This year was the 43rd Cottonwood 200. I was without my regular crew this year and rode solo.
The Cottonwood 200 always begins on the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Riders meet on Washburn’s campus and are given a Topeka Police Department escort out of town. We ride between 70-75 miles to Council Grove. At the Council Grove High School, you have the option of finding a space on the gymnasium floor to put an air mattress or find a spot outside to pitch a tent. On Sunday, you leave all of your stuff at the high school and bike about 22 miles down to Cottonwood Falls for lunch. Then you bike back to Council Grove. On Monday, you pack up your stuff, load it onto the truck and head back to Topeka and Washburn’s campus to retrieve your belongings and head home.
The Kaw Valley Bicycle Club puts this on, and there are a handful of members that put in countless hours of organization that make this ride flow so well. On each day’s ride, there are volunteers that will be stationed at the 4 SAGs along the route, at which riders can refuel and use a porta potty if needed.
This year was special in that they organized a few alternative routes. Each day had a gravel route option. Taking this, however, meant that you would be skipping a few SAGs along the regular route, so you needed to self support. I really wanted to ride at least one of these routes, but I let my creature comfort brain takeover and embrace the excuse that it was too wet and muddy.
While at camp both evenings, you would find me having dinner and beers with those in a generation before me. I love hearing the stories they have to tell of the bicycling adventures they have been. I like to believe they sense my old soul and get a feeling that they are contributing to my life by telling me their stories (which they indeed are).
On the first day, I rode a while with Hilmer, whom I found out has biked in every state except Hawaii. He resides in the state of Washington, and does not like to repeat rides. His next adventure will be the Oklahoma Freewheel, which is a 7-day ride across Oklahoma. It goes south-to-north this year from Hugo, OK to Sedan, KS.
On Saturday evening, I had dinner and beers with KVBC member Bruce. Bruce, who appears to be a chipper 60 year old told me he was 70! We were joined by Bill, someone who had done a lot of bicycle touring across the U.S. and Europe. Bill has also done nearly every Cottonwood 200 ride. Although I have stories of my own, nothing can match the wealth of information that these older riders have.
Riding with your own team of friends can be the comfortable and socially safe way to go. However, you shouldn’t be scared of setting out solo. Leave your phone at camp, let your old soul take over, and have a conversation with some other riders! You’ll learn and gain so much more than the most recent posts on social media will ever give you.