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Touring the Native Lands

The Native Lands Classic.

Where to even start on a day like this? To put it simply, this is the kind of day that you look forward to on a bike, yet you can never fully prepare for. Lately, it seems, there is the rise of the self-supported bike event/race. But on further thought, is it a rise? Or a reprisal? Almost everyone has heard or read stories of the old Tour de France days of everything being fully self-supported doing whatever it takes to simply finish. Because before it was a race, the Tour really was just a bunch of crazy guys on bikes seeing if they could do the distance/route. So maybe it has come full circle. Maybe the over-abundance of super serious races and events and rides has spawned some people to come up with events like the Native Lands Classic. Not only to showcase an area of a country, but to bring people back to the fundamentals of riding. To spark that inner thought of, ‘that sounds insane, but let’s do it’.

I have been thinking about this day a lot since it actually happened, and even now it seems so far yet also something I can recollect like yesterday. I originally thought about typing of just the day of, but this really was two days worth of happenings. I know Stephen wanted to do a write up about this event, but seeing as there really are three different rides that took place (the group, my experience with the group and solo, as well as Minkel’s full-solo experience), mine would be a different write-up and experience entirely.

The Day Before

It really all started on the drive out with so much happening between Denver and Tulsa, but I think for the purpose of this post I will only bring it back to the day before. The day started with finishing the drive from Salina to Tulsa (which involved great race commentary provided on the Facebook comments thread as well as dropping Peder off in Wichita for family-related business) and meeting our host, Lauren, who was awesome, super hospitable, and so relaxed about us being there that it almost left us in a state of being unsure what to really do with our stuff, not to mention ourselves. We unloaded all the bikes and gear and got a general idea of where we would be sleeping that night (D-Fitz was first to call dibs on the princess room) before meeting Minkel; a fellow Rodeo-er who had driven out from Tennessee to meet us. We then rushed off to get some solid food in us before meeting for a ride with some of the locals.

As a side note, I will take a moment to mention the downtown area of Tulsa. It was beyond weird due to the fact that it was the middle of the day on a Saturday and no one was out. We would stop at red lights (and there were plenty of those) and wait for cars that never came, only to have a green light minutes later. It seemed to liven up a bit later in the evening, but to initially see this downtown area (especially being from San Diego and now living in Denver) void of most life was fascinating yet so odd.

After lunch (cool, hipster-type place called Chimera which had some vegan options for myself as well as vanilla citrus water that tasted like orange cream), it was a mad dash for kits and bikes and getting ready to ride out with the organizer, Tanner, and some locals. Once met up with the other riders, it was a great little 20 mile ride to stretch out the legs and lungs. We started out on a trail with an awkward kicker onto a bridge and continued onto a road that gave us some good rollers through a back-country, almost Eastern European feeling, area; View of a river, some factories a little further off, and a railway with a backdrop of trees surrounding us. During this little stretch, Peder, who had left from his parents’ house, met up with us and jumped on. After a couple turns, we ended up going towards more civilized areas to finish out the ride. At this point, I decided to hang out with Minkel off the back of the group to help him out and chat it up a bit. As I watched the group slowly fade off ahead, always seeing the last glimpse of them around a bend, I realized that I felt okay. My legs felt good (and even better now that they were moving after the car ride), my lungs weren’t burning up, my head wasn’t busy beating myself up over anything, and I was simply enjoying the ride I was on, talking to someone new and sharing stories.

With six of us showing up and an original team cap off of five riders, we had to make the decision of who was to be with the team and who would be riding solo. I was initially hoping to be a solo rider to make things easier on myself (which I will get into later) but after talking it out with Minkel and the others throughout the day, I decided I felt well enough to jump onto the official team for the event. That being settled, it was dinner with Tanner and others, a stop at Whole Foods for myself (and a gas station for Snickers and Coke for Stephen), and then time to turn in for the next day.

Native Lands Classic

I started out the day in my typical fashion: Waking up late and lagging behind. The house was bustling in the early morning with breakfast being made, bottles being filled, clothes changes being made, jersey pockets being stuffed; Everyone trying to eat as much as they could stomach in order to keep their bodies going for the day to come. I couldn’t find my pre-workout mix so I left it, the GoPro I left behind because I figured I wouldn’t have the time to be stopping and playing photographer a whole lot throughout the day, and essentially everything that I thought was so organized the night before was now just randomly placed personal belongings. After getting my shoes on (I love the Giro Empires, but when you lag behind as much as me, you end up being the guy who’s still in the house saying, ‘I just need to tie my shoes, I’ll be right there!’), it was out the door and riding to the start, which was only five miles or so away.

