PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Zach Troth, 12, was faced with his hardest challenge yet on Saturday: riding 50 miles on a bike on Southeast Kansas back roads from Pittsburg to Arcadia and back.
It was chilly — just 48 degrees when he left Tailwind Cyclists Bike Shop — and there was a north wind.
And Zach is not a cyclist.
Neither were the 15 other boys and one girl ranging in age from 11 to 15, nor the parents who accompanied the group.
“We’re just going to try to keep a steady pace,” said Nate Shriver, 12, of St. Mary’s-Colgan Troop 81, as the Scouts suited up in layers, donned helmets and, with the help of bike shop owner Roger Lomshek, made last-minute checks and adjustments to their bikes.
The ride was the culmination of the most physically and mentally demanding merit badge a Scout can earn, according to participating Scoutmasters from Troop 81 of Pittsburg, Frontenac and Girard; Troop 114 of Fort Scott; and Troop 115 of Pittsburg.
“We’ve talked about it for several years, and this year we finally decided to go for it,” said Michelle Puckett-Smith, Scoutmaster for Troop 81. “The key was Roger. We could not have done it without him, this shop and his crew.”
First things first
Beginning in August, Scouts made appointments with Lomshek and his bike mechanic, Bob Dicken, to complete the first requirement of the badge: clean and adjust the bicycle; show how to adjust brakes, seat level and height and the steering tube; make necessary repairs; show all points that should be checked regularly to make sure the bike is safe to ride.
“Basically, Roger and Bob spent four hours with each Scout and his bike in small groups, working with them to tear it down to the frame here at the shop,” Puckett-Smith said. “Most of the bikes really needed work. They did the bearings, the brakes, the rusty chains.”
Next was completing a round of education on safe bicycling and first aid for potential cycling-related injuries, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, insect stings, tick bites, snake bites, blisters and hyperventilation.
Scouts also had to demonstrate how to properly mount, pedal and brake, including emergency stops; how to properly execute turns; how to safely ride along a row of parked cars; and how to cross railroad tracks properly.
Levi Reichard, 14, of Troop 114, said he didn’t ride much and never did bike maintenance before beginning work on the badge.
“Now I know how to take care of my gear shifter and how to change a flat tire,” he said. “I know about safety. I’m better prepared.”
Then it was on to the badge’s riding requirements: two rides of 10 miles each, two rides of 15 miles each and two rides of 25 miles each.
“I was super tired after the first one,” Nate, with Troop 81, said of the group’s initial 10-mile ride. “And 25 miles was really hard — we had so many hills.”
The final badge requirement: Saturday’s 50-miler, which had to be completed in eight hours or less.
“So altogether, the badge actually requires riding 150 miles. That’s a lot for these guys,” said Puckett-Smith, who rode several of the shorter rides including a 25-miler and on Saturday served in a support role.
“I did it to encourage them along,” she said of going on the previous rides with her two sons, Cory and Cooper Puckett, 12 and 15, from Girard. “I was thinking they might say, ‘If Mom can do it, I can, too.’”
Participating Scouts and their Scoutmasters did all rides as a group, which was a challenge to coordinate because the rides were on weekends and many of the boys also are involved in other activities, including football, debate and band. There was no fudging: The badge requires listing dates, routes traveled and things seen along the routes.
Saturday’s ride required a great deal of preparation. Parents and Scoutmasters planned, shopped for and cooked hearty, high-energy foods to serve before, during and after the ride. They packed extra gear, arranged support vehicles along the route and formed a lunch detail for the stop in Arcadia.
“This is huge,” Puckett-Smith said. “Some badges take three hours, some a day or two. But this is one that the requirements are beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”
It also required experienced cyclists as chaperones. Accompanying the group for all or part of the route were Lomshek and Dicken, and longtime local distance cyclists Todd and Deb McGeorge, Hermann Nonnenmacher, Neil Bryan and Mandy Peak-Bryan.
Worth the effort
Six hours after the group left, Lomshek’s son, Ethan, 12, and Roman Sanchez, 13, both of Troop 81, were the first to return. Roman declared it was among “the top 10 hardest things” he’d ever done.
As they began filling their plates with mounds of spaghetti from slow cookers, they said it was worth the effort.
Becky Goebel, an 11-year-old American Heritage Girl who joined the boys on all rides, was one of a small group to pull in not long after. Pulling in behind her was Jill Shriver, Nate’s mom, who said she just focused on what was ahead.
“It was mile section by mile section, mailbox by mailbox,” she said.
The last to return, about 30 minutes after the first riders, was Zach. He was accompanied by Lomshek and Dicken and met by applauding Scouts and parents.
“I almost didn’t make it,” Zach said. “I was ready to give up about halfway. But I wanted to get my merit badge. Roger and Bob helped me along. Then I got to the edge of town, and I knew I could do it.”
Fort Scott youths who earned the merit badge Saturday were Levi Reichard, Jimmy Kemmerer, Michael Goebel and Josh Watson from Troop 114, and Becky Goebel, with American Heritage Girls.
Members of Troop 81 from Pittsburg, Frontenac and Girard who earned the badge were Ethan Lomshek, Corey Puckett, Colin O’Brien, Thomas Spachek, Nate Shriver, Zach Troth, Roman Sanchez, Carson Sevart, Liam Myers, Cooper Puckett and Ryan Ziegler.
The lone member of Troop 115 to earn the badge was Kevin Filby, of Pittsburg.
ACCORDING TO ETHAN LOMSHEK’S BIKE ODOMETER, the group actually rode 52 miles on Saturday, with an average speed of 12.8 mph. Although there was a pile-up after the ride resumed after lunch, no one was injured and everyone who started completed the ride.