In the summer of 1975, Gerald Ford had been living in the White House for about a year, The Captain and Tennille topped the charts with “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and a 10-speed steel bicycle was pretty much the cutting edge of two-wheeled technology.
Also that summer, a group of fewer than 100 cyclists joined Larry and Norma Christie of Wichita to test ride the portion of the Bicentennial Bike Route that was to run through Kansas the following year.
Who could guess that in 2014, people pedaling bikes made from steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber and maybe even bamboo would still be making an annual pilgrimage across the state.
Biking Across Kansas is celebrating its 40th anniversary on an 8-day bike tour that begins Saturday and follows its common west-to-east routine in an attempt to take advantage of the prevailing winds.
David Rohr, a member of the B.A.K. (pronounced B-A-K, not “back”) board of directors says this year’s diagonal route runs from southwestern Kansas at the Colorado line to northeastern Kansas at the Missouri River. It crosses every other B.A.K. route since 1975.
“With this route, cyclists will have the opportunity to experience an amazing cross section of Kansas geography. Starting with the wide-open Cimarron Grasslands in the southwest, riders will pass through the farmlands of Central Kansas, cross the scenic Flint Hills, and pedal right up to the banks of the Missouri River in the far northeast corner,” Rohr told the Hays Daily News.
I joined the B.A.K. ride in 2011 (I’m double-checking the date against my B.A.K. water bottle right now), and enjoyed the long days in the saddle, the scenery, and the camaraderie of the staff and other cyclists.
The Christies the ride through 2001, and Charlie Summers of Newton took over until 2012, according to the “About” page at the B.A.K. website . Now it’s run by a non-profit organization governed by a board of directors. The executive director is Stefanie Weaver of Olathe.
Organizers these days have to limit participation to about 800 cyclists. At one time it got so popular that it was expanded to two routes in 1982 and three routes in 1989. That got to be too much, and the cross-state bike tour returned to a single route in 2004.
This year, cyclists will celebrate the 40th anniversary on Tuesday at Salina Central High School.
Good luck to all the riders in this year’s B.A.K., and here’s hoping that the wind is always to your back.