Hi! My name is Duncan LaGarde. I’m a mechanic at Sunflower and this is my Surly Crosscheck! I purchased it with intentions of commuting on it, which I did. Then I realized that this bike was something special and deserved more than the 7 speed Shimano flatbar setup and junk wheels I put it together with. It can clear 29x1.9 tires, it’ll accept any bar configuration comfortably and it has rack and fender mounts front and rear with fork leg braise ons. I started to consider the possibilities... Adventure bike!
Currently this is my daily/gravel/camping bike. It's setup with Shimano Tiagra 4700, 50/34 road compact gearing and an 11-32 wide range cassette. Currently I have Roval cross wheels with Clement MSO X’plor 700x40 tires, they're bombproof. It stops with TRP Carbon Euro x cantilevers. Short and shallow Ritchey drop bars and a WTB Silverado Thin Line saddle (in the photos I have a Specialized Phenom Pro with ti rails, which I also really like.) I just got the Blackburn Outpost handlebar roll, 10 liter seat pack and frame bag for swift weekend bike camping! Also I run two Blackburn Outpost oversized cages mounted to either fork leg.
"Would you be up to do an overnight paddle?" This was the question Alex asked me a little more than a week out from our trip. Without hesitation my response was "Hell yes!"
The initial plan was to do a single overnight from Tecumseh after closing up the shop on Saturday. This quickly manifested into "If we are going to do one night... might as well do two." Extending the trip to 39 miles wasn't a big deal. We both have wanted to do larger portions of the river and this was the chance to be able to experience all but one of the river hazards that lie within the Kaw.d
With the plan locked in and our shifts at the shop covered on the busiest day of the week, thanks guys, we were packed and ready to go. Somewhat. We fled in a hurry as to not further inconvenience the person who was kind enough to drive us to Topeka with all our gear piled into his classic BMW.
April 8 7:02 PM – Kaw State Park Access
Boards ready and gear loaded we started off on our "epic" paddle for the night. Sixty yards later we were at our destination. Logistics is often the hardest part of doing multi-day trips. For us, we needed the trees on that island because both Alex and I decided to hammock camp - always my preferred method if possible.
We already knew the night was going to be cold. And as soon as the sun went down the temperatures quickly began to drop. The wind began to increase. Through the entire night the wind continued at a steady pace, building more strength as the morning grew closer. 32 degrees. Not bad. We both have dealt with much worse, but to pull ourselves out of a warm, dry quilt nestled inside our hammocks and step into the piercing wind was not something either of us felt like doing. But we had to. Geared up in our base layers and Chacos we hit the river to push for our next island twenty six miles down river near Lecompton.
Breezy. This was the term AccuWeather used to describe the conditions of the day. Thanks! I'm not sure if I would have used "breezy" for 15-22 mph winds but what do I know.
Making our way down river was slow. The water quickly numbed our feet as it splashed over the top of the boards. I began to long for my neoprene kickers I used on every trip whitewater kayaking. Two and a half miles done and we were at our first obstacle. Topeka Coffer Dam. The low water levels made accessing the portage a little trickier. It forced us off our boards and into the ankle-to-calf deep water repeatedly. The dam itself was an easy maneuver.
Back on our boards below the dam, we realized today was not going to be one of our typical paddles. The wind we were battling was coming directly into us from the east/southeast. Only a few sections of the river provided a bit of relief as it crawled its way north. Paddling through Topeka was not bad. It was not amazing. It was just... paddling. Alex and I both are glad to have experienced the hazards of the dam and the dropped railroad bridges but I'm not itching to do the section again anytime soon. Especially when there are so many other places on the Kaw to experience.
Making our way closer to Seward Access at Tecumseh proved to be the most challenging. We were finally making our way out of Topeka but were met with the worst wind of the entire trip. It was like entering a wind tunnel as the river curved itself back into the east. The current was no longer with us. Our most widely used phrase was, "You have got to be kidding me!" along with other explicits that I will leave up to you to imagine. The gusts of wind forced us to kneel on the boards to get as low as possible and paddle with as much strength as we could conjure. We were going nowhere. There was a moment I looked at the shoreline to check how we were doing but with every stroke I stayed in the exact same place. If we ever stopped paddling, we quickly lost our progress. Alex was also tracking our distance and speed with his Fenix 3, he yelled at me with the most miserable look on his face "IT SAYS 0.0 mph!" We both laughed. It felt as if this would be our life from then on. Paddling for eternity up this one section of river.
Finally, we made it to a point where the river began to shift northeast again. Relief! We relaxed and were able to once again stand up on our paddle boards. With the sound of wind still in my ears, I heard another familiar sound. The distinct sound of swift moving water. This puzzled me for a brief moment but then I knew where we were. With all of the chaos, we did not realize we had made it to the Tecumseh Power Plant and the last hazard on our trip. Alex was slightly in front of me when we both spotted the break of water fifteen foot in front of us. We had reached the low head dam. Without seeing the access point, both of us quickly shot the nose of our boards toward the north shore and paddled to the side.
