Last weekend I reached a goal I set for myself earlier this year – I completed 1,500 miles on my bike for the year.  From back in mid-March when the temperatures were cool and our legs weren’t ready, we’ve biked and journeyed through Minnesota and even across the state of Kansas.  We’ve seen prairies and wheat fields, lakes and flatlands, rain and wind, hills down and up.  Sadly some of my final miles this year have been ridden alone as my riding partner hasn’t been able to be on the bike.  But he was helping me along in all the important ways with his encouragement and support.  So last Sunday with a SSE wind of 14 mph+, I headed northeast on the Gateway Trail, then meandered on county roads with that tailwind behind me.  The final miles were north on the Sunrise Prairie Trail.  My wingman met me in the town of Stacy where I watched my bike odometer turn to 5,000 miles (yea!) and the culmination of 1,500 riding miles for this year.  My bicycle has brought me in contact with great people, amazing scenery, the best and worst of weather, a sense of accomplishment, and the most wonderful feeling of adventure as I cruise along on trails and roads.  The kid in me enjoys the freedom of riding and the adult in me appreciates the bounty of sights, sounds, and memories.  So this winter as the snow is piling up we’ll be planning our biking adventures and goals for next year.

As I set out on my bicycle early this morning the temperature was already in the 70’s and the air was thick and humid.  I was thinking about our recent 500-mile ride across Kansas and how this morning’s 20-mile ride wasn’t much in comparison.  All of the scenery across Kansas was new to me – the beauty of the plains and the rolling hills have left a mark on me, and yet today’s ride was going to be over city streets that I’ve ridden so many times before.  I set a goal to pay attention to the scenery and surroundings of today’s ride to see what I might find and experience.  As I headed east into the sun I knew there was a slight curve ahead where the cemetery trees would be shading the road, but I was amazed at the rays of sunlight piercing through the leaves amidst the haze of the humidity.  I continued on knowing that I’d be passing many lakes I’ve ridden by countless times.  I passed this scene, then turned around and went back to photograph.  In the quiet of the early morning two fishermen had a glass-like lake all to themselves — it reminded me of an old tourist postcard for the lakes of Minnesota.  I thought about sitting in the chair and watching them, but I suspected there might be more scenes waiting for me ahead.  I rode to a small prairie restoration area and was greeted by blooming butterfly milkweed and gray-headed coneflowers.  I passed a lake that we have fished on many times, yet today there wasn’t a boat in sight.  Instead there was flotilla of geese gliding quietly across the lake.  A mile further down the road and I spotted a shy doe grazing on the far side of a pond — close enough to the woods to be able to run inside if she felt threatened.  Feeling strong as I neared home I looked down and saw I was riding at 20 mph in a high cadence on a city street, much like the riding I’d enjoyed in the western flats of Kansas.  All the experiences of my ride today were ones that I could have easily passed by and not noticed, but the intention of seeing with fresh eyes had brought me an appreciation for what was here for me today, in this place, now.

We’ve just returned from our bicycling trip across the state of Kansas.  In eight days we rode our bikes from the western border of Kansas and Colorado to the eastern border with Missouri.  Along with our 800 friends on the Biking Across Kansas (www.bak.org) trip, we were up to the challenges that Mother Nature dealt to us, along with the not-so-flat countryside of northern Kansas.  The 500+ mile trip was a test of our stamina as we battled the winds that blew incessantly almost every day on our trip; from the 40 mph headwind we encountered north of Oakley to the 25 mph side winds near the Colorado border.  Smiles broke out whenever the winds were blowing favorably at our backs.  We biked through the summer heat in the 90’s, were refreshed by the cooler mornings in the higher elevations of western Kansas, were “evacuated” from our tents when a severe thunder and rainstorm was bearing down on us one evening, and we appreciated the cloud cover that kept us cooler on one of our longer days.  We enjoyed the golden sunshine that caused the acres of wheat fields to glow, and we watched as they marched across the horizon as the wind blew through the fields.  We rode through the small towns that grace the rural landscape across Kansas, both the thriving towns and those that are barely getting by.  The people along the route welcomed us with open arms, excited to share their stories, their history, and their pride in their towns.  The community of riders renewed friendships and formed new ones.  We laughed after we rode through a dust storm that caused our faces and skin to turn brown as the dust clung to our sweat and sunscreen.  We swore at the early hills that grace “flat” Kansas, yet we learned to challenge those hills — to ride with abandon on the downhill side, and know that once you climbed the uphill ahead you’d probably find yet another set of hills on the vista before you.  It was a wonderful week of learning new things about myself and about my original home state of Kansas.

