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"The road less traveled": biking across Kansas.

Photographs just don't do justice to the Kansas landscape. It's like trying to look at a reproduction of a painting in a book - the details are too small, the colors are off, and the aesthetic impact is completely missing. Kansas in reality is great swaths of color splashed across rolling countryside, hills dotted with spikey yucca and aromatic Artemisia, and clouds scattered throughout the blue expanse above. Kansas only reads well when writ large: one has to be out in the middle of it all.

This year, nearly 900 people experienced the beauty of the state by participating in Biking Across Kansas (BAK) from June 9 -16. Their 475-mile journey started near Mt. Sunflower on the Colorado border and snaked across the northern part of the state to Elwood near the Missouri line. Cycling through Kansas allows one to be embraced by the terrain as well as the wind and weather.

Sights along the route included variegated fields of wheat, from the shining bronze of hard red winter wheat to the tow-headed fields of a lighter strain. Fields that had already been harvested were strewn with cushions of round bales which shimmered in the sunlight. Great green leas of corn and milo stood in colorful contrast to the wheat. Mule deer, whitetail deer, rabbits and other wild critters were part of the scenery. Domesticated animal life consisted of horses, alpacas, pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle in many colors. One herd of white-faced cattle, all nearly matching, stood in a line, aimed their noses at the road and watched, in bovine inscrutability, as throngs of cyclists passed.

In contrast to the expanse of the countryside, towns along the way offered overnight stays at their local schools. These included Sharon Springs, Oakley, Hoxie, Logan, Downs, Clyde, Centralia, and Troy. Each town tried to outdo the others in hospitality: many businesses stayed open later, there were free or low-cost movies, various bands played, hay -rack rides were offered; one town even rolled out the red carpet with a street party in front of its historic courthouse. Each town prepared food for the hungry bikers. Providing three meals (usually lunch, dinner, and breakfast) was a huge task for towns which have small populations themselves. One town had only 566 inhabitants. Imagine having 900 people descend on such a small burg. The logistics require careful planning by various organizations. Groups such as the schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, veterans' centers, community centers, churches, and others develop menus and come up with a range of choices for the riders. Money from food sales helps the groups with their fundraising projects.

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Towns in between the overnight stops offered refreshments and opportunities to explore Kansas history. Each town had a historic courthouse or homes, monuments, museums, or other reasons for notoriety. These included connections to the Civil War, the founding of Kansas businesses, the Pony Express, the California Trail, or other associations. This year's cyclists got some education and a chance to refill their water bottles.

BAK has a 37-year history of its own. First organized in June of 1975 by Larry and Norma Christie of Wichita, BAK was a "practice run" for the Kansas portion of the 1976 "Bikecentennial," a cross- country tour of the USA developed to help celebrate the Bicentennial. That first ride had 100 cyclists. BAK has grown to over 800 riders annually. Charlie Summers and Jim Gilmore, both of Newton, are the present directors.

The cyclists who participated in BAK ranged in age from seven to over 80. Many riders have come for a number of years. Families were a common sight: one boasted three generations of riders. Interaction between such vastly different people is commonplace as well. There were people from all walks of life and the atmosphere was one of acceptance. One participant commented that there were doctors, lawyers, car mechanics, and homemakers all washing out their bike shorts together in the sink. BAK becomes, as she remarked, "a great equalizer."

As well as being an active vacation, BAK is fairly inexpensive. The cost was $175 per person to stay inside, and less if someone wanted to camp outdoors. This included three meals during the week, baggage trucks, and snacks at rest stops. An all-volunteer staff helps keep the price low. Participants can have tents provided for them, along with additional comforts such as morning coffee and cold beverages, by contracting with Padre's Cycle Inn for an extra charge.

The routes are planned at the first of the year for the June ride. The organizers choose good roads that are less traveled by major traffic. The caveat is that there are vehicles on the routes, so a cyclist should be comfortable enough with street riding so that he or she can bike safely. To prepare for BAK, the recommendation is that one be able to ride at least 30 miles in three hours. The best practice is to ride daily, starting early in the year, stretching one's mileage to 40 miles or more on the weekends. Local cycling clubs also sponsor planned rides to prepare for BAK and other distance rides.

For more information, visit www.bak.org. For Padre's Cycle Inn, go to www.padrescycleinn.com/BAK.
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Author:Barnes, Helen
Publication:Liberty Press
Geographic Code:1U4KS
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:869
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