Ozark Hills

GT98 T-shirt


The Oklahoma Bicycle Society was founded about 27 years ago by a small but dedicated group of cyclists as a way to promote the growing sport of bicycling. The club was self-limiting in size because the By Laws required that one complete a Century Ride at least once every two years to maintain membership. Several people felt this was too restrictive and in order to increase the scope of the club, that rule was finally removed. Membership in the club now ranges from 400 to 500 people.

In 1975 the club started having a week-long tour, designated the Grand Tour, each year. Early tours were more of a stage race than anything else. It was basically three century days, a rest day and three more 100-mile days. Needless to say, the first Grand Tours drew a rather limited number of riders. The tours became a bit more rider-friendly as cooler heads rose to leadership, and now have become fully sag-supported and based on distances that most riders with a reasonable amount of training can complete. They also took on more of a vacation atmosphere which increased attendance to as high as 80 people on the 1994 tour which traveled up and down the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Over the past several years, Grand Tours have been held in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Utah and other scenic locations. The route chosen for 1998 was through the bucolic Ozark Hills of NE Oklahoma, SW Missouri and NW Arkansas. The 1998 Grand Tour drew 40 people.

Day 1: Pryor, OK to Grove, OK: 56 miles.

The donuts and bagels of the Continental Breakfast at the starting point barely sustained the riders the 27 miles to the next food source in the small town of Spavinaw. The only restaurant in town was the epitome of a rural eatery as described by William Least-Heat-Moon in Blue Highways. It had four calendars on the wall, three curly fly strips hanging from the ceiling, a screen door with a bell that jangled when someone came in and the main decoration on the wall was a painting of dogs playing poker. They had only one menu, which was hand-written on a piece of cardboard cut from a Wheaties box.

As the riders passed the single menu around, they began to hope that the culinary abilities of the cook exceeded his knowledge of spelling. At least half of the words on it were misspelled. At the bottom was a list of the side dishes, which included a "Bowel of Grovey". When one person asked the waitress what that was, she gave him an incredulous look, pointed to the price and said, "Fifty Cents!" Bowels of Grovey became the mantra of the tour, showing up as chants or in song as riders cranked and sweated up the hills or screamed down them.

Due to the size of the club and the number and variety of weekly rides, many of the people on the 1998 Grand Tour were virtual strangers, so a get-acquainted party was scheduled on the first night as an ice-breaker to get things off to a good start. The restaurant where it was held had an all-you-can-eat buffet line and with appetites worked up from their first day in the hills, the cyclists gave the restaurant employees a lesson the true meaning of the Biblical "swarms of locusts".

Day 2, Grove, OK to Cassville, MO: 69 miles.

While this was the longest day, it was also the easiest as it meandered along country lanes bordered by dense trees and almost devoid of traffic. Kodak moments abounded. Left to their own devices that night in Cassville, most of the riders headed for the Mazzio's Pizza where they waited out an early evening thunderstorm while carbo-loading on Large Supremes which were on special that day at two for nine bucks.

Day 3, Cassville to Branson, MO: 48 miles.

While this was the shortest day in distance, it was by far the hardest day for cyclists. At the edge of Cassville begins a four-mile, one-thousand-foot climb to the top of a glacial moraine left strung across Missouri when the ice cap melted away some 8,000 years ago. At the end of that long climb, the road rises, plunges and twists through endless miles of bobbing hills with 12% grades and fifty yard sight distances. The only good points were that it had recently been re-paved and was as smooth as glass. It was also so hilly and twisting that few sane people will drive it.

This section ended at a junction with the aptly numbered Highway 13. The next three miles were along a two-lane, no shoulder, pot-holed stretch of broken-up concrete pavement which carries a bumper-to-fender stream of trucks hauling gravel, lumber, chickens and who knows what else interspersed with pickup trucks pulling boat trailers, tourists in rental cars and retired accountants driving rolling condos called motorhomes.

At the end of this "Road From Hell" lies four lanes with wide shoulders on which the cyclists could coast all the way to the driveway of our hotel. Unfortunately, if one wants to get to Branson from the west, this is the only way.

Branson, Missouri: a town with 3700 permanent residents and 25,000 visitors each day. They have 86 different shows, 300 restaurants, 2 factory outlet centers, 20,000 rooms and a traffic problem worse than any city in the world. They don't have traffic, they have a parking lot five miles long. If and when you can get to your motel, you park your car and walk to where you need or want to go. No use calling a cab, they can't go anywhere either. The city fathers have been trying for the past five years to come up with a way to move people, but nothing has come along to beat walking.

Day 4, Branson to Eureka Springs, AR: 59 Miles.

Many riders were up and gone as soon as it was light enough to see. They wanted to beat the traffic, but that was the time when delivery trucks were out trying to do the same thing. They were delivering all that food, supplies and tourist gee gaws needed to fill the needs (or wishes) of the tour bus loads of screaming kids, harried parents and the AARP generation.

