One of our own, Adam Shepard, ventures to Stillwater, Oklahoma in search of an experience. He got that alright. The illustrious Mid South gravel bike race includes roads that have a soul and depth of history. They are unique, unforgiving, ever-changing, and always red. That's right up our alley. We wouldn't want it any other way as this provides the perfect testing playground for our gravel bike gloves. Read along as Adam gives us a view into this muddy famed race.
(Photo credit: Kate Shepard | The view of the race)
I had never heard of District Bicycles, Land Run 100, or Bobby Wintle before the fall of 2017. Prompted by Austin, (a Handske crew badass) entry into the 2018 race was hastily placed long before I read about the event. 2017 was the muddiest year ever with attrition rates in the high 90%. The facts and countless pictures of people carrying bikes through mud and tears did little to give me faith for my inaugural year the following Spring.
That first year came and went, marked down as the fastest record thanks to dry and smooth. The next year was the same story, dry and clear blue skies. I wondered if I would ever get a try for the real stuff up in Stillwater. 2020 ushered in a rebrand of the beloved event this time with a new name, The Mid South. This change also saw the wet race I so longed for, the chance to try my mettle against the peanut butter mud of the plains had arrived.
Not only was the chance of rain creating some chatter, the event was overshadowed, as COVID-19 was starting to come to light. The hugs and high fives were not happening and almost every international participant was deferred due to travel concerns. Arriving in Oklahoma Friday afternoon, the weather was beautiful, and rain didn't seem a possibility. I charged up with an Iron Monk IPA and proceeded to meet up with Austin, the instigator of my love affair with this event. The skies were clear and so was the race day forecast. I wheeled my bike into District for some new Vittoria mud tires and fresh Orange Seal. Grabbed some dinner and went to bed.
(Photo Credit: Kate Shepard | Austin; the instigator and expert of fun seeks words of encouragement mid race)
Three distinct times, the sound of rain disrupted my night’s sleep. Then I knew I was in for a good one. Riding in the rain, an unparalleled joy but not when the ride starts in rain. We all stood huddled under awnings and storefronts waiting out the 30-minute lightning delay. Being wet and cold isn't the best way to start a day. But start we did, taking the cautious approach and heading out from the back we rolled through the slick streets of Stillwater and turned onto the gravel. Despite the bad weather, plenty of folks spectated and cheered our courage or stupidity.
The first few miles of the course were wet and muddy but not thick. It was the kind of mud that flicks off of tires and into eyes, nose and mouth. It's gritty like sandpaper, while my Oakley glasses marginally helped in the onslaught of grit, it was my Handske gloves that proved their worth as my hands became coated with this liquid sandpaper. Protected, warm and a sure grip of the bars. My trusty Chumba Terlingua single speed whizzed past riders on geared bikes as even within the first 10 miles. Yup, you guessed it, derailleur death row. Unfortunately, by around mile 20 I came to the sudden realization that my brakes became ineffective. Have you seen The Flintstone’s? Yes, I became Fred from that moment and onward. Talk about sketchy!
(Photo Credit: Kate Shepard | Adam's weapon of choice, Chumba Terlingua)
Bound and determined to get to the halfway point in Perkins, I pushed forward, until I came up on corner and low and behold, there stood my wife Kate, taking pictures. Perfect spot to evaluate the situation. And just as I suspected, no brake pads left, and bearings were falling out. Oh, that’s what that noise was … That was the end of my race. I held my spot for a while greeting and cheering friends as they rode by, encouraging some to continue and comforting others who had to call an end to their day as well.
(Photo Credit: Kate Shepard | This is when Adam realized his day is over)
Avoiding catching a cold, I opted to load my bike up on the car, make it back to Stillwater for a warm shower and head to the finish line to see racers arrive. I saw Payson and Hannah from Orange Seal win their top spots and cheered for all those that pressed on to finish a challenging day. Well, I got my wet race after all and while it didn't turn out as I hoped, there is always next year. The uncertainty of this pandemic made The Mid South the last event we'll probably see for a while, I am grateful to have participated. I am grateful for our community, friends and family I have made in this beautiful world of bicycling. Until next time!