Looking west along the Missouri River, White Cloud, KS
On Saturday, July 12, 2003, fifteen Backroads Touring Kansas riders rode about 230 beautiful and historic miles in the Missouri River bluffs, valleys and bottoms of northeast Kansas on the Lawrence to Atchison to White Cloud Loop. Weather was downright comfortable by normal mid-July standards, partly cloudy and merely warm at about 87 F. This was a long and challenging ride, due to varied surfaces, rutted roads and long distances, over a route of 90% well-maintained county roads and only 10% pavement. All bikes were at home on surfaces from loose gravel to fine sand and dirt, with a few miles of unimproved two-track. Arcing turns on the river roads and between steep bluffs were gentle and banked; trees and other vegetation in full summer volume provided good shade. We passed dozens of cemeteries with graves dating from the 1840’s cholera outbreaks among the Oregon Trail pioneers. Despite scattered showers over the previous two weeks, this was a dusty day in Northeast Kansas, and dust persuaded some riders to return home from the last gas stop at Highland KS (trip mile 158) via paved Kansas Highways.

BT Kansas welcomed three new riders Saturday: Dave Dixon (2003 Kawasaki KLR 650, Derby KS), Joe Hackney (2001 Honda XR650, Holton KS), and Jeff Riggs (1999 Kawasaki KLR 250, Olathe KS). Previous BT Kansas riders included: Wojtek Dolski (Lenexa KS, 2000 KTM 640), Shawn Gowing (2000 Suzuki DRZ 400, Lawrence KS), Rob Lux (2000 Suzuki DRZ 400, Holton KS), Sean Noll (2002 Kawasaki KLR 650, St. Louis, MO!!), Joe Blanchard 2001 Kawasaki KLR 650, Carbondale KS), Dennis Gowing (2003 Kawasaki Super Sherpa 250 – SHOWROOM NEW, Lecompton KS), Todd Shumaker (2000 Suzuki DR 650, Netawaka KS), Chester Thompson (2002 Kawasaki KLR 650, La Cygne KS), Greg Mitchell (1989 Honda TransAlp, Emporia KS), Tim Millis (2001 KTM 400, Leawood KS), Chris Greenhoot, Leader (1996 KTM 620 RXC, Lawrence KS), and David Hemphill, Cleanup Position (2001 Suzuki DR 650, Lawrence KS).

Two riders were missing from this ride. Richard Mason had intended to ride, but instead is recovering in the ICU at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Topeka. Roger Baugh, whose work conflicted with his riding, was missing and his camera work was needed on this day.

At the start of ride, most riders were eyeballing Dennis Gowing’s sparkling new Kawasaki Super Sherpa 250, which was on the showroom floor 24 hours earlier. But by the end of the trip, most were wishing for Greg Mitchell’s Honda Trans Alp, with its wide seat, low and upright riding position and sturdy frame.

After short stops at Leavenworth County Lake (trip mile 17) near Tonganoxie and at Jefferson County’s Bethel Cemetery (trip mile 34), the first section of the trip ended in the ghost town of Kickapoo, KS, at the first Catholic Church in Kansas (Reference: “Faded Dreams: More Ghost Towns Of Kansas” by Daniel C. Fitzgerald, University Press of Kansas 1994).

From Kickapoo to Atchison, riders finally satisfied their appetite for river road riding, with wide arcing turns along firm dirt roads, with a few ruts for interest, the shady foliage opening reluctantly to yield wide views of the Missouri River floodplain farms on the right. At Atchison (trip mile 67) riders toured the gravel roads of Jackson Park on the way up to a wide view of the river below the park’s steep bluffs. We took a short tour of the River View Road area, with it’s brick-lined streets and well-maintained Victorian homes, including the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, before descending to Quinn’s Restaurant for cheeseburgers right by the river. Chester Thompson ate and ran and blasted back to La Cygne on pavement.

After a pass through the ghost town of Palermo (trip mile 84) (Reference: “Faded Dreams: More Ghost Towns Of Kansas” by Daniel C. Fitzgerald, University Press of Kansas 1994), we wove a 15-mile loop through shady, meandering dirt roads with wide farms on the left and steep glacial loess outcrops on the right. Heavy vegetation here cooled the temperature by about five degrees and happily, the mud of previous trips to this section was dry.

At the gas stop in Wathena (trip mile 92), Wojtek Dolski departed for the Kansas City area. Joe Hackney sparked the group’s imagination, with his suggestion of a five-minute detour via US 36 West, to see a new 250-foot dirt hillclimb area promoted by a local landowner. This was rewarded when the group approached the base of this hill tentatively. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, first-time BT Kansas rider Jeff Riggs charged the hill on his KLR 250! He warmed up by getting halfway up the hill, and some in the crowd doubted the KLR 250 as the two returned to base level. But rider and machine were undaunted, and pointed themselves back at the top, cleaning the hill in second gear, and the remaining 14 riders at the base went wild, cheering with envy. Jeff proved (if it needed proving) that the Kawasaki KLR is a do-anything machine.

A few miles later, along the sweeping, shaded, gentle river road turns along the Missouri River, we became spectators at the day’s big news event in Doniphan County. We arrived at a boat ramp on the river to find four fire trucks and their crews, with about a dozen law enforcement officers looking on, as a lone fireman in full gear subdued the smoldering engine compartment of 20-foot motor boat, still in its trailer. We puzzled over this unfortunate scene for a few moments and soldiered on.

For the next fifty miles the group explored the steep drainages of the bluffs south of the river, on curvaceous roads and every surface from sand to unimproved two-track. A rest stop just south of Burr Oak Bottoms gave us a moment to survey the complex topography both on the map and off the roadside.

This second section of the trip ended, and the third section began, at White Cloud, KS (trip mile 149), where all riders savored the view from the Four State Lookout. A sign was posted saying “No Dirt Bikes or ATV’s” but said nothing about Dual Sports. Visibility was perfect and one could see for at least forty miles over a 270 degree panorama of tranquil, lush Missouri River floodplain. This is one of the unforgettable vistas in the State of Kansas.

Tim Millis departed for the Kansas City area via Kansas Highway 7 South from White Cloud. The rest headed south ten miles to Highland, KS (trip mile 158) on graceful turns on good gravel for refueling. From Highland, most riders headed home via blacktop road. As always, though, there are some riders who ride pavement only as a last resort. So, Rob Lux, Todd Shumaker, Sean Noll, Joe Blanchard and Chris Greenhoot headed due south, using straight 7- to 15-mile sections of nearly empty gravel roads, until the day’s Grand Finale, Douglas County’s Buck Creek Road, and arrival in Lawrence around 8:00 PM. Joe and Chris helped Sean load his KLR on the trailer for the long 300+ miles to St. Louis. Sean gets the Iron Butt Award for this trip.

This large group never became separated and no rider missed a turn. We were on schedule the whole trip. There were no flats or mechanical problems, although Sean Noll did bend a break pedal, running over a limb on a dead end abandoned road. David Hemphill rode cleanup the whole ride and ate a lot of dust and entertained the crowd with his knowledge of the local flora. Everybody had a blast on this ride.

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