Plans were to escape from Branson and then meet for breakfast in the village of Blue Eye, named after some Indian Chief. When they emerged from the only restaurant in town, stuffed to the gills with scrambled eggs and hot cakes, some turned in the right direction to follow the map route while the navigationally impaired headed off in the opposite direction. When the tour was finally reunited at the end of the day, there was considerable discussion about which route had been the best. One thing for sure, those on the "alternate" route missed getting to coast about five miles into town and ride past places like the Two Dumb Broads Fudge Factory, a great ice cream store and a place that advertised having everything from horse collars to hoe handles.

They also missed bouncing along a main street which was so badly broken up that bomb craters would have been an improvement and climbing that final hill up to the motel where nearly everyone ended up pushing their bikes and wearing out their cleats. As one person put it when he finally reached the top, "The only reason I made it to the top of this hill was because I inherited my mother's legs and my father's profanity."

The Grand Tour Survivor's Party is usually held on the last night on the road, but since there was no suitable place in Siloam Springs, it was moved back a day to Eureka Springs. Some people claim that the only reason they go on Grand Tours is so they can attend the Survivor's Party.

Several weeks before the departure date, two or three people are chosen, coerced, threatened or otherwise talked into being in charge of the party. No one (often including those in charge) knows what direction the party will take once launched. A cash bar to get everyone in the proper frame of mind and a buffet meal to re-load their carbos got things off to a good start. Once the dishes and anything else that might prove lethal had been removed, the Morals Director was introduced. Few people, including the Morals Director himself, knew that such a position existed until it was too late to mend their ways. The MD reported on all the lecherous, licentious and libertine things he had observed during the tour -- like adjusting bicycle seats while the lady riders were sitting on them. While a hand on the butt to help a weaker rider up the hill might be OK, doing it in a parking lot was a bit beyond the call.

Several special awards were presented. One called the "We Have Discovered The Remains of Jimmy Hoffa Award" was presented to the lady with the biggest and heaviest piece of luggage. It was a black bag about five feet long with a zipper down the side and weighing slightly more than both she and her bicycle. There was the "Emelda Marcos Award" for the lady who brought six pairs of shoes and the "Michelin Award" for the guy who had a total of eleven flats.

Everyone knows about the singing trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, but few had heard of an almost equally famous group called Reed, Charles and Gloria. Remember the Bowel of Grovey mentioned on the first day? -- it had been festering in their minds so long that they finally set it to the music of a Broadway Show. They presented somewhat off-key (and equally off-color) renditions of "The Hills Are Alive With Bowels of Grovey" and "A Bowelfull of Grovey Helps The Biscuits Go Down." There were several top ten lists, such as the one for McDonald's managers to use when talking with the press if someone finds a condom in a Big Mac, ten things not to say to a cop when stopped for a traffic offense and the ten best advertising slogans for Viagra.

The party finally ended with one of the riders leading everyone in singing a poignant ballad which applied to not only bicycle tourists but everyone as they travel through life or the land. At the end of a day, all they are looking for is a place with two exits and a Holiday Inn.

Day 5, Eureka Springs to Siloam Springs: 59 miles.

What's a bicycle tour without a little rain -- no downpour, but just enough to get you wet and mess up your bike. At least it kept the temperatures a good 20 degrees cooler than what we had been having for the past few days. The hills were also getting to be a bit less vicious.

This was Tyson country where trucks hauling millions of chickens roared by taking their cargo on a one-way journey to a land called Extra Crispy. Once in a while a crate would come open and the chickens would launch themselves into the air at 60 mph. Unfortunately few of them had been hatched with the innate ability to fly and ended up at the end of a parabolic trajectory to become road kill. Instead of hearing the warning of, "Glass!" from the leading cyclist in a paceline, it was usually "Chicken!"

Day 6, Siloam Springs back to Pryor, OK: 54 hot but easy miles on almost flat ground.

The lunch break was at a place called Silly Sue's Barbecue where the plumbing in the bathroom was kaput and everyone had to use the fiberglass facility out back. Two rooms with hot showers awaited the cyclists at the motel in Pryor so they could stand to ride in vehicles with each other on the journey home. The tour was over, 350 miles in six days and everyone would be home in time to mow the knee-high grass. A total of more than 15,000 rider-miles had been completed without so much as a single case of road rash.

So how does one go about organizing and running a week-long sag-supported tour with mechanical support, beer, pop and snacks every evening, a couple great parties and nightly lodging costs of less than $30 per person per night in quality motels for a tour cost of less than $100 per person? It's all done in a club atmosphere with everyone pitching in and doing what they can to make it a great tour.

Anyone who is interested may contact me directly via E-mail, and I will gladly answer questions and/or offer suggestions on how to organize your own club tour. Whether for six or sixty, club tours are really fun events.

Membership in the Oklahoma Bicycle Society is open to all cyclists, and while the location for the 1999 Grand Tour has not been announced, there will certainly be one to some interesting and possibly unusual place next year.

Ride carefully,

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Copyright 1998 by Jim Foreman