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BAK cyclists converge on Lawrence

Cross-state trek ends today in Leavenworth

By Lindsay Hanson Lawrence Journal-World

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Coming into the eastern stretches of the route Friday, about 800 riders in the Biking Across Kansas tour encountered more traffic than they'd become accustomed to earlier this week.

Richard Gwin/Journal-World Photo
(Click Picture to Enlarge)

Former Lawrence resident Mark Johnson, now of Shawnee, Julie Strohm, of Blue Springs, Mo., and Courtney Johnson, 6, of Shawnee, sport all-American tops as they ride down Massachusetts Street. The three were part of the more than 800 Biking Across Kansas cyclists who rode into Lawrence on Friday.

"Traffic was, like, this close to you," said 15-year-old Jack Bruce, demonstrating a four-inch space with his fingers.

The crew pushed off from the Colorado border near Sharon Springs a week ago. After camping Friday night on the Lawrence High School grounds, they will conclude their ride today in Leavenworth at the Missouri River.

The bikers on Friday navigated U.S. Highway 24 from St. Marys to Lawrence and quickly realized that the farther east you go in Kansas, the more people you encounter.

"When you get into this side of the state, backroads are even busy," said John Henry while sipping a beer at Free State Brewery, 636 Mass. Henry has biked across Kansas for a third of the tour's history; this is his 10th year.

Henry bikes for the physicality of the sport, but reasons for joining the tour are as varied as the ages and backgrounds of its participants. One rider this year is 7; another, 82. Most were families, couples and singles atop bicycles and tandems.

One man pedaled across most of the 489-mile route at 6 mph on the 36-inch wheel of a unicycle. Troy Calkins, Olathe, usually rode solo, three or four miles behind the slowest biker. But pedaling the cycle that's most-often seen in circuses definitely helped raise awareness for his cause: cancer.


Area media picked up his story, and along the route people approached him to help out.

"Some guy gave me Lance Armstrong's cancer thing on the trail," he said. Armstrong, a cancer survivor who has won the Tour de France five times, uses his Lance Armstrong Foundation to raise awareness about the disease.

Several of Calkins' family members have been stricken with cancer recently, and so he rides to raise money that he will donate to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.

New Jersey resident Bill Mishler, 61, bikes to stay active during retirement. He has nine other weeklong rides booked this summer. This week was his first time with Biking Across Kansas and his first time seeing Kansas in daylight.

Thad Allender/Journal-World Photo
Cyclists head toward Lawrence on U.S. Highway 24 past a stopped train and ditch weed. The 30th Biking Across Kansas concludes today in Leavenworth.

"Forty-one years ago I drove through in the middle of the night," said Mishler, who lives 10 minutes from New York City. "I never imagined that Kansas was so intensely farm."

Part of the allure of this "summer camp for adults," as Henry dubbed it, is the opportunity for an intimate look at the state. Riders often seek tourist stops on the route and interact with locals, Henry said.

And although a night with 800 bikers won't make a large impact on the Lawrence economy, smaller towns savor the opportunity to cater to this temporary, roving community. The town of Hunter, population 70, served dinner for the crew Tuesday night.

"If you take some of these small towns, this is probably the biggest thing that happens to them all year, besides maybe the county fair," Henry said.

Before this year, Biking Across Kansas was split into three routes. Organizers wanted to consolidate the routes this year to commemorate the trip's 30th year.

That many riders on the same road sounded dangerous to Mary Roniger, 10-year BAK veteran from Burdick.

"But it actually wasn't that bad," she said.




8-day journey nearing its end

Mike Yoder

Friday, June 11, 2004

St. Marys Most travelers crossing the state don't encounter much of Kansas. They get on the interstate and drive straight through. Cyclists crossing the state in the 30th annual Biking Across Kansas have chosen a different route to experience the state close-up.

Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo
Doug Hitt, Lecompton, pedals through Dickinson County on Kansas Highway 18. Bicycling Across Kansas participants are averaging 62 miles a day for eight days to complete the 489-mile state crossing. The 800-plus participants in the 30th annual event are to spend the night in Lawrence.


But it isn't always easy.

"I got lost," said Ed Haun, Jerseyville, Ill.

After clearing the security entrance Thursday at Fort Riley, Haun and a friend made a few bad turns, mistakenly exited another security gate and found themselves facing a ramp onto Interstate Highway 70.

They didn't want to tangle with interstate traffic, but the Fort Riley security guard wouldn't let them back onto the base.

