Biking Across Kansas 2015 is officially over.
We crossed the line into Missouri, held our bicycles triumphantly, snapped some photos and pedaled back toward Louisburg for lunch. We grabbed our bags, said goodbye to our friends and headed back to the real world. And the photographs will show that we crossed from one state line in the west to another in east, traveling more than 500 miles by the power of our legs and the will of our minds.
But those photos don’t tell the story of what happened in this spread of land called Kansas.
Those obligatory photos don’t reveal that flying down a hill at more than 40 miles per hour, knowing that one wrong move will send you flying over the handlebars, feels an awful lot like living.
They don’t show that struggling up another hill, and another, and another, with your heart pounding out of your chest, your breath catching short and your legs burning with strain, feels an awful lot like doing the impossible. Nor do they show the feeling of doing what you thought you couldn’t do, then doing even more by riding 103 miles in a single day – on some of the hilliest terrain in Kansas.
Those photos, with all the smiles and happy moments, are genuine, but they can only show so much.
There’s no way to know from looking at those photographs that margaritas, guacamole and retelling the day’s events feels quite a bit like family.
They don’t tell the story of waking up in a tent to rain in the middle of the night, or of bolting up at 4:30 in the morning filled with excitement for the challenges that lie ahead. They don’t show how nearly 900 people come together for a common interest, share a tight space, and create their own community that moves and works to accomplish its goals.
And I could put 1,000 different photographs on here for everyone to see, but there is no way to show the vibrancy and beauty of Kansas. There’s no way to show how it feels to smell the dampness of the morning air, or the feel of the wind in your face, or better still, at your back. I can’t show you the power that lives in the Kansas soil, power that springs forth in endless fields of wheat, blooming wildflowers, prairie grass or Cottonwood trees that use the wind and their leaves to sing to us.
I traveled across the state on a bicycle. That is true. But it is more.
I spent my first night in Johnson City, scared and nervous. The only person I really knew was Harlen Depew, and he helped ease my mind that first night. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it across the state. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to complete the longer rides on the way. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to conquer the hills of Eastern Kansas, or deal with the rain and the wind, or the heat of the afternoon. I felt alone, with only my doubt as company.
Those pictures, nice as they are, don’t show how I met Rita when we didn’t quite know where to go, and that from there I had a new riding buddy for the day. And they don’t show the depth of the conversations that happened over the miles of countryside, atop the saddle of a bicycle.
And they don’t show how meeting Rita led to meeting Bill, and meeting Bill led to meeting Kimberly, and how meeting all of them let to meeting a number of other people. A couple of funny guys from Iowa; a kid who loved to play Cards Against Humanity during the down time with anyone who would play with him; the “Devil Dude” who isn’t anything like the devil in real life; and countless others on the road and in the evening hours at camp.
Or how Kimberly became my “cycling sister” or that we decided Rita and Bill would be our “cycling parents.”
They don’t show the kindness of people who stopped to help others in trouble, offered spare equipment, knowledge, words of encouragement, food, or support. They don’t show the way Mike and Carolyn Patterson made me feel so welcome or how they gave me some great advice that helped me get through the week.
And those photos don’t tell the story of the communities of Kansas, that rolled out the carpet for a bunch of crazy cyclists. They don’t show how a small town could cook up a huge batch of food – food that would blow your mind – or essentially put on a party to make sure their visitors left with hearts full of happiness and gratitude.
There are many more stories to tell, and I plan to tell them.
For today, the story I want to tell is one of a soul that has been restored because it conquered fear, accomplished its goal, found kindness and warmth in strangers, strength in pain, struggle, vulnerability and uncertainty, and peace with nature and its elements.
I traveled across the state on a bicycle. That is true.
But also more.