"At high water levels a canoe or kayak will float over the dam but in normal to low water levels there is passage in the middle of the river near a rocky sand bar. You should always approach this area slowly to access the passage. Passage is not advisable for motorized boats."
I remember this tip about the Tecumseh dam. But as we stood at water level, we could not make out where the passage could be. I climbed up the bank to scout for the access... middle of the river did not appear to be the best description. It seemed to be about as far right on the river as it could possibly be without actually going down the right channel that lead toward the power plant. But it was there and it definitely was a fun passage. SUPs are not the easiest to take through the channel in low water levels; even with our 3 inch fins on, the rocks were giving us trouble maneuvering down the access. The section below the low head dam had to be one of my favorites thus far on the Kansas River. I wanted to stay longer in this area but we were pressed for time. We were losing light and had to make up for all the lost miles earlier in the day. Alex had also arranged a potential supply drop on the river...
With the hurry to pack the gear into the BMW, Alex had forgotten a crucial part of a multi-day trip: most of his food (although he did have like 10 CLIF BARS with him). Accidentally leaving a food bag behind at the shop, Alex took Dan Kuhlman up on the offer of "If you guys need anything while you're out there, just let me know..." It wasn't crucial. Alex wouldn't starve. It was more of an if-it-happened-to-work-out situation that snowballed. But being the kind of guy Dan is, he eventually jumped in one of his kayaks in an attempt to meet us on the river. Dan was paddling upstream.
Still twelve miles from our goal, we knew we weren't going to make it before the sun went down. But the only thing in our minds was "GO FASTER. GO. YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT TO DAN!" It wasn't really the food that was important (for me, Alex might say differently) but the fact Dan took time out of his evening, right after his first gravel race. He was still willing to try and help out: THAT'S IMPORTANT.
But we couldn't make it. No matter how fast we wanted to go, there was a limit. With the sun already down at the horizon, we were coming upon the only other island with trees we could camp on. We had only made it twenty one miles, only five miles shy. Dan was still out of reach. If we had another hour, we could have done it.
April 9 7:38 PM – 5 Miles West of Lecompton
Disappointed, sore, and tired we drank a few beers as the sun sank lower into the sky, casting a radiance of color behind the tree line. That night we set camp and crawled into our hammocks awaiting the approaching storm that we felt coming all day. An hour later brought wind, rain, and bliss - sleeping through the night to the sound of rain against our tarps.
The next morning came sooner than we wanted. This time there was no wind against us. We needed to make up miles; only five more to Lecompton. It didn't seem like much after what we did the day before. Lecompton to Lawrence was a stretch Alex and I have done on numerous occasions so we knew once we made it there, it would be the homestretch.
Four miles into the paddle, we were able to spot a yellow dry bag hanging proudly in a tree. This was the island Dan had made it to the evening before. Although I could tell Alex probably wanted to dive into the bag right then, we waited until we got through the Lecompton access point. Upon passing under the bridge, it already felt like we were done. We hit the first large sandbar we came to and had a long, relaxing early lunch. Dan had surprised Alex with not only his food but other assortments as well - kudos on the Chili Lime Beef Jerky. He never stops amazing us. Referred to in the shop as the Guru, Dan Kuhlman often inspires people without ever really knowing that he did anything at all. There was a part during the trip that we thought of just taking out at Lecompton after that first day. But upon arriving to that little yellow bag, we knew we wouldn’t stop.
"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
The rest of our day went by with little yellow flashes. L8. L6. L4. L2! Two miles left! Those last miles... they hurt. But they were fulfilling. As soon as we hit the docks, we were already talking about the next trip with more people.
April 10 2:54 PM. Done.
This piece was written by Sunflower's own Jason Woolery. You can find him on Instagram @luckybearface. To read Dan Kuhlman's account of this event check out his staff blog, "No Man Ever Steps in the Same River Twice".
Recently two of our adventurous staffers embarked on a 39 mile stand up paddle boarding excursion on the Kansas river that would take them two full days of paddling to complete. Alex and Jason put in west of Topeka and navigated the Kaw back to Lawrence. After two days of battling stiff headwinds and the rays of the sun (they both came back with a fresh "tan") they finally reached their destination; both were more tired than expected. Below is Dan Kuhlman's account of delivering some forgotten food to the fellows, and it is the kind of writing that will have you pining for your next day on the water.
It's hard to find motivation to stay on the bike when the temperature drops, we get it. But, there is no better feeling than rolling in the front door after an epic ride knowing that you just earned your milk and cookies in a big way. Ashton has five things you should know to keep your winter rides as fun as possible.
