Well, the annual Biking Across Kansas opened registration on Jan. 29 and by Feb. 9 at least 800 riders were registered and registration was closed.

Well, the annual Biking Across Kansas opened registration on Jan. 29 and by Feb. 9 at least 800 riders were registered and registration was closed. You can still get your name on an official waiting list or you could keep in contact with local bike shops to see if there are any riders who might drop out at the last minute. That actually happens quite a lot since no one knows for sure that they will be able to ride in June when they sign up in January.

According to the website, the first BAK was in 1975 and was done in preparation for the Bikecentennial, which was a bicycle ride all the way across the continent in 1976 in celebration of the United States Bicentennial. I have ridden several BAKs and I am so glad for modern bicycles and modern riding clothing. I cannot imagine riding across America on my old Schwinn in blue jeans and sneakers.

Of course, back then, that was all we had and so no one knew any better. I did ride long distances as a kid in New Jersey and did not think about it being difficult, even when I loaded all my camping gear into my basket on the front of the bike and went camping for a week in a makeshift scout camp in the hills of New Jersey. I'll bet that the bike and gear weighed more than I did. No wonder Army Basic Training seemed too easy.

This BAK takes the southern route. Dodge City is the farthest north that we will be riding and I suspect that we will be able to see Oklahoma for a good part of the trip. I am looking forward to going through Ulysses again. That town has the worst railroad tracks crossing a main street and the last time we were there, at least three riders were severely injured when they took the tracks at the wrong angle.

After I safely crossed the tracks, I met a nice lady who needed help getting the door unlocked on the place where she worked and after we got inside and visited for a while, she remarked that maybe those darned bicyclists were not such bad people after all. Funny thing is that after visiting with her and several other local farmers at the Coop and other places, I came to realize that maybe all those rural Kansas folks were not so bad after all either.

I have crossed Kansas many times in a car and several times on a bike and I can say for certain that there is no better way to experience Kansas than on a slow ride on a bicycle through small towns. Even the larger cities are fun to cross on a bike; especially when you take the time to stop in at places that you probably would not even slow down for if you were in a car.

One time we stopped in a local deli for lunch and ate lunch in their outdoor greenhouse to stay out of the wind. We got to visit with the local folks shopping for garden plants who were just as interested in us, at least partially because of how we were dressed in our biking clothes. I am pretty well convinced that ornery Kansas legislators are pretty much an anomaly and in the minority and do not truly represent the majority of people that we run into on the BAK.
Although I have not done a search for it, I'll bet that nearly every state has a similar bicycle ride that lasts for a week or more and that gets bicyclists in touch with the back roads and the common people of the state. If nothing else, there are probably hundreds of day rides nearly everywhere that are also great ways to get out and meet people and to get some exercise.

I will not be going back into the military again, but I would like to think that my bicycle touring and regular riding does keep me in good enough condition that I might still consider basic training to be pretty easy. Then again, our bikes and clothing are so good today that maybe I am not in as good condition as when I was riding my old Paper Boy Special back in New Jersey.

Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.