Old Settlers’ Day traditionally calls many alumni back to Marion every year. Most people usually drive or fly back to the area. However, this year one graduate is making the trip via bicycle.
In a sort of pilgrimage, Tom Berry is pedaling approximately 600 miles back to Marion to celebrate his 50th class reunion and the memory of his brother Bill.
“I’m not trying to make a splash,” Berry said. “It’s just a goal. But I’m sure some people will think I am crazy.”
Berry is a 68-year-old retired builder and contractor. He said he has been biking casually off and on for the past 20 years.
“I need the exercise,” he said. “I also like knowing that I am not using fossil fuels.”
Berry will not be alone on his trip. His son, Travis, will bike the majority of the distance with him, and Berry’s wife, JoAnn, will provide road support in what Berry calls the family “sag wagon.”
A sag wagon is a support vehicle for cyclists that holds food, clothing, and equipment that may be needed on the trip.
“JoAnn is looking forward to a slow boring trip,” Berry said last week in jest. “She is very supportive.”
The Berrys kicked off their trek Friday in an event called Pedal the Plains that began in Penrose, Colo., and ended three days and 160 miles later in Lamar, Colo.
After that, they planned to see how far they could go each day, Berry said. They had hotels rooms booked in several towns along the way.
“We will take Highway 50 from Lamar to Garden City,” Berry said last week. “It’s a four lane highway, so it has a nice wide shoulder.”
Coming from the mountains, theoretically their trip should be entirely downhill, he said, however he thought riding up steep hills would be the toughest part as long as the wind cooperated.
“Wind is a huge issue,” Berry said last week. “We are hoping for a tail wind.”
Berry said that they planned to reach Dodge City on Tuesday, Pratt today, McPherson Thursday, and be in Marion Friday in time for Berry’s class reunion dinner that night.
JoAnn will drive Berry from Wichita to McPherson after they drop Travis off and Berry will ride solo on the final stretch from McPherson to Marion.
“It’s not the most direct route,” Berry said. “We have to make a detour to Wichita to get my son to the airport.”
After the Pedal the Plains event in Colorado, they planned just to see how far they could go each day.
However, JoAnn said that Tom rode about 50 miles the first day and when Travis joined him the next day, they both rode almost 70 miles. They continued their breakneck pace with another 70 miles on Sunday.
“It’s going great,” JoAnn said on Monday. “Today is the crowning glory.”
Other than fixing one flat tire, there have been no problems, she said. They were actually one full day ahead of schedule.
“They are making great time,” she said. “They have about a 40-mile-per-hour tail wind and are going to ride 127 miles today.”
For the rest of the trip, Berry planned to enjoy the scenery, talk with Travis, and do a bit of daydreaming while riding. He doesn’t listen to music while he rides because he has some hearing loss and he likes to be as aware of traffic as possible.
“I had a crash involving a dog getting under my front tire once,” Berry said. “I went over the handle bars and cracked my helmet.”
Berry said he and Travis wear typical biking attire including helmets, padded shorts, sunglasses, and lightweight breathable clothing.
They carry plenty of snacks and water. They also carry enough equipment to fix a flat tire. The rest of their supplies are with JoAnn in the sag wagon.
Even with sporadic reception in Western Kansas, JoAnn said they have stayed in contact by cell phone. She has been within 50 to 75 miles of their location at all times.
“I check in to the hotels, unload the stuff and generally prepare things for their relaxation each day of the trip,” she said. “Meanwhile I look for interesting things like museums and cute little shops.”
JoAnn said she thinks her husband and son were both prepared for the trip.
“Travis is 44, he rides in any weather,” she said. “He is really supportive of his father.”
Berry said he rode almost every day prior to the trip and even though he has never ridden such a long distance before, he rode 55 miles in Garden City over Labor Day.
“It was brutally hot and humid,” Berry said. “There are all kinds of extremes going on in sports now; this is just a goal. I want to try to continue riding for as long as I can.”
Another reason behind Berry’s goal is that his late brother, Bill, was an avid biker.
Tom and Bill’s sister, Becky Summerville, said that Bill participated in Bike Across Kansas numerous times.
“I thought Tom was nuts when he first told me, I said, ‘good Lord that is a long distance’,” Summerville said. “But I admire him for what he is doing. It is going to be a great story to tell.”
Berry said he always wanted to ride with Bill in the Bike Across Kansas event but he never got a chance to. By doing something his brother enjoyed, Berry’s journey is a way for him to honor his brother’s memory.