In the first ever installment of our new feature, 5 Things, Dan Kuhlman discusses five tips for trail running. Perfect for beginners, novices, and experts... and poetry enthusiasts.
Dan Kuhlman is a staffer here at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, and most days can be found in the tent room discussing kayaks, adventure and pizza flavor Combos.
You have to hand it to Lao Tzu when it comes to cryptic epigrams, and in the context of the race where I found myself the “leave no footprints” could have many meanings.
The working hypothesis was that training in the heat and humidity of a Kansas Summer would pay big dividends in running the Paavo Nurmi road marathon in Northern Wisconsin. At mile 23 of the Paavo, it was being put to a severe test and I began to fear, along with Huxley, that this might become the “slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.” Totally soaked through - shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, all dripping wet and ferocious blisters working up on several toes. I had hung onto my race pace of 7:30/mile up to this point, but somehow I knew the last 3+ miles were going to get ‘interesting’, my mind and body began a long, heartfelt conversation.........
“I really like trails, the woods, nature - what am I doing here?”
I had run several road marathons, including Boston in 2007, but had of late gravitated toward trail running and racing. The varied scenery and paces, technical terrain, and 3-D running all tap into something I resonate with more deeply than pounding out mile after mile on the pavement. Bernd Heinrich, author of the book “Why We Run” states, “There is nothing quite so gentle, deep, and irrational as running -- and nothing quite so savage, so wild.” Running loops out at Clinton Lake North Shore or the River Trails ties much more easily into that vibe than the concrete. The mile 23 aid station appears. I slow to a crawl and gulp water, gatorade, bananas, pretzels - a long stretch of pavement staring at me with no other runners in sight , a slight breeze in my face. Trying to get back into my pace is getting tougher,
“Pick it up, pick it up; 1,2,3,4,5..........”
I start counting strides to do my 180 drill - counting every right foot stride until I hit 90 and see if I can do it (180 strides) in a minute or less - keep that turnover to maximize speed. Early on I was hitting it like clockwork. Now, at mile 22 I wasn’t so sure.
“ .... 88, 89, 90; 1:08.... yikes, that’s horrible you (unmentionable) wimp. Get with it.”
Spirit is willing, flesh is weak. Mind says yes; legs say no.
“OK, this will be a slower paced recovery mile, then I’ll kick it in the next mile.”
I knew I was lying to myself, which is so easy to do at mile 23. The pain cave loomed and I was standing at the entrance peering in with a flashlight, seeing if anyone was home. I fear it was actually the flesh that was ‘good to go’, but the spirit lagging behind.
In this state it becomes quite easy for the mind to dissociate and wander, and I began replaying in my mind a trail race I had run in April - the Double Chubb 25k in St Louis. The trail system wound through the hills of the Meramec River and included varied terrain of twisting, turning, technical trails, along with some flat stretches, punctuated by mile long series’ of climbs. It was an out and back course allowing one to evaluate the course and competition on the way out, planning strategy for the way back. I recall starting the race with a guy in headphones right in front of me, thinking, “no one in headphones is going to beat me… end of story.” I had been running for about 12 years and had never run listening to music - always wanting to associate and ‘pay attention’ to the surroundings, not ‘tune them out’. Sunlight and wind playing through the trees, along with whatever mother nature crafted on the trails, were more than enough to hold my attention.
I’m jarred back onto the concrete by the mile 24 sign,
“Why could I push so hard at that tough trail race and not here?”
I picked the pace up for about 10 steps and sagged back into the slower pace that had become my default setting. Shut my watch off, just didn’t want to know. Start reciting poetry to myself,
Whitman wasn’t working.... just feeding my fade.
My feet dissociate from my legs, my legs from my body; a complete rebellion.
“...... the ankle bone connected to the, shin bone…….”
My mind again seeks refuge on the trails and I remember hitting that flat section of the Double Chubb near the river. Changing from steep and technical (e.g. White Trails at Clinton Lake) to flat and fast (e.g. Lawrence River Trails) was energizing. I was able to flow along with the river and think to myself that this would be a great place to make a move on the way back. Right then, it was simply carrying me along, and I drew strength. I recall thinking of that poetic ending to a favorite book, “And all existence fades to a being with my soul……….eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Steep hills and off camber trails had ended the flat section as we climbed for over a mile to the turnaround aid station. Working different muscles, twisting one way, then another, the trails were a full body massage.
A vehicle speeds by on the highway, a mere few feet from my appendages and I, the sound and wind jarring my senses. Relentless pounding of the same strides and the same muscles over the miles was taking its toll. The mile 25 sign of the Paavo and final aid station come into view; I drop and shake out my arms, take a few deep breaths,
“c’mon, try and rally!”