We rolled up, found Peder, filled out paperwork, and played the waiting game. The event was originally supposed to start at 8:30, but was delayed when a truck had to grab a trailer from the parking lot, involving moving cars, people trying to find out who was in the way and who wasn’t, and then the truck driver hitching his trailer and driving it out of the parking lot. All-in-all, it was about a half hour delay before we got underway. The solos were the first to leave, so we watched as Minkel rolled off with the group and it was the only time I would see him all day until the finish despite a plan to try and link up along the route somewhere. With our allotted spot we were set to leave at 9:05, but with the push back to 9:35, we sat around as I started to feel the food I ate slowly start to burn off. Finally we rolled up to the line. It was there we were informed by Tanner that there was a slight change to the team rules: If all five riders cross the line, that team gets a 15 minute bonus, and if only four cross, then the time you cross is the time you get. To me, this was perfect. It meant that if I was going to cost the team more than 15 minutes helping me get across together, knowing full well that I was the weakest of the riders in the group, then I could be left to finish alone. After some rules and a countdown, we were off.

We started on the road we were on the day before; Rolling hills in the Eastern European-feeling back road. We started with a strong rotating pace-line that made the effort feel easy and got the legs and lungs working quick. After retracing some of the roads we rode the previous day, we made a turn and started the first actual climb of the day. My goal; Don’t blow up on the climbs. All too often, I go all out on a climb to keep up with those who are more efficient climbers and it makes me useless later on. I figured I would be of more use if I could just get by on the climbs and save my legs for more mellow gradients. Stephen, knowing my weakness on the hills, made it a point to be with me and give a helping hand when needed. So much of getting going was mental, and to have the support of the group made most of this ride so much more easy. We held, in my opinion, a decent pace going through the paved sections and finally we took a steep little hill into the first main dirt section. Up to this point, we had passed one other team that started before us, but hadn’t seen much activity. The dirt was hard-packed and luckily dry. The road profile itself rolled along with only a section or two of some really rough rock sections (big white rocks that I definitely did not trust, even after changing to 25mm, which I am sure glad I did).

In this time we passed one other team who followed us not too far behind while we rolled through some more dirt – And I realized I forgot chamois cream that morning, which was a fun experience. Finally, we hit an awkward intersection and what would prove to be a big deciding moment of the ride. In front of us were two or three people from a team that started with the solos as an incomplete team and they seemed to be changing direction heading off to the left. There was a moment of everyone looking at Garmins trying to figure out if these other riders were going the correct way, the wrong way, or a different route being a part of the solo category. At this time, the team we had passed rolled up behind us and assured us it was straight ahead, away from where the other riders had gone. I had some doubts but figured that technology and other riders outweighed my doubt; We rode on. Hitting more dirt and a few more white-rock sections, we finally hit solid road.

10 Minutes maybe.

We kept going. Then, at some point, we weren’t just rolling along with confidence. We seemed unsure, like all of us felt something was wrong yet no one knew for sure. That is, until we passed over a body of water and in front of me, Peder shot up off his bars, took his gloves off, and went for his phone. It was at that point where I knew that something wasn’t right. If he had wanted a picture, the transition would have been more nonchalant and not as urgent. Sure enough, he informed everyone that this wasn’t where we wanted to be, and we cross this water a lot later in the ride. We were all on edge at this point, and there we were, looking at Garmins, at phones, at the route sheet, trying to determine if we turn back now and retrace all this time.

15 minutes at least at this point.

The other team was right there with us and although they said it looked okay to them, we all decided that we were going the wrong way and turning back was the best and proper decision. This was my first time using an uploaded route to my Garmin 510. All I saw was a line on a screen, not realizing that there was a compass that correlated with which direction the route on the Garmin was directing us to go. The line I saw on my screen making me think we were on route was actually a point later where the ride comes back through this section going the opposite direction.

To me, this is the point that really made me realize that I would be finishing the day alone. With having to make up time and miles, the other guys pushed into full chase mode and powered not only back to where we had made the wrong turn, but along the route we were supposed to have been on that whole time. I knew I would be able to push myself to a certain point, but for the next 80 or so miles? That was a question I wasn’t sure I could answer. Not to mention the rolling hills continued on through the further dirt sections. It was like having schizophrenic legs; One mile or two I would feel great, and then the next I would be struggling up a relatively small climb. Stephen did his best to help me, and I appreciate him for it immensely. From a hand on the back to get me on a wheel or up a hill (I say hill because let’s face it, these weren’t climbs, they were hills, and I felt like less of a cyclist not being able to just make it up on my own)  to even throwing me a tube to hitch on my stem and help with taking some of the strain off. If you haven’t been tethered by a bike tube before, I will say it is one interesting experience. For that reason, I remember nothing of the scenery around me. I was so focused on that tube. Make sure there’s slack, but not too much to catch his back wheel and not too tight or you’re adding too much strain on the rider pulling you. It was a constant ebb and flow of tube, and it’s all I could remember for miles. It gave me something to focus on, but it also started what would be a slow mental breakdown of the day.

