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Smackdab run returns to Rugby

By Staff | Jun 26, 2020

Former Rugby resident and RHS graduate Jim Skadsem (center) stands at Rugby's Geographical Center of North America Monument flanked by fellow members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. Sue Sitter/PCT

Motorcycle riders from five Midwestern states gathered near the Geographical Center of North America monument in Rugby Saturday to complete a dawn-to-dusk ride between two notable landmarks in the central United States.

The 675-mile Smackdab Motorcycle Run began Saturday morning at the monument marking the Geographic Center of the 48 contiguous United States in Lebanon, Kan. The 16-hour ride took participants through Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota along U.S. Route 281 before turning west on U.S. 2 and ending in Rugby.

Held on the first day of summer, the Smackdab run began in 2015, according to the event’s website, smackdab281.org. Organizer Peter Zilliox said he chose the date for the run to take advantage of the largest amount of daylight in the year.

Like most events this year, the Smackdab run had measures in place to ensure riders stayed healthy and safe.

While past runs had “trail bosses” on hand to validate finishers, this year’s Smackdab run involved little to no contact with others.

Instructions on the event’s website read, “In order to eliminate the need for physical interaction, Smackdab riders will be able to complete and validate their ride all on their own. This year only, there will be no morning meeting, no sign-in station, no Trail Boss, and no group photo. The validation process this year will be entirely ‘virtual.'”

Participants marked their rides by snapping photos with their phones at the monuments in Lebanon and Rugby.

“We had 55 riders this year,” Zilliox told the Tribune by text message. “Thirty-nine were from Kansas, 5 from Missouri, 3 from Nebraska, and 8 from Texas (a whole group came up together).”

Five riders from the Combat Veterans’ Motorcycle Association formed a group. Four in the group rode from Texas and Missouri, and a fifth rider joined them at Jamestown, North Dakota.

“I’m from Grafton,” said rider Jim Skadsem. “This is my first time (with the Smackdab ride).”

Skadsem said the group planned to participate in a ride for combat veterans, “but it was postponed due to COVID.”

Skadsem said he enjoyed his ride to the Geographical Center of North America monument. “I actually graduated from Rugby High. Class of 1984,” he added.

“Rugby’s changed,” Skadsem added. “The Hub used to be across the highway. Now, it’s all different.”

After arriving in Rugby and snapping selfies at the monument, most riders sat down for a meal at El Rancho Grande restaurant across the parking lot.

“There were some hiccups with the rain, but despite the rain, we had a great ride,” said Angelique Oldsen, a rider from Kansas City, Mo., who traveled with the combat veteran group. “The weather couldn’t have stopped that. We picked up some people along the way and finished together. There are beautiful little towns.”

“None of us had been to North Dakota or South Dakota before,” Oldsen said of her fellow riders from Missouri and Texas. “It’s beautiful. We’re actually making plans to do it again next year, hopefully.”

Another participant, Warren Werner of Seward, Neb., participated as an individual. This was Werner’s second Smackdab ride.

“It was great except for the weather,” Werner noted. “We had thunderstorms part way up last year. I was able to dodge most of the weather this time around, it was not quite as heavy. But I had to hide out from a thunderstorm for about an hour and a half last year.

Zilliox said he hasn’t been able to participate in recent Smackdab rides. He focuses on organizing the events and doing administrative tasks. “Over the six years we’ve done the ride, My wife Sarah and I have ridden the route twice, we went to Lebanon and saw riders off twice, and were not there at all twice,” he wrote.

Zilliox said he was grateful for the help he received from convention and visitors’ bureaus in Rugby and Kansas.

“Denise Marcum and Cindy Stones with the Smith County CVB have been a tremendous asset. They have made the event their own and have put in a lot of effort,” he wrote.

“I have to mention Laurie Odden, too. In the short time she’s been with the Rugby CVB, she’s really gotten involved and championed our event,” Zilliox added.

“Rugby turned out to be an unexpectedly perfect end to the ride,” Zilliox added. “You have plenty really nice lodging within walking distance of the monument, so riders can just wash up and collapse into a comfortable bed, without having to do more driving to a hotel.”

“And,” he added, “EVERYBODY loves Rancho Grande.”

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