By Amy Petty
A mere fourteen months ago I rolled up on my comfort bike to the Oklahoma Bicycle Society’s weekly donut ride – a weekly 14 mile ride to a historic donut shop and back. I remember being so nervous joining this group of Lance Armstrong appearing bicycling enthusiasts. They all had their special spandex shorts with diapers, helmets, little mirror things sticking out of their helmets, special shirts with these little pockets in the back, etc. I was just hoping to blend in and keep up. You first have to know that over the past two years I have lost over 180 pounds so the very thought of rigorous exercise as I’m now in my forties would have been an absurd one just a few months before.
I remember a lady named Moni came up to me at Brown’s Bakery and introduced herself. She gave me a few pointers and helped adjust my son’s bike seat. Little did I know how well I would get to know Moni in the future! My sister Donna had been biking for over ten years and encouraged me to participate in the Red Bud Classic. I signed up for the 10 mile ride. I drove the course and freaked out at the “hills” I was going to have to climb. I was so nervous. The morning of the ride my sister tried to talk me into switching to the 33 mile ride instead. I told her she was nuts and stuck with my 10 mile route. I struggled up those hills and almost had to walk one time but didn’t. I crossed the finish line and they gave me a medal! A medal!!! I never had a medal before in my life. I was hooked. I told my sister I was going to join the OBS group but I wasn’t going to wear that weird garb. She just smiled and said okay.
Funny how much difference a year can make. I traded my comfort bike for a road bike and got equipped with the coolest of bike jerseys, bike shorts, GPS, mirrors, shades, saddle bags, etc. I talked my co-workers and anyone else that would listen in to biking with me. I rode around Lake Hefner so many times I could ride it with my eyes closed. I set my sights on a new goal (the mother of all rides) – the Oklahoma Freewheel. Yes, a seven day, 450 mile ride, across Oklahoma was the challenge for me. I talked Donna into doing it with me. In fact, I registered for her so that she would have no way out!
Remember that lady named Moni? Well, Moni scheduled training rides for those in Oklahoma City wanting to prepare for FreeWheel so I joined up with her group. She took us on some tough rides with lots of hills. Several times I questioned my decision to try Oklahoma FreeWheel wondering if I really had what it takes. I had never camped before so this was going to be a very new experience for me.
Donna and I arrived in Hugo, OK on Saturday June 12th to begin our crazy adventure called Oklahoma FreeWheel. It was like a tent city. Tents and bikes everywhere. Pictures really don’t do it justice. We opted to use the Shuttleguy Service so we didn’t have to worry about pitching our own tent since I had never camped before. We saw several people we had met on training rides and immediately felt at home.
Texas Border to Hugo: It was pretty hot to ride in the middle of the day but the energy is so high with everyone arriving and taking pictures in front of the Texas and Oklahoma signs. We cheated and got dropped off at the Texas border so we only had to ride 10 miles to Hugo. We visited the Circus Cemetery. I never knew there was such a thing.
Hugo to Clayton: I didn’t know birds chirped all night long. They do. I know this because I didn’t sleep at all in my furnace of a tent. Not sure about this camping thing so more about the biking. The bike ride was incredible! We went down this one hill and I was doing 43 mph!!!!! One of the “chalk fairies” had written 43 mph on the road so apparently others were clocking the same speed. We had lunch by a creek and we all waded out in the water. It felt so good. My worries and responsibilities melted off and drifted away in the water. Did I mention we saw a dead bobcat on the side of the road? Someone had propped him up in a funny pose. I wish I had taken a picture. Later we visited the Choctaw Nation Museum and watched some native dances. The museum was air conditioned. Ahhhhh…..I liked that museum.
Clayton to Heavener: This was a tougher ride and it didn’t help that I didn’t sleep any the night before. This camping thing was tougher than I thought it would be. I will never forget Winding Staircase and I was really thankful for those training rides to prepare me to handle this. I didn’t walk up any hills but sure didn’t set any speed records on my climbs. Let’s talk about the downhills instead. Wow! I felt like Lance Armstrong flying down those curving roads. It was so beautiful. I didn’t know Oklahoma had scenery like this. Those rest stops were like Heaven and convenience store food never tasted so good!
Heavener to Muldrow: It was pouring outside and I was all dressed up in my princess/fairy/ballerina costume. Today was crazy day and I was hoping it’s just not one of those things they tell the new people. Donna was dressed up as Dorothy complete with ruby red slippers. She looked great. The rain stopped and it turns into a glorious day. I learned so much about myself on this trip. For example, I learned I am not an outdoor camper. Nope. I am more of a hotel/motel camper. I’m excited about Muldrow because the Budget Inn No-tell Motel spa and resort awaits me! As we near Muldrow we see so many signs welcoming the FreeWheelers. The excitement builds and when we finally roll up we see lots of activity at the campground. We have the best hamburgers we have ever eaten and then turn in early for a great night of sleep in our motel.
Muldrow to Tahlequah: I wonder if I can sue the person that created this bike route. This person is pure evil. I have never gone up so many hills. Where are the downhills? Aren’t you supposed to get an equal number of downhills to every uphill? I had to walk part way up two hills. I think I might have been going faster walking my bike than some that were still riding theirs. The scenery was beautiful and helped take my mind off how challenging the ride was. Tahlequah was beautiful but I fell asleep at 7:30 p.m. and didn’t explore the city.
Tahlequah to Pryor: What goes up must eventually come down!! Woo-hoo!!!!! You just haven’t lived until you fly down hills that last for miles and scream at the top of your lungs doing over 30 mph!!! YEAH!!! I rode with a group of new friends for a while and it was so fun to visit and get to know them. We hit Salina for our lunch break and had the world’s best Indian Tacos. The Salina school band was there playing for us. Every business in town put up a welcome FreeWheel sign. I feel like I’m a kid at camp. Why is this ride only 7 days?
Pryor to Miami: Started my day off with a little crash. A large creature landed on my arm. I’m pretty sure it was a bat even though Donna thought it was a moth. I couldn’t shake him off and in my hysteria I lost balance and crashed on the road. Thankfully I didn’t hurt my bike. Oh, I was okay too, just scratched up a little. We hit Vinita for lunch, well, it is really lunch at 9:00a.m.? I stopped with a group to visit Clanton’s which was featured on Diners, Drive in’s, and Dives. It was very good. This was a long ride and mostly flat. The sun was out pretty strong so we were thrilled that our hotel in this town had a swimming pool. Is our trip almost over? I don’t want it to end.
Miami to Joplin, MO: I’m sad that this is the last day. My butt might be happy but I’m not. I don’t want to go back to being a grown up. The scenery is beautiful once again. I savor the fruit at the last fruit stop and get an oatmeal cream cookie from Dennis at his stop. I don’t even mind the 10% grade hill they snuck in on us. I start thinking about how I will pack less for next year and how I will book motels right from the start. Next year I will go on every single training ride. What will I dress up like on crazy day next year? Next year….