To add to your trail book collection – Dirt Work and Wild

Although winter may not be relenting enough to hike, the upside is that there’s no better time to put your feet up, sip some hot chocolate, and enjoy a good trail book.  Here are two of our top picks to add to your trail anthology:

Dirt Work by Christina Byl

While normal hikers appreciate big views, wildflowers in bloom, or clouds drifting overhead, I must admit to spending a slightly inordinate amount of hiking time checking out the trail under my feet.  A good trail can do much to enhance the hiking experience, but the worst are prone to erosion or just generally boring hiking.  Each step of a well-built trail is carefully planned and constructed with a great deal of muscle and sweat.

Dirt Work

Without being on a crew (and I highly recommend the experience), it’s hard to get a sense for the art, science and just plain dirty work that goes into building an excellent trail.  In “Dirt Work”, Christina Byl recounts her journey from a rookie crew member building alpine trails in Glacier National Park to a crew leader calling the shots in the wilderness of Alaska.

Byl has vast experience working on trail crews and she accurately portrays the “work hard, play hard” experience of the traildog life.  The book rolls the dirt and the glory of trail-building into a fascinating and insightful assessment into the proud blue-collar world behind your favorite trail and will leave you yearning to spend a summer cutting tread in the high country.


Wild by Cheryl Strayed

With a life unraveling and out of control, Cheryl Strayed undertakes an ambitious hike to try to make sense of it all. wildAnd by rather ambitious I mean she merely sets out to hike the majority of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Solo.  Of course she has scant experience, a pack much too big, and boots painfully too small.  Despite this prescription for epic failure she perseveres and chronicles the drudgery, pain, and elation of life on the long trail in wonderful detail.

In my experience, time in the woods alone brings a sense of perspective and clarity to life, and after months on the trail Strayed works through the crucible and comes out on the other side a truly different person.

10 gifts for the Kansas trail lover in your life

Here are our picks for the best gifts to get for anyone you know who loves to explore Kansas trails!

1. Kansas Trail Guide. You may not be able to get the actual book until March 2015, but you can go ahead and pre-order our Kansas Trail Guide: The Best Hiking, Biking, and Riding in the Sunflower State. From $24.95.

2. Merrell Grassbow Air Trail Running Shoe. This is a trail-running shoe with enough traction to take on the rockier trails of Kansas, but light enough to be comfortable all day. From $99.95.

3. Osprey Stratos 24 Pack. It has a lightweight frame for a total weight of 2 pounds 4 ounces, and it can carry 22 literes/1,343 cubic inches, which makes it a good size for a light day on the trial. The mesh back panel helps keep you cool, and it has 6 total pockets for everything you might need, including a water reservoir pocket, and the adjustable waist belt means you can load it up and still carry it comfortably. Plus, it comes with a rain cover.612

4. The Kansas Sky by Konza Press. The book features photographs of 45 Kansas skies, and as a 5 x 5.5 softcover book, it’s perfect for a stocking stuffer, and all money goes to the Kansas Sampler Foundation. $10.95.

5. Fresh roasted coffee. Get fueled up for the trail with a cup of coffee from Reverie Coffee Roasters in Wichita. You can shop for fresh roasted coffee at their store or online.

6. Outdoor Research Helium II jacket. The wind and rain can kick up quickly out on the prairie, particularly in spring and fall, and you’ll want to have a lightweight waterproof layer to help keep you dry. Plus, Outdoor Research has an “infinite guarantee” on its products. For the Helium II jacket, the women’s weighs 5.5 ounces and the men’s weighs 6.4 ounces. Both pack down to around the size of a granola bar, so they’re easy to bring with you on the trail. From $129.95.

7. Garmin GPS device. Since there’s not always cell-service, you can use a Garmin device to keep track of where you are on the trail, and you can use it to input coordinates from the Kansas Trail Guide to help keep you on track. Our favorite devices are the GPS Map 64s (non-touchscreen) and Oregon 650t (touchscreen).

