July 12, 2010
Total Mileage: 1697
It’s shameful to have cycled in Topeka for over a decade and never have ridden the local trails. Last Sunday Mr. Spoked and I rectified that situation by spending a leisurely morning on the Shunga Trail and its companion, the Landon Trail.
Riding trails can be a tough adjustment for roadies. Speed is usually the hallmark of a successful ride for us. On Sunday, though, we decided to accept a slower pace so we could enjoy some local scenery and, more importantly, not crash into pedestrians. We picked up the trail at Washburn Avenue, just south of Washburn University, and headed west. It was a warm but cloudy morning with a chance of thunderstorms later in the day. The clouds kept us fairly cool despite the humidity, and we decided to ride the entire trail twice, heading in both directions.
The Shunga Trail snakes along the Shunganunga Creek that runs roughly southwest to northeast through the heart of Topeka. The creek is heavily wooded along its banks, and the trail twists and turns along with the waterway and occasionally crosses it on bridges with pleasant views of the tumbling water. The Shunga is paved in concrete and much of it is flat, or nearly so. This could have made the trail boring for us, however, it kept us interested by passing through several parks and skirting small gardens maintained by local groups. Alongside the pavement are many wooden park benches dedicated to loved ones by their families.
Pedestrians have the right-of-way on the Shunga Trail, and as sometimes happens in such places, they believe this entitles them to occupy the entire width. There were times when we encountered a human on one side, a dog on the opposite side, and a leash stretched across like a guy-wire. Such occurrences were unpleasant but not unexpected. We announced our presence frequently (as trail signs directed us to) and slowed where necessary, once coming to a complete stop when confronted with a man herding three huskies. Most of the time we kept our speed between 10 and 12 mph, occasionally creeping up to nearly 15 mph when there was no one else in sight.
The west end of the Shunga passes through residential areas and is lush and green. We encountered many more people here–joggers, pedestrians, other cyclists (a number not wearing helmets, tsk tsk). The trail’s eastern section, though, passes through an industrial section of town. There’s even a power substation. The city has attempted to make the trail more attractive here with landscaping, but this section was clearly less appealing to people and therefore far less traveled. Not encountering other people, except for a few cyclists, made it possible for us to increase our pace a bit on this portion of the Shunga.
Although we both enjoyed our ride, it was not without frustration. There were times we were unsure where to ride because unmarked spurs branched off toward parking lots, cul-de-sacs, and side streets. At one point we thought we’d lost the eastern section entirely. Dumped out onto the sidewalk along busy 21st Street, we had to stop, look around, and puzzle out for ourselves where the trail passed next. We made a lucky guess and followed the sidewalk for a short distance before it curved back towards the creek. These problems speak to one of the trail’s shortcomings– it’s not well marked in spots. Another difficulty is that the trail occasionally makes sharp turns, not a problem for pedestrians but potentially dangerous for cyclists.
But we managed all these obstacles and traveled both halves of the trail twice in our morning’s ride. As we turned around at the eastern terminus, we noticed dark and lowering clouds to the southwest but decided to ignore them because the weather forecast called for only a slight chance of afternoon storms. Our final exploration of the morning took us on the Landon Trail, an unfinished north-south trail intersecting the Shunga in a nicely designed roundabout. The Landon’s trailhead is at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in central Topeka. Like the Shunga, it is paved inside the city limits. The really wonderful thing about the Landon is (when completed) the city branch will connect to a rails-to-trails branch outside Topeka that will, in turn, connect to the Flint Hills Nature Trail. Eventually cyclists will be able to ride from inside Topeka all the way to Osawatomie in the east or Herington in the west without having to fight motorized vehicles for space on a roadway. The city just received funding to complete the Landon between 25th and 45th streets, leaving just a small unfunded section to connect to the 53rd street trailhead.
Mr. Spoked and I wanted to check out the short, completed portion of the Landon inside the city limits. We headed south from the Shunga roundabout, quickly entering a canopy of trees. It was at this point we heard the first raindrops clattering on the leaves above us. The canopy was so thick the water didn’t reach us on the path below, but that soon changed as the rain intensified. By the time we reached the 25th street terminus of the Landon, it was pouring. We turned around and quickly rode north to the 15th street trailhead, where we disagreed about whether to ride home with vehicular traffic on 15th, or turn around and take cover on the trail. The rain was intense, the skies were dark, and we had no lights on our bikes. I could barely see because big raindrops were slamming into my eyes. I told Husband in my best Oprah voice, “I don’t feel comfortable doing this,” then whipped my bike around and cycled slowly back to the Shunga Trail. He followed and, in the crashing downpour, we headed for an underpass. Another good thing about the Shunga–there frequently are underpasses and overhangs providing shelter from the weather. We entertained ourselves by taking photos of our odd tan lines, to be the subject of a future post.
Of course the worst of the downpour had happened while we were outside on the bike path, and the rain quickly began to lessen. In a matter of minutes the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and we were still dripping. We headed home, our shoes squishing with each push of the pedals. I stopped on the Washburn campus to take a photo of the towering thunderheads of the storm that had recently passed. Thus ended our leisurely Sunday ride on the Shunga Trail.