The Mid South 2020 was held in Stillwater, Oklahoma on March 14th, 2020. Team Bicycle Tips was represented by Chris^3 (Chris Cubed, Chris Hammond, Chris Lybarger and Chris Wagner).
Chaotic times we are in, this chaos leads to delays in doing ride reviews, so here we are, 16 days after The Mid South, and here we go.
Where to start? I don’t even know where to start… Let’s start back in January. On January 8th, I, Hammond, got let go from my VP of Product Management role with a SaaS company here in St. Louis that built and managed software for the fitness industry. At this time, I was personally ready for the change in career, and was setup to be able to not need to find a job quickly. I took this opportunity to try to make some changes in my life, one of those changes was to start riding the trainer in prep for The Mid South, the other was to change my diet to a full vegan diet, with whole plant based non-processed foods.
In the month of January was able to get some good training in, 278 miles either on the trainer, or outside on the bike. Starting in February though, my training dropped off, I only got 155 miles in, with the first training ride being the 10th of the month. On the 16th of the month, I rode the 2020 Prairie Roubaix 100k Rural Assault Ride in St. James, MO.
As the early weeks of March came to be, the world started to buzz about the coronavirus, and the week before The Mid South, news started talking about the risk of the virus. As the week progressed, things started to change quickly, emails from The Mid South said that they would not be cancelling, and the ride would continue, but offering up “deferrals” to riders who wanted to defer to ride in 2021 instead of 2020 (having to pay the entry cost again though). We left for Stillwater Oklahoma from St. Louis the morning of Friday the 13th, and on the way down listened to President Trump address the nation. We honestly thought they were going to shut the country down, and we would simply turn around and drive the 6 hours back.
The President Speaks
None of that came to fruition, and we made it to Stillwater mid-afternoon. We checked in for the ride, walked around the expo. The Expo was fairly well spread out, but it was windy, so the vendors were having to battle gusts trying to take down their displays and pop up tents. The expo was no where near the size of the Dirty Kanza expo in 2019, but I don’t know how much of that is just the size of the event or due to changes with Coronavirus.
After perusing the expo we decided to take a drive out of town and check out what the surface we would be riding the following day looked like. It was shortly after 5pm. We drove about 6 miles of the route, and we were pleased, the roads were dry as a bone. We took a photo or two, and then went to check in to our hotel. We didn’t eat dinner, because we were short on time, and wanted to be at the rider’s meeting at 7pm, and figured it would be done by 730 and we’d head out to grab a bite.
By the time we arrived back to the street outside of District Bicycles, just before 7, it was raining and very cold. We stood around in the rain, fortunately with umbrellas, but social distancing ourselves from other attendees. There was a band on the stage when we arrived, we figured they must be running long and the rider’s meeting would happen after they played. Long story short, it was 8:20pm or so before the guy (Bobby) who was going to conduct the meeting was up on stage. He was setting up with ANOTHER band. Did I mention it was raining now? Those dry roads at 6pm, were getting drenched, and it was COLD (low 30s), and we were getting very hangry. After the band started playing, with no rider’s meeting announcements having occurred, we took off, it was time to eat, warm up, dry off, and get some sleep.
For dinner we headed over to Elm Ave, to check out The Garage Burgers & Beer. I found an impossible burger that worked to fit my diet while the other Chris(es) found burgers to fit their needs. The Garage is right across the street from Eskimo Joes, which Wagner was enamored by, due to it’s “fame”. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I had ever heard of Eskimo Joes, but he claimed it to be famous and pointed out that they were known for T-Shirts. We thought it was an ice cream bar, so we figured we might give it a try on Saturday night (more on that later).
Up and At ‘em
Saturday morning we got up early to find that the Hampton Inn was FULL of Mid South riders, and the breakfast offerings were slim due to the demand of everyone up at 6am trying to get out the door. I had brought my own oatmeal along, so I fixed that while Wagner got in line to grab something from breakfast choices. The hotel went out of their way to try to make the best of things, so they were restocking as fast as they could.
We then headed to downtown Stillwater to get ourselves ready for the ride. We found a good parking spot, right near where we had parked the previous day, and sat in the Tahoe for a few minutes. It was pouring rain, and there was plenty of standing water and even streams running down the streets. It had been raining all night, with signs of letting up LATE morning. Things were not looking good. The ride was supposed to start at 8am, but around 730am or so they announced that they were pushing the start back to 830. Took our time getting things ready, I ran off to the port-a-lou and tried to make my day a little more comfortable.
On the way back to the Tahoe I stepped in a big old puddle, completely soaking my shoe/foot. That prompted me to change socks before we even started riding. About 815 we made our way over to the starting area, it was packed. The night before we had seen maybe 100 people standing around for the rider’s meeting, that led me to believe that the ride would be small and attendance had been damped drastically by #Covid19. I was mistaken. There were probably two thousand people waiting to get started, and a few hundred townsfolk there to see us all off. There was no social distancing this morning, it was cold, it was pouring rain, and we were packed together.