8. Kelty Pathfinder 3.0. Just because you have a baby or toddler doesn’t mean you have to forego your time on the trail. With the Kelty Pathfinder 3.0 for kids 16 to 40 pounds, you get all kinds of bells and whistles. There’s a hydration compartment for you, a sun hood for baby, and it’s easy to fit the pack for your as well as your kid. It also comes with a zip-off daypack for storing snacks, diapers, and whatever you might need. From $279.95.

9. The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots. Kansas is on the Central Flyway, a bird migration route, and it’s a great spot for birders. For beginning and moderate level birders, this book has all the information for finding and identifying the state’s birds. It includes types of birds along with maps and a calendar of Kansas bird activity. From $17.25.

10. The Stick – Roller Massager. After a long day on the trail, whether it’s on foot, on a horse, or on a bike, you may end up with sore muscles. To help work them out, you can get a massage, or you can give yourself one with the 24.5 inch roller massager. It helps your muscles recover quickly, and you’ll notice less soreness and stiffness if you use it regularly. From $27.45.

Review of Garmin GPSMAP 64s



The time has come to review another Garmin GPS device. First we had the eTrex Legend, then the Oregon 650t and now we have the GPSMAP 64s ($399).

Things to love about it:

Comes with a basemap that you could still use to follow your own track and you get a free regional 24K topo map that you can download via your computer.

Uses GPS satellites as well as Russian GLONASS satellites, which means that in heavy tree cover or canyons, you still get a signal.

Screen is sunlight readable and can be brightened or darkened – darker gives you more battery life.

Can be connected to your computer via USB and tracks can be transferred via BaseCamp.

Waterproof and durable.

It’s a handheld device that also comes with a way to carabiner/clip it to your bag or a mount to put on a bike.

Great at determining elevation with a barometric altimeter (though, frankly, in Kansas, this isn’t as much of a concern) and electronic compass gives good bearings on which way you’re facing, even if you’re not holding the device level.

Want to know when you’re within .05 to 250+ miles of a certain spot? You can set a proximity alarm for different locations that you can set before you leave or at the car.

It can be synced with Bluetooth and you can also link it to get text notifications if you pair it to your iPhone (apparently – I didn’t try it because I didn’t want alerts on the trail).

You can wirelessly send and receive data with other GPS devices.

It gives you sun/moon data – daylight hours left are important to know, and you won’t miss sunrise.

Thousands upon thousands of preloaded geocaches that you can check off, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Things be aware of:

Official waterproof testing

Official waterproof testing

My main annoyance was that there wasn’t a touch screen (I’m used to touch screens, though my slightly more Luddite brother was a fan of the buttons from the start).

But as I did some thinking about it, it’s easier to use buttons if you have on gloves or if it’s raining. So it may take some getting used to for those more accustomed to smart phones, but I think it’s something work getting used to.

It doesn’t have a camera.

Another thing to consider is the mapping. With the 64s, the topographic maps don’t come loaded, though it does come with the option to get one region of 24K topo maps for free as well as the option to buy more.

If you want maps preloaded, you can get GPSMAP 64st, which comes with 100K topo maps (not as great a resolution as the 24K, but for Kansas, which has relatively little elevation concerns, 100K is fine) and that will cost you an extra $100.

For $100 less than the 64s, at $299, you can get the Garmin GPSMAP 64, with that you lose the wireless connection and the barometric altimeter and the triaxial compass, so you have to hold it level to get an accurate reading.

Final thoughts:

Take some time to play with it before you head out on the trail, download your free 24K map, always carry extra batteries, and have fun tracking your trail runs or geocaching efforts.

Review of Wildflowers of the Great Plains app

As the weather warms up, wildflowers will start to bloom. Lots of Kansas trails have some spectacular wildflower displays along the way, and in the book, we will have a list of the best trails for wildlife/wildflower spotting. photo

While you’re out on the trail, you can carry along a book to help you identify the different plants and flowers, University Press of Kansas has a great field guide. Or, if you’re looking to use something you probably already have with you, your Android smart phone or iPhone, you can use an app.

Written by the same author, Professor Michael John Haddock, who wrote the University Press of Kansas field guide, the Wildflowers of the Great Plains app is an easy to use, high tech way to ID plants and flowers in Kansas and the Great Plains. There’s a free version with 25 plants and flowers or for $3.99, you can check out over 500 species. You can search by location, habitat, flower color, or just browse by name.

