By Jim Mason :
For years, I dreamed about participating in Biking Across Kansas (BAK), an organized, annual group ride that spans our state from the west border to the east each June. Last winter, I moved BAK off my bucket list and actually signed up.
Since then, I’ve been riding as much as possible to increase my stamina, and have more thoroughly gone through my 10-speed bike (a gift for graduating from West High in 1971!) to ensure it will do 500 miles without failure. Consequently, I’m now on a first-name basis with the mechanic at Bicycle X-Change.
I’ve obtained some new gear for myself and the bike to prepare for BAK—tent, summer-weight sleeping bag, a frame pack to carry stuff with me each day. Most of your gear is actually hauled from city to city by BAK organizers. You only carry what you need during the day while you are riding.
There still remained the task of convincing myself I could actually do this. On a typical BAK day you ride about 60 miles. One day it’s 84. Yes, the days are long in June so you have plenty of time to get ‘er done, and you are going east, so the overall elevation is decreasing, but it’s not all downhill for sure. I’ve extended my range, and hence my known capability, to 25-30 miles at a workout pace. I know my BAK goal is within reach. One day I did 41 miles. But I’m still shy of what an average day of BAK entails. I needed some encouragement.
A Facebook friend of mine took note of my bicycle postings. One day he told the story of his mother who decided to do BAK in her fifties, enjoyed it, and then did it 28 more times. That was indeed encouraging. I wanted to learn more so I asked my friend if he and I could visit with her. And so we did.
Pat Maxton began riding BAK in 1981 at the age of 52. At the time, she owned a real estate agency on Wichita’s east side and one of her salesmen, older than her, said he was going to do it. Pat thought that if “that old guy” could do it, she could, too. Pat rapidly become enthusiastic about bicycling after she and her husband received matching Schwinn 3-speed bikes as a joint gift from their seven children. She was 50 at the time and it was her first bicycle. Once she got going though, it became a passion for her. Three speeds weren’t enough and she soon traded that in for a 10-speed and began taking longer rides on the country roads around her home town of Belle Plaine. BAK looked like more than just a challenge to her; it also looked like a big adventure.
As a successful realtor, Pat was a “people person” and always had a pleasant, positive attitude, which is still evident today. She easily made new friends in the new group of riders each year and those personal encounters gave her many cherished memories, like this one from her sixth BAK, which appeared as part of an interview in her hometown newspaper.
“One evening in St. Mary’s, several of us were sitting around a table in the neighborhood tavern. The diversity of the people around that table impressed me. There were two teachers, an insurance salesman, a title insurance representative, an office manager, an attorney, two students, a doctor, a real estate broker (Pat) and a judge. The tour is a wonderful way to get acquainted with people of differing backgrounds. We become very close.”
BAK offers the opportunity to take a long, lingering look at the breadth of our state, from the high plains in the west to the forests and river valleys of the east, with dozens of small towns along the way. This also made a deep impression on Pat. “The old drug stores, hardware stores and historical churches bring to mind another era. And the scenery is sometimes breathtaking—‘spacious skies, amber waves of grain, the fruited plain.’ The writer of America The Beautiful must have biked across Kansas!”
Pat not only rode BAK numerous times but also took extended bicycle trips elsewhere in the U. S. and abroad. She has a banner with all her event patches sewed onto it hanging on a door in her room at the retirement home where she lives now. Her blue eyes sparkled as she pointed to them and recalled the particular adventure each one represented. After telling her I was doing my first BAK at 64, she leaned forward and those blue eyes sparkled again as she told me “You can do it!”
I was indeed encouraged by my talk with Pat. I am sure I will not ride 28 BAKs or anywhere close to that. But I do look forward to the memories I will gain as I fulfill my old dream of taking my own long, lingering look at my home state. BAK this year runs June 8-15, and the route goes from Goodland to Atchison, with overnight stops at Colby, Hill City, Hays, Wilson, Minneapolis, Clay Center and Holton. Let the adventure begin!
Jim Mason can be contacted at email@example.com. Look for his account of what it’s actually like to ride in BAK in the July issue of the active age.