"We got on I-70, and I'm doing 30 mph (really fast on a bicycle) because you're scared to death," Haun said. After three miles they found an exit. And they made it to St. Marys, where they spent the night.

With any luck and some better directions, the pair and about 800 of their cycling friends will roll into Lawrence to spend tonight at Lawrence High School. Some will sleep in the gym; others will pitch tents and camp on the school grounds. The first riders are expected to start arriving by late morning.

The cyclists, ranging in age from 7 to 82, started the trek Saturday from the Kansas-Colorado line near Sharon Springs. This Saturday, at the end of the 489-mile journey and after enduring heat, wind, rain and physical pain, this traveling community on wheels will celebrate the conclusion of the ride by dipping their bicycle tires in the Missouri River in Leavenworth.

Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo
Stainless steel and bright-colored spandex converge as riders sit down for lunch at the Prairie Skillet diner in Winona.

"It was great. I'm going to do it every year " said Clay Weinaug, a Southwest Junior High School student who reported doing 30 mph in a 20 mph speed zone at Fort Riley.

Nathan Desetti, 16, a Free State High School student, said he enjoyed meeting other cyclists and people on the trip.

"I'll be one of those lifetime BAKers," Desetti said.

Although Tara Bryant, 11, Lawrence, had fun and averaged 30 miles a day as one of the youngest solo riders, she is ready for a change.

"I'm going to take a break from my bike and swim a lot," Bryant said.

In addition to the friendships and fellowship forged during the week, 82-year-old Wanda Groves, Goddard, who has participated in 11 Biking Across Kansas rides, appreciates the way cyclists deal with adversity.

"The best thing is nobody gets upset," Groves said, "no matter the condition."





Postcards from the BAK trip

J-W photographer participating in annual Biking Across Kansas ride

By Mike Yoder, Journal-World

Thursday, June 10, 2004

(Editor's note: The following are postcards sent back by Mike Yoder, J-W chief photographer, who is participating in this week's Biking Across Kansas trip.)



Eight hundred cyclists took off from the Colorado border this weekend on the 30th Bike Across Kansas. Forty riders are from Douglas County, including me.

In song, they call the wind Mariah, but out here, what they're calling it can't be repeated in a family newspaper. Headwinds and crosswinds are around 20 mph.

"The wind was in my face the whole time," commented Allen Levine, a former Lawrence city commissioner on the ride.

The riders are staying overnight in Oakley. Today is the longest ride of the trip: 74 miles to Hill City.



Like many cyclists in the Bike Across Kansas, Lisa Rasor, Lawrence, was on her bike by 5:30 a.m. Sunday. Rasor was riding the second day of the 489-mile, eight-day trip across the state. "It's something different than anything else in life," Rasor said of the BAK. "It's crazy, but it's the best thing in the world when you get to the Missouri River."

"It was a great ride from Oakley to Hoxie," said Mark Desetti, Lawrence, who is cycling with his son Nathan, 16, a Free State High School student.

But from Hoxie to Hill City it was grueling and gruesome. As cyclists entered Hill City on Sunday afternoon, the temperature sign at the bank read 99 degrees. Today's forecast is for 100-plus degrees as cyclists head to their overnight destination of Osborne.



It's still in the upper 90s, but today we had 30 mph to 35 mph crosswinds. Saw many kinds of bicycles: a unicycle, recumbents, one cyclist pulling his dog in a trailer and a three-seated tandem. The three-seater belongs to Mark Johnson of Shawnee, who owned Family Chiropractic Center in Lawrence from 1980 to 1998.

"Hot and windy," Johnson said, pedaling in the lead seat.

"Like crossing the desert," said his companion Julie Strohm, of Blue Springs, Mo.

"It was pretty much normal," said 6-year-old Courtney Johnson, who pedaled in the rear seat. As the three biked toward Osborne, Courtney sang "I've been Working on the Railroad" on the bicycle's intercom. "It helped pick up the pace," Strohm said.

We head to Lincoln tomorrow.



Another tough day on the Bike Across Kansas: As cyclists rode south from Osborne to Lincoln, they faced 30- to 40-mph head winds and steep hills.

There were many times I had to pedal downhill just to keep from stopping.

"If I was home and looked outside to this, I wouldn't even get on a bike," said Wanda Groves, of Goddard, qan 11-year BAK veteran.

Asked how she felt about the extreme conditions, she said, "You just don't get in a hurry."

At 82, Wanda is the oldest cyclist on the trip.

Wanda did the trip in revese, with the wind behind her, and said she reached 32 mph on the downhills.

