I stayed up past midnight the other day so that I could register early – one minute past midnight on Jan. 29 – for the annual Biking Across Kansas bicycle ride. The BAK is the second oldest cross-state bicycle ride in the country and was established in 1975 at least partially to pre-test the 1976 Bike Centennial ride across the continent.
Kansas is on the route of the cross-continent ride and is actually pretty popular. The route across the southern tier of counties actually follows the route of the Santa Fe Trail and that is the route for 2018. It is actually my favorite route across Kansas and I have enjoyed riding through the Red Hills or Gypsum Hills as well as the Flint Hills before.
Just after I registered for the BAK, I received an email from the Rotary Club in Washington that hosts the annual Tour de Blast, a one-day ride from Toutle, Washington, to the Mount St. Helens Observatory. It is about 86 miles if you go all the way. The Tour de Blast is on my bucket list of rides to do.
As a forester, I have a special interest in that area. In fact, we had a Society of American Foresters meeting in Portland in the fall of 1980, just a few months after the eruption. A few of us took a rental car up through the blast zone and it was unforgettable. Obviously there was no tourist road in 1980. It was just all devastation and we watched the loggers struggle to recover as much of the fallen timber as possible from under the ash.
Today, there is the Johnston Observatory on the mountaintop where a young scientist named Johnston set up his trailer to monitor Mount St. Helens in the months before the eruption. His warnings were eventually taken seriously and although about 70 people died in the blast, he is credited with saving thousands of lives that day in May.
Today you can drive up a well-maintained road with wide, hard shoulders to the observatory and on one day in June every year, you can ride with about 1,600 bicycle riders in the ride hosted by the Rotary Club. Some years they sell out all 2,500 slots.
Registration is $80 in advance. Think about that. The Rotary takes in around $200,000 before expenses. I checked their website and they pay it back to the community by funding dozens of school projects for such things like new books, equipment, playgrounds, scholarships and a few Rotary projects in African countries.
Imagine what we could do with such a successful annual bike tour in Leavenworth County. The Leavenworth Bicycle Club already has been doing such a ride for 30-plus years and you have to admit that we have a beautiful county for bike riding. We have the experienced workers who know how to run a bike ride. We just don’t have the marketing to make it highly successful like the Tour de Blast.
Really great rides can easily get $80 per person for a one-day ride. Leavenworth County should be able to attract a few thousand riders just from the Kansas City metro area. The BAK is an eight-day ride for more than 550 miles at $245 per person with more than 800 riders per year.
I see a great future for the annual Leavenworth County ride also known as the Buffalo Bill Century Ride. Think of the good that could be done with an extra $100,000 to $200,000 in the county every year. Hopefully, someday the stars will align properly and we can do that. In the meantime, I will spend my time and money on those other rides.
Matt Nowak is a retired natural resources specialist and lives in Lansing.