Each flower or plant includes an image of it as well, with lots of the representative images from Kansas, like the Prince’s Plume here that’s in Gove County.

There’s also a quick section on plant morphology – flower parts, shapes, leaf attachments, etc. so in the description of the flower on the app, you can double check you know what you’re looking at out on the trail.

Bonus – the app works without cell signal, so you can still check out the flowers without having to be connected to the rest of the world.

What do you think of using technology out on the trail? And do you have a favorite Kansas wildflower? Let us know in the comments below.

Plant morphology

Christmas on the trail: 10 gifts for the trail lover in your life

While the north wind blows cold and snow blankets the trails for the season, it’s time to turn your thoughts towards finding the perfect gift for the next big adventure.

Here are our annual recommendations for 10 unique gifts that trail-lovers are sure to appreciate.

Garmin Oregon

Garmin Oregon

1. A gift membership to the Kansas Trails CouncilKansas Singletrack Society, or the Kansas Horse Council.  As the leading organizations devoted to building and maintaining trails throughout Kansas, each of these organizations provides a great opportunity to get involved and make a difference.

2. Garmin Oregon 650t – If you want a top-line GPS unit on the trail, this should be at the top of your wish list.  The GPS is highly accurate with a large display and touch screen that makes for easy navigation.  The built-in camera is a great feature that allows you to instantly geo-tag your photos.

3. Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide – The best of the botanical world at your fingertips, finally you can own a usable guide full of color photos that is specific to Kansas.

Leatherman Squirt4. Leatherman Squirt PS4 – Lightweight yet fully functional, the Squirt PS4 is packed with an assortment of useful tools.  On the trail the pliers are particularly handy to remove all of those stubborn thorns that may have embedded themselves in your bike tires.

5. Heartland Beef Jerky – Buy local with this savory jerky made in Kansas by Del and Jenny Wyman.  An impressive assortment of flavors to choose from (and you can’t go wrong with any of them!), like Siracha Teriyaki, Bacon, Orange Apricot, Cherry Maple, Caribbean Spice, Caribbean Black, and Chipotle.

Switchgrass earrings by Gayle Dowell

Switchgrass earrings
by Gayle Dowell

6. Gayle Dowell Jewelry – First spotted during a trip to the Manhattan Flint Hills Discovery Center, Gayle Dowell’s jewelry reflects the beauty of the prairie. With earrings, pendants, rings, and more, her jewelry has imprints of real prairie wildflowers and seeds in the metal.

7. Kansas State Parks Pass – An annual pass to the state parks of Kansas is one of the best deals going.  For less than $20, you can have an entire year of unlimited access to some of the best outdoor recreation in the state.

8. 8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook – After getting off the trail, this book is the perfect guide to appreciating and experiencing the most awe-inspiring parts of Kansas.  Written by a true expert on the Sunflower State, this guide is an invaluable part of every explorers library.

Buff9. Original Buff – A bandana has infinite uses on the trail.  This is even better.  Sun-protection, clean-up duty, neck warmer, or even make-shift potholder, do everything in style with this Buff from REI.

10. Go Pro Camera – Document your greatest exploits on the trail in high resolution and vivid clarity. Easy to attach whether you’re on foot, on a bike, or on a horse, it’s easy to use and makes it easy to share your adventures.

REI and Dinosaurs: Prairiefire opens in Overland Park

Overland Park is now home to Kansas’ first REI store in its new $427 million development Prairiefire. Opening weekend was the first week of October, and you should stop by for a visit!

While I’m a fan of independently owned, smaller stores, REI, though it’s a big company, has to be one of my favorite stores in terms of quality hiking gear, in large part because of their return policy.

If you use the item, and it doesn’t work out for you (shoes give you blisters, shirt shrinks in the wash), they will take it back within a year of your purchase. So instead of having to hope for the best in terms of your gear working they way you want it to, you’ll always know you can go back and try again. They also sell Garmin devices, including the Oregon 650t, which we’ve tested and love.

