Next year’s to do list

This is a quick post that probably won’t be much good for reading by anyone other than me.

One of the things people on BAK told me to do is write out some notes about what I’d do differently next year. So I’m going to do that here, because it will be an easy way to get back to it. And there are definitely some things I  need to do differently.

For starters, I need  a place  to hang my clothes. Most people wear their jerseys and shorts in the shower to clean them off, then hang them up somewhere to dry. One night, I hung a pair of shorts and a towel on the fence by the football field to dry, then got in a hurry and forgot them the next morning. Some people rig up a clothesline near their  tent. I think I’d like to come up with a light weight  stand  or drying rack to put my clothes on in the evening.

I’d also like a way to stand my bike up when I’m not riding it. I don’t like setting it on its side. I doubt that hurts anything, but I don’t like it. I saw people with small telescoping stands that worked well, but I also saw people  rig up some rope and tent stakes to hold up their bikes. I liked that too.

I should pack fewer clothes. I  packed about five changes of clothes and that  is not necessary. I could get by with maybe two or three sets of non-cycling clothes. You’re only wearing those things for a couple  hours each day, so you never smell that rank – once you’ve taken a shower.

No need to pack two cases of Cliff bars. There are plenty of SAG stops and towns to stop in for food.

Develop a better system for getting ready the night before. The first few nights I struggled with getting together what I’d need for the day’s ride. One bag should be for camping stuff and after hours clothes. Another for anything you might need on the ride. Pack everything you can into camping bag, and throw it on the truck to the next town; everything else can go in the other, smaller bag, that can be carried with you until the last minute.

One mistake I made this year was setting up visits with people at different  times who were not part of BAK. This won’t happen next year. One thing I didn’t realize would happen is that you really don’t want to be reminded of the outside world while on BAK. It seems as if most people barely even check in with relatives. Certainly not work! Next year, I’ll avoid that, and just enjoy the entire environment of BAK. Not that I didn’t – I did. But  that was sometimes interrupted by the outside  world, and I think part of the BAK experience is that there is nothing going on anywhere else.

Get  that Go Pro camera working. I really missed out on some fantastic video.

Don’t bring a book. You don’t have time to read.

Get better battery pack phone chargers. I had two, and neither worked very well. Spend the extra money and get  the good ones. That way you can charge your phone while you’re riding.

Also get a better sleeping mat. The one I used this year was next to worthless. Self inflating is  good, but get one that actually, well, inflates.

Bring a real pillow. Tiny camp pillows  don’t cut it.

Do shave, at least once. Neck was all itchy and gross.

If anyone who’s done this before is  reading and has any thoughts, please share. I’m sure I haven’t  thought of nearly half  of what I need to do.

good wheat

Crossing the line

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.

Missouri line

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.

Century

tough hill

 

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.

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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.

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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.

DSC00043 DSC00050 me bak 2 me bak 1 Devil guy Kim a Rita 2 Kim a Rita 1 Rulen friends

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.

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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.

wheat bike

 

 

Climbing expectations

I’ll come back and update this later. It’s been a busy day and I haven’t had much time to sit down and write. Also, I’m struggling to get my photos uploaded with the internet service available.

Today’s ride was officially 74, but ended up being 75.5 on my bike computer. As promised, there were a lot of hills, some quite steep, or long, that challenged riders’ legs heading up. We were told during a meeting on Wednesday night that there was a hill outside of Elmdale that would remember, and they were not wrong. It’s a steep grade, and long, and most riders alongside me stopped at the top to photograph the way they had just come, and maybe to prove that it really was that bad.

Of course the other side of steep hills is the downside, where with little effort a rider can move very, very  fast. Today, on the last stretch to Council Grove, I hit 42.6 miles per hour – and it’s an exhilarating feeling.

I stopped to eat at Ad Astra restaurant in Strong City, and might have eaten the best burger of my life. It had jalapenos, a spicy sauce, bacon, and and egg. Believe me, it was delicious.

