I know this trek across Kansas on a bicycle isn’t the same for everyone.
It can’t be. It’s a uniquely personal, individual experience that can be shared, yet not lived, by another. Each rider has his or her own funny moments, untimely breakdowns, unusual encounters or memorable interactions. Every day brings its own set of challenges and memories to every rider. Each day, the sunrise is seen by all, but no two people will view it exactly the same. So goes the experience of Bike Across Kansas.
For me it is very much a spiritual experience. The months before are spent training and preparing, yet I’ll be reduced to panic and fear in the weeks leading up to the event. Fear that I haven’t trained enough, that I’m not prepared, that I’ll fail and embarrass myself, and doubt that I’ll be able to accomplish what I want. Then, as the day arrives, there is a sort of peace. There’s nothing more that can be done. The time for pondering, for doubting, for worrying has passed; it is simply time to do.
If church is where people go to renew their spirits and feel connected to God, then I will be in church all day, every day this week. I will see God in every sunrise I ride toward, and I will feel him in the gust of wind that brushes my face. I will see people helping one another, strangers they’ve just met. I will see him in the lively eyes of children who watch these riders invade their normally quiet towns. I will see communities eagerly welcoming this eclectic group of people – people who take time off from their regular jobs – to do the not-so-easy job of pedaling their bikes across the state. I’ll see friendships made, connections sewn and stories shared. Stories that remind us we’re all in this together, and at our cores we’re not so very different at all. Along the way, I expect I’ll find renewed faith in myself, my neighbors and the world we all share.
I’ll also renew my connection to the spirit of Kansas – because this Kansas, the one found on the seat of a bicycle, is quite different from the Kansas we hear about in the news, and different from the Kansas I often write about at work. This Kansas is people standing at the edge of their town waving to the cyclists as they pedal by. This Kansas is a farm house with a garden hose out front and a sign inviting riders to enjoy a cool drink or to spray themselves down. This Kansas is a small, rural community working together to prepare a delicious meal for nearly 1,000 visitors or organize a concert so those riders have a memorable and fun experience. This Kansas is a long ways from Topeka and even further from the worn out nastiness we’re all about to witness during the elections in August and November.
This year’s route runs along the northern part of Kansas, near the border with Nebraska. It’s a part of the state in which I’ve not spent much time. I know it has more hills than South-central Kansas, and I’ve been told it’s a beautiful ride. I know the areas I’ve visited on the route offer breathtaking scenes, and if the small 14 mile ride I did from the Colorado border to the starting town of St. Francis is any indication, I’ll be in for a great show. Along the way we’ll stop in Oberlin, Phillipsburg, Mankato, Belleville, Marysville, Sabetha, Troy, and ends in Elwood, near Missouri.
Last year was my first year riding Biking Across Kansas, and I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know who I’d meet, or how I’d hold up on a trip that requires day-after-day riding. This year, I carry with me the memory of last year’s success and all the good that was in it. The doubt might still be there, because the voice that says I can’t often seems to speak louder than the voice that says I can, but it is has largely been silenced – from a nice early evening ride, from reconnecting with last year’s riding partners, and from new friends I’ve met just today. And from the people around me who have encouraged and supported me in a multitude of ways – people for whom I am incredibly grateful.
Like last year, I plan to share small stories, pictures and photos of the experience on my blog, jasonprobst.com, and some of those will appear throughout the next week in The Hutchinson News. And like last year, I’d be thrilled if you want to follow along. I think we’ll have fun together.