Echos Of Futures Past, Part IV: Yatika Fields

Fields, a Cherokee, Creek and Osage Tribal member, is an artist and ultra marathon runner.

As an outsider it’s hard to have a voice. It’s hard to find a voice if you’ve been oppressed, you know? It takes a strong person and that usually comes from a strong family where it’s already been in play. My Father was an activist, my Mom was a part of that, too. He was a part of the Alcatraz takeover before AIM happened. It was always instilled in us to be proud of who you are and don’t take shit. Believe in what you believe in with passion and be proud of who you are as a Native person.

What’s worse than your culture and your families being oppressed? Being put to genocide? What’s worse than that, man? For real. Look in yourself. Yeah, there are global things but we are talking about trauma that’s still being brought to light. These micro aggressions and words that you bring people into? It cesspools into more ideologies about something that’s not right. It continues a path of divisions, a path of not correct alignment culturally. It’s about the treatment of people. By having the race called that (Land Run 100) it perpetuates this ideology of land and people and it continues this oppression. That’s where it’s wrong. To me, it’s fucked up. 

Someone else had made an Instagram post about the Land Run 100, and why the name was fucked up and they made a really good point, it was written well. I turned that into a story and I tagged Land Run 100 on it. *laughs* And he knew what I was saying. Bobby hit me up and was like, “I’ve been thinking about this.” I said, “Yeah, I think it (a name change) would be good.” and that’s how it started. Because I didn’t want to blast him with it. But I’d had conversations with other people before about that and the Land Run 100. I knew it would happen, it was just the how, maybe? I guess this was the time, with that poke. I’m a Native from Stillwater, from Oklahoma, I know a large platform of people and activists and artists and lawyers and writers and everyone. I know Bobby, too, we have the same friends who are athletes. I was a bike courier in New York City for 10 years so we have a lot of friends who come from all over to do the race. We have friends and sports in common. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight, I was trying to bring to light what we were discussing and how to move forward in having conversations about the past.

To me the Land Run 100 is like restaging the Land Run every time you have the race by having it called that. “Oh, free for all!! Take over the land and take dominance over the past.” Because every land is sacred. Every land has history. And I’m trying to incorporate that, too, in ultra running because there is only one Native American race, the Canyon De Chelly Ultra, and it’s a Navajo based race. They respect the Earth that we run on, they have a prayer for everyone. Then they go up and do the 55k in the canyon. It’s the only time you can run in the canyon without a Navajo guide. It’s beautiful but it’s the only one. All these ultra races take place over really sacred lands all over the United States. But there’s no land acknowledgement at the beginning of any races. There’s no discussion of the past and what these mountains are called or the histories of them. The majority of the white runners, it’s a majority white sport, there’s no Blacks or many Natives in it at all, don’t know anything about it.

Yes, running is beautiful and it’s meant to be experienced running freely through the wilds but also be mindful of where you are running and the past. That will only make your understanding and knowledge of the lands that you’re traversing that much better. You’re paying respect because Earth is about respect. This knowledge is about respect. That’s how it works. What we’ve lost in this world is that lack of it and understanding and therefore we’ve faltered as a human race. That’s what this is about, that understanding of where we came from. Those riders that are gonna take off on Saturday? If they carry that knowledge in their heart they’re gonna be better for it. They’re gonna ride stronger and better, you know? Having that knowledge and respect? The land will give it back in return. That’s how it works. It’s that sacred and it’s that magical. We can’t forget those things and that’s why it’s important. Really when it comes down to it is the commonality of the human body and the human spirit. We all share things in commonality and it’s the magic of the Earth. The only way to tap into that is having expansion in your knowledge of everything. When it comes to land it’s about understanding that. Land acknowledgments to the tribes should happen at every race. In these kinds of sports, like this one and ultra running, that traverse former Native lands I think it’s really important to discuss that, for sure.