One last thing to say before I hit the sack tonight – I should mention how incredible the town Goessel was to all the riders. To be honest, there was some talk going into town that this little town of 500 might not be able to offer us much to do, or provide the services we’d need. Those thoughts were completely wrong. Moreover, they seemed to go out of their way to make us feel welcome. There were dozens of signs coming into town welcoming us, and more on the way out thanking us. One series of signs caught my attention.

“Thank you for visiting our town.”

“We hope you don’t leave with a frown”

“Enjoy your trip and the hills”

“We’d join you but we have to pay the bills”

I hope to write more tomorrow and update this entry. It’s a long day – 82 miles – and there’s a 100 percent chance for rain, all day, I’ve been told. I hope that’s wrong.

Lots of lessons

I learned a lot today.

Very early, about 5 in the morning, I learned that the “Cobbler Ladies” can bring out the worst in cyclist, and the importance  of their cobbler – sold at the first SAG stop out of Sterling – is not something to be taken lightly. I was told that I did not want to dally in the morning; I needed to be ready to hit the road by 6 a.m. 6:30 at the latest, because last year they ran out of cobbler and it is a sad day if you arrive 5 minutes after all the cobbler is gone.

This cobbler can’t be overstated. It was a day changer! And throughout the day the prevailing question among cyclists on BAK has been “did you get some cobbler.”

cobbler cobbler ladies

Part of the reason this changed my day was because my day started off a little rough. I felt winded today, and my backside is sore after several days of heavy riding. And just a few miles out of town, the valve stem on my inner tube began leaking, which forced me to pull over and change the tube.

That’s when I learned  to go slow with a CO2 canister to inflate a tube. I got everything set in place, let out a small blast of air. When it looked like everything was going fine, I let it rip – and blew a nice big hole in my tube. So I started again, put in my second spare tube – and by this time Kimberly Hawks had pulled over a SAG van, and we refilled it the old school way – with a pump. Everything worked well the rest of the day.

Another lesson I learned is to wear the same length cycling shorts all day. Here’s why.

stiped legs

See those legs. They are tan in one area, a little less tan in another area, and white as snow in another area. People have been teasing me about it all day, which has made for some good laughs. I’m not the only one who has made this mistake, though. Another rider and I compared odd tan lines at one of our stops. It’s long shorts tomorrow for sure.

I also learned that if you feel the urge to stop somewhere, stop. Shortly after  the cobbler ladies, a couple of kids had set up a  water and lemonade stand. No one was stopping, though, because it was so soon after the cobbler. But I decided to stop, and I ran into Jacob Doerksen, and Inman High student I’ve worked with for The News’ student news during the past two years. It was really good to see him, even for a bit. Oh, and the donations they were gathering will head to a school in Guatemala, where Jacob’s sister, Beth, worked on a mission trip recently.

Jacob DSC00097

 

I also learned  how little I pay attention to my back yard when I’m in a car. I’ve passed through Inman probably 1,000 times. I know there’s a museum there, but I’ve never been to it. Nor did I know how extensive it is. There’s a ton of interesting stuff in there, and basically a whole little town attached to it. Seriously, go there some time. And while you’re at it, hit the museums in Moundridge and Goessel, too.

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I also learned that this is what people do when they’ve been riding in the sun all day, and need to chill out for a while.

I learned that when you see the devil driving by, and you ask him to come take a photo with you, he will. And when you ride up beside him and ask him how his ride is, he’ll say “Great”, only it’s long and drawn out, with a touch of super cool. If you say “hi”, he’ll answer with a raspy “Yeaaahh.”

Devil guy

I learned that Bill Collins will stop to help anyone who needs help, and he likely has whatever tool he needs to fix whatever is wrong.

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I learned that Rita and Kim can be prim and proper, and, well, not so much.

Kim a Rita 2 Kim a Rita 1

And I knew this, but maybe I forgot, that the wheat this time of year really does dance, and it does wave like an ocean.

good wheat

And I learned that even a small town like Goessel, about 500 people, can pull together everything it has to welcome nearly 900 cyclists to town and give them everything they need and more. We have tons of food, fun,  and hospitality here. And tonight, two bands will play for us.

to Goessel

I told someone today that I will have a week’s worth of things to write once this if over. If I had the time, I could write five posts a day, but there’s too much to do and see.

