Mid South, Done Five Different Ways
Whether they’re out on the red dirt roads or not, everyone goes home with a story to tell.
Give me a number and send me out on a course, and I’ll probably enjoy myself — at least part of the time. People like me, who have racing in their blood, we really don’t need that much to be satisfied. There’s a time and a place for simple, cheap, competitive events that don’t have a lot of frills, but even I can perceive how much more fun and fulfilling a true event can be, an event like Mid South Gravel.
I’ve been out to Stillwater, Oklahoma for Mid South on three different occasions, and each year, I heard a lot of stories from a range of people. Time and again, I was struck by how much everyone enjoyed the event. Okay, that’s not unusual for a well run bike race, right?
The thing is, many of these folks weren’t actually in the race, or they were taking a completely different approach to the race than I was. That’s what struck me as I reflected on my times at Mid South: There are so many different ways to be part of the event and to love every minute of it. Here are a few that stick in my memory.
Last year, after racing Mid South, I finally had the chance to see a part of gravel racing that I’d always wanted to see: The final finishers coming home in the dark, just before the cutoff time. For those who aren’t familiar, the late-night scene at a gravel finish line is electric. These riders have been out on course since daybreak, and most of them are notching a major riding achievement by simply reaching the finish. Try to find another moment in a bike event that is this pure … I doubt you can.
In 2021, I walked over to the finish in the dark, and, as he’d been doing all day, race promoter Bobby Wintle was pacing under the gantry with pure energy and enthusiasm. They were awaiting the arrival of Cheech, one of the owners of Crust Bikes. After the event, I got to know her a little bit as I wrote an article about this unconventional bike company.
It’s no surprise that Bobby and the Crust crew were going wild when she finally arrived after a long, mostly lonely ride through the Oklahoma prairie. And this wasn’t a one-time thing for Cheech, either. Scroll through some of the finish line photos after dark and you’ll see nothing but jubilant antics.
In 2022, I also saw Mid South through the eyes of a first-timer, my wife Kate. She was there with SRAM for work but didn’t even bring a bike. However, on Saturday night, after the race had finished (well, apart from a few survivors, like Cheech), she was full of excitement and stories about her day at an aid station.
There, out in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, a local band showed up to play music in the afternoon. One of the area ranchers stopped by with his dog to watch the race — his first time too, despite it being about 10 years since the first running. And of course, there was no shortage of wacky moments that can only happen in an endurance event, when people are cross-eyed after eight hours of riding. I seem to recall her saying that one rider laid down on a cot in their tent and took a short nap.
Not many will attempt this, but a few brave souls run the ultramarathon on Friday and then turn around and ride the 100-mile gravel event on Saturday. My old buddy, Logan, was one of those types last year. I texted him after the double was over to check in. I think he just replied with an “ugggghhhhhh.” So, just in case 100 miles of gravel racing isn’t quite enough for you, know that Mid South has you covered.
Last year, Betsy from VeloNews had a really clever idea. She set out to join every group ride that was happening around Mid South weekend. It didn’t seem like much to me, but then I saw the schedule and realized how busy her schedule would be — like, multiple rides per day busy!
Plus, on Friday, a cold blast of snow made the morning Chamois Butt’r ride a proper adventure. But she pulled it off, and in doing so, proved that you can come to these gravel events with a bike and participate, even if you aren’t ready to pin on a number.
This could be the most fun way to do Mid South because the folks who are shooting video and photos often get to chase the race across Oklahoma’s red dirt roads in the wildly modified Jeeps that the local off-roading brings out to support the race (that’s a whole separate story!).
The vast majority of people at Mid South are there to participate, challenge themselves, finish, and party. But there are a select few who race to win. And the crew that follows the race are likely the only people who really see the blow-for-blow action. Oh, and did I mention they get to ride in cool Jeeps sometimes?
There’s one final way to participate in Mid South — or any bike event — and it’s probably the most important: volunteering.
The volunteers might not always have the most entertaining stories at the end of the day, as they’re handing out registration bags or taking beer tickets, but they’re an essential part of the day. If the time comes that you want to take a year off from the race or just see things from another perspective, I’m sure Bobby or any other promoter has a way for you to contribute.
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