Finally, we were off the dirt and nearing our only store stop for the ride. I opted to just take the road on my own sans tube and just do my best keep up. When we pulled up, the goal was simple; get the bottles ready, someone would run in and get water, and then come out and line-fill the bottles. Except there was a line and a faucet, so it turned into run in, fill your bottles, and get going. The stop was short, it felt like everyone was in a hurry, and I just couldn’t help but start checking out mentally. I figured I would continue to try and hold on to the group, but then I looked at the mileage. We were just about to hit 60 miles with a detour, which meant there was another 60-70 miles to go. And the pace kept climbing. 25, 26, 27, 28. Finally, with Stephen next to me, I just threw in the towel. In my mind, I had already done the math; Keeping me along would cost more than 15 minutes, therefore making it worth everyone’s time to just go on ahead and let me finish alone. After some traveling back and forth with the group and even an attempt to slow the pace, Stephen agreed and they pushed on.

My Walkabout

This is the point where I just had a long time (about 50 miles) to sit, ride, and think. I had no interaction with another human or cyclist for this period of entire time. Upon finishing the ride, Stephen had mentioned it being my walkabout out there, and I realized that it was a good term to describe what it was I had just put myself through (albeit not as long and not as heritage-based). The funny thing is I don’t fully remember what it was I thought about during that time. Thoughts on a ride are so in the moment, just like ride conversations, that they aren’t common thoughts you would normally have off the bike.

As I was dropped, I slowed down quick. 20, 18, 15, 10. I coasted there for a minute pulling myself together mentally. At this point, I knew I had a long ride ahead of me and knew that I was all I had to rely on. My main goal was to simply finish, but that is harder to do when your only opponent is yourself and you have possible pull-out options (I’ll touch more on this later). Before they rolled away Stephen asked me, “Are you sure? You won’t be mad?” I think this was a large part of my initial reflections while riding alone. I wasn’t mad in the slightest at these guys. I came into this ride knowing that I was the odd man out from the Denver crew. I am under-trained, overworked, and only a couple years into my cycling journey of life and I knew that when push came to shove, I wouldn’t be able to last with the rest of them.

Mad? No. In fact, I was relieved when they decided to drop me. As a person, I dislike inconveniencing others and I don’t like feeling like a burden. On a ride, if people have to wait for me or I sense that they feel otherwise held up or slowed down because of me, I offer consolation that leaving me is okay; I don’t like that burden feeling and I dislike having people feel like I’m an anchor, especially while on a bike. Stephen did a lot of physical work that day for me, but I also held back the other three just as much. For that I felt that the 15 minute bonus told to us before the race started is what made me okay with all this. It means that they would take no penalty for my inability to keep up with their speed and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for making the others slow down well below their abilities in order for all of us to cross the line together.

For this ride, we all had to be in Rodeo attire (at least the jerseys) so Stephen brought along an extra jersey for me to wear since I didn’t have a Rodeo kit of my own at the time. This was also something that was on my mind much of the time. I respect not only the guys who ride for Rodeo, but also Stephen for spearheading a lot of the projects and the group/collective/amalgamation as a whole. To me, wearing that jersey meant that I had to meet a certain standard that, in all honesty, was created in my own head. Rodeo is the one place that is accepting of whoever you are while you do whatever it is you do while you’re on a bike; There are no race requirements, there are no ‘dues’, there is no one to report to to make sure you keep some sort of contract. It’s just guys riding bikes. And in my mind, I somehow had to prove to myself and to others involved that I was worthy of wearing those colors (especially not being able to get onto the 1.x orders when they were available). Does that mean I felt I let them down? Maybe somewhere out there I felt that. But by the time I was further along those rolling dirt roads and climbing roads, I realized that finishing this ride would be more than that. By simply finishing this ride, I would be telling myself that these expectations I put on myself were me projecting my hope for value on a bike onto the people I want to ride bikes with. No matter how many times I am the one that has to be waited for, the Rodeo guys still allow me to show up for rides and they still treat me like I am an equal, and not any lesser just because I can’t ride my bike as fast. This ride was about coming out, exploring new roads, meeting new people, and really jumping into a situation that only had one outcome: Finish the ride.