About 8:36am I think I crossed the line and headed out on to the course. The route started with (if I recall correctly) 2 miles of paved roads, and then quickly turned into MUCK. The very roads we drove the night before, that were pristine and perfect, were now a sloppy mess. And it only got worse from there. I really wish I could have seen what things looked like for the riders at the front of the group, but I am not anywhere near a rider of that caliber so we got to see the course after 1k other people rode through it first.
We made it to Mile 12 (at right about 1 hour into our ride) and decided that it was a good place to stop to refill, and empty the bladder. With the conditions, it was discussed that there would be no refueling while riding, you simply had to maintain control of your bike at all times, there was no down time to try to grab something to eat, or to try to take a drink, even from a Camelbak. While stopped, a young lady pulled up and grabbed her phone, she immediately called the SAG line and asked for a ride back, she was done. I honestly can’t blame her, she said it was her first 100 mile bike race, and there was no way she was prepped for these conditions. I had wished she had gone further, but she was probably one of the smarter folks to actually started the ride. The SMARTEST people were likely the ones who didn’t even start at all.
One thing I quickly figured out, nothing was going to stay clean on this ride, including my phone. So you’ll see only a few photos in the gallery above. I had intended to take more photos, but it simply didn’t happen, and the ones I did take were often smudged with mud.
I can’t even begin to describe the mud. Oklahoma is known for red clay, and these roads, with 1k+ riders were TORE up. The mud was 5-6” deep at times. It got on everything. If you couldn’t keep pedaling, and had to walk, your bike quickly added weight. That weight came in the form of red clay, and frequently got so bad that it acted like brakes being applied, the mud would pule up in the fork and the tire would continue to throw mud into that fork causing everything to come to a halt.
We made it to around Mile 14 where the first closed road/bridge crossing was, the bridge was passable, but you had to get off your bike and haul it up and over concrete put in place to keep vehicles off both sides of the bridge. The further we went along, the worse the roads got. At a couple of points we came across 50 mile course diversions, and at one point we stopped to discuss whether we should abandon the 100 mile route and jump on the 50 mile route. We continued to truck on with the 100 mile route however.
Some Of The Conditions
As the roads got worse, people were walking through the grass on the side of the road, even that surface was soft and mushy, and hard to walk on. Early on people started having problems with their bikes, ripping off derailleurs, losing braking ability, and various other ailments.
The surface overall was simply bad. So sloppy and muddy. If you could manage to try to ride in someone else’s track you might be able to keep your momentum up, but if you got off the line (and many places the lines were non-existent) you were screwed. I don’t know how many times I yelled “oh shit oh shit oh shit” as I was riding along about to completely lose it, the brand new (almost) Panaracer Gravel Kings barely able to keep the bike upright.
Many times going down hills I would pass someone with their feet dragging, trying to slow themselves down because there brakes were gone. I thought, how is it possible that all these people are having braking problems. Well, later I would find out. I experienced brake problems of my own.
Time For A Bath
At one point, I’m guessing around Mile 37, we came across a farm that had a hose out, people were taking the opportunity to wash their bikes off. I took the opportunity to rest and wait in line to wash my bike off. There were two farm dogs hanging out with all their new bicyclist friends, enjoying the pets that came as people waited for the hose. Not 5 minutes later my bike was completely covered again as if I hadn’t wasted 15 minutes waiting in line to wash it.
As we were going up a hill not too far after this farm, I saw a truck at the top of the hill, it was pointing towards us, and I secretly, almost audibly, hoped it was a shuttle bus and would offer us a ride home. It was not, it was some sort of milk/tanker truck, slowly making his way down a really nasty part of road, that on an average day was likely okay, but today was sketchy at best. (More on him later.)
After about 5 hours we had gone a total of 38 miles, averaging less than 8 miles an hour. We came to a paved road, one of the few that we’d seen up to this point, maybe the first since we touched dirt. We were heading west towards Perkins, OK. The road ran North/South, and would take us back towards Stillwater and other paved roads. If we decided we wanted out, it would be the path of least resistance for returning to the start. The three of us talked about it, and Lybarger decided he was going to keep going, so off he went. Wagner and I were discussing what to do, thinking we were going to try to keep going to Perkins. Next thing you know a red Chevy Colorado pulls up and asks us if we want a ride back to Stillwater. Yes, sold, take us home. We were done, and this opportunity provided us our out. We shouted to Lybarger who came back to us for a discussion. The truck could take 3 bikes, and 3 riders, but Lybarger decided he as going to keep going.
Wagner and I loaded up, and spent the next 30 minutes riding around with two guys from Colorado who were looking to fill the extra spot on the bike rack before taking us back up to Stillwater, which would be about a 30 minute drive. Come to find out that the gentleman who picked us up was Chuck Hodge, the Chief of Racing and Events for USA Cycling. He spoke about how pretty much every other USA Cycling event for the next 5-6 weeks was being cancelled, or had already been cancelled, and this was likely the last for quite some time.
