This bike and I have spent more than 1,000 miles together in the past year.
It has taken me to Burrton, McPherson, Lindsborg, Nickerson, Buhler, Inman, Arlington, Partridge and all over Hutchinson. It has taken me to Ellsworth, via the hills around Kanopolis Lake, and it has taken me over the climbs around Clinton Lake, near Lawrence.
On some rides, the sun is shining, the wind is soft and the sounds and sights of Kansas are a vibrant scene that eclipses anything I could paint in my mind. On others, the wind is a harsh punishment, every pedal stroke seems like torture and the ride seems a task to be endured until the end. Beauty and peace are hard to find on those days.
From Friday, June 5, through Saturday, June 13, this bike and I will attempt to travel 502 miles across the state during the annual Biking Across Kansas – starting at the Colorado/Kansas border near Johnson City and ending at the Missouri border near Louisburg.
I don’t know what to expect – from the weather or myself – and I have no way to know what the next week might bring. I might hope for nice spring weather, with a sun that’s not too hot, no rain storms, and a southwesterly wind that pushes me on my way, but I’m not counting on it.
I’m nervous about my ability to ride such long distances day after day. I’m also uncertain about my mental ability to plow through on those days when the wind pushes against me or rain stings my face all day. When I go to bed sore at night and awake the next day with aching muscles, I wonder if I can find the motivation to get back in the saddle for another day.
I think I will, but I can’t be sure. But the 10-year-old version of myself would tell me to shut up, stop worrying and think about how awesome it is that I’m finally doing what I said I’d do 30-something years ago.
When I was a boy, the small, quiet town of Nickerson would come to life for a few summer days when packs of cyclists pedaled into town and stopped at the cafe on Main Street.
I’d look in awe at the elaborate bikes, loaded down with everything needed to ride across the state, or the country. At that age, my bicycle was both the limit and the freedom of my world. I could go as far as I could manage on my bicycle, but no further. The idea, brought in by these visiting cyclists, that I could one day ride across the entire state of Kansas became a dream firmly planted in my mind.
My friends and I made plans to ride across the state, maybe even across the country. To young boys whose worlds had been widened by two wheels, it was exciting to imagine that what allowed us to traverse the city of Nickerson could also move us across the country.
But then I forgot, because life. Work. Kids. Marriage. Bills. Worries. Careers. Mortgages. Debt. Teenagers. Student loans. Illness. Struggle. Pain. Dishes. Pet messes. Broken homes. Shoveling snow. Mowing lawns. Repairing cars. Trying. Then, in the middle of my life, that 10-year-old boy inside of me screamed to get back on a bike. So I did, and I remembered the feeling of using your individual power to take you where you wanted to go.
Where I want to go now is across Kansas. I want to feel the wind, and hear it bustle through an almost ready-to-cut field of wheat. I want to feel the sun beating down on me. I want to be exposed, to see the state without the protection of steel and glass. And I want to find something new in every stop along the way. I want to find what that 10-year-old boy thought he’d find when he said he’d do this someday.
Over the next week, I’ll spend the night in Lakin, Jetmore, Larned, Sterling, Goessel, Council Grove, Baldwin City and Louisburg. I’m excited to spend some time in these towns, and I’m excited to see the roads between them. I’m eager to learn more about the roughly 850 people who, like me, thought it sounded fun to ride a bicycle across the state. I’ll take some pictures, shoot some video, talk to new people and write a few words each day about what I’m finding and learning along the way. Occasionally, a long ride will work loose an idea in my head, and if that happens, I’ll share that, too.
I hope you’ll come along with me.