Day 1 - Broken Bow, Oklahoma to Mena ,
Day 2 - Mena, Akansas to Heavner, Oklahoma
Day 3 - Heavner to Stigler
Day 4 - Stigler to Muskogee
Day 5 - Muskogee to Salina
Day 6 - Salina to Grove
Day 7 - Grove to Baxter Springs, Kansas
Route Miles - 409
AKA “Freeze Wheel”
Reflections from a first time Free Wheeler
By Laurie Allshouse
Jim Nelson invited my husband, Jim and I to join his group of friends for our first Free Wheel adventure. Bob Noll had a trailer that would hold 6 bikes so Gary Cannon and Mike McKee also joined the band of merry making cyclists riding across the eastern “scenic” portion of Oklahoma. Gary Pershall caught a ride with Fenton Ramey but there was no room for his gear, so we added a couple more duffels to our traveling show. The plan was to ride from Texas to Kansas in a week’s time, poking our noses into Arkansas and Missouri along the way. Each participant in our group would drive the van one day.
Leaving early Saturday morning, we were able to set up camp in Broken Bow, Oklahoma shortly after noon. We saw Dannie Lamb who had just finished the Texas Chain Ring Ride in the hill country of east Texas. Also ran into Moni Neville and daughter, Lori, who rode from Corpus Christi, TX to join us in Broken Bow for the ride to Kansas. We drove to the Texas state line. Crossing into Texas we began our journey back to camp under cloudy skies. It was just over 27 miles and a warm up for the days ahead. Halfway back it began to rain and two miles from camp, the heavens opened up and a typhoon hit. Wind and rain almost knocked me off my bike. After swimming through water holes ankle deep, we arrived in camp soaked to the bone. Welcome to Free Wheel!
Warnings were given that the shower facilities were primitive and usually cold. I was not warned that they were also non-private. Four showerheads in a square room and you wait your turn with a towel wrapped around you and your turn to jump right in. Why didn’t I bring a bigger towel? Don’t they understand I have inhibitions ?
It rained through the night and our tent had a few leaks. At 5 a.m. the zippers started traveling up and down the track, waking even the dead. Silly me. I thought I’d need an alarm to wake me. Not!
It is raining but the air is warm and everyone is getting ready to ride. Seemed strange to me to take off in rainy weather but I was not going to back out now. The route is 71.25 miles today. I’ve never ridden that far, much less in mountains. The rain actually felt good and who can complain that we weren’t sweltering in heat.
Somewhere along the route I hit something with my rear tire and had a blow out. Just as Jim told me that it couldn’t be fixed and I’d have to sag to camp, a green Volkswagen bus pulled up on the scene with Rivertrail Bicycles emblazoned on the side and Tom jumped right out with a new tire to the bargain price of $20. In a couple more minutes he had me back on the road and rolling my way to our second night in Mena, Arkansas. Over mountains and through valleys and huffing and puffing we rolled into camp after a thunderstorm had soaked the campsite while our compatriots were setting everything up. Bob said our tent didn’t leak, it funneled the rain. A trip to the local laundromat provided the setting for the night’s entertainment.
44.4 mile route. Very pretty ride and quite cool. Experienced a headwind today, the bain of every biker’s existence. Found “A HILL” I could only ride halfway before I jumped off and decided to walk it.
Gary Cannon did a great job of having the camp set up and the beer iced down and waiting for us at the end of the ride in Heavener, Oklahoma.
Arletta and Jim Webster joined our circle. They are each riding every other day so the other drives their van and sets up camp. We go with them to see the Rune Stone supposedly left behind by Viking explorers in 1012.
Very cool morning. My day to drive. Jim Webster and I set up camp in Stigler, OK. We were some of the first to begin the construction of Tent City. What a sight over a 1,000 tents makes on a small town of 2,574! While setting up tents, the local young ladies kept yelling what sounded like, “Free foot soap! Free foot soap! Your feet are tired. Come get your free foot soap!” Found out much later in the afternoon that they had a small wading pool by the stand where they were selling food and drink and also encouraging a free foot soak.
