to ride.

If you’ve been riding in the wind, as all of us Kansans have been lately, riding on a calm day is amazing. It seems to take little effort to keep the wheels turning. So there you go. Get out there and ride in the wind. It is great training.

Knowing my heart was not pumping at 100% efficiency I decided to take it easy and just ride. I would climb the hills strong and basically just keep the wheels turning. No need to force myself to get a couple of mph faster and tire myself out more quickly. This is how I plan to ride the SC400, slow and steady.

I was looking forward to a long ride. It is soul cleansing. It washes away all the soul funk that builds up with everyday living and it gives me time to think.

I think too much sometimes and I have been thrown into deep thinking mode because of this heart thing. It’s not like I am dying but health issues get one thinking about life a little more seriously. One thing I know is I am ready to do with my life what I was called to do. It’s not like I wasn’t ready before, but this has been a call to action for me.

But what is it that I am supposed to do? I am speaking professionally here. My main job is to be there for my family. The thing is though, all of us spend more time at work than at home, so if you hate your job, that’s a lot of time doing something you were not called to do. Remember, let’s die living, not live dying. If we all do that, we’d have something here wouldn’t we? And living just for a paycheck is not really living now is it?

I have already been on this path to figure out what I would be happier doing. I have been soul-searching. I have tried different things here on Adventure Monkey and most recently I have been in a “Start Your Own Business” course at the Flint Hills Technical College. If nothing else, it has been good to be with like-minded entrepreneurs and engross myself in the things of business. Good, rational, “how to make money” thinking. A good idea is just that until you act on it right?

I have racked my brain to think back on my life to find things that I enjoy, am good at and have stuck with. That would give me some clue on what I should be doing don’t you think? Plus there’s this super-scientific test I took online somewhere awhile back. The results were surprising in how they pinpointed my interests pretty well. I didn’t think I answered the questions to get these results but here they are:

personality test

All this is leading me in a general direction. That direction has the following elements:

Teaching, Writing, Photography, Outdoors and Working with people

I believe it’s time to give Adventure Monkey a direction. I am thinking Photography, Tours and Teaching will be the main direction. I am still tweaking my thoughts on this, but I hope to turn this site into a place to learn, to view and to appreciate adventure photography. Tweak, tweak, tweak.

All this percolated in my mind as I hit the road. Since I would ride a bit slower I decided to do what I started out doing when I began riding seriously again back in 2009 – take more pictures.

bicycling, gravel, schoolhouse

I did have to reroute myself because the dirt roads were like riding in peanut butter. I was able to reroute around the muddy roads and still get down into the Verdigris River Valley. It’s a beautiful area to ride.

panoramic road, gravel


This image doesn’t do the area justice, but I shot this just to show the vastness of the Flint Hills Prairie. Sometimes the miles and miles of open land just make me stop and take notice. Click on the picture to see it larger.

cycling with cattle


I yelled at the cows in my best cowboy voice to get them moving off the road. I’m not much of a cowboy, but they ran along anyway.

flint hills road, gravel

I love the curve of this road but had to shoot another one just to show all the exposed rock covering the hills. This is indicative of the Flint Hills and makes it unfarmable land, but perfect for cattle grazing. In fact, I have heard that the Flint Hills is the best cattle grazing land in the world. All I know is it is a beautiful place to ride and clear one’s mind.

rock in Flint Hills

 winter tree

This tree looked stark against the landscape. Soon the tree would be green with leaves and blend with the soon to be green grasses the will cover the hills. But on this day it had an almost apocalyptic feeling to it. I did my best to capture that feeling. Clouds would have helped but there wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky.

bicycle, cattle crossing

Cattle guards leading to open range land.

If you’ve never been out there, open range is just that – open land with no fences. That cattle guard keeps the cattle in that pasture. There are miles of open range in the Flint Hills, more than any other place in North America in fact. Seeing all that untouched open range is really something. Riding through it is too. I like the feeling of being so far away from civilization, so far from all the noise. Perfect for a soul cleansing ride.

XC gravel bike, DK200

A closer look

oil rig, flint hills, kansas

Madison oilfields (click to see larger)


This is the infamous “Texaco Hill.” I am headed down the hill in this image. Past those trees is where is gets really steep. Without pedaling I hit 30 mph while braking. Last year’s DK200 took us up this hill. It’s way more fun to bomb down it.

barn, trees

Old barn in the woods

All in all I felt good. I did get pretty fatigued about 50 miles in. But I did just ride 50 miles. I plan on seeing what this new doctor says tomorrow and continuing to ride longer rides to test myself. I felt like the fatigue was more than just the normal muscle fatigue, but it wasn’t too bad. I have pushed myself pretty darn hard in the past, so I’m pretty tough. I tried to take it easy on this ride. Somewhere around 65 miles in or so I stopped riding to sit for a spell and rest. I ate an all natural, gluten-free Lara Bar and sat in the sun. I was amazed at how quiet it was. The wind wasn’t blowing and the world was calm all around me. I do believe it does one a lot of good to get away from the hustle and bustle to spend some time observing the natural world. It does the soul a lot of good.

For those of you that are racing in the DK200, I am still impressed with the Kenda Kommandos. Running them at 50 psi instead of 60 psi made a nice difference. I was a lot more comfortable on them. I have ridden them a few hundred miles now in the Flint Hills with no flats.

For those interested in nutrition, I munched on Lara Bars and a Vega Energy Bar. They are all natural and gluten-free. They tasted good and the best thing was – good natural fuel, but no gas, you know what I mean.

Feed Your Monkey!