On the road from St. Francis to Oberlin, and all the good things in between

I will probably go to bed early tonight. And based on the yawns and drowsy eyes of many other participants, the BAK campground will be fairly quiet, fairly early tonight.

We began the morning in St. Francis, where most riders were packed and on the road by 6 a.m. Including me, despite the fact that I’ve not yet adjusted from my normal schedule – where I wake up around 6 a.m. – and what will become normal for a time during BAK – waking up at 4:30 a.m. with the urge to quickly get on my bike ride.

Another cyclist and friend, Drew Mahin, who coaches track and cross country at Cloud County Community College, told me about a fantastic coffee shop in St. Francis called Fresh Seven. Fresh roasted beans. The best coffee in this part of the state without a doubt. And I love good coffee.

But I didn’t listen to Drew. I, along with some of the people I’m riding with – Kimberly Hawks and Mike and Kat O’Toole listened instead to a hastily prepared flyer built of rough poetry that promised us the best breakfast we could imagine if we’d be willing to pedal 5 miles out of town on an empty stomach. And coffee for 25 cents a cup.

The breakfast wasn’t the best I could imagine. It wasn’t in the top 10. Or 20. And the one staff person working was horribly overwhelmed by the number of cyclist who, like us, were willing to take a gamble for a really good breakfast. A cyclist ended up serving coffee, to keep the impending riot at bay. It could’ve been a disappointing experience, but here’s the deal: Save a significant accident or illness, there just aren’t many bad experiences on BAK. This breakfast misjudgment gave us laughing material for the rest of the day. We ribbed each other about it, and the day was a little lighter, perhaps, because we had that bit of unexpected humor in the morning. And those sort of things make great stories, anyway.

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The ride – for us a total of 73 miles – was nearly perfect. We caught a slight wind from the northwest that gave us a bit of push. There were plenty of hills, but they weren’t steep. They just seemed to last forever. Undulations, one of the riders, Rod, calls them. But I think it will help set us up for good rides in the following days, where we’ll see more of the same – possibly more hills during the next stretch. We’re scheduled for a 69 mile ride tomorrow that will end in Phillipsburg.

One of the highlights of the day was Atwood. This town was the day’s major stop between overnight towns. And it was ready for us. A church group stood along the highway with baskets of granola bars and volunteers who would take riders’ water bottles to refill so they wouldn’t have off their bikes. Things like that always impress me. Here were are, just passing through for a few minutes, maybe an hour or two if we hang  around and take in the sights, and they work out a deal to provide a really important and appreciated service for us.

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There was a lot more to Atwood than I expected. One of the nicest kids parks I’ve ever seen, with a clean city lake. A downtown that had interesting architecture and businesses. Some of us talked about how we’ve traveled to other states and see small towns that are clearly on their last legs, waiting for death. But in Kansas, there are a number of towns that seem to be fighting back, that are working to find something that will keep their towns vibrant an alive. It might be an opera house, or a viable downtown, a spectacular park or some special attraction. But really, as we discussed today, it’s a person, or a group of people, with passion and an idea who work to make it a reality that drive these sort of successes. And thank goodness for people like that.

The same thing could be said for Oberlin. This town has one of the neatest downtown areas. It’s filled with shops and restaurants, and there’s plenty to do and see. It looks like something from the old west, but like it’s been continuously improved over the years. And the community had a good selection of dinner options for us, as well as a concert in the city park band shell that kept us  entertained. Seriously, these towns deserve  real credit for the work they do to prepare for all the cyclist that come through for a single  night.

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The things I like best about BAK are the conversations I have with people while I’m riding, and at the campsites, watching these towns swell with pride and welcome us into their communities,  and the experience of seeing this state at a slower pace and a more open environment. I had the opportunity to enjoy all of those things today. I even ended up camping next to Hutchinson Mayor David Inskeep and his daughter – just by happenstance, and I got to chat a bit with Charlie Owens who for the last five years has flown in from Belfast, Ireland to make the ride.

Me and Charlie Owens. He's flown in from Belfast, Ireland for the past five years to make BAK.
Me and Charlie Owens. He’s flown in from Belfast, Ireland for the past five years to make BAK.

I’m going to wrap this up. Like I said, I’m pretty tired. And it’s going to get cold tonight, and I’m not really packed for cold weather. It looks like I’ll be wearing some clothes to bed and waking up to temperatures near 50. And that’ll be just fine.

The SAG Hags. Always one of the best sag stops - and these gals are funny and do this for the riders every year.
The SAG Hags. Always one of the best sag stops – and these gals are funny and do this for the riders every year.

 

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The town of McDonald had a sign asking us to explore, so we did. We found some cycling hieroglyphics.

 

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