The DK-ish Tour: Bikepacking in the Land of the Dirty Kanza

I rolled out on a short tour with my friend Bill Poindexter last week. This was a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing. Bill messaged me on Tuesday: “Hey, want to do a quick local tour, 4-5 days, starting tomorrow?”

I had a window of opportunity with work, the weather looked promising, so I checked with the boss (my wife), she gave her blessing, and I messaged back: “I’m in.”

We did a voice call, tossed some possible destinations back and forth, and finally settled on riding from Kansas City out to Emporia for the start of the Dirty Kanza 200 race. We were both interested in the Gravel Expo, and had friends riding the event, so it was a natural choice. We’d both ridden parts of the area, so there was some level of confidence that we knew what we were getting into, enough so that we decided we could play it pretty casual, deciding on the route and destination on a day-by-day basis, rather than planning out the whole route and itinerary in advance.

Here was what our route ended up being:

We were out for five days and four nights, overnighting at Osage State Fishing Lake, Council Grove, Lyon State Fishing Lake, and Douglas State Fishing Lake.

You’ll notice that we camped at State Fishing Lakes three nights; that’s no accident. State Fishing Lakes are hidden gems for touring. Most importantly, they’re free, and they usually provide reasonably clean campsites in scenic settings. On the downside: no water, no electricity, pit toilets (if that), and sometimes rowdy inconsiderate neighbors. But again, the price is right, and they’re scattered around the state. A great resource.

Our other night was in Council Grove. We’d intended to camp at the Corps of Engineers campsites at Council Grove Lake, but these were all closed due to high lake levels. Bill had the bright idea of checking Warm Showers, and we were fortunate to find a local host who had an opening and responded quickly to a phone call. We were allowed to setup out tents in their backyard, and were provided showers, shared a meal with the family, and partook of homebrew. Sweet!

Our route was mostly gravel, including both gravel roads and the gravel surfaces of the Landon Trail and Flint Hills Trail. The trip from Council Grove to Emporia included the last 25 miles of the DK200 route. Gorgeous country. In Emporia we attended the Gravel Expo. What an amazing sight to see downtown Emporia crawling with cyclists and thousands of bikes. Bliss! After watching the launch of the DKXL 350-mile race, we opted to roll on out of town, rather than trying to find a campsite among the crowds.

On Saturday, we rode into Reading for breakfast, only to find the cafe closed for the day. Luckily, we both had spare food, and had a little picnic under the cafe’s awning, before heading off to Lyndon, where we restocked at Casey’s and took a little nap in the city park. Then it was on to Ottawa and a stop at the bike shop, then back roads to Baldwin City and camping at the lake.

Sunday was a short, easy ride back to the city. We ended up with about 300 miles, all told.

Here are some photos from the trip:

My Salsa Journeyman in a field of daisies
Post rock fenceline in the Flint Hills south of Council Grove
Climbing a gravel road in the Flint Hills between Council Grove and Emporia
There’s plenty of history along this route, including this crossing of the old Santa Fe Trail near Gardner
Bill rode a Salsa Cutthroat with Blackburn front and rear bikepacking bags
Riding on the Flint Hills Trail near Pomona
Camping at Lyon State Fishing Lake
Predawn splendor at Lyon State Fishing Lake


DirtBum Written by:

I enjoy riding bicycles all over -- city streets, suburbia, rural roads, gravel roads, dirt roads, rail-trails, and singletrack. I love exploring the countryside and finding the interesting and historical treasures hidden in plain sight. You can follow my rides on Strava.