Here’s some pictures.

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Sterling experience

Here’s the theme for today – The sheer awesomeness of Kansas.

Every town BAK has  stopped in has greeted  us with open arms and gone out of their way to make our stay, or even a stop, in their town an incredible experience. From Johnson City to today’s stop in Sterling, these towns have rolled out the red carpet for us.

And not just towns – even farmhouses along the way offered some hospitality.

free water

Yes, that’s a random farmhouse between Hudson and Sterling with a garden hose left running (with a spray nozzle) and a sign inviting riders to refill their water bottles. Or maybe spray themselves off with cool well water, because it was pretty hot outside.

And let’s talk about lunch in Hudson, home of Hudson Cream Flour. This lunch was epic. We had our choice of Bierocks, Pizza pockets, pigs in a blanket, ham and cheese pockets, as well as macaroni salad and cole slaw. And cookies. Cookies stretched  out over three long tables, and stacked as high as a small child. Cookies with labels like “Smores” and “Strawberry Cheesecake.”

And it was all made from scratch by the kind of grandmotherly women you know have more than a little experience with feeding people.

hudson lunch

 

hudson bulding

After all this, the day ended at Sterling. And this meant that we had access to one of the best ice cream shops in the state, a community dinner with live music, free swimming at the pool, and a wine/beer and appetizer spread at Studio 96, the community center. It  also meant that we had people waving to us, saying “Welcome to Sterling. We’re glad you’re here.” As it turns out a childhood friend, Chad Johanning, is a Sheriff’s Deputy in Rice County. He said the community had been planning our arrival for months, and it showed. Everything went off without a hitch, and we all felt very, very welcome here.

Sterling knocked it out of the park, but really, this is largely how it’s been everywhere we’ve gone. People are really good to us. I talked to Stefanie Weaver tonight, the BAK executive director, and she said the Larned Police thanked us for coming to town, and said they might start a cycling club because some of the kids were so enthralled with all the cyclists that came to town.

sterling depot swimming bak roll top desk depot inside sterling home

 

We also spent a little time wandering around Sterling. This train depot looked like a restored depot, but really it’s the law office of Scott Bush. He might have been unhappy when we wandered in, but he wasn’t; he took us around and showed us the place. It was very cool. There  were also some very cool houses, and did I mention that they let us all swim for free?

All the news from today isn’t good though. After four days of long rides, I’m finding that my ass is quite sore. I knew this was coming. I had hoped that it wouldn’t, that I’d discover some previously unknown ability to resist the effects of friction. But, alas, today there was noticeable soreness. In case I’m being unclear, here’s another diagram.

hurt diagram

I’m used Gold Bond today, and that didn’t help much. I think tomorrow I’m going to have to break down and use the Butt Butter to help things slide a little better. I have a big tube of this at home, but I forgot it. I almost asked Harley’s Bicycle shop to overnight some to me, just so I could have plenty on hand.

There’s also been one bit of bad news from BAK – there were two accidents on Monday, between Jetmore and Larned. I know that neither accident was too serious – in that the victims will recover and be fine.  But they had to cut their BAK trip short due to the injuries. In one case, a truck passed too closely to a rider, and the cross wind blew her bike over, causing an injury that required hospital treatment. In the other accident, two cyclists bumped their tires, causing them to lose control of their bikes.

As usual, there was a lot to see on this leg of the trip. This part took us through the heart of Quivira Wildlife Refuge, and it was amazing. For me, what caught me more than the scenery was the smell. That scent – of grass and wetness and cattle and marsh – is a scent of my childhood. It’s a scent that reminded me of the summers I went fishing in farm ponds, or roaming down muddy creek beds. There’s a very distinct smell to that part of the state, and for me, it was quite nostalgic. I heard a lot of people talk, again, about how they didn’t know about Quiviria, but now that they do, they plan to come back and visit.

