Our journey through Kansas was long and sometimes complicated. It began last October, included a longer than expected winter break, and finally concluded a few days ago when we finally crossed the Missouri River on the eastern border of Kansas. We’re now in Missouri, our 15th state!
Waaaay back on October 18, 2017, Apollo, Hermes and I left the Oklahoma panhandle and stopped for the night at our first Kansas stop, the fairgrounds in Elkhart. Called the cornerstone of Kansas, this little town was my first taste of big Kansas hospitality.
When most people outside the state think of Kansas, the first word that pops to mind (whether they’ve been there or not) is usually “flat”. And indeed, the western part of the state is very flat. For the first few weeks of riding through Kansas, I could see my destination as soon as I started my day’s ride - not because it was close, but because there was nothing but flat prairie in between. I could tell where every home within a 10 mile radius was because there were trees there, and where a town was because there were both trees and a grain elevator.
This vast flat expanse can get very windy, to say the least. It is an ideal place for wind farms, such as this one near Dodge City that we went through. This was the windiest day that I have experienced in my whole life. It was too windy to be perched in a saddle, and I spent the day hunkering behind Apollo as he partially shielded me from the unrelenting wind while we walked. It was so strong that it literally would push into my lungs, making it hard to breathe normally.
But the pancake-flat prairie could be beautiful at times. My favorite sunrise so far was in western Kansas. The colors that bloomed over that vast expanse of prairie was simply spectacular.
As I came to learn, Kansas was not simply a flat, empty bit of land where nothing happened (except wind of course. Wind happened a lot.).
First of all, it’s not all flat. Many parts of the state are rolling and sometimes very hilly. The eastern part also has many more trees, towns, rivers, etc. These parts of the state are very pretty. (Did you notice those horse ears are the wrong color? This was taken on Apollo’s day off near Wichita, when I went for a fun ride around a local state park on an awesome gelding named Brat).
In Wichita, I saw the Keeper of the Plains in his Ring of Fire.
In Topeka, I learned about the border war when Kansas became a state, which was a prelude to the American Civil War. The choice to become a free state instead of a slaveholder state like neighboring Missouri was of huge importance both locally and nationally as our country became divided.
Apollo, Hermes and I ended our 2017 ride near Wichita, with a celebration breakfast on the last day of riding of funfetti pancakes (yes, I shared. Everyone agreed they were a great way to celebrate). Then I trailered Apollo to a boarding stable not far from Lawrence, where I had arranged for what seemed like an ideal winter home for him to rest.
After an unexpected delay, we got back on the road at the end of June (Hermes stayed home, more on this in a future post). It was still snowing a little when I visited Apollo in April, but only 9 weeks later the area was in the midst of unseasonably hot weather.
Luckily, as I mentioned, eastern Kansas has a lot of trees, so we could take shade breaks often. The area also has a lot of nice gravel roads for riding.
Naturally, ice cream was also a necessity in that kind of weather. And the best ice cream in Kansas was on my route through Lawrence, at Silas and Maddy’s downtown.
There was fun to be had in the evenings and on my days off too. One night we stayed at a cowboy church, where they were holding a team roping competition. I certainly did not participate (I am sure Apollo wouldn’t have known what to do, since all we ever do is walk!) but I did enjoy watching.
I also got to explore the capital building, including a memorable climb to the top of the dome up this crazy suspended staircase. It was a personal challenge of my fear of heights, but the view (and sense of accomplishment!) was worth it.
Finally, we reached the border town of Atchison. I visited the Amelia Earhart birthplace, not far from the bridge to Missouri. And in the spirit of this great lady, we then did not refuse the offer of further adventures that awaited in the next state.