You’re also gonna leave with more of an understanding. You’re gonna take something with you that’s more positive, visceral and cultural. The only way to do that is creating these conversations, letting people see it in real time and in print and in sports and events. It starts here, and it goes from here to there, to bigger events. Or it goes from here to their family. Maybe someone tonight is gonna hear something really beautiful they’ve never heard before, and he or she has a family and they relate that new understanding to their kids. That’s going to start a new chain, a new way of being. That’s how it is. That’s how we’ve got to start.

Yeah, there’s worse things than using that Land Run name. There are always worse things. But for you and me, in this moment, in this time and this location and this community, this is important. We gotta start from ground zero. We gotta start from the grass roots place where it all begins. This is the discussion. Not the broader scope. We’re not talking about other things. We are talking about this. Stay on this, stay the course, let’s discuss it, have the dialogue and discuss why. Not the other things. This.

Empathy. You gotta have that. It starts here. It starts with things like this. You have conversations to get to the more important things. I don’t know what’s more important than people’s traumas and people’s hearts.

Echos Of Futures Past, Part V: Lindsay Beltchenko

Beltchenko is a Marketing Manager at long time event sponsor Salsa Cycles.

Salsa had a planning call with Bobby and Sally where we were talking about our exciting AC/DC Stormchaser bike launch and he says, “I have some intense news to share with you all. We are going to change the name and here is why.” You could tell that they were nervous about having that conversation. As the title sponsor I am sure that we were one of a handful of people that knew about it first. They wanted our thoughts and opinions, they hadn’t even picked the name yet. They said, “We have to change the name, we have to do it fast, and we don’t know what it’s going to be.” 

We said, “We absolutely support you.” because I think one thing that’s great about cycling is that it’s all about belonging. We want people to feel like they belong and that’s where Bobby, Sally, Crystal and the entire MidSouth organization were coming from. They wanted to make people feel like they belong. This morning (at the race start) Bobby talked about it on the microphone. “You all belong here. You’re all welcome here.”

On our way down here last year (2019) we had listened to the Rebecca Nagle podcast and learned the history of the Land Run. I had spent 10 months planning a sponsorship for this event and I had no idea about that until we were on our way down. Being the white American that I am I didn’t think it was controversial. But as soon as Bobby called us a few months later and told us, “Hey, we are faced with this.” I immediately felt ignorant and sad that I hadn’t had that thought or feeling after I’d heard the podcast. Again, why not? If it’s going to be less offensive to people, if it opens more doors to this event for people to be a part of something, why not? Why not make people feel like they can be a part of a community instead of not being a part of it? That’s building community at it’s finest.

Bobby and Sally were just taking the new information that they learned and making a smart decision to make sure that everybody could come here knowing that they were welcome. Which is what all of us humans want in any circumstance ever. That’s why cycling is so special to so many people. That’s why gravel is so special to so many people. Gravel is factually, by data, next to e-bikes the only growth segment in cycling. I think that’s because of the community. 

Salsa has been a sponsor of the DK (Dirty Kanza) since 2009. We’ve been a sponsor of this event since it started. In those years it was just water bottles and swag. Things have changed so much. There is space for this level of event but the events that are going to make an impact are the smaller events. What I want to focus on as a brand is figuring out how to make space for more people and more events at the small grassroots level. Not at the expense of sporting events like this (the MidSouth), but how do we celebrate things like The Heywood, where people can just show up and donate and ride their bike? You still get that feeling of belonging, you still get that feeling of community, you leave with the feeling you’re craving but it’s not about status, or having been at something that has a big cachet.

We just had a women’s meetup yesterday. I’ve been to several of those types of women’s meetups. We have an athlete, Crystal Kovacs, she’s doing an incredible amount of work in getting women who are women who aren’t sure about their athleticism out on the bike. I think a lot of that is happening on the local level. There are a lot of women, women-identifying individuals, people of color and various sexual orientations who are intimidated by an event of this size. The reason they come here is they’ve spent the last 6 to 12 months riding with people in their local community, working with their bike shop, creating a small group of people who empower each other to get to the point where they can show up at the start line. That process is transformational and it’s really those local ambassadors and people who are building community who make that possible.