The town of Hunter, population 70, provided lunch for the 800 riders. Riders headed east today to Chapman.



Bike Across Kansas cyclists have ridden through 90 degree heat with 40 mph winds, and Wednesday we got rain.

East of Lincoln, a gentle but steady rain soaked riders, strung out along Kansas Highway 18 pedaling east to Chapman.

"I still prefer this to yesterday," said Shirley Hitt, Lecompton, recalling Tuesday's strong headwind and steep hills.

"This is the best natural cooler you can have." said Hitt's husband, Doug, of the refreshing rain.

Cyclists have completed 331 miles of the 489-mile trip and will take off for St. Marys this morning. Forecast calls for a plague of locusts.

Cyclists reach Lawrence Friday.


Richard Gwin/Journal-World Photo
Greg Tabor of Nevada, Mo., peddles his recumbent across the Massachusetts Street Bridge.

After 8 days, 489 miles, bikers finish trek

Bonner Springs

The Cheiftan

Clark Corbin

Thursday, June 17, 2004

On the eighth day, after 489 miles through the extreme heat and howling winds that often beset the journey from Sharon Springs to the banks of the Missouri River in Leavenworth, the 800 bicyclists taking part in the 30th annual Biking Across Kansas event rested.

The annual trek, which drew cyclists from as close as Shawnee and Bonner Springs and as far as Las Vegas, Nev. and Rochester, N.Y., allowed riders to get an intimate glimpse of the Sunflower State's many small towns that line the sides of the highway in America's Heartland. In the end, the ride culminated June 12, following the final 42-mile leg from Lawrence, when the mass of cyclists ceremoniously dipped their tires into the mighty Missouri and loaded up their bikes to return to their normal lives.

"Doing it was a goal for me, something I wanted to prove to myself," said 72-year-old Bonner Springs resident Robert Kobler. "It was good for me mentally and physically."

For Kobler, the ride was much a challenge as it was a reward. His days normally began around 6:30 a.m. and he liked to reach his destination by 2:30 p.m. Getting to his overnight destinations, he said, is when he realized what the ride was all about.

"There was something special for me in getting to meet the people in different communities," he said. "They tried their best to make us feel welcome."

Kobler said the people in the various communities, mostly members of church groups or other organizations, often provided warm meals and morning breakfasts for the cyclists to buy. That fact, coupled with the fact that every 12 miles along the journey a rider could stop for fresh fruit or a water break provided by event organizers, made the trip possible despite weather cooperation.

On June 10 the trip turned ugly. Temperatures soared past 100 degrees and wind gusts approached 50 mph. The conditions were so harsh that Kobler said he had to pedal his hybrid bike furiously just to move forward, even on a steep downhill leg that should have been a breeze.

"I could not have finished if it had done that two days in a row," he said.

Thankfully, 10 hours and 20 minutes after setting out that day, he arrived at his overnight stop and conditions improved the following day.

In the weeks leading up to the ride, Kobler trained by riding towards Olathe three times a week and even joined the Leavenworth cycling club for several sprints from Leavenworth to Tonganoxie and back.

As much as Kobler said he got from the ride, he said he will make a change if he rides again next year. Next year, he said, he will purchase a lighter, more streamlined road bike for the journey.

"I bought my bike five years ago as something to keep me fit and that is what it has done," he said. "It has been a wonderful experience, but if I do it again next year I will buy a road bike."

While Kobler bought his bike to stay in shape, a Shawnee family bought their bikes, a tandem and a quad, to allow them to stay close. Mark Johnson and his 6-year-old daughter Courtney completed the entire journey, as well as an additional 50 miles required to see some sights and visit some swimming pools. On top of all that, Courtney's mother Sue and 4-year-old sister Natalie joined the riders on the first and last days of the journey.

"There are wonderful memories that will be there for a lifetime," Mark Johnson said. "Just knowing Courtney will have those memories forever is so rewarding."

Thursday, June 17, 2004
Basehor Sentinel
kevin anderson/staff
After more than a week of cross-country riding through the back roads of Kansas, Joel and Jessica Buck of Leavenworth pedaled the final leg towards the Missouri River last Saturday. In tow with them is their dog, Quincy. He endured the Bike Across Kansas from the comfort of his carrier.
After 8 days, 489 miles, bikers finish trek
Thursday, June 17, 2004
On the eighth day, after 489 miles through the extreme heat and howling winds that often beset the journey from Sharon Springs to the banks of the Missouri River in Leavenworth, the 800 bicyclists taking part in the 30th annual Biking Across Kansas event rested.

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