Alva Review-Courier -

Bikers bond on cycling tour across Oklahoma

 


STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — In awe of the picturesque hills, Wendy James traveled to the point where she met the cyclists.

She set up a card table beside her car and waited.

Soon, they pedaled through the rolling terrain and along the gravel, approaching their first stop of the day.

James greeted them with food, drinks and positivity.

Not long ago, she had been in their place.

From 2012-14, James rode the entire course of Oklahoma Freewheel, a bicycle tour across the state. In 2016, she cycled part of the way and served as a volunteer during the other half.

Although she said she has health and energy problems that kept her from joining the cyclists this year, she hasn't stopped supporting them, CNHI News Oklahoma reported.

James volunteered at gravel rest stops along the route of Oklahoma Freewheel, which took place from June 10-16. For the first time, the course took cyclists across a segment of historic Route 66, starting in Elk City and ending in Joplin, Missouri. Some of them took the 482-mile gravel route, and others chose to stay on the 425-mile road course.

James, a Perkins resident, warmly welcomed the gravel cyclists and chatted with them about the scenery. Many participants enjoyed pedaling through the hills, seeing part of the original Route 66 road and passing old-time diners and cabins. But as they reflected on their Oklahoma Freewheel experiences, the most popular highlight of the journey wasn't a tourist attraction.

Oklahoma Freewheel is about meeting people.

Seasoned cyclists rode among enthusiastic new participants. Generations of people relished the tour, from children to "Hubie," a man about 90 years old, who is a former World War II prisoner of war and is regarded as a "Freewheel legend."

Keith Reed, an avid cyclist from Perkins, formerly rode in Oklahoma Freewheel. This year, he traveled on his custom yellow bike, which has a roomy wooden storage space in the front, from his hometown to Luther. There, he reconnected with friends and thanked community members for their generosity as they hosted the cyclists.

Oklahoma Freewheel isn't a race. When someone asks Reed how to describe it, he enthusiastically responds without hesitation.

"Freewheel is like a giant rolling family reunion with one exception," Reed said. "Everyone gets along. That's kind of Freewheel in a nutshell. It's laid-back. It's easy. People just chill out, and it's just fun. It's a fantastic way to see Oklahoma."

Gary Woods, who lives outside Stillwater, was one of the cyclists who participated in "day zero." From Elk City, they boarded a bus to Texola, just east of the Texas state line, and started the ride there before joining others for the rest of the route.

Although Woods added the extra miles to his course, he isn't a lifelong cyclist.

He began regularly riding a bicycle about a year ago, when his doctor recommended it as a way to combat arthritis symptoms. When he learned about Oklahoma Freewheel from its website and from friends, he decided to take the chance.

"It really grows you as a person," Woods said. "It gets you out of your comfort zone."

DeeDee Mulanax, a first-time participant, is working toward a doctorate in Social Foundations of Education from Oklahoma State University. Leading up to Oklahoma Freewheel, her schedule was packed, but she made time for preparation. Mulanax trained on her indoor bicycle while reading a textbook perched on its handlebars.

Mulanax, a cyclist for about seven years, is a member of the Red Dirt Divas, a women's bicycle group in Stillwater.

The riders endured difficulties. Mulanax said heat and humidity took a toll on the cyclists, so they started at 4:45 a.m. on an 81-mile day to avoid the scorching temperatures. The strenuous physical activity led to constant hunger.

"I never knew I could eat five meals through the day," Woods said.

Despite those challenges, the cyclists found strength in each other.

"There are so many awesome, can-do, positive people in the cycling community who are quick with a smile and encouraging word, and it's an honor to be a part of that," Mulanax said in an email. "When I face a challenge now, I think, 'If I can ride 425 miles, I can do this, too.'"

She mentioned Vicki Ehlers as someone who exemplified that supportive mentality. Ehlers, a Stillwater resident, has taken part in three Oklahoma Freewheel tours, including this year's course. Although Ehlers motivated the cyclists who joined her, she said she was unsure of herself the first time she participated.

"Don't doubt yourself," Ehlers said. "Just get out there and ride."

Cindy Gedra, another returner, reached a milestone this summer. After riding portions of the course for three tours, she traveled the entire route for the first time.

But to Gedra, reaching the end didn't stand out as the most rewarding moment.

"I was glad, but I was glad to complete every day," Gedra said. "I think there were great memories and things that I was able to see and the people you talk to along the way every day that make it something that keeps you coming back."

James recalled how the first time she finished Oklahoma Freewheel, she surprised herself.

Before she participated, she wondered how people could go on exhausting bike tours and want to relive the experience.

But even as James wearily reached the end, she wished the route wasn't done, she said.

"I kind of feel like the challenges I've overcome on a bicycle have become allegorical for life in general," James said. "It's become quite the addiction as a hobby. I felt like it changed my life."

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Information from: Stillwater News Press, http://www.stwnewspress.com

 

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