Faces Of Mid South Gravel

The Mid South happened a little over a month ago and after a few weeks of sheltering in place, this race, or any racing for that matter, offers a sense of nostalgia. 

Erik just dropped off his captures of a two part series from what was formally known as Land Run 100. The first part dives into the history and interviews whereas part two of the series, below, is a collection of diptychs of the seven participants before and after what turned out to be an epically beautiful mud fest along with an exact set of questions.

Oh, and don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge details!

Tyson Branyon


How are you feeling?


What do you think will happen out there?

10% might finish. 

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

I don’t know. When you’re 70 there’s not much upside on the learning curve. It’s going to be wet and muddy, so we’ll see!


How are you feeling? 

I’m a little bit pissed off.

What happened out there?

I got out in the rain and all that mud, and that I had a mechanical. I was just in the mood to finish a hundred miles!

What are you taking away from the experience?

Even though I think I’m not ego driven when I had that mechanical I got pissed. I said f*ck this and I spent 40 minutes trying to fix the brakes and riding 40 minutes riding metal on metal with no brake pads until the cable broke. On some downhill I thought, “This is stupid.” A support jeep was right there so I finally stopped.

Michelle Hance


How are you feeling? 

I am feeling excited, pretty nervous, but I live in a place where it rains every single day. It does not get muddy like it does here because our ground is used to that kind of thing. It’ll be fun, an adventure!

What do you think will happen out there?

Well hopefully I’m gonna finish. But who knows? We’ll find out! 

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

That’s a hard question. I’m really hoping to give it all I’ve got and at the end be proud of what I’ve done. That’s my favorite thing. When you finish and you’re like, “I’ve that I didn’t know if I could do it or not.” That’s 100% what this (the MidSouth) is, especially with the rain. I don’t know if I can do it.


How are you feeling? 

I’m feeling pretty excited that I survived! *laughs*

What happened out there?

The first 30 miles or so were just kinda wet and not so bad. Then it got really…dark and started getting muddy. It got really bad. Around mile 40, mile 45 I had a major attitude adjustment and I was like, “All right, I’m gonna finish this! It’s gonna be fine.” And then I actually made pretty good progress until mile 80, 85 and that’s when it started getting really muddy again. The stream crossing actually helped alot to clean off my chain, cassette and all that! It saved my shifting all the way to the very end.  

Those last 15 miles I was like, “I’m not quitting! I’m almost done!”  

What are you taking away from the experience?

I finished. I’m pretty proud of that! I feel like I had a pretty positive for the most of it. There is something to be said for that. I’m glad that I was able to, other than a few rough sections, be pretty excited about what I was doing and making sure I was having a good time. 

I also made a bunch of friends, which is the best thing about gravel racing! Suffering out there with a bunch of people is awesome!!

Alexandera Houchin


How are you feeling? 

I’m f*ckin’ stoked! *laughter*

What do you think will happen out there?

I think I am going to get wet and then I am going to dry off.

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

I’m hoping to listen to some of my biochemistry podcasts and get a little dirty.


How are you feeling? 

Like a rock star!

What happened out there?

My bike gained some weight, like 500lbs.

What are you taking away from the experience?

Oklahoma is rad!

Mark Wood, 13


How are you feeling? 

I’m feeling great. I’m just going to try to get out there and do what I can.

What do you think will happen out there?

I think it’s going to get way muddy but I’m just going to try to walk through it if I have to.

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

I’m going to try to take away some enjoyment and something that I can really keep thinking about how it felt in that moment.


How are you feeling? 

I’m feeling a little less accomplished than I set out to feel like, but I still feel proud of myself for getting out there when alot of people didn’t.

What happened out there?

It got really really muddy and cold. My feet just got like really cold and I was shivering even in the shower back home. I just couldn’t do any more out there.

What are you taking away from the experience?

I am going to take away a learning experience until the next year comes and I try it again.

Andrew Strempke


How are you feeling? 

Oh I am so excited. So excited! 

What do you think will happen out there?

I hope there is plenty of mud because I am singlespeeding. The more mud the better!

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

I don’t know. I’m hoping to go fast and have fun!


How are you feeling? 

I’m feeling good. I’m feeling tired! 

What happened out there?

It was wet, it was soft pretty much everywhere and I was wishing I had one easier tooth on the rear cog but yeah, it was really hard and it was really fun. It was just muddy all day long. It got really messy. Yeah, it was a great day on the bike. A great day for some walking! *laughs* 

What are you taking away from the experience?

