Mountain Biking in Kansas


I know!

I had exactly the same thoughts.



No match.

Kansas is known for wheat fields and tornadoes. Where Colorado has Rocky Mountain National Park, Kansas has the Tall Grass Prairie. The only breaks in a Kansas horizon come from silos and trees. When the good Lord gave out mountain vouchers, Kansas was in the wrong line.

Here is a rough depiction of a Kansas skyline:


I live in a mountain state (Idaho), so when I got asked to go mountain biking near my home town of Emporia, Kansas, I had to chuckle. I didn’t even know farmers owned bikes. I mean, it must be tough to fit those padded shorts underneath overalls. Kansas bikers buy their cycling shoes at the Red Wing store. All the bicycles are probably painted green and yellow – just like their tractors.

But this was Thanksgiving, and as a favor to my family I went along to a little park outside of town called Camp Alexander, named after a former slave who donated his land for the enjoyment of the children of, “Emporia, Lyons County, and Kansas.” It was a nice place. Serene. Peaceful.

No mountains.

I tried to suppress a smile as we mounted up – my brother even insisted I wear a helmet (in case I fell asleep in mid-ride and fell off my bike, presumably). He and his buddies warned me about a part of the trail called Heartbreak Ridge.

Oh, please.

When we finally began to ride I was surprised that the trail winded up and down previously unseen hills and gullies. I began to perspire.

We hit mud, then rock, and the trails got curvy. Real curvy. My legs began to get sore.

We scaled bridges and steered around trees. My breathing became labored.

Then they stopped. Ahead of us was Heartbreak Ridge. It looked like this:


How they kept this massive slab of granite hidden for all these years I will never know. But right here, in the middle of the heartland, was Mount Everest. It was an impossible trail. Sherpas would need guides to get to the top. No person alive or dead could climb it, let alone ride a bike up it. And now they expected me to try.

The locals went first. And one by one, they made it.

Then it was my turn.

With a mighty burst of energy I exploded onto the trail. Every muscle in my body dedicated itself to ascending the rock-strewn, impossibly steep goat trail of Heartbreak Ridge. My breathing sounded like a freight train and my thighs screamed in agony. But failure was not an option – no yokel flat-lander was going to show up this mountain boy. Not today. Not ever.

Finally I stopped and looked around. I had gone about eight feet. The farm boys were at the top of Heartbreak Ridge looking down at me, smiling. Down at the bottom I looked back, humiliated. I would have spat out an excuse, but I was too busy trying not to pass out. In defeat I had to push my bike up the hill while they waited. Failure, apparently, was an option after all. The rest of the ride was no better. By the end of the day I could barely move and had lost the feeling in each of my extremities, including the one I sat on.

So maybe I’ll acknowledge that there is more to Kansas than wheat and tornadoes. And now, since I’m a little wiser from the experience, let me give you some advice. If you’re ever on leave or whatever, and find yourself in Kansas, and some hay seed asks you to go “mountain biking”, take my advice and turn him down. Make up an excuse if you have to.

Tell him your shoes haven’t arrived yet down at the Red Wing store. He’ll buy that.


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