My Jim rolled into camp about 2:30 after riding 63.4 miles. He told me I picked the right day to drive. The mountains were the hardest yet. After the hill just south of Red Oak, Bob and Jim stopped for a sandwich at a grocery store that they raved about for days. The extra energy helped them get over the rest of the mountains north of Red Oak.
Mike, Gary Cannon and I enjoyed a melodrama put on by the drama department and some local folks in a pleasantly cool high school auditorium. Good job, Stigler! We appreciate your efforts. Stigler also brought in a Blue Grass band from Guthrie to entertain us at the football field in the evening.
Breakfast at the cafeteria. By 6:30 they ran out of pancakes, biscuits, bacon, etc. These small towns just can’t fathom how much food 1500 cyclists can consume.
Another cool morning. I overheard someone say that record low temperatures are being set for this time of year. We ran into rain and had to ride the brakes on the downhills. The rain felt cold and a search for hot chocolate replaced the lust for cold water.
We rode 61.5 miles today into Muskogee, only to find a leaky tent after seam sealing a second and third time.
Gary, Gary and Mike had planned to leave on Thursday but the threat of more rain had made their decision to leave a day earlier. We missed their humor and smiling faces and tall tales of the day’s ride.
For our 26th anniversary, Bob Noll, Jim Nelson, Arletta & Jim Webster joined us for steaks at a steak house in Muskogee.
Finally we experienced a sunny day. We rode over the dam out of Muskogee that we had gone over last year on the Flower Power ride. The view was just as pretty but the Free Wheel route took us on a heck of a climb over Norwood Mountain. I found another place that was easier to walk than to ride.
After riding into Salina after 58 miles with a toe that continued to get sorer each day, I finally visited the medical tent asking for an amputation. The doctor took one look and told me it was infected. Soak it in hot water 3 – 4 times a day. That got quite a laugh from the nurse and myself. We couldn’t even find hot water to shower in.
Wonderfully cool night. Great sleeping weather. This little tour is aptly dubbed “Freeze Wheel”.
Chris Cakes, a roving pancake maker, shows up in Salina to serve breakfast. I had heard about this phenomenally fast, huge grill contraption that put out pancakes with speed and efficiency. This man is from Iowa or Indiana and takes his portable grill to functions all over the U.S. The pancakes were great and the method was worth seeing again.
It was Jim’s turn to drive and I cycled by myself for the first time ever. 66 miles fighting a head wind and I finally discovered something I hated more than hills and wind. Big trucks! The sound of 18 wheels screaming down the road behind my back is an experience I could gladly have lived a lifetime without experiencing.
The showers were variable at the high school gym. First they were hot, then cold. I was so tired, I didn’t care anymore. I lost my inhibitions and informed Jim that next vacation, I’m ready to visit the nudist colony.
Rain and lightning greeted us in Grove, Oklahoma. I decided to turn our tent into a swimming pool. Little matter that our sleeping bags got wet. This was the last night of our adventure. Tomorrow night I’d be home in my nice warm bed with a long hot shower.
We awakened to a cold rain. A wonderful, plentiful breakfast was put together by about 30 men at the Methodist church. Warmed my heart to see all those men waiting hand and foot on tired, wet cyclists. Arletta and I were the only brave souls in our rag tag group who wanted to ride. It may have been foolhardy but I started out this trip in the rain. I could finish it in the rain. By hook or by crook, I was riding my tired body with an infected toe into Kansas.
Arletta and I started off together and shortly came upon a live skunk in the middle of the road. He hissed at us and we peddled a little faster, thankful that he didn’t have time to turn around and spray us. Can you imagine the welcoming committee in Baxter Springs if we had met the wrong end of that skunk?
42.5 miles later Arletta and I rolled to the end of the road with our group of men standing cheering us to the finish line. What a greeting! We did it! 371 miles in 8 days.
We survived FreeWheel ’99! Can’t wait for next year. It’s going to take me that long to recover from the sidesplitting laughs supplied by my camp companions. The $30 entry fee was the best bargain I ever got.