Smackdab comes to Rugby
Some people in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the first day of summer, or summer solstice, by gathering near ancient monuments thought to mark the path of the sun.
In the Great Plains of the United States, other people celebrate with a daylong motorcycle run from one geographical center point to another, at least since 2015.
The fifth annual Smackdab Summer Solstice Motorcycle Run began its journey in Lebanon, Kansas, hours after the earth’s tilt lined up with the sun on the Tropic of Cancer. Their journey took them to Rugby’s Geographic Center of North America monument
However, timing the run to coincide with the start of summer had little to do with astronomy, according to organizer Peter Zilliox, who explained the logic on smackdab281.com.
Zilliox, who lives in Kansas, discovered Rugby’s Geographic Center of North America monument on the web while researching the Geographic Center of the 48 Contiguous United States, Lebanon, Kansas. Zilliox said he discovered one highway, US-281, connects the two sites for most of the route, and he discussed a motorcycle ride between the two geographic points with his wife and a friend.
He scheduled the 16-hour, 675-mile ride to coincide with the longest period of daylight in the year to avoid the wildlife hazards sometimes found on rural highways after dark.
Although Zilliox didn’t ride in Smackdab this year, more than 70 motorcycles left the Geographic Center of the Contiguous 48 States monument at dawn June 22 for this year’s run.
Tim Gimben served as “trail boss” and ride validator for the group this year, and he met those who gathered near Rugby’s Geographical Center of North America monument that evening.
Riders began trickling into Rugby a few hours before Gimben, just as he predicted in a message to The Tribune.
“Some already have a mindset to use the Smackdab Motorcycle Run as a good start for a Iron Butt (riding at least 1000 miles in 24 hours),” Gimben said via text. “They will arrive possibly before 4 p.m. (the difference between riding and racing).”
Ken Wood of Kansas was among the first few riders at the Rugby monument. “I’m going on (after reaching Rugby),” he told the Tribune. “I might even go for the Saddle Sore 1500,” he said, describing the title that goes to riders logging 1500 miles in a day.
“Everybody just kind of struck out on their own, and everyone goes at their pace. Some just go slower; depends on them,” Wood said.
Wood added, “Depending on how many of them made it through the rain from the South Dakota border (with Nebraska) to just about 60 miles south of Aberdeen, we ran into rain. It was a good, heavy rain.”
“(There were) bridges in Nebraska that were washed out,” Wood added. “We had to make a detour to the east of there to be able to cross into South Dakota. And there were various things, such as road work. It added miles to it (the trip).”
“This is my first year,” Wood said of the run. “I’d do it again. It was fun.”
James Carver, Goodland, KS, agreed with Wood. “It’s fun. This is my third one.”
Carver described the run: “It’s not a fundraiser; it’s just a ride they put together. They (Smackdab organizers) tried it, and they didn’t have very many bikes the first year, but it’s been growing ever since.”
Chad Flesher, another Kansas rider, took photos at the Rugby monument with his nephew, Noah.
Flesher said, “This is my first year. I heard about it last year, but due to another trip, I didn’t do it last year, so I decided to do it this year. It sounded like fun.”
“It’s kind of a marathon,” Flesher added. “I’m used to long rides, and I’m tired.”
“I have never been to North Dakota, neither has he,” Flesher noted. “We’re staying overnight (in Rugby) and then we’re headed for the Black Hills.”
Kirk Byarlay, Solomon, Kansas, said he also planned to spend the night in Rugby. Byarly said the riders encountered “heavy rain and heavy winds in South Dakota. Two riders had to turn around. They couldn’t handle it.”
Byarlay and Bob Boss, Bennington Kansas, said they planned to grab a bite to eat while they waited for other finishers.
“I’m looking at that Mexican restaurant,” Byarlay said, pointing across the monument parking lot to Rancho Grande.
As Gimben arrived to validate riders with a stamp to note their finish, he noted riders from as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia participated in this year’s Smackdab run.
Zilliox said via text message that two riders from North Dakota made the trip. Both live in Gardar, an unincorporated part of Pembina County. The riders were not available for comment.
More riders from North Dakota are “absolutely” welcome to participate in the run, Zilliox said. “We’ve had people come from as far away as Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.”
For more information on participating in Smackdab, visit www.smackdab281.com and click on the “contact” tab.
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