Yes, we build those big events because that’s what is healthy for cycling as a whole and we all love cycling. But we also need to nurture and foster local level community building as well as local events because that’s what helps get people here. 

Our brand made decisions a long time ago to start to build products that allowed people to ride our bikes from the get go. Now we are focusing our messaging so that anybody can be here. You don’t need to be on our bike, either, but if you want to be now there is something at that level like the Journeyman or the Timberjack. It’s all about progression. We want to graduate riders from beginning all the way through their cycling journey. And whether or not that’s with us and our bikes doesn’t matter. What matters is that people are out here riding bikes because as a human being I truly go back to the fact that people are happy when they feel like they belong to something. If we belong to something we are going to be better kinder people to our peers, we are going to be better people at work, better to our families, and we are just going to be happier.

That’s a big responsibility to have for race promoters. You hear it in Bobby’s voice, his passion as he talked this morning. He feels the responsibility of that, and so do I. 

I told Bobby when he was really stressed about the negative commentary of changing the name that he just has to preemptively accept that. Prepare yourself to handle it, and realize that we live in a world today where everyone has a gavel and a podium, and everyone is going to say how they feel. From a business perspective be prepared for negative commentary. It’s going to happen. And yet, if we were to say, as a company, that we could only use one marketing channel for the rest of time it would be social media. It’s a blessing and a curse all in one. If social media wasn’t a part of my job I would not participate at all. I just wouldn’t. It is, from a personal perspective, toxic. From a business perspective it’s a way to capture awareness. It’s eyeballs. It is a ton of eyeballs on your product. If you have an authentic, real, honest voice people pay attention. We have more choices than ever, and we have more need to feel like we belong to something than ever.

On social media, in any conflict, just assume good intent and start there. What are commonalities and how can we bring those positively out from each other? So when Bobby came to us and said he had to change the name, my first thought was, “Why not? What’s the argument against including more people?”  I think there is a lot of that in our political landscape right now. There are people that don’t say, “Why not?” They’re not like, “Oh, you want change? We should consider our indigenous populations, or our minorities.” There are alot of people who have blinders on, and I think that’s troublesome. 

But again, I come back to the question, “Why not? What’s bad about making more people feel like they are a welcome part of this community? Why not?”

Echos Of Futures Past, Part VI: Bobby Wintle

Wintle is the co-owner of District Bicycles and founder of the Mid South gravel race.

I’ve never ever wanted to be part of the mainstream. I’ve never wanted to be part of going with the current, ever. Because going with the current is easy. And profitable. You know? It’s financially sustainable. Going against it is almost always not those things, right? Let’s just talk about how much we charge per person for what we offer as an experience. We’re by far the cheapest of any of those monuments of gravel that Velonews announced a few weeks ago. That’s by design. Low barrier to entry and the name change is part of the gauntlet that we are throwing down against this idea of continuing the exclusivity of cycling in the United States of America. It’s about inclusion. Inclusion through every walk of life, not just bikes. Bikes just happen to be our medium. Right? This is where we can do the most work. 

As long as I have breath in my body I will rail against this idea of the continuation of the full on support of just the white male dominated perspective. I’m against it all the way. All the way. 

We had 5000 people on the website going for 1500 spots on the 100 mile race, and then of course the double (200 mile race) and other stuff. We didn’t have to change the name (of the race). We didn’t have to listen to the smallest voice. We didn’t have to listen to those that were affected by our name negatively. Most of those we didn’t even know about because they didn’t have a platform of any sort where they would have felt safe. It’s more important now than ever to give space to those that don’t have the opportunity because no one knows who they are. No one cares. If it doesn’t have a dollar sign at the end of it, if it isn’t easy to deal with, then people are immediately going to discount it and say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Why would they do that? Snowflake, left wing propaganda.”