Here are some pictures, and maybe some shaky video from a top a bike.DSC00060

white flowers purple flowers prairiehudson windmill

 

When I got to Sterling, Kathy Hanks, Sandra Milburn and our summer intern Tiffany Dawson were nearby ready to shoot photos. Here are a few of me, some include my friend Kim Hawks, from Parsons, that Sandra shot on our way into town.

me bak 4 me bak 3 me bak 2 me bak 1

 
The day was topped off with a visit from my kids, and granddaughter. They went swimming, ate dinner, and had some ice cream.
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One more thing that I forgot from yesterday. Here’s a nifty little John Deere dealership in Burdett. We all thought it was pretty funny when we drove past it.

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More to come! I still have Peggy’s story – with the modified bike that allows her to ride, interesting stats from BAK, and what everyone really thinks about the most common phrase of BAK (unless you’re one of the “racers”) – “On your left.”

 

Taking too long

OK, well today I was going to write quite a bit, but that’s not going to happen. Although the  day was  a short  ride – about 49 miles – I  spent a lot of time lollygagging around with my new  friends, Kimberly Hawks, Bill Collins and Rita Griggs. That means that even though we left around 7 a.m., and should’ve  rolled in Larned by 10 or 11  a.m., we didn’t  get to town until  a  little after 1  p.m.

But it was totally worth it.

Once again, the scenery was incredible. And I can’t stress  how  breathtaking the countryside is right now. So of course I had to stop and take a bunch of photos.

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Maybe one of the best parts was a SAG stop in Burdett. If you  don’t know, that’s the home of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered  the planet Pluto.  It’s also home to an awesome city park that has all of the old playground equipment you remember as a kid – and a free mini golf course. If you have a kid, take him or her to Burdett  to play here before  some uptight parent ends  up getting  all this cool equipment  covered  in bubble wrap.

Kimberly slid down the slide – the ones are stainless steel and get so hot they’ll burn your ass on the way down. We also found the greatest child’s toy ever – the high speed, slightly tilted merry-go-round. Remember? The one you got going so fast that  someone always flew  off and landed in the sand – or  threw up trying to hold on. We did that too, and it was so much fun.

On the way into town we stopped at Fort Larned and toured the place. For those  of us in central Kansas, we’ve sort of lost our appreciation for the old place. But, with a group of people from other parts of the state, they were  amazed at the place. They found  it fascinating and hugely interesting.

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Then when we got to Larned, we decided to eat at the Broadway Grub N Pub downtown. The  food was great, and so was the beer.

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But the best part was Gavin. He came in a couple times, and he looked like an, um,  let’s say eccentric person. After  watching him for a little and wondering what his story was, he came over to our table and asked if we wanted to see his car.

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Yeah. That’s right. It’s a 1937 Cadilac Seville. It cost $50,000. Gavin talked to us quite a bit after that, and he was funny too. But his brother, who owns the Broadway, said Gavin has more money than sense. Either way, we liked him.

Those are the highlights from today. I still have so much to write, but my days are so full of activity it’s been hard to get any writing done. But keep checking here and I promise you’ll see something from most every day of this trip – which has been a very soul cleansing adventure, because  of the beauty of this state and its people.

Oh, and there was a dust devil on the way, too.

 

Sunday morning, and more

There is so much to write about from today’s ride! I hardly know where to begin, and I know I don’t have enough time to do it all tonight – but tomorrow is a short day, so I should be able to update more tomorrow.

Today’s ride was 80 miles from Lakin to Jetmore. I left about 7 a.m. and got to Jetmore around 2 p.m. – and that included a lot of turning around to take pictures of people and things that caught my attention.

Sunday morning

So let’s start with this: Heidi and Claudia Boyles, in Garden City.

Their home sits on the entrance to Garden City, and they stood in their driveway waving to every cyclist that came through saying “Welcome to Garden City.” I rode past them, smiled and waved back and then decided that I wanted to talk to them. They basically said they like seeing the cyclist come through town, and they wanted to welcome everyone to Garden City. And they did – this little thing that they did stuck with me all day. It’s actually incredible, and I know the other cyclists on BAK thought so too – it came up with nearly everyone I talked with.