Activities coming up with REI that will get you out exploring the Kansas City area (which, yes, does include Kansas City, Missouri, though our book will just focus on the Kansas side of the city).

And coming in May 2014 to Prairiefire will be a natural history museum called The Museum of Prairiefire. It ties in perfectly with the idea of our book – along with mapping out the trails, we’re going to be including some of the natural history of the areas, so you’ll have some context to where you’re exploring. And this museum is going to be a pretty big deal. It’s a partnership with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

For a sneak peek at part of the exhibits, there’s the World’s Largest Dinosaurs temporary exhibit that opened the first week of October 2013.

Featuring a life-sized, detailed model of a 60-foot-long Mamenchisaurus, the exhibit will run through the beginning of January.

Ticket cost: Adults: $10; children 12 and under: $5; Museum of Prairiefire Members: free.

If you go:
Prairiefire at Lionsgate
5750 W 137th Street, Overland Park, Kansas 66223
The center is between 135th Street and 137th Street  between Nall Avenue and Lamar Avenue.

Staying the night in Overland Park? We’d recommend the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Staying hydrated on the trail: Bottle or hydration pack?

Hydration is key on the trails, and when it gets hot over the summer, the quickest way to get into trouble is to run out of water. If you find yourself with a headache or feeling thirsty, you’re already getting dehydrated. Here are some pros and cons we’ve found for the ways to stay hydrated on the trail.


More traditional, the best bottle to carry is a hard plastic or stainless steel as compared to the softer plastic of disposable water bottles. One clear benefit to a water bottle is that it’s typically cheaper than a hydration pack system. Our favorite brand is Nalgene, in part because they’re guaranteed for life. The standard Nalgene bottle carries 32 ounces, which is just under one liter.

Other sizes are available, typically a half size bottle at 16 ounces or about half a liter. The options don’t end there; you can go for a wide mouth bottle (easier to put in ice, can be harder to drink from quickly) or a narrow mouth (won’t easily fit ice) or a squirt bottle.

Narrow-mouth Nalgene bottle

Narrow-mouth Nalgene bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With clear bottles, you can easily see how much water you have remaining, which can help keep you focused – if you’re halfway out of water and not halfway done with your hike, maybe you should turn around.

They are also easy to clean. You can put a hard plastic or stainless steel bottle into a dishwasher. Nalgene recommends using the top shelf in the dishwasher, and then just leave it to air dry – don’t screw the lid back on until it’s completely dry – better to store it with the lid off to help prevent any mold growth.

Smaller water bottles can be easily held in your hand, and this can make them more convenient than a hydration pack for trail runners as there is no pack to bounce around on your back as you run. Many bikes also come with water bottle holders.

Bonus! You can show off your love of your favorite hikes or other past times by plastering your water bottle with stickers.

Some things to aware of with bottles

For a full day of strenuous activity, you’d want to carry more than one or be close to a potable water source to refill.

You’ll likely have to stop, or at least slow down, to get to your water, unless you have an easily accessible squirt bottle.

You may still have to carry a backpack or bag for other essentials.

Hydration Pack

Instead of carrying your water by hand, you can sling it on your pack. Flexible plastic water reservoirs can be slipped into a backpack, and you get to it with a hose. Bite on the mouthpiece and suck, and, presto!, hydration. If you keep it clean and take care of it, it should last a long time.

I used a reservoir I got from Wal-Mart for awhile, and I often ended up setting my bag down on the mouthpiece, and losing water and getting clothes and other items in my bag wet as water pooled beneath the bag.

Coughing up a bit more cash, I got a Platypus Big Zip 3.0 L that comes with a mouthpiece that can be closed and will shut off the flow of water, and I fell in love. It was my hydration source of choice this summer doing research on the trails. Another brand we trust from experience is CamelBak. Both companies design water reservoirs and the packs to carry them.

Hydration pack manufactured by CamelBak

Hydration pack manufactured by CamelBak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three liters (about 100 ounces) is on the higher end, and filled up, you’re looking at carrying nearly seven pounds of water. Though throughout the hike or ride it will get lighter, it can be too much. A two liter reservoir is fairly standard for a day hike or ride, and kids or those going on shorter trips can easily get away with carrying one liter.

