Who feels relaxed in the middle of biking 500 miles in a matter of days with more than 800 people? Larissa Rice did.

“This is the first time ever and it’s a real challenge,” she said after arriving in Atchison on Saturday with the Biking Across Kansas peloton. “But in the last three days, my brain, which is always thinking about something or worried about some concern, was just chilling out and enjoying the moment. It was really nice.”

The trip that began on June 8 in Goodland, way over on the Colorado border, is the ultimate test for a local amateur cyclist, and is representative of the health-conscious, dedicated athletic lifestyle of those who closely follow the sport.

Riders ultimately made seven overnight stops in Colby, Hill City, Hays, Wilson, Minneapolis, Clay Center and Holton, with most staying in gyms and other public accommodations provided by the host cities; some, seeking flexibility on when and where to stop or just a more natural experience, slept in tents. Luggage trucks carried the gear they couldn’t support on their backs, but otherwise it was up to each rider to meet the challenge.

Atchison pulled out all the stops to honor and celebrate those who completed the challenge on Saturday, holding parties and gatherings along the banks of the Missouri River, at Veterans Memorial Park and in downtown Atchison.

Atchison Mayor Shawn Rizza, himself an avid cyclist, has worked since October on making Biking Across Kansas a success, following a campaign to get the event, which alternates between eastern Kansas final destinations, to return to Atchison for the 2019 finish line.

From a shot in the local economic arm to bringing all Kansans closer together, Rizza said the impacts of the event are hard to overstate. As a reward for his efforts, he ended up performing photography duties for essentially the entire peloton. Hundreds of riders assembled on the City of Atchison south boat ramp and dipped their tires into the water to mark the completion of their journey.

“That was fun, being able to talk with them, share their stories, being able to experience their experiences of coming across the length of the state,” Rizza said. “It’s awesome ... to see all of these riders come in, see what Atchison has to offer and hopefully go home and share what we’re all about.”

To welcome the riders to town, the city served as host for the 2019 Bike Rodeo, organized with the local nonprofit public health promotion agency, Live Well Live Atchison. Attractions include a bike agility course at the Riverfront Park that will permanently be in place for the enjoyment of future riders, helping cyclists try out their skills and to train young biker riders. Workers have also been installing new bike racks in town throughout the late spring.

Stefanie Weaver, BAK executive director, thanked Atchison for “extending the red carpet for our riders.”

“We’ve had parties in nearly every town,” she said. “Live music. Blocks and blocks of people lined up to cheer us on. Every community that we’ve been in this week has put their best foot forward to show the spirit of Kansas to show the hospitality, the generosity and the friendliness of our state.”

Marcus Clem can be reached

via marcus.clem@atchisonglobenow.com

or on Twitter via @AdAstraGorilla

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