I got a a bunch of good mud riding practice in. A bunch of hike a bike practice. My qualification for a real good course is you have to walk your bike at some point and I definitely did that today.

Katie Strempke


How are you feeling? 

Excited to get out there in the mud! *laughs*

What do you think will happen out there?

I think…hopefully there will still be some fast sections but I think there is going to be some walking for sure. Looking forward to it!

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

I’m looking for a little bit of redemption from 2017 which was the last time it was kind of like this. I quit because I got really cold so this time I want to finish. 


How are you feeling? 

I’ve got alot of adrenaline right now so I’m feeling pretty good! 

What happened out there?

It was muddy like pretty much the whole time, but it was super fun. I was on a singlespeed so I was able to ride almost everything. I had a good day!

What are you taking away from the experience?

That you can do hard things! As long as you keep a positive attitude.  *laughs* 

Ashley Davis, 16


How are you feeling? 

Cold and excited. 

What do you think will happen out there?

Lots of mud. Definitely lots of mud. And I think it’s going to be a really fun ride. 

What are you hoping to take away from the experience?

100 miles? 100 miles and an experience. Definitely an experience!


How are you feeling? 

Mentally and physically tired.

What happened out there?

It was really muddy, my bike had alot of issues and I’m just surprised I even made it to the 50. 

What are you taking away from the experience?

Just the mud! Definitely the mud. It definitely helped me mentally to get stronger and just, just getting to the 50. 

Echos Of Futures Past

Six perspectives on the history of Oklahoma, the Land Run 100’s name change, and the future of inclusion in gravel cycling.

In 2011 Bobby and Crystal Wintle moved from Emporia, Kansas to Stillwater, OK. Following their dream they started a family and opened up a bicycle shop named District Bicycles. Bobby fell in love with the local dirt roads and started a grassroots movement that he called “Unlearn Pavement”. It was only natural that he’d also start a gravel bike race and it was only natural that he’d name it after the most famous event in Stillwater’s history: The Land Run of 1889. He didn’t know anything about it but the locals seemed awfully proud of their past, and the name itself had a resonance that just worked. The Land Run of 1889. The Land Run 100. It was a perfect connection between Stillwater’s history and, Bobby hoped, it’s future as a bicycling destination.

When the Oklahoma State University ROTC company offered a ceremonial cannon to start the race with, it was just as perfectly natural to accept their offer. What wasn’t there to like about starting a bike race with a cannon?

The little gravel race in Stillwater quickly became famous. People travelled from around the world to take part. With that additional exposure came questions about the Land Run name, the cannon and what they symbolized. For some, the Land Run was not something to be proud of and the cannon shot was an echo of a past filled with violence, racism and genocide. Hard questions started to be asked of Bobby, Crystal and event organizer Sally Turner by members of the Oklahoma Native American tribes as well as people in the cycling community. They did know the history of that name, didn’t they? They did know the Land Run of 1889 was started with a shot from an Army cannon? And that it was the beginning of the end for the tribes in Oklahoma?

To the joy of some and the consternation of others in late 2019 it was announced that the name of the race was being changed from the Land Run 100 to The Mid South. In doing so Bobby, Crystal and Sally started a conversation about not just how Oklahoma’s turbulent history still affects the events of today but also about the lengths we go in pursuit of inclusion. Were the Land Runs in the 1800’s that bad of a thing? Does the name of a bike race in the middle of Oklahoma matter? How far do we need to go to make people feel comfortable or welcomed? Why can’t people let go of the past and move on?

In order to try to make sense of it, I traveled to Oklahoma to talk to people from as many sides of the Land Run story as I could. Here’s what they have to say (click on each link below for their individual stories):

  • Sister and brother Nancy Chipukites & Darrell Stiles, the co-owners of Cabin Creek Farm which was homesteaded in the Land Run of 1891 by their Great Grandfather.
  • Choctaw tribal member Tyson Branyon who has ridden in every edition of the race, is a retired Assistant District Attorney and a Board Member of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. Tyson was and still is against the changing of the name from Land Run 100.
  • Fr. Aidan of St. Francis of the Woods, a small Episcopalian religious community who draw much of their beliefs from historical and current tribal connections that are restoring their land back to original Oklahoma prairie. 
  • Osage tribal member Yatika Fields, an artist and activist who was an integral part of the name change.
  • Lindsay Beltchenko, Marketing Manager, Salsa Cycles. Salsa is the largest sponsor of the Mid South event and the longest running sponsor of gravel cycling as a whole.
  • Bobby Wintle, co-owner of District Bicycles and founder of the Mid South gravel race.

