For the past three days, Bill Brooks battled the wind as he pedaled his bike from a point near the Colorado border across western Kansas.
By Day 3, southerly wind gusts relentlessly blasted him as he rode the blacktop across north-central Kansas, from Plainville to Lincoln. Before the day was over, Brooks, of Severna Park, Md., would push himself 69 miles in the muggy, 99-degree heat.
“I felt really beat up,” he said. “The wind from the south the last three days of the ride…it’s just been that constant banging on the body.”
By Tuesday evening, a tanned and exhausted Brooks was upbeat as he walked the streets of downtown Lincoln. Freshly showered and fed, the Biking Across Kansas cyclist sauntered along Lincoln Avenue, making small talk with locals and stopping to listen to live music.
“You know, this is really something,” Brooks said as he looked at a decorated bicycle leaning against a light post. The bicycle was one of several located throughout the community to welcome cyclists as they traveled across the state.
“Lincoln has absolutely been the best place we’ve stopped so far,” he said. “I don’t know if I should really say that or not, but there’s a number of activities planned for us. This is really good. And the shuttle service is really a wonderful thing.”
For the first time in 10 years, Lincoln served as an overnight layover along the Biking Across Kansas tour route, which started on June 10. The 522-mile tour wrapped up Saturday in Leavenworth.
“I did it last year for the first time, and really enjoyed it,” Brooks said. “Some people ask me why someone from Maryland would come to Kansas to do something like this. The people are just so friendly.”
Brooks said the Biking Across Kansas tour differs from other rides he’s participated in, adding that most of the cyclists, who were middle-aged and older, appeared to be experienced and ride often in similar rides. He said there were few long rides available in Maryland.
Although he’s competed in larger rides like the RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, Brooks said he felt lost among the 12,000 cyclists. Biking Across Kansas, in comparison, was much better organized, which made it more enjoyable for him.
“And you make friends with riders,” he said. “There’s a camaraderie.”
Despite an approaching thunderstorm and the threat of severe weather, local residents, businesses and organizations welcomed cyclists by hosting BAK on the AVE that evening.
The downtown business area offered a marketplace featuring live music, food, vendors, games, performances and activities.
Kathie Crispin said her husband, Jack, had an estimated 100 visitors tour the couple’s two museums in the Cummins Block Building.
“They were all very gracious and expressed thanks for Lincoln’s hospitality,” she said. “We didn’t close up until after 9 p.m.
“I also had several people at the Girl Scouts food booth express thanks…and that our town rolled out the red carpet for them. We were going to close the booth at 5 p.m., but had so much business that we stayed out until 8 p.m.”
Later that evening, thunderstorms packing winds over 60 mph pummeled Lincoln, causing power outages throughout the community. Some cyclists camped in tents outside the high school at the time storms rolled through. However, no injuries were reported. Several bicycles were also knocked over.
Early the next morning, the strong winds that bullied cyclists early in the tour, were gone. Instead, cooler temperatures and a clear sky greeted cyclists who headed out on Highway 18 at first light.
In the high school gym, other cyclists were eating breakfast and chatting with fellow riders who were preparing for another long day. Among them was Melvin Robben, and his wife, Patty, of Salina.
This was Robben’s 12th time participating in the tour, which gives him the opportunity to test himself.
“I enjoy biking, and it’s a challenge to ride across the state,” he said. “People say that they couldn’t do it. But you can’t say that unless you try.”
When he’s in training for the tour, Robben said he rides five days a week. During the week, he rides two to three hours a night. Weekends usually give him the chance to go on longer rides, biking 50-60 miles.
Unlike some cyclists who ride together in a pack, Robben prefers the solitude of riding alone, at his own pace. He also takes advantage of stops throughout the day that are usually every 12 miles or so. At each stop, Patty is there waiting with fresh fruit, snacks and drinks.
“I don’t know how these guys ride 70 miles straight through,” he said. “I take advantage of stops anytime I can get them. You have to stop and fuel up for energy so you feel better.”
Robben began cycling several years ago as a Boy Scout leader. At the time, the group of leaders and scouts biked a trail to earn a merit badge. But even after they earned the badge, the leaders continued riding. Eventually, the men were told by Biking Across Kansas officials they should try the tour. About three years later, Robben entered.
Patty served as the men’s SAG (Support and Gear), she said, and already knew what to expect when Robben began Biking Across Kansas.
“I sagged for the Boy Scouts years ago, and I didn’t even know I had a title for what I was doing,” she said.
Often out among cyclists as she waits for her husband, Patty said she wished motorists realized cyclists have the right of way. She added Kansas law, which became effective in 2011, requires vehicles pass a bicycle with at least three feet of clearance.
Robben, who often rides on county roads in Saline County, said he’s been lucky and never forced off the road.
“I think it’s really a give-and-take relationship,” he said.
By Jennifer McDaniel, for the Lincoln Sentinel