Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center
Veterans Bike Across Kansas
Since the mid 1980’s, I have wanted to participate in the annual Bike Across Kansas cycling trip the first week of June. After my 50th birthday, I created a “bucket list” which included adventures, experiences, travel and other goals I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime. One of the items at the top was BAK. I knew this would require some preparation and training. I acquired a nice road bike in October, registered for the BAK on the first day registration in January and seriously began training with my husband in March. I would bike to the VA from Derby. We would ride to Lake Cheney, Lake Afton, Valley Center, Bell Aire or other locations. I would cycle in heat, rain and wind knowing that we would encounter all weather conditions. I subscribed to Bicycling magazine, bought bike apparel and checked out the BAK website www.bak.org for FAQ’s, route maps and information about the towns through which we would be cycling. I also began sharing my commitment with others all the while making my commitment to this goal more concrete. I knew this was going to require perseverance and determination to meet this goal- 481 miles across Kansas on a bike in one week.
We had our bikes serviced, packed our back packs, filled our hydration packs and headed out to Tribune, KS. 6/3/11 prepared for this adventure. Over the next week 6/4-6/11, we traveled daily on our bikes with 898 other cyclists of all ages, body shapes and sizes, amateurs and experienced; through cloudy, rainy, hot, humid, windy and beautiful weather conditions; over flat plains to the flint hills terrain; short distances (37 miles) to long distances (78 miles) in a day; from sunrise to sunset. We heard the wheat shafts rustle in the wind, the crickets, the many birds of Kansas, the moans of other cyclist on a steep hill, the applause when we arrived in a small Kansas town, the semitrailers to the motorcycles which sped past us. We smelled alfalfa freshly bailed, oil from the oil rigs, sweet clover, rain, wheat being cut by the large combines, the human sweat after cycling miles in the heat as well as sweet cinnamon rolls or pie at a road side stop. We saw the little things in Kansas that are missed at 70 miles an hour- the children at play at a local park; the laundry whipping in the breeze on a clothesline; the turtle or beaver crossing the roadway; the meadowlark perched on a windmill blade; the bison, alpaca or elk grazing; the smiles of fellow cyclist who understood your pain and your accomplishment; the wildflowers along the creeks; the historical markers revealing the important people, places and occurrences of Kansas; and the veterans who proudly carried the POW/MIA flags on their bikes or wore their service branch identification.
We the BAKers formed a community and we all had our stories. The unexpected surprise for me was the Veterans whom I met on the BAK. They lived in Kansas or as far as Maryland. They were novices or they had participated in all 39 of the BAK events. They were from all branches of service. They represented different conflicts and times of service. They had different reasons why they participated in the BAK.
One veteran I met was Don “Rhino” Lobmeyer of the Kansas Army National Guards 2/137th CAB. He had been stationed in Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa when he started riding on a 2 mile course in the camp with a goal to ride 10,000 miles for charities. He completed his 10,000 miles on the BAK. Some of the charities he rode for during his year long deployment include: www.teamuso.org, www.operationshoebox.com, www.lettersfromhomeprogram.org, www.OperationGratitude.com, www.bikeswithoutborders.org. You can learn more from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another veteran, Martin, I met told me how the BAK helped him with his PTSD treatment. He was a Navy CB in Vietnam. This was his 7th BAK and he has a cycle buddy who is a vet. He said he found that cycling and the BAK specifically helped him overcome his PTSD anxiety and was very therapeutic for him.
Another Veteran, Ken, with the Coast Guard 1975-1979 told me how he lives in Maryland but was participating in the BAK for the 3rd year in a row. He had the opportunity to be on the BAK in 2009 and happened to meet his Chief Petty Officer who was also participating in the BAK. Ken said that he and the Petty Officer had had a misunderstanding in the service and on the BAK they had had an opportunity to heal that brokenness and misunderstanding. He shared that his re-found friend meets with him on the BAK in the town closet to his Kansas residence for the past two years for the day so they can rekindle their friendship and cycle together in Kansas.
Another local veteran, Jim, was serving as a volunteer on the BAK. His wife was participating for the first time so he came along as a SAG (volunteer for bikers). He shared how he enjoyed helping others meet their goals and enjoy their experience.
Little did I know that I would meet so many veterans who share my passion for seeing the simple things in Kansas from a bicycle seat at 15 mph. But I did know that the veterans already had been tested to know that they had the stamina and courage to bike from the Colorado border to the Missouri border. They just helped me realize that I could do it too.