What I discovered is that Oklahoma has a turbulent past of forced relocation, racism, conflict, war, hope, and opportunity. For tribal members in Oklahoma their history has two parts: Before Relocation and After Relocation. While it was still a territory Oklahoma was the end of the Trail of Tears, a place where over 30 Native American tribes were forced to relocate to after losing their homelands and way of life. Natural enemies were forced to live on reservations together. Nomads who followed the buffalo watched the herds get slaughtered and had their freedom to roam taken away forever. Tribal members would argue that the cultural and physical genocide of the 1800’s continues to this day.

But Oklahoma was also a land of opportunity and excitement. Black townships arose after the Civil War where newly freed slaves banded together to escape the rampant, blatant racism that was common in big cities. Homesteaders came for the chance to have land of their own. Poor immigrants, veterans of the Union Army, and those who were just caught up in the excitement of the Land Runs all arrived in the late 1800’s chasing their dreams. Nearly 60,000 settlers participated in the Land Run of 1889 alone. The Land Run of 1893 brought in another 100,000. By the time Oklahoma declared statehood in 1907 there were 1,400,000 residents. The vast majority of them were not Native Americans. Throughout the 19th century Oklahoma’s uneasy existence has continued. Osage artist Yatika Fields told me, “I always put things in Oklahoma into an analogy that it’s like a puzzle. The pieces are everywhere. We’re still trying to resolve it”

Echos Of Futures Past, Part I: Nancy Chipukites & Darrell Stiles

Chipukites and Stiles are Co-Owners of Cabin Creek Farm that was homesteaded in the Land Run of 1891 by their Great Grandfather.

Darrell: Our Great Grandfather came in the Run of 1891. Originally they came from New Jersey. They moved out to Kansas for awhile, somewhere around Minneapolis, Kansas. 

Nancy: Great Grandpa and Grandma weren’t destitute when they lived on the East Coast. They had very nice homes in New Jersey. They took the train from there to Kansas.

Darrell: Once they got to Kansas they were tenant farmers. They moved around to different places. Then they heard about this land opening up down here so they travelled by team and wagon to over on Stillwater Creek, about where it comes into the river on some property, I think it was owned by a guy whose name was Mansfield. They had what they called a squatter’s camp and there were several families gathered there. That’s where they were waiting to make the run. 

On their way from Kansas to the squatters camp our Great Grandmother, who lived to be 99, there was some kind of a ravine and Great Grandpa had thrown some logs in it so they could get the wagon over. She had the reins of the mules and he was in front leading them. She was braced but when the front wheels hit the logs it bounced her off the wagon and the front wheel run over her. Apparently she had the presence of mind to roll under the wagon so the back wheel didn’t hit her. She was pregnant. She not only lost the child but fell deathly ill with malaria. They credit getting a Doctor out of Guthrie that saved her. The baby was buried on the southwest corner of the homestead property. As kids we knew where that was, there was a little rock up there in the line of cedar trees. They aren’t there anymore because the highway department took ’em out when they expanded the shoulders on Highway 33. 

When it came time they saddled a mare named Topsy and him and two or three others, they came across Stillwater Creek and came down here to cross the river on the north side. Somebody else settled this first deal, Great Uncle George said it was pretty evident that they’d been across several times, looking at the land that he wanted. That was this quarter to the east of us. You couldn’t make camp or come over here, that was illegal.

Nancy: That’s how the Sooners got their name. There were two of them that Uncle George talks about in his book. When he got to where he wanted there were already squatters there.

Darrell: Needless to say they were pretty poor after the Run. They used to go east of Cushing and they’d do farming for Indians. The Indians had the land down there, same as the Sac and Fox who’ve got it now. I’ve had a lot of friends who have rented that Indian land right over in that same area. They’d take two teams and two plows and go down there and plow the land for the Indians, who would pay them $1 per acre. That’s how they made some money and I suppose over the years either it was already there like that, or they cleared it or a little of both, that there two existing 20+ acre fields along the creek. Our Grandad farmed that for years and years and years.

Nancy: Also they would build log houses and make wooden caskets. The people who used the wooden caskets, which was mostly for the Indians that had died, they would reuse those wooden caskets over and over again. They’d charge $50 each time.

