I could feel the emotion welling up inside me as soon as awoke in Troy, Kan., on Saturday morning.
Today, I would ride an easy 14 miles to the Missouri River in Elwood; that ride would be the only easy part of the day.
This journey began eight days before, in St. Francis near the Colorado border. It’s where I looked forward to the week ahead, even though I couldn’t know how it might turn out. It’s where I hugged friends from last year, and shook the hands of people I had just met – but who would find an embrace by weeks end. Today, in Elwood, some 540 miles later by my odometer, I had to say goodbye to the people who became my family. I had to say goodbye to the daily gatherings, the group dinners and the sharing of each day,s adventures.
It’s hard to explain to people why Biking Across Kansas becomes so important to the people who do it year after year. And the truth is that it is different for each person. The motivation that draws a person to do it, again and again, is internal and unique. Yet in some ways, I suspect they’re not too different at the core.
For me, my first year was driven by a desire to accomplish a goal I held in the deepest parts of my mind since childhood. I remembered cyclists traveling through Nickerson and knew I wanted to do the same. But what I found on BAK was a spiritual renewal in accomplishing something difficult. In sharing those experiences with others and in the beauty and grandeur of this state.
This year, I wanted to return to that well, to fill my depleted soul. I found it again in the Kansas landscape – which is more beautiful by bike than you could ever imagine from a car. But I also found it in a group of people that became my family. People who ride differently, who see the experience through their own eyes, but who gather at the end of the day to share it with one other. People who have their own reasons for riding, who have their own struggles and weaknesses, strengths and resolves, and their own list of things they’ve left behind, at least for this one week.
I also found spiritual renewal in the hidden treasures that people and places offer. I found it in the small-town children who would talk to us at the city park. I found it in the conversations shared while pedaling between towns. I found it in overheard conversations of fathers who had taken their children along for the first time, and how they hoped they would want to make it a tradition. Or in the faces of families, and friends, enjoying each other’s company. I found it in the pride of each community along the route that worked to show each rider the reason their town was special. And these communities are special, teeming with interesting people, events and attractions. I found it in meetings in the lunchroom, or in a high school gymnasium, however brief it might have been and regardless of the topic. I found it in the random interactions with stranger that are too many to include here.
For me, BAK reminds me that the world is filled with all the goodness, joy and happiness you could ever want. It is just waiting for each of us to find it, to grasp it, to extract it, in whatever way we can. I saw it on this trip, the latent energy that exists in this life, if we are vulnerable and courageous enough to try.
And if we try, we’ll find that the joy we can pull from the earth is stronger than any of the difficult routes, strong headwinds or steep hills we must travel. It is stronger than the life changes that strike us unexpectedly, stronger than our doubts and insecurities, and stronger than the narrow ways in which we allow the world to define us. It is stronger than the ways we are broken and flawed. That goodness is resting there, just waiting for us, but we must take if for ourselves; it will not come to us.
So today is a sad day. My BAK family will all go their separate ways, and we’ll each go back to the roles that our real lives expect from us. We’ll leave behind the people who in such a short time grew so close, and we’ll leave behind the daily activity that bonded us.
But it is also good day, too. Because we have a family in reserve, that will gather again in another year. A family that in the meantime will remember the stories of these eight days, the laughter and the exhaustion. A family that will have tales that will only make sense amongst one another.
It is a good day because we tried, and we found that goodness in the world and for a bit we took a full measure of it for ourselves. And maybe throughout the year, we can sip on it a little at a time to keep us sustained, until we can refill our cups next year.
To all my BAK friends and family, I love you. Thanks for sharing this with me, and for helping to make this such an incredibly rewarding and invigorating experience. I’m already ready to see you again next year.