Like a bottle, there are options beyond size. Most companies differ in the opening size for getting water in, though nearly all are big enough to easily add ice.

While you can carry the water reservoir in nearly any kind of backpack, there are specially designed hydration packs that have a space for the hose to come out without having to keep the bag open. You’ll find that many backpacking bags will have a hydration “sleeve” where you can slip in the water bag.

You can get minimalist packs for your reservoir that may not have many or any storage options, or you can go for a larger pack that has room to carry snacks, your Kansas trails guidebook!, and a waterproof layer.

Some things to be aware of with a hydration pack.

Combined with the pack, the water reservoir can be significantly more expensive than a water bottle.

Other than weight or stopping to check your water level, you can end up running out without noticing until you get down the last sips of water. And you have to pay more attention to cleaning, especially if you use a sports or energy drink in the reservoir.

Keeping it dry and free of mold can be a tad more challenging than with a bottle that can be tossed into a dishwasher easily. But as long as you rinse and dry it out after using it, it should be fine. I’ve kept water in it for a week at a time, just topping off the water until I had some days off when I wouldn’t be using it. Emptying it and setting it out to dry, and I had no problems with mold. But if you’re using a sports drink in it, you’ll want to rinse it thoroughly, possibly with a couple of teaspoons of baking soda and hot water, and leave it to dry every time that you use it.

Either bottle or hydration pack, if taken care of, can last you for years.

Finding the way to carry water that works best for you will help keep you safe and comfortable on the trail, and it will help you go further and faster. Always remember to balance your water intake with keeping your electrolytes and sugars balanced. Snacking on pretzels or salted nuts can help.

What’s worked best for you? Let us know in the comments.

Review of Garmin Oregon 650t

Moving from the Garmin eTrex to the Garmin Oregon 650t was like moving from a rotary telephone to a smart phone. Don’t get us wrong – the rotary telephone still gets the job done, but the shiny new Garmin Oregon 650t’s that we have on loan to use for the book are just, well, they’re just amazing.

It’s hard to know where to begin. Some of the highlights:

Oregon 650t

Oregon 650t

  • Color touchscreen that changes orientation based on how you’re holding it – horizontally or vertically
  • 8 megapixel camera
  • USB connection to charge from a computer or an outlet AND the ability to swap out the rechargeable Garmin batteries with double A’s if you run out of juice on the trail – the device will beep to signal that it’s low on battery, and there’s ways to set the screen to help preserve battery life
  • Already loaded topographic maps
  • Easy to mark waypoints and space to take notes
  • A carabiner attachment to clip it to a backpack or belt loop
  • Waterproof – anyone who’s been in Kansas over this summer knows just how important that is
  • The ability to save 200 tracks and 4000 waypoints

Best of all – this handheld device hasn’t lost signal for us once, even in heavily wooded areas. So you always know where you are and what direction you’re headed in (or should be headed in.) You’re also guaranteed to know exactly how far you’ve gone and the accuracy of the track since the signal doesn’t drop out.

One of the convenient benefits that we found for making maps was the option to pause the track, so if you go off the trail, you won’t have a messy map when you upload your trail back home.

On the Trip Computer screen, you can easily find out how long you’ve been hiking/biking/riding, how fast you’re going, your overall average, etc. And along with following your track on the Trip Information screen, you can check out your elevation profile, and you can remember where you were on a certain day with the calendar. While sunrise and sunset are given, if you happen to get caught out after dark, there’s a flashlight.

Uploading information from the GPS is easy with a Mac or PC – the free BaseCamp software lets you design “Adventures” (one to be shown off on this site soon!) from the tracks you’ve recorded, the waypoints you marked, and the pictures that you took and then you can share that Adventure online.

Minor complaints

  • It’s easier to plug in the USB cord after taking off the carabiner attachment. It’d be a touch more convenient if it could easily be plugged in while the carabiner was still on
  • Sometimes the carabiner can get in the way of the camera – hold it down to make sure it’s out of the way

Yes, it’s pricier at $549, but you really do get what you pay for with this bad boy. I hate to have to give it back once the trails are mapped, and I’ve already started saving up to buy my own.