Darrell: They would just use them to haul ’em to the burial grounds and then the Indians would use hides and stuff like that to bury ’em in.

Nancy: They were happy to get paid for the work that they did, and evidently the Indians could afford to hire someone to do some of their work. Seemed it like a good arrangement.

Darrell: We didn’t know our Great Uncle, he’d already died, but Great Grandma lived, just like Nancy said, ’til she was…

Nancy: I think it was about 1955 when she passed away. She was blind the entire time we knew her.

Darrell: They’d go pick beans, green beans, and give them to her and she’d go out in there in that covered porch and snap those beans. Every once in a while she’d get us cornered on the south porch on the covered porch of the old house. She’d be humming or singing to herself and she’d hear us, she’d beg us to come and sit down by her. She would tell some stories and now sure wish we’d have paid more attention. She was amazing.

Nancy: I wish I would have been smart enough to write down some of the things she’d say. Even Great Grandpa talked to us about some of it. He would tell stories, but you were so infatuated by listening you didn’t think about writing anything down.

Their motivation for coming was, I would say, an excitement over having their own land. They had this interest and Great Grandpa’s brother was the first one, Stephen, to come. He prompted Great Grandpa, I would say, to come and join them. That’s how I view it. An opportunity for a new beginning. And it was getting crowded back East. To them it was getting crowded.

Darrell: I’m proud they had the Land Run and I’m proud that Great Grandad got it, and that so far we haven’t had to sell it! Times were hard. You had to have some extra mustard in you to make it.

Echos Of Futures Past, Part II: Tyson Branyon

Tyson Branyon, a Choctaw tribal member, retired Assistant District Attorney and Board Member of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, has ridden in every edition of the race.

Almost all the tribes in Oklahoma came from someplace else. My tribe, the Choctaw were originally centered along the Pearl River Valley in Mississippi, extending into Alabama and south Tennessee. Of the Five Civilized Tribes, four of them are Muskogean speakers: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole. The Cherokee are the odd man out, they speak the Iroquois language and are from up north. But, we all ended up on the Trail of Tears coming here to Eastern Oklahoma between 1830 and 1834. The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830 by the first Democrat President, Andrew Jackson, a year after his inauguration

So after the Civil War, a guy named David Payne and some others, pushed to have this land opened up for settlement. One of the things you don’t read in the history books very often, because the winner writes the books, one of their things was they didn’t want “darkies” getting this land. One plan had been  to have all these freed slaves from the South come out here and become homesteaders. Payne was afraid if his group and others didn’t get the land, then either the Indians or the “darkies” would get it. You also had a lot of Civil War Yankee veterans that were from the East Coast. They had fought in the war and they wanted land, too. Many of those Yankee vets were poor or recent immigrants, themselves.

Originally the Cheyenne, Comanche and other “Plains Indians” roamed this land. There were millions of buffalo then that supported these High Plains horse cultures. These tribes travelled widely and were sparsely populated. When the Comanche were shot, killed, captured and re-settled at Ft. Sill all this land was empty. The buffalo had already been killed anyways, so these tribes were screwed. When the Creeks and Seminoles moved here in the 1830’s they were ceded the lands eventually used in the Land Run. After the Civil War, the Feds forced another treaty on them because they had backed the Confederacy. Those treaties created an area that was controlled by no tribe. The Feds called this area the so-called “Unassigned Lands.” There weren’t any tribes here any more.

But the Boomers, Payne and his ilk, they were bad. There’s a lot of things about them I don’t like. In one way, I wake up every day in Payne County. That’d be like being a Jew and waking up every day in Hitler County, Austria. Payne’s a dumb ass and a racist and a lot of things I don’t like. Like Andrew Jackson. My Grandmother, an original Choctaw speaker, became the head of the Democratic Party in Cleveland County. She was the first woman to head the Democratic Party in that county. When they elected her, she said, “I’ll work hard, I’ll do everything you need me to do but, I’m not going to the Jackson Dinner.” The Democrats always have this dinner in his honor but that was a step too far for her. I’ve spent half my life hating Andrew Jackson. He’s still a sorry son of a bitch in many ways. But he’s a historical character, he’s a part of life. When two cultures collide that are so different, stuff is going to happen. You can spend your life hating on this stuff, and it’s stupid. 