I hit an intersection where I could have turned back towards the start/finish, but I decided to keep going. I had to. It was tempting, yes, but I knew that I just had to tough it out. I rode for what felt like forever. At one point I meandered through back roads, staring at fields of cows staring at me and thinking an abundance of thoughts, yet being so grateful to be able to experience something like this. Once I came off the dirt road and onto the road, I felt so relieved that I had made it through it all the back roads and that I didn’t turn back. But the next mental block proved to be equal parts relieving and taxing. Here I was, back where we had ended up when we took that wrong turn at the beginning of the day. I felt great because I knew where I was and I knew generally what was to come, but this would now be my third time passing through this same stretch of dirt roads and I was getting tired. My water was running low and my mind was breaking down. At one point I had made up my mind; I was going to take a short-cut back to the start. With my water almost out, I had convinced myself that I accomplished what it was I had set out to do; I came out to Tulsa and rode over 100 miles, and risking dehydration was not worth doing more than that. Achievement unlocked, right? I can call it a day now?

Then there was Checkpoint 4.

We spent all day looking for checkpoints, both as a group and after I broke off solo. The only downside is we never found them. The only reason I saw this checkpoint is because there was a couple we had dinner with the night before blasting music and hanging out with a cooler of beverages. It was a relief that I finally saw people outside of cars! It was the first time in 50 miles that I had interaction with anyone and I was so grateful that they were not only there to talk to, but there to help support and provide water. It was at this point I heard that the other guys were about an hour ahead of me, and I was glad I didn’t hold them back through all that. Was I tired? Very. In need of human interaction? Yes. But I would not have traded how that worked out for them to be held up with me.

I weighed out my options. I now had water. Do I finish the ride? The full team route? Or do I take a short cut and simply follow the out route we had taken? As I was debating this, there was a team rolling in. They were the last on the course and happened to be the team we got lost with earlier in the day. Having lost a person during the ride, there was only four of them, and they allowed me to tag along with them for the remainder of the ride. We got off the last of the dirt and everyone gave a shout in relief. We were now almost done. My mind kicked into “Just get it done” mode, and every flat we hit, I was trying to just push it though. Was I still the slowest up the hills? You bet. Was I talking? Not a whole lot. But to have other cyclists in your presence is enough to spark a little bit in you. We had one real climb in it all with some hills thrown in, but being on a road after so long negated the fact that we still had miles to go. Once we hit civilization, my mind hopped up a little bit, became more aware of things, and I was glad to have made the decision to finish the full route.

On the final stretch, I think there may have been some confusion with the other guys I was riding with. We were on the last straightaway, and in my mind that means throw pain out the door, throw fatigue out until it reaches your legs, and just finish it out. Maybe it’s something I learned from marathons; It doesn’t matter when you finish or how you cross the line, but that you finish, and you finish as strong as you can muster. Maybe they took it as I was trying to beat them or maybe as a challenge, but instead of everyone just falling in and pushing through to finish it, I was passed by one of the team and he continued to go. Once I realized that my efforts to just get it over with may have been misconstrued, I backed off. I wasn’t looking to show up locals, and I really wasn’t trying to have a finishing sprint to the line. However, we all ended up riding in together and I was very appreciative of those guys allowing me to ride with them when they could have easily taken the route of leaving ahead of me.

On Reflection

I crossed the line. I had a beer. I ate tortillas and salsa as quick as I could before getting back on the bike so we could ride back to our host’s house. It was over, we all came out and finished just as we set out to do. Was it the way we had planned or hoped? No. But what in life, and more so in cycling, is? All of this is an adventure, and if we can’t find it in ourselves to see the adventure in what it is we are doing, maybe we need more. Maybe we need something like this Native Lands Classic experience to really come to appreciate the adventure that is in our lives as well as the adventures we are asked to share with others. This trip with the rodeo guys was great for me, and I appreciate every moment of it. I’m still getting to know these guys as they are also getting to know me, but I feel grateful that I was able to share this roller-coaster of a weekend with them and even meet some new faces during that. It has allowed me to realize that if I want to continue to do events like this with others, I have a lot of training to do but I will also need to be able to have fun and appreciate all the little things, especially all the unplanned hiccups that come in life. I feel honored to have been able to ride with these guys, even if it wasn’t for the whole day, and I would ride with them any day they would have me.

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