We came across a few riders who could use a ride, but none chose to do so. One guy had just recently gone head first over his handlebars and cut his chin. Chuck got of the truck, grabbed a first aid kit cut, cleaned him up, and offered him a ride. He chose to continue. Another gentleman that we had passed while riding, was walking his bike west. He had broken his bike, but he already had someone coming to pick him up, so he kept going towards the road ahead.
Nope That’s Not It
We turned north (we had been heading east backtracking on the course), asking riders if they wanted help, and came across a lady stopped in the middle of the road to refuel. She was in the middle of nowhere, in fact, she was not even on the course, she had missed a turn. We informed her of this, and she questioned our sanity. She couldn’t believe she was in the wrong. We told her how to easily get back on course, she wasn’t far from the actual course. She was offered a ride, an out, but she chose to keep riding. We end up coming back towards the course and were going to drive back out the road we had come east on, towards the paved road where we were picked up, when we could see the Milk Truck off in the distance.
It was climbing the hill, or attempting to, that it had been coming down when we passed it about an hour earlier, it was now stuck. It did not appear that it was going to make it up that hill, and there was no way that we believed we could get the Chevy Colorado around it due to the way it was lodged in the road. Chuck called this in on race radio to let organizers know, and we headed south to try to find another way around and back to the course.
At the location where Chuck had picked us up, we came across another rider, from Kansas, who had walked 2 miles back, to get to that point. He had ripped his derailleur off, and needed a ride back. Golden, we had our 3 bikes, 3 riders, and a ride back to Stillwater. Chuck end up dropping Wagner and the other rider off at our hotel. The idea being that Wagner could work on cleaning his bike (the hotel had a hose out front for this purpose) and I could head back to the Tahoe. I figured I was going to need to drive to Perkins in the Tahoe to get Lybarger. Chuck dropped me off near the finish line and I grabbed my bike, and backpack (but not my helmet) from the back of his truck, along with a selfie. I went over to the Tahoe to get my bike loaded up and a somewhat clean change of clothes put on.
I was right about Lybarger, he had spent the 2 hours since we split from him, riding 12 miles into Perkins. They had closed up the aid station and most people were trying to find rides back to Stillwater. On my way down to Perkins I passed probably 30 riders who were all heading north towards Stillwater, riders who had chosen to abandon the ride and take paved roads back to civilization.
I dropped Lybarger off at his hotel and headed over to my hotel to try to get my bike, and myself cleaned up. That evening we headed back downtown and hung out around the finish line for a bit. We grabbed some additional swag (one thing about The Mid South, they had a ton of swag, and with the lowered attendance due to coronavirus, there was plenty of extra).
Dinner With Joe
We then headed back to Elm Ave to visit Eskimo Joes for dinner. It ends up Eskimo Joes is bar and grill, a very large one, with a huge merchandise store, with hundreds of Eskimo Joe apparel items, and while they might sell some ice cream for desert, they are not an ice cream shop. They started out as a bar in the 70s, and added food after the drinking age was changed from 18 to 21. The food was okay, nothing fancy for my vegan palate. I had another impossible burger to continue to stick to my vegan diet, that was pretty much the only thing on the menu that would fit that requirement. I ended up picking up a couple of shirts, since EJ’s is apparently known for their T-Shirts.
Sunday morning we loaded up the Tahoe, grabbed some breakfast at the Hampton Inn and hit the road for the 6.5 hour drive back to St. Louis. We stopped in Springfield MO for lunch, and picked up a few grocery items as we were hearing that more and more things were becoming scarce in St. Louis. We drove through Rolla and I pointed out a few of my old college haunts to Wagner.
The Mid Summary
While initially we were disappointed that we abandoned the ride, we were not the only ones, there were hundreds, I imagine (wild ass guess) over 50%, probably close to 75%, of the entrants who entered, abandoned. The conditions were that brutal. That being said, while we were riding, besides the mental breaking down that the mud caused, we had a blast. Everyone was friendly and muddy together.
Even with the lower attendance, and the much smaller festivities in town, and the very very very poor route conditions, no regrets were had for attending and attempting to ride the ride. The only thing I think we would have changed, we would have early on decided to do the 50 mile route, and attempted to complete that. 100 Miles simply wasn’t going to happen for us on the 14th of March 2020. Averaging less than 8 miles an hour for 5 hours was not going to get us to 100 miles.
While we had fun, and we made our bikes dirty, we also did some damage. While nothing “broke” during the ride, that I knew of, my brake pads (new in January) were shot and needed replaced. I also had to replace my bottom bracket, my rear shift/brake lever and complete replacement of all cables. Ultimately I had about $500 in repairs/parts completed on my bike as a result of The Mid South, so it was an expensive 38 mile Saturday bike ride...
Would we recommend it in 2021? If you can get in, absolutely. But if there is any rain, or it rains for 16 hours straight starting at 6pm on Friday night before the ride, go into it with gear that you don’t mind just completely trashing, or stay in your hotel and sleep instead.