About the race name. I rode in the first one. I rode it on a street bike and didn’t even make the halfway point. When Bobby did that first race, I don’t think it had a name, really. He just said, “A bunch of my guys are gonna ride 100 miles.” When it dawned on me that Land Run 100 was going to be the name of this thing I just thought that was perfect because we are in Stillwater, it starts with a cannon and the excitement of everybody rolling out together from the center of town. In the real Land Run you see pictures of homesteaders riding on Penny Farthings. How far they made it, I don’t know. But I said, “That is the perfect name for this. It’s in the place, it identifies it, it’s a geographic and historic thing.” I thought it was great. I still think it is.

It was a perfect accident for Bobby. He was on the crest of gravel riding. He came up with a name that identified his race by place, it created excitement, you wanted to be part of it. As an intellectual and Choctaw, I know personally about the Indians and how screwed we were. But we were already screwed. I’ve got other issues besides the name of a bicycle race. When they said they were gonna change it, I said, “Oh my God, Bobby. Why?” I’m pretty conservative. I’m fine with the name American Indian, for example. Columbus didn’t know where he was going, he didn’t know where he’d been, misnamed things when he was there. But somehow, over 300 some years, the name stuck. American Indian has become an honorable name. I’m fine with it. My friends, we call each other Indians. We eat Indian tacos, we eat Indian food. We don’t talk about “Native Americans”. 15 or 20 years ago this “Native American” thing started coming down on us from academia, because that’s where it came from. This elitist thing, “Oh, we’re not going to call them “American Indians, anymore” I didn’t ask to have it changed. If you asked me I’d say I’m Choctaw. 

My grandmother pulled for every Indian mascotted team there was. She’d say, “They can change that but, then it’s out of sight out of mind.” She pulled for the Chiefs, she pulled for the Seminole. Oklahoma City University used to be “The Chiefs”. They honored that name. It wasn’t an ugly name. They changed it to something else, I don’t even know what they are now. I totally agree with her. Even if it’s kind of a caricature of the culture, at least it reminds people of the culture. They’re trying to homogenize it all now. I find the name “Native American” vague, ambiguous and just stupid. Additionally, it’s unnecessarily divisive. That’s how I feel about the name “Land Run.” I know about the Land Run. I know about the Indians, all that stuff. When Bobby said he was going to change it, I said to him, “Don’t do it.” Bobby said, “Some people really don’t like this.” I told him to ignore them. You’ll never make everybody happy, just leave it alone.

The things I read on Facebook after Bobby changed it! All these cycling fans were just saying, “Oh that’s great, that’s great. I didn’t know about that history. Oh, great, great, great. Perfect. Thank you, Bobby, for changing it.” I guess there were some people that were bothered by it, legitimately, but the Facebook posts drove me crazy. There are other things that bother me a lot about the relationship between the US government and the Indians. The BLM had squandered hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Indian Trust Fund and we settled for about $0.20 on the dollar. That bothers me. The Osage Murders bother me. There are a lot of things that bother me.

Right now there is a big case before the Supreme Court called “Sharp v. Murphy”. That bothers me. There is a saying, “Bad cases make bad laws.” That is a bad case. The ramifications are massive from that Murphy case. The opportunity for mischief by the Feds is huge. The tribes stand a real possibility of either getting what you wish for, and that being really bad if they jam it down our throats, or having our tribal jurisdiction jerked out from under us. It’s a mess.

Those kinds of things are much more important to me than the name of a bicycle race. The other thing I really resent is a lot of this crap gets pushed down without us asking. It’s so elitist. The fake outrage from people who had no idea until Bobby even told them there was an issue? It’s what I call virtue signaling. People don’t even know anything about it, the Indian situation and the Land Run. Once they hear about it they go, “Oh yeah, that’s really bad. Yeah, right, change that.” They think they raise their own virtue by saying, “Change the name.” It’s virtue signaling. You raise your virtue stake in your own eyes and you didn’t change it in mine. You aren’t doing anything to make the daily life of the Indians any better. You’re just saying something on Facebook and that’s the end of it. A lot of Indian issues bother me, but the name Land Run sure isn’t one of them.

