Today we rode on the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail. The trail is currently 51 miles long and runs from Iola, KS north to Ottawa, KS in the eastern part of the state. The original rail line was built in 1867 by the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company. The ownership of the rail line changed several times and the last railroad to operate on the line was the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company. They ceased operations on the line in the mid 1970’s. The line was transferred to the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks for development into a recreational rail-trail in 1992. The first 17 mile section was opened in 1996, another 16 miles in 1998, and the last 18 mile section in 2008. It is currently the longest rail-trail in Kansas.
When we planned the trip, we originally thought we’d ride the entire 51 miles from Iola to Ottawa in one day. We planned on staying overnight in Ottawa, and then breaking up the return to Iola into two days. We drove to Iola last night in preparation for our ride this morning. Thunderstorms moved through Iola last night and the area had heavy rains. It was still misting this morning, so we didn’t get a real early start. We left the Iola trailhead about 10:00 AM with the bikes loaded down with panniers and trunk bags. The trail surface is crushed limestone, so it didn’t stick to our tires. The trail was a bit soft though and it felt as though we were riding through sand. I kept checking my rear tire thinking I had a flat, but it was just the trail making it feel that way. After riding a few hours, I could tell that at the rate we were going, there was no way we were going to make it to Ottawa. We ate lunch at a small diner in the town of Colony and after consulting the map and talking it over, decided that it would be best to ride back to Iola and pick up the car. We would then drive to Ottawa, spend the night and ride from there tomorrow. We’ve got a couple of options for riding from there and will decide in the morning what we’re going to do.
It was overcast all day and it misted on us a bit towards the end of the ride. We enjoyed some great scenery along the trail and had a good ride. We saw rabbits, a deer, and a big variety of birds. We passed by fields of crops, cattle pastures, creeks and small lakes. In some areas the trail was covered with large snails. It was almost like it was a snail migration……….they made a distinct noise when run over. We only saw three other riders on the trail all day, so felt like we pretty much had it to ourselves.
We arrived back in Iola, loaded the bikes up and drove to Ottawa. We’ve got reservations in Garnett tomorrow night, so we may do an out and back from Ottawa and then drive to Garnett. Our other option would be to ride to Garnett, spend the night and then bike back to Ottawa. I guess we’ll look at the weather forecast in the morning and then decide.