But as the car receded it seemed to steal whatever resolve I had left. The seeming ease of turning fossil fuel into speed and power seemed a cruel touch. Just wanted to get a quick drink and finish out the last 1.2 miles in dignity. Just as I was leaving the station though, a guy came up on me and passed - not necessarily surprising. But on the back of his shirt were the words “Team Sisu”.
“It’s a sign! Hang onto this guy”
I fell into step and latched onto him; newfound energy. “Sisu” is a uniquely Finnish term which the Finn, Paavo Nurmi, personified in winning 9 olympic golds and setting numerous world records in the 1920’s. It roughly translates as a combination of ‘guts’, ‘tenacity’, ‘craziness’, ‘resilience’ - we would often talk of this with our Cross Country runners before a meet.
A half mile of crisp running at a respectable pace energized me, but a half mile hill approached. Sisu and I gamely took it on, but my stride shortened, pace deteriorated, and I began what I refer to as my ‘death shuffle’...... Sisu moving on alone. When running you are NOT supposed to think of the finish, rather stay present and focused - but finishing this trudge was all I could configure in my mind.
The Double Chubb trail finish was a marked contrast to this. At the end of the flat stretch heading into the final aid station I asked if there were any 25k runners ahead of me -thinking at that point I might be in first, but I wasn’t sure due to the melee of competitors at the turnaround.
They couldn’t tell me, which I found really irritating, but remember redoubling my efforts and racing ‘whatever the market would bear.’ Ended up catching a guy bonking on the hills, gained energy and finished off strong, crossing the finish line only to find out I was 2nd overall. The winner already had taken his hardware and left - no one could tell me much about him. I remember thinking something unmentionable (at least I hope I thought it), but eventually opted for the post race burgers, sides, and multiple beverages rather than feeling sorry for myself. Totally spent after racing hard, but strangely energized.
Back at the Paavo, ‘energized’ is not the term I would use. Admittedly, the marathon is a longer race than a 25k, but the concrete still seems the culprit- every step like the Dementor’s kiss in Harry Potter, slowly sucking the life and soul from my body. The Pit of Despair in the Princess Bride came to mind as well, along with the time I ran to and from school - 58 miles - in a day….. but I digress.
Great, the worst brain worm song in history had taken hold. Now there was some motivation to speed up! Cresting the hill I saw the mile 26 sign,
and entered the town of Hurley, Wisconsin- population ~1500 people, with the claim to fame that it once had the highest per capita bars to people ratio in the United States. I make the turn onto Silver Street, the main drag in town, for the last .2 miles, cursing the tradition of adding that slap in the face after running 26 miles. Several hundred people lined the street,
“ OK, pull it together, at least look good now. “
Thrashed at this point, the concrete just punishing me.
In fact, it seems I would leave more footprints on the trails and gravel and grass than here ........ but then I consider. I am currently running on one of the biggest ‘footprints’ of mankind; these ubiquitous ribbons of concrete reaching into every part of the world. And everywhere they go, they cover the real earth, the real ground, and as my feet make contact they are striving to find the life underneath, but it is buried too deep. By merely running this race, I am complicit with this huge footprint. When I run the roads, the concrete, I tend to dissociate and become less aware, daydreaming, getting my mind off the misery. On trails, I tend to associate, tie into the surroundings, am attentive and notice everything - the present moment spilling forth like a wave, with me on the crest. For me, the trails provide needed energy, and nourish the running soul. But then there’s the concrete.
“ Just - keep - moving”
Focused on my form and gave it what I had. I heard my wife, my sister and her family, and several well-lubricated Hurley-ans yell for me as I ran by, about 15 minutes slower than my goal time.
Running through the finish shoot I stagger to the side and assume the position. Grabbing the knees, head down, white foam hanging from my mouth as I try to spit, gasping for air....... the totally blown out runner. I resolved right there to spend more time on trails and swear off concrete when the announcer cuts in,
“That’s Dan Kuhlman, from Lecompton, KS finishing in a time of 3:34:17, good for a Boston Qualifying time in his age group.” I turn my head a bit and raise an eyebrow,
Double Chubb 25k:
1/7 in age group
Course record for age group
Paavo Nurmi Marathon:
1/21 in age group
Qualified for Boston Marathon
Dan Kuhlman is a retired teacher from the Eudora School district having taught 8th grade Earth Science for 28 years, while coaching middle school track and high school cross country. He is not planning on running Boston.... at this time.
One of the biggest events in the sphere of gravel racing is the infamous Gravel World Championships. The latest edition, held in August, proved to be a demanding course that took every rider to the brink of their ability. This video recap includes interviews from Rebecca Rusch, Yuri Hauswald and our own, Dan Hughes.