Interview with Roger of Tailwind Cyclists in Pittsburg

The rolling hills of southeastern Kansas around Pittsburg are perfect for mountain bike trails. I checked in by email with Roger Lomshek, owner of Tailwind Cyclists, which has you covered for all your cycling & outdoor needs, for his recommendations and thoughts on the Pittsburg area trails.

Kansas Trail Guide: What are the best trails in the Pittsburg area for mountain bikers and why?

Roger: We have three trails that offer a mix of flavors for riders.

The 23rd Street Bike Park is in the middle of town 6 blocks east of Broadway on 23rd ST! The bike park has a mix of roller coaster twisty singletrack with lots of short steep 10 foot tall hills. It also has a dirt jumping track with plans to add a trials riding area and pump track. While some areas are beyond the beginner rider there is almost always an easy detour and you’re never more than a half mile from the road.

One of the features at the 23rd Street Bike Park in Pittsburg

One of the features at the 23rd Street Bike Park in Pittsburg

Wilderness Park is at the far north edge of Pittsburg 1/2 mile west of Hwy 69 on McKay ST. The front half has gravel bike & walking paths that are great for beginner riders and families while the back half is a tangle of singletrack trails in heavily wooded hills.

Farlington Lake (Crawford State Park) is 10 miles north of Girard, KS on Hwy 7 (25 miles northwest from Pittsburg). A paved 6 mile road circles the lake while a nearly 8 mile singletrack trail rolls through the woodland around the lake. The singletrack trail has some very difficult sections and overall I would list it as an intermediate trail that is not for beginners.

Kansas Trail Guide: How many volunteer hours does it take to maintain the trails and how many trails does your shop take care of?

Roger: Tailwind Cyclists and our crew of volunteer trail workers maintains all 3 trail networks in our area totaling about 15 miles of trails. We usually devote at least a weekend every other month to trail maintenance and sometimes smaller half day sessions as needed.

Kansas Trail Guide: Are there areas for beginners and experts?

Roger: All three trails offer challenges for expert riders while the 23rd Street Bike Park and Wilderness Park have some beginner friendly portions.

Kansas Trail Guide: Are there any organized trail rides?

Roger: Tailwind Cyclists hosts a Thursday night mountain bike ride that leaves the shop at 6:30 PM during daylight savings time. We also do occasional road trips to further away trails on weekends. Call the shop at 620-231-2212 for details.

Kansas Trail Guide: What gear can people purchase at your shop?

Roger: We sell a wide variety of cycling accessories plus the bikes themselves and can get camping and outdoor gear as well.

Kansas Trail Guide: What do you think makes the Pittsburg area special for mountain bikers?

Roger: The people who ride! We have a great group of riders that make every trail ride fun.

Review of Garmin eTrex Legend

We’re using Garmin’s eTrex Legend to make the maps for our upcoming Kansas Trails Guidebook.

Why we love it:

  • photoSmall and lightweight at 5.3 oz (150g) and 2.0″ x 4.4″ x 1.2″, it’s easy to slip into a pocket.
  • Waterproof (though doesn’t float)
  • Screen is easy to read, even in bright, direct sunlight
  • Powered by AA batteries, it lasts up to about 16 hours (can depend on temperature and how long it has to search for a signal – can take longer in heavily wooded areas), which should be plenty of time for an overnight trip, though always bring extra batteries
  • Handheld and easy navigation through menus – in fact, the whole thing is designed to be used with just the left hand.
  • Built in base map
  • Easy waypoint setting
  • Navigation between waypoints
  • Sunrise/sunset information, so you know how much daylight you have left!
  • Good price point at $149.99 through Garmin

For us, these aren’t deal breakers, but so you know what it doesn’t have:

  • Gray scale screen, not color
  • 8 mb extra space to add maps, which may not be enough for those wanting to use it to upload larger, more detailed city maps – though for on the trail, that’s not as much of a problem
  • No barometic altimeter
  • May take awhile to pick up a signal if in a wooded area

Play around with it before you head out on the trail with it for the first time so you get a feel for it, and we’ll be including coordinates in our maps and trail guides, so you can always double check to make sure you’re on the right track.