So, apparently, this is how plans/ideations for road trips for amateur bike racing start these days:

<Facebook> “A good friend is running a new event for the first time that is very much in the spirit of what Rodeo is about. 100+++ miles of Oklahoma’s paved roads, flat roads, gravel roads, back roads, hills, oil fields, open pasture land, long horns and tall grass to challenge you. We’ve been invited. Roadeo trip, anyone? https://nativelandsgr.wordpress.com/about/” </Facebook>

The entire road trip logistics to race this event as a team were hashed out on one long stream of collective consciousness comment thread, which atomic mushroom clouded into over 150 comments (now 200), questions, quips, and retorts. I hadn’t road-tripped like this with friends since college, and I was in.

With the help of Phillip, John, and the guys at Elevation Cycles, I spent the next few weeks converting the Vanilla touring bike to a 19 lb race machine.

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Friday

We were to leave Denver Friday after everyone got off work, for the race was Sunday morning. A flurry of last-minute FB comments and text messages bogged down the internet that afternoon. Last minute details, like “who’s bringing a laptop” (STRAVA uploads); “who’s bringing an lightening cable” (who’s keeping the Instagram fed); me: “where do I find Pit Stop” (meaning, I don’t have my act together at all– I mean who waits until the day of a road trip to find emergency sealant for his tubulars)?

The guys were very gracious in accommodating my requests for special treatment (I couldn’t drive back Sunday and pull an all-nighter on the road since I had a full day of procedures starting early Monday morning. In order to make this weekend work, I had to ask to be driven to Oklahoma and then ask David F. to bring back my bike while I flew back Sunday evening, etc.) ***I owe you each and every one of you fellas- big time.***

So, we all meet, late, at Stephen F’s house. We stuff last minute items into the cars (both Subaru wagons), and we’re off. Wait, “have any of you guys eaten yet?” It’s 730pm. Chipotle. “Wait, who needs gas?” Conch. It’s 8pm. “OK, who knows how to get there?” “I-70 East, and thats all you need to know for a long time.”

Hours and hours later, I receive this from Stephen, and our unforeseen quest for a place to sleep for a few hours has begun:

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So, I start a call to the first cheap-looking motel that doesn’t seem dangerous. “Sorry, no vacancy.” And another call- same answer. And another call-same answer. And so on. I start becoming desperate. Special Olympics in Salina, KS – everything sold out. High school basketball tourney in Hays – sold out. I keep trying. Nothing. Finally, I find the Value Inn – no Yelp reviews, cheap, not too far off the highway in Salina. Someone picks up the phone. “Hello, I need a place for tonight. Do you have a two queen room available?” … “Yes, we do. You want me to hold it for you?” … “YES!!!”

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This place sucked. In the stairway on the way to the 3rd floor, I immediately noticed that the doors to each floor had only holes where the doorknobs once rested and worked to keep the doors closed. Apparently, there was no real thing as a “non-smoking” room in this place. We didn’t care though. We crammed our 5 bikes and bags into the room (Jacob R. put his bike in the disgusting shower that none of us used), brushed our teeth, and fell asleep thinking to ourselves, “So this must be what it’s like to be pro.” It was 3:30 am.

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Saturday

At 0800, we slowly awoke to our shoddy surroundings. Dirty walls. Did I mention the disgusting shower? We had a laugh at the mismatched TV guides and general information cards (branded from different hotels in the area).

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Starbucks.

I-135 south to Wichita. Lots and lots of this:

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Drop me off with my parents in Wichita to see my very ill aunt. The guys continue on to Tulsa.

This photo in Wichita at the drop-off says so much yet so little:

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Lots of hawks spotted from the cars.

Tulsa.

Stephen F., David F., Jacob R., and our Tennessee Venezuelan, Minkel C., checked in with their host, and I met up with them later in the afternoon for a pre-race easy spin around Tulsa.

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We split. I rode back to my parents’ home for some hang out time in Spandex with them. My father couldn’t/didn’t wait to show me some of his more recent acquisitions:

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Jacob R (token vegan) and Minkel C went fruit shopping at the local farm-to-table locavore florist:

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While I copied, pasted, and reformatted the ride profile into just the right size for the handlebar,

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The other guys got a great night’s rest and were ready to go the next morning:

Sunday

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Suited up, they rode the 5 miles to the race start at Prairie Artisan Ales (great place), crossing the Arkansas River, bananas a blazin’.

(The 2364 km long Arkansas River is one of the major tributaries to the grand old Mississippi River. Its headwaters arise from the snowpack of the Mosquito and Sawatch ranges in Colorado.) 

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I was at the start early and ate doughnuts.

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Like pros, the locals looked on while the team completed sign-in formalities:

IMG_4050Then start/wait commenced. A large truck needed to tow something from the start area. So, we patiently waited, and ate more healthy midwest baked goods. Also, we took portraits of most of us during this interlude.

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Then, we were sent off with champagne and all sorts of revelry fit for us amateur pros (thanks mom and dad!):

Race

With a nice smooth roll out along the Arkansas River (see above for discussion regarding the 6th longest river in N. America), we started our first climb out of Tulsa and into the rolling landscape of Sand Springs and beyond. Sock game was very strong this day.

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We passed a few teams then hit the dirt for the first time, hooting and hollering all the way. The roads were perfect, since it had rained earlier in the week, and the graders hadn’t been through to redistribute rock back onto the road from the ditches. Smooth, fast, kind of dirt roads. Oh, and cows.

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Stephen F with the “look”:

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Nik was clearly diggin’ the dirt.

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Then we, at the encouragement of a local Tulsa team, took a wrong turn. 5 miles later, we realized our error and turned around to pick up the course again, adding 10 additional miles to the 124 miles of official course.

Around mile 60, we rolled into the small town of Hominy, where we speedily filled water bottles (with techniques gleaned from the Rapha Gentlemen’s Race in Colorado 2014) and were back on the road.

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Where we saw our good brave friend and teammate, Minkel C., who was racing the solo category. This guy always has a smile on his face, no matter how much suffering is happening.

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The rest of the day was spent in making tough decisions, fixing flats, and grinding out the miles in a beautiful part of the country with excellent roads.

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By the end of the race, we were relieved to see the finish at the brewery, with beer flowing, an ever effervescent promoter (Tanner C), and catered Mexican food for the taking.

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Thanks again to Tanner for promoting a fantastic and well run race with fun categories (men/women’s team, solo), and a great start/finish at Prairie Artisan Ales. Word on the street is that Tanner is planning something big in the fall, to include lots of gravel roads, shenanigans/bluegrass music, and overnight camping. Stay abreast of developments on this great event, the Native Tour. Rodeo Labs had a blast, and we have stories to tell for many years to come.

As with any road trip, the experience is more about the relationships that are formed, tested, and strengthened as a result. And, for this, I am forever grateful and proud to ride alongside such gentlemen.

Stats:

First Image by James Gann