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Once again we had the wind at our backs – not much of a tailwind, but a tailwind nonetheless. Again, the countryside is breathtaking. When I talked with the Boyles, they said they couldn’t remember a time when there had been so much rain, and the landscape has come alive as a result.

Here’s a sampling.

I had planned to do 100 miles today by riding an extra 20 when I got into Jetmore. But I was pretty tired – not exhausted – but tired enough I didn’t feel like doing it. Plus, when I looked at the temperature on my bike computer, it said 109, which isn’t really the temperature, but it’s what it feels like beating off from the pavement. And there are a lot of hills around Jetmore. Anyone who says Kansas is flat should ride down K-156 between Kalvesta and Jetmore. Believe me it’s hilly.

Everything about today was fantastic. I made a new friend, Rita, from Parsons, and we rode together for much of the day. She’s a lot of fun, and we had some very good conversations. She told me about her divorce, and I told her about mine. We talked about the sort of pain that not everyone “gets” and we talked about how you’re sort of crazy and can’t really decide much while it’s going on. And we talked about starting over. Her friend, Bill, started over before, she said, and he seems really happy. In fact, he’s a hoot, too. I’m really glad I got the chance to meet them today and spend some time with them.

Rita

I also talked with Peggy Fiest, who can’t bend her right knee but is doing BAK with the aid of a sort of reducer shaft that allows a full stroke with her left pedal, while only moving the right pedal about three inches or so. I’ll talk to her more tomorrow, I hope, and get some photos of her bicycle. But she said the device allowed her to ride a bike for the first time in 25 years, and now she’s riding across the state – and that’s pretty amazing.

I also got to sit down and talk with Mike and Carolyn Patterson, who are sort of legends on BAK and with the cycling community in Hutchinson. They gave me some good pointers and tips, and talked about some of their early experiences with BAK. Carolyn also said one of the most interesting things about BAK is the variety of people that participate. And that’s what I’ve noticed too. People from different backgrounds, different fitness levels, different body types, whatever. But at the end of the day, everyone is just her to enjoy the road in front of them, and the people they’re sharing it with. That, in and of itself is a pretty amazing thing – and one I hope to carry with me well after this trip has concluded.

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Wheat

An aside: While I was writing this, there was a group of teenagers gathered in a back hallway of the Jetmore High School, sharing stories about their dorky parents and how they ended up on BAK. One girls said, “My dad signed me up and didn’t tell me. Surprise!” They also seemed to be cracking jokes about how the way in which they ditch their parents. But, it still didn’t seem like any of these kids was unhappy to be here – they were just kids dogging on their parents like kids do. But they were laughing, a lot, and it looked like they were having a good time to me. And I’ll bet someday they’ll talk about that time Dad made them ride a bicycle across the state, and my guess is that they’ll remember it with a smile.

I hope to write more tomorrow when I get to Larned, but here are some highlights from today.

Curt, in Lakin, make me a killer omlet with habernaro pepper and avacodo for breakfast. It was a good way to start the day.

I got a new front tire. My other was showing serious wear, and I worried all day about whether it would hold up. As soon as I rolled into Jetmore, I got that taken care of so I don’t have to worry.

I want to write tomorrow about this “on your left” business that everyone says when they pass you. I have some things to say about all that, but more than I can say now.

I tried to pay attention to other riders today. They use the “small ring” far more than I do, so I’m going to try that a little more.

Harlen, Rita, Bill and their friend Kim, along with me, ate dinner and drank beer at “The Hideout” in Jetmore. It was great, and it was a good way to end a long ride. The place had cattle panels set up out front to serve as a coral for all the cyclists.

At one of the SAG stops, there was a convergence of cyclists and bikers – the kind that wear leather jackets. It was an interesting site, but we all talked to each other and got along fine. They had a poker run going on, and didn’t seem all that interested in our orange slices and banana halves.

Until tomorrow!

Bill and Rita