Reader advisory: the following article is not about politics. There is nothing here about candidates, constitutional amendments, endorsements or polling locations. Instead, it is about a borderline obese 63-year-old man riding his bike in 40 mile an hour winds. If that does not interest you, feel free to read those 10 fliers that are jammed in your mailbox.
The Bike Across Kansas (BAK) is now almost two months in the past. Like most things, the passage of time has vanquished my bad memories and elevated my good ones. When I see convoys of bike riders zip past my house in North Leawood, which happens often, I mutter to myself “HAVE YOU DONE BAK? NO! AND YOUR PANTS ARE TOO TIGHT!”
It makes me feel good as I sip my milkshake and chew on my Snickers.
But of all the things that happened on those 6 days and 5 nights, there is one story has not been fully told. Until now.
As you may know, the BAK route was 510 miles – from Syracuse to Louisburg – June 11-18. I skipped the first and the last day of the tour, thanks to weddings – the first one in Breckenridge, the second in Kansas City. Readers of this paper may have read about our stopover in Great Bend on June 13, where Steve Pringle, and his in-law Steve Giebler joined Marty Murphy, Vince Hammeke and me for a one day ride from St. John to Hutchinson on the following day.
So it was Tuesday, June 14, when the wind blew southerly 30-40 miles an hour. I mean Mother Nature was seriously P.O’d. When I rolled out of St. John, the route required everyone to head south on 281 for two or three miles to hit Highway 50. There is a bridge over the train tracks there. You have probably driven it a hundred times. Have you ever ridden it uphill at 6 a.m. in 40 miles an hour wind?
I didn’t think so.
I felt like I was motionless on my bike because, well, I was. Not going forward, not tipping over. Stationary in a wind tunnel.
Eventually I navigated to Highway 50, and then after stops in Stafford, Zenith, Sylvia, Abbyville, and Partridge, I arrived in Hutchinson. Giebler and Pringle had the good sense to leave this experiment at one day. Murphy, Hammeke and I rode on to Hillsboro the next day, followed by Olpe, and, for me, finishing in Ottawa.
On Friday, June 17 was my last ride day. Olpe is a little town just south of Emporia. If you have never heard of it, you have a lot of company. That morning I learned that our official route – which was originally heading straight east out of Olpe -- had been changed. A bridge was out on that route. This little misadventure was going to add another 8 miles to the trip – forcing us to ride north several miles, then east, then back south.
At sunup, Marty, Vince and I gathered our thoughts near the Olpe High School, Marty had an idea -- “We could try to ride the original route. Sometimes bridges are just under construction. Cars cannot pass but bikers can. Let’s try it.”
(Memo to file: if you need a wingman to ride 500 miles, call a Murphy.)
This was a brilliant idea.
On the north side of Olpe there is a paved road – marked as Road 75. We rode for two miles and then came upon a ROAD CLOSED sign.
The bridge was still several miles down the road but this was the point of no return. As we waited there, ready to make the leap, another biker approached us. You can tell the serious bikers. They wear jerseys; they are thin, usually not prone to chitchat. This guy fit the model. He paused briefly where we were, and headed down the road and disappeared.
We waited. And waited. He never returned. Our conclusion: smart biker guy says it is passable.
So we headed out. As we rode up to the forbidden zone, what we learned was shocking. THE BRIDGE WAS OUT! I mean, it was OUT. Like GONE. I felt like a character in Joe Dirt. The movie. (old people, ask your kids about it).
I stared at the creek. The water was low but ... still. It did not matter. You were looking at not only retracing the three miles we took to get here, but also then the additional 8 miles. It was hot, windy, and humid and certain body parts were organizing a revolt. Other than that, it was delightful.
We were going to cross. Had it been the Red Sea - we were still crossing it.
It was a little bit hairy. Vince and Marty had those fancy pantsy shoes bikers wear so they took off their shoes and played the Wallenda brothers. I followed them.
We did it. WE DID IT. We saved like three days. And, avoided wind, heat, and other smarty-pants riders who constantly passed me. As we rode out of the east side of Road 75 and intersected with other bikers, they all asked the same question: “Did you try the short cut?” Uh yeah, SUCKER!
Honestly, I felt like Tom Brady.
At 3 p.m. later that day, my wife rolled up at the Ottawa High School to make a rescue. “You did it!” A bit later, she asked, “do you think you will do it again?” “No chance” I said.
Six hours later, at my niece’s wedding, after being thoroughly lubricated with adult beverages, my daughter asked me “will you do it again?” “Absolutely” I said.
Who is going with me?
Matt’s email is email@example.com.