*exhales loudly in frustration*

I have no time in my day to give my energy to small mindedness. Here is the deal, I am not the expert on any question you ask me, because I am the 34 year old CIS white male that owns two businesses and has 2.5 kids and almost a dog and a two car garage that’s full of shit. I’m the problem, too. Not to just easily go with “blame the white man”, but guys like me have to start being able to learn. And we have to stop thinking it’s OK to say things about women. To look at them in a way that always sexualizes them, and to always think that Indians are lazy, and always think that people of color are going to be more likely to cause problems. Just knowing I can walk into a business and immediately, because of my skin color and because I’m a man, get better service, be helped sooner? How on Earth do we get beyond that? I am here to start opening my eyes, to be aware of just how welcoming I need to be to each human that walks in through my door, through District Bicycles each day. That’s where the smallest changes can start to take place. There and at the race from the start line to the finish line. The next step, the next conversation, is event registration. How do we make sure marginalized people have access? I don’t know. I would love to know. If anyone has an idea I am all ears.

But no, Hell no, do I think that now that we’ve changed the race name that the book is closed. But also just because there are more important things to do doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the things that are small. The small things still matter. Flossing our teeth still matters. Just like going to the dentist to get checked up once a year, every 6 months also matters. It’s not one without the other. We needed the name change. We needed the awareness. 

Everything that we have created since 2011 is about the sake of the individual being a part of something bigger than themselves, which is a community. The name of our bike shop, District, is a synonym for community. If I had ignored any longer the micro problems of the Land Run name then I am a hypocrite. I am just doing what makes me money and keeps me on the forefront of whatever conversation everyone wants me to be at. No, thank you. Also I don’t deserve this credit for changing the name. Arial Ross, Seth Wood, Yatika Fields, the list goes on. Some very angry people on Instagram a couple years ago. *chuckles* Hey man! Thanks. You were mean about it, but whatever.

So where do we go from here? We can only shape our perspective differently if we have a different view, right? If we have a different place to go, if we experience new things and that directly affects our perception. The month after we changed the name I went down to Tucson to meet James Stout to do the Monday Reservation Ride with the Pascua Yaqui tribe. I think I teared up at least 3 times riding with those kids. It was one of the best rides I’ve ever ever been on. I cannot wait to go back and see them again.

I’d never been on a reservation outside of going through one on the Tour Divide. Even then I’d never even talked to anybody on that reservation because it’s the Tour Divide. It’s crazy. But…why does that matter? It’s all about human connection. We’re all humans. Why do we feel like we’re better than others? Why do we feel like we’re more deserving than the people on the reservations? The Yaqui Riders Club have built themselves up to 400 some odd people to fight against gestational type II diabetes within the reservation because it’s rampant. They are in a food desert, it’s awful. That’s something else we can try to figure out there. Food and bikes. We gotta get this figured out. 

They are beautiful humans and they are just as deserving as any one else is. And no one knows they exist. We gotta change that. We don’t need to make it a marketing ploy. And we don’t need to make it a cute thing to buy in an online store. People need to have this information. We gotta do it. That’s the next step. 

We have to be engaged. We don’t have time to not be. We might not be here tomorrow. Period. Nothing is guaranteed. People ask me all the time where do you get the energy? People joke with me allll the time. You’re on coke. You’re on speed. What are you on? Dude. I am on borrowed time. That’s what I am on. We only have right now. We have absolutely no way to change the past and we have literally no way to actually control the future. The only thing we have is the present. We have the ability to make decisions in the moment and that is all. It determines whether or not we repeat the past and what our future could potentially look like. Living in Oklahoma with all the fracking? Feeling out of control? Feeling my couch move from underneath me because we had 700 earthquakes in a year? Talk about feeling not in control and raping the land to death. We are living right in the middle of it. We have to be engaged. And so this is the beginning of being engaged.

None of us can do this alone. Together we are heavy. Together we will make a difference.