Biking Across Kansas is much more than just logging in the miles and finishing first.
Every 10 to 15 miles, Biking Across Kansas (BAK) cyclists look forward to the appearance of orange safety cones, which mark a SAG stop. While one interpretation of this acronym defines it as Support And Grub, SAG volunteers do so much more than just provide water and snacks to cyclists participating in BAK.
These dedicated volunteers, who share a week of their lives with cyclists, offer encouragement—which is particularly welcome on those hot, windy, or rainy days—and also help to ensure that all cyclists safely reach the next town.
“We have the best SAG volunteers ever,” said BAK director, Stefanie Weaver of Olathe. “So many of our SAG volunteers have the gift of service. They really look out for the well-being of the riders.”
One SAG volunteer, Donna Rice, also of Olathe, has been part of a
colorful group, called the SAG hags, for the past 24 years. The SAG hags add a little spice to each day’s ride, typically choosing a theme and dressing the part. For example, one day last week on BAK Rice dressed up as Pharaoh and her fellow SAG hags played the role of fellow Egyptians. Cyclists arriving at their SAG stop just never know what to expect each day.
Rice has been joined by friend and fellow SAG hag Mary Ann Umberger of Garnett for the past 16 years, who rode BAK for seven years before becoming a member of the group. Umberger lists several reasons for her continued enthusiasm to volunteer with BAK: “the
fellowship, the family, the fun, and seeing Kansas,” she said. Umberger added that she enjoys the opportunity to reconnect with “friends I have developed over all these years” and looks forward to making new ones.
Former Hillsboro resident Jenniffer Kliewer, who now lives in Gilroy, California, has been the SAG and rest stop coordinator for the past two years. She helped at a SAG stop for two years prior to serving as coordinator. Kliewer has several family members who have been participating in BAK as cyclists.
Kliewer’s mother Janine Evangelista of Lakewood, Colorado supported her daughter by helping at SAG stops this year. Evangelista said that, for her, one highlight of volunteering was “communicating and talking to people from all over.”
“It just went really well,” Kliewer said. “We had excellent volunteers this year. We had enough people.”
She plans to return to coordinate volunteers and SAG stops in 2020.
Another California resident, Skip Eastman, rode in BAK for five years before he volunteered to be a roving SAG last, due to health issues that prevented him from riding.
“I wanted to be near the riders. I didn’t want to miss a year of the ambiance,” he said.
Eastman said that as far as he knows he is the first and only roving SAG that BAK has ever had. “They just call and tell me where to go,” he said.
Although he has helped with the event for the past two years, Eastman intends to get back in the saddle again and ride BAK in 2020.
“My goal is to be riding this when I’m 80. That’s only two years away,” he said.
Sheldon Lilak of Salina grew up in Wilson, one of the stops along this
year’s route. Lilak became involved in the event to support his friend,
Robert Hammer, who has cerebral palsy. Lilak and Hammer have been friends for 39 years. Hammer, who lives in Wichita, has ridden BAK for the past two years on a handcycle.
“Most of the riders are just absolutely incredible,” Lilak noted. “Everybody’s got good attitudes.”
Lilak said that his wife is also very supportive of him helping at BAK.
“She says I’m a wonderful guy when I get back home after BAK. I’m relaxed,” he said.
David Ludwig of Mineral, Virginia just completed his first year as a
SAG volunteer. His wife, who has family in Kansas, was a rider this year, so he came out to support her.
“A lot of what really strikes me about Kansas is the scenery and the hospitality. Everywhere you go, people are willing to go out of their way and help you,” Ludwig said, adding that this is the first vacation he and his wife have taken together in over 20 years.
BAK is an organization full of volunteers that strive to make the annual
event a positive experience for those who participate. Whether a rider or a volunteer, the annual event also seems like a big family reunion that always has room to welcome more.