June 10June 11
June 12
June 13June 14
June 15
June 16 June 17

Letter from Mary Willard, BAK 2000

[Editor's note: Mary's letter nicely sums up what a lot of us feel about the BAK experience.]

Hi Everyone,

I thought this might be the best way of transmitting a final report on my Biking Across Kansas expedition..... a group letter. Sorry if it seems impersonal. I couldn't wait to tell you all about it. Although it wasn't what I expected, it was truly an experience of a lifetime. Next year, I will return with a vengeance!

Ok... here goes: I must tell you that the hardest part of the trip was not the group showers in the locker room, as I had anticipated. No no no. Putting all modesty aside, I would have bathed in front of an open picture window at Royals Stadium by the end of a long, hot day's ride. Actually, the hardest part was not even the 50-degree uphill, three-mile grades.... only to be greeted by another just like it on the other side. (Who said Kansas is FLAT?!) And the hardest part was not having to succumb to walking my too heavy mountain bike up the rolley coaster hill while keeping one eye on the buzzards circling overhead. (Really!! That really happened!!) And the worst part was not the 103 degree afternoon that blistered the pavement under my tires. And I can't even say the most difficult part was the 20-30 mph winds which greeted us smack dab in the front tire each day. And the hardest part wasn't having to peddle downhill instead of coasting because of the winds holding me back.

No.... the most difficult part of the BAK trip was saying good-bye. Some things just can't be explained.

Last week, I met some of the friendliest, most fun, and most gracious people that God ever set on the face of the Earth. This trip has restored my faith in humankind. And even though I needed to set my bike aside from time to time, I had a ball. This was the sweetest lemon aid I've tasted for a long time. After tiring day after day of the head winds and the climbing, I began alternating riding my bike and driving a van for a family whose parents had not yet been able to ride together unless someone else drove their van. By Thursday, I jumped at the opportunity of having a reprieve from the wind and hills. Even after my new friend had greased the rail on the van door so it would open more easily and the door snapped off the rail while parked on a steep driveway, the Lord saw to it that there were three.... count them 1..2...3.... highway patrol officers right there at that little cafe to heave the door back onto its hinges. Afterward, one of the officers turned around and gasped, "How many Highway Patrolmen does it take to put a door back on a van??!" It was hilarious.

I learned sooo much about cycling. (oh... we are not bikers.... bikers ride motorcycles....we are cyclists!) I have new kid friends... and college friends.... and boomer friends..... and elderly friends... The oldest gentleman on BAK was 83. Yes. There are many older people who go on BAK...older in the way that they were born many years ago..... but they are in extraordinarily great shape. They are remarkable and such inspirations to be around. I met a retired minister from Wichita who knows Matt and Becky. He goes to their Methodist Church and watches Becky sing in the choir! And there was a gentleman from Columbia, Mo. who allowed me to realize the most important part of BAK is not the number of miles you put on your bike, but what you learn along the way and the people you meet. That, he conveyed, is life. After trading bikes for a few miles, he asked me how on Earth I had made it that far. Viewing him from my rear view mirror, I could see him struggling with my heavy bike as I had been struggling. I circled around, and he assured me with his many years of cycling experience, that I would need a different bike next year... a lighter, more road-friendly one. I knew I had trained for the trip, but still struggled. He ended up being one of my best friends. He's probably about 65 years old. But then, there were the gals whom I could shop with in the little towns... and the route leaders who encouraged me to stay with the BAK as I stood sobbing in a school hallway Wednesday morning. I was so exhausted mentally and physically from butting heads with the wind and hills.. I'm so glad those leaders were there for me.

I didn't dip my tire into the Missouri River as I had so eagerly longed to do before starting the journey. Friday evening, Gary and I met in Hiawatha, got settled into the motel, and ventured out to explore the sprawling 20 miles of rolley coaster hills marking the way into White Cloud.... the Final Frontier at the Missouri River. Somehow, riding that last stretch just didn't seem nearly as important as it did in the beginning. I'd had a wonderful week. I will save my river dipping for the times I actually peddle the entire distance. So I said my good-byes in Hiawatha and opted to do a little back tracking on the way home.

Next year, I will return with my new magic express bicycle and tackle every bit of the road... from border to border. As for this year's cycling part of the trip, lugging my tank/bike with me.....the best way I can describe it is this: After white-knuckling my way down the Grand Canyon via mule back once, I decided that the experience was really glorious. Not glorious in the sense that it was what I had expected... or that it was fun and easy... But glorious in the way that hitting yourself in the head with a hammer is glorious- when you stop, it feels so good!! Don't get me wrong.... I'm still having a love affair with my too-heavy mountain bike. She's a keeper. But she needs to move over and make room for something a bit more streamlined. Sure glad Gary doesn't think that way about me! Oh.... he's been a real blessing with all of this. I couldn't ask for a better cheerleader.... or whatever.

I want to thank you all for your great e-mail and encouragement along the way. Cousin Pat and Charlie... your visit in Belleville was a highlight for me. I loved it! Thank you so much. Next year, you two can partake of this incredible journey, too! I can't wait!! You'll love it..... Every burning inch. Ok... there you have it. The 2000 BAK trip for me in a nutshell. I hope to be mailing you each later. As for now, I'm basking in the glow of last week and appreciating not having to roll up my mattress and take it with me to another town.

Take care. Love to all..... Mary

Back to main page