A quintet of former classmates left Great Bend around dawn for a bucket-list reunion trek of sorts Tuesday as the Biking Across Kansas annual tour resumed on the fifth day of a nine-day journey across the state.
First-timers all, they gathered at Lumpy’s Bar and Grill Monday afternoon to review their battle plan for Tuesday’s 57-mile ride from St. John to Hutchinson, which, with several legs longer than 70 miles, veteran riders would call a “shortie.” The group, composed of Steve Pringle and Steve Giebler, Great Bend; Martin Murphy, Denver; Matthew Keenan, Leawood; and Vince Hammeke, Overland Park, was using Great Bend as an overnight stopover.
After all, there’s something to be said for having friends and family along the route on a long bike ride. All except Giebler, who is Pringle’s brother-in-law, are members of the Great Bend High School graduating class of 1977.
As of Tuesday morning, Pringle and Giebler were still bike-route rookies; Murphy and Hammeke, who were new to the BAK, were long-time cycling veterans. Keenan was no longer a rookie, having endured the opening part of the tour up to Monday’s leg from Spearville to St. John.
In air-conditioned comfort, Pringle and Giebler listened as the trio regaled them with their experiences thus far.
While Murphy drove into Kansas from Denver, he watched the temperature climb as the elevation dropped. Around Garden City, the temp surpassed the century mark as he began searching for groups of BAK cyclists. He’d ridden regularly in 20-mile jaunts in Colorado, but that’s in both mountain time and temperature. Both he and Hammeke experienced the 12,000-bike madness that is the RAGBRAI annual trek across Iowa, so the BAK should be a semi-solo ride through the Kansas countryside. In the Kansas City area, Hammeke said, there were cycling clubs that get together about every week and weekend.
Keenan and Hammeke, however, were almost left at the gate getting to the BAK; on the bus ride from eastern Kansas, they stopped briefly at the Great Bend Dillons to load up on sundries for the trip. When they got outside, however, they found their transportation gone. “They’d just gone off and left us,” Hammeke said. Through a cellphone chain, they contacted the bus, which pulled over just shy of Larned to take them onward to Syracuse, the first stopover.
While the Garden City leg to Spearville was a draining 77 miles, Spearville to St. John was an easier ride providing an early start to beat the heat.
Keenan, however, was in for another experience. About three miles out, he heard a pop and hiss as his tire went flat.
“I’m new to this, I’ve only had this bike for about a month,” Keenan said. “I was impressed with the sense of community, everybody seems willing to help. The people behind us stopped and spent about 10 minutes taking the tire off and I found out the tire was tubeless; they put it back on and hand-pumped it back up.” Murphy helped him keep the tire pumped up the rest of the way to St. John.
Keenan also learned that there were only two kinds of showers available on the route; scalding hot or chillingly cold. After waiting a while for the water to warm up, he asked some other bikers where the hot water was. “Haw, Haw, Haw, first-timer!” was what he was told, he said.
The quintet was to leave Great Bend Tuesday morning for a 6:30 a.m. start from St. John. After their leg was done, Pringle and Giebler would catch a ride back from Hutch while the rest went on.
“There’s no better way to see the country,” Murphy noted. “You’re going about 15 mph, so you get to see a lot of it.”
“You get on a bike and you find out what flat is,” Hammeke said.
St. John stopover
The balance of the BAK riders had two options for the St. John overnight; inside the St. John High School gym on a bedroll, or outside at the football practice field in a tent. Understandably, the Tigers’ gym floor was lined with bedrolls by late Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, there were dozens of volunteers serving food and drinks in the cafeteria commons, while bikes remained leaned up against the building outside.
Stephanie Weaver, a BAK veteran since BAK 2001, noted that this year’s event, sporting about 600 riders, has about 40% first-timers, which is unusual. The oldest rider is 86, while the youngest is 13.