The Smackdab story doesn’t start in Lebanon, Smith Center, or Rugby, but with a trip to another rural Plains town: Kinsley, Kansas.
Jim is an old friend, my riding buddy from our days working together in a St. Louis, Missouri motorcycle dealership. But he had moved out to Pueblo, Colorado, and I settled down in the Kansas City area. In 2013, we decided we needed to meet up and go riding together again. I used Google Maps to calculate the halfway point between my house and his. The answer was Kinsley, Kansas. In an odd coincidence, it’s been known since 1939 as “Midway USA,” or “The Half-Way City,” because it sits precisely halfway between New York and San Francisco. That summer, my wife and I met Jim there, and three of us spent a couple of days exploring the small towns in the area. The trip was great fun, and the small towns we visited, including Kinsley and Greensburg, were unexpectedly interesting.
Afterwards, Jim told me I would have to come up with an even better destination for our next get-together. I was familiar with the “Center of the US” marker outside Lebanon, but I had never been there. It seemed like a logical sequel to our first geographically themed meeting spot. However, when I went online to find a photo of the monument, I was initially confused by photos of two different but similarly obelisk-like, square, stone-and-mortar pillars. I quickly figured out that there were two markers, in two small towns: the geographic center of the 48 states in Kansas, and the geographic center of the continent in North Dakota. I then discovered that a single U.S. Highway—Route 281—went almost directly from one to the other! The idea was too obvious to ignore: I suggested to Jim and my wife that we try to ride between the two monuments in a single day.
My wife was skeptical. “I don’t want to be dodging wildlife in the middle of nowhere after dark,” she said.
“Okay, we’ll do it on the longest day of the year,” I said, “or at least the weekend closest to the summer solstice. We can leave right at dawn, and I think we’ll have no problem getting there by dusk.”
Once our plan was in place, I posted a message on an online forum for motorcyclists that Jim and I both frequented, asking if anybody else wanted to join us for the ride. I offered to design and make up some embroidered patches for whomever participated. “Do you really think anybody else would be crazy enough to do this?” my wife asked. Well, when we showed up in Smith Center (our first time ever), there were motorcycles parked outside both of the motels in town. A dozen strangers from as far away as Tennessee joined us for the inaugural Smackdab ride.
Several other members of the web forum had expressed interest in doing the ride, but had conflicts that weekend. “Are you going to do this again next year?” several of them asked.
“Well, I’m not,” I said, “But if you want to…”
Five new riders took up the challenge and rode the Smackdab route the following year. They also got patches. The Smackdab Run had become an annual event.
That fall, I wrote a letter to the editors of Rider magazine, explaining what the event was, and inviting readers to visit a website I had created, Smackdab281.org. I contacted the Smith Center Chamber of Commerce, who enthusiastically agreed to help offset the cost of finishers’ patches.
The following June, eighty-seven new Smackdabbers earned their patches. And with that, the event’s future was secured.
— Pete Z.