This year we are planning to do the Bike Across Kansas (BAK), a seven-day, 475 mile ride from the western border with Colorado to the eastern border with Missouri.  It’s a great adventure filled with the beauty of the Kansas plains, the hospitality of the small towns that we stay in, and the camaraderie of 800 fellow cyclists.  We are now in serious training mode.  We headed out on our bicycles yesterday morning with chilly temperatures in the 40’s and overcast skies, hoping to get a ride in before the promised rains that were on their way.  As is common in spring-time in the upper midwest, the weather can change at any time (and usually does).  The skies were gray and dark to the north, but occasionally the sun would peek out long enough to give us a bit of warmth. Unlike our fellow-cyclists living south of Minnesota who are now logging rides of 50 miles and more, we are just unthawing from our winter weather.  Our ride yesterday gave us the chance to test multiples layers of clothing along with full-fingered riding gloves to keep warm.  Eventually we will pare down to single layers and cycling shorts but that time is still ahead of us.  Yesterday’s ride was filled with the scent of blooming lilacs and the spring-time colors of the ornamental trees.  All this, including the rain holding off until the afternoon, made our ride a delight and a joy.

1500 mile ride 2009 PS0610_StaatsThis past week marked a new milestone for me, one I wouldn’t have imagined at the beginning of the year.  On Wednesday I took advantage of a warm late-fall afternoon to complete an 18-mile bicycle ride on the Gateway Trail on the outskirts of Saint Paul.  By completing this ride I have now ridden 1,500 miles this year — an amount that far exceeds anything I’ve ever done.  All those miles have been filled with new sights, adventures, and shared conversations.  The ones early in the year were done in training for the Bike Across Kansas, and the ones at the end of the summer and into the fall were for the exercise and the enjoyment of riding.  I can’t predict how many miles I’ll traverse next year, but I know these 1,500 miles have plenty of enjoyable memories to carry me through the winter and have me looking forward to new bicycling adventures starting next spring.

Kansas wildflowers_StaatsWe just recently returned from the Biking across Kansas ride where we traversed from the Colorado border, across the wide state of Kansas, to the eastern border with Missouri.  As the state has had plenty of rain this spring, the landscape was lush and green.  Although I was focused on bicycling (as opposed to photographing), what jumped out to me were the beautiful wildflowers that were dotting the fields and roadsides.  The coneflowers, butterfly milkweed, daisies, spider-wort — all were bursting into bloom.  Last year at this time I spent over two weeks in Iowa and was fortunate to document the daily changes in a prairie area.   That experience gave me a new appreciation for the wildflowers that grace our landscapes with their burst of color and beauty.  So our mode of travel across the state of Kansas by bicycle gave us front-row seats to this amazing display of blooms.

BAK_Santa Fe marker_Staats553 miles, 8 days, heat, cold, sun, rain, wind — we had it all on the Biking Across Kansas ride that just finished last Saturday.  It was a great experience, and an adventure of the best kind.  800+ riders travelled from the Colorado border across southern Kansas to the Missouri border.  We stayed in small towns that rolled out the red carpet for this mass of hungry cyclists.  The wheat in western Kansas was golden and beautiful, and the Flint Hills of central Kansas were lush and green.  Wildflowers were in bloom throughout the state, benefiting from the abundance of rain in the past few months.  And I can attest to the fact that Kansas in NOT flat;  the rolling hills of the east side of the state gave us our toughest workout.  This was a perfect way to see and experience my home state.  Bicycling puts you directly into the landscape, and you meet the locals face-to-face.  Everyone (and I do mean everyone) was friendly, giving me a real taste of mid-western hospitality.  This was the 35th year for the BAK ride (www.bak.org), and I tip my helmet to the BAK committee.  The ride was wonderfully organized, the food was fabulous, and the entire experience was a great adventure!