Echos Of Futures Past, Part III: Father Aidan

Fr. Aidan ministers at St. Francis of the Woods, an Episcopalian religious community in Coyle, Oklahoma

We are located in the bounds of the Iowa Nation which is the closest tribe to us. They are headquartered in Perkins. Before it was Iowa land it was part of the Great Plains territory that tribes would migrate along while following the buffalo. So it’s always been Native land, for one thing. St. Francis, who we are named for, is the patron saint of the environment, ecology, and animals. He was able to connect with God, the Divine, most in nature and in animals. One of the Episcopalian Saints, David Pendleton, was a member of the Cheyenne tribe here in Oklahoma. And then we’ve had several members, primarily a Cherokee elder named Jackie Dill, who was a heritage wild crafter. Jackie was an incredible woman. She was taught by her Grandmother how to use native plants for medicine, food, and she had this deep connection with the Earth. If there were an embodiment of Mother Earth, it would have been Jackie Dill.

Her native ancestry and connection led us toward the direction of reverence for the Earth and the natural systems. This land had been in farm use for years before us. Wheat was what it was when I got here. But I had come with a vision of trying to restore it to it’s natural ecosystems. I think there is so much the Earth can teach us. Putting it back to what it was originally, what it was designed to be, was really important to me. My hope is that when it’s established as a prairie, it’ll be 95 acres, that we’ll be able to cut some walking trails and nature trails through the prairie and the cross timbers that border it. One of the hopes is that it will bring a lot of the native wildlife back to the area. That will draw more people out here to experience the native ecosystem. 

As a state Oklahoma has the largest native population in America. I think the biggest problem in Oklahoma is that we’re not taught Oklahoma history in most schools. There is general Oklahoma History as a required course but it’s usually taught by a football coach or basketball coach who doesn’t really care. They’re much more interested in being a coach. And so it ends up being one of those subjects that gets whitewashed. We get a few dates in history but we don’t actually get the stories, the causes and affects or the context of what really went on here. I think most that Oklahomans are fairly oblivious to their own history because of that. 

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there was an organized effort to eradicate Native culture. Not only in Oklahoma but across the United States. It was done primarily through the kidnapping of children and forcing them into boarding schools to reeducate them as white or “civilized” people. It was completely disturbing and child abuse and kidnapping. Absolutely abhorrent. There was an Episcopalian Deacon at the time named David “Oakerhater” Pendleton. He was a Cheyenne Sun Dancer, spiritual leader and warrior who fought against the US Army during the Relocation. He was captured, sent to prison in Florida where he converted to Christianity. After release he attended seminary school and became a Deacon. He left a Cheyenne warrior and came back as an Episcopal Deacon, which was quite a change culturally. One of the things he did to try to help with was the transition. Being in prison in Florida and seeing the culture in New York he realized that things were changing and there wasn’t anything they could do about it. The best the tribes could do was to change gracefully and maintain what they could. So he set up a church school in Watonga that kept Native children with their families instead of being forcibly removed. His journals are available online now, donated by his family to the Oklahoma History Center.

One thing that comes to mind currently is that we still have sports teams that are named, “The Redskins”. My little brother is in Kingston, OK and attends a school and that’s the mascot, “The Redskins.” How do you have this history and think that’s an appropriate mascot? Another big issue in Oklahoma right now, because of our Governor, is the casinos. The Governor has been battling for the two years he’s been in office to raise the percentage that the state gets from the tribes. The tribes are one of the largest contributors to the state budget and to the betterment of the state through their own efforts. I think that conflict between the state government and the tribes rearing up again about, “They should give us more money.” is more of the same thing. It’s like how much can you take from them? You’ve already taken all of their land, their culture, and now you want them to give you an even larger percentage of their income? 

As for the Land Run itself, it is such a complicated thing in history. It was horrid in so many ways. The stealing of Native lands after stealing, after stealing. Reduce their land, reduce their land, reduce their land and then take it away. But on the other hand it was really empowering and liberating for many African Americans who were able to own land for the first time. Black towns popped up all over Oklahoma as an organized effort during the Land Runs to create little communities and oasis where African Americans did not have to experience the racism of cities. It empowered people in poverty to make a new start. That’s probably the story of my Great Great Grandfather that he had nothing, he had to change his name, there is some family lore that he was a criminal *laughs*. But to have nothing and then participate in a race and then have 160 acres is pretty unheard of. Many people in Oklahoma can trace their time here to someone who participated in a Land Run. So there is a lot of complicated history around it.

I don’t think that I would be on the side that says, “The Land Run is 100% racist and they have to change the name.” I think that I’m more in line with let’s reconcile this thing. Give the name a new meaning and make it about education and the empowerment of Native communities instead. 

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.