For the last forty years, folks have gotten together to go biking across Kansas. This year, a diagonal route from Elkhart to Highland will cover 550 miles and 45 towns from June 7 through 14.
As a non-profit organization, Biking Across Kansas (BAK) “promotes health and wellness through bicycling, the history and beauty of the Kansas landscape, and the warm hospitality of the Kansas towns and people.”
Newton City Clerk Denise Duerksen is a BAK board member. She said this year they have 957 full-time riders registered, 97 part-time and 344 are first time riders. Many current and former participants are from Harvey County, including Attorney Tom Adrian and Judge Joe Dickinson.
Duerksen began riding in the BAK in 1993 and fell in love with it. “It isn't like riding a bike around when we were kids. Even though we're out there to have fun.” Duerksen had to learn to draft, pay attention to wind, shifting, maintenance and more.
The BAK is not a race or test of endurance, “everyone rides at their own pace,” said Duerksen. Support and Gear points are set up every 10-12 miles with water and fruit. Participants regroup in the evenings for overnight stays, generally at schools. A review of the day is given, with weather updates and route changes for the next day.
Still, it's not easy. Wind and heat are major factors for riders to deal with on a day to day basis. Because the diagonal route is longer, Duerksen said there will be some longer mileage days this year.
“For people who think Kansas is flat, I can tell you, it's not!” said Duerksen. “We have lunch in Abilene, then toward Manhattan and Hiawatha, it's pretty hilly.”
Larry and Norma Christie of Wichita began Biking Across Kansas in 1975. Fewer than 100 riders participated that first year, though it quickly grew. From 2002 to 2012, Charlie Summers of Newton was the executive director, as numbers soared. When Summers retired in 2012, BAK committee members formed Biking Across Kansas Inc. as a non-profit governed by a board of directors. Stefanie Weaver of Olathe serves as executive director for 2014.
The routes change from year to year and nearly every corner of the state has been visited. In 1975, there was one route. In 1982 a second route was added and then in 1989, a third. For 15 years there were three routes until 2004, when BAK returned to a single route.
Diagonal routes have been done, but new places are always added. This year, Highland is a new ending and Salina is a new overnight town.
BAK cyclists will reach Salina on June 10. A 40-year reunion celebration will be held in the park, with food, vendors and music. At the school, a slide show will be shown of years past. Former director Larry Christie plans to attend, said Duerksen.
The Biking Across Kansas Facebook page is full of comments, helpful tips and nostalgia from participants.
“I first rode in 1975,” said Mark Winkelman. “I've been wanting to return for the past ten years. This year I finally committed to the training that I hope will get me across. I see it as a personal challenge as well as a nostalgic chance to relive awesome memories I have of BAK from years past. See the sights and smell the open countryside of Kansas. I'm really looking forward to it!”