With Sunday’s Saint Francis Tulsa Tough River Parks Criterium back on track, scheduled once again to run on the classic course, Tulsa’s true diehard spectators can rejoice and turn their attention to what’s really important — the rambunctious, raging party atop Cry Baby Hill.
The infamous hill at West 13th Street and South Jackson Avenue, with its notoriously grueling climb and high-speed descent down Riverside Drive, will provide attendees with all the usual thrills and excitement fans have come to expect.
And, while the route running up and through Cry Baby Hill won’t be new in 2019, the barricades lining the street to hold back boisterous fans will be.
As the lore surrounding Cry Baby Hill has grown with rampant attendance in recent years, rules and provisions restricting children, dogs and glass, among others, have been enacted to protect riders and spectators alike while still preserving the integrity of the party.
Barricades can be added to the list, too.
“We knew we had to take extra measures,” said Andy Wheeler, director of Cry Baby Hill. “We’ve become victims of our own success. Our excitement is contagious, and this thing has just kept getting bigger every year. We’re just outnumbered now.”
To call Cry Baby Hill organizers outnumbered by the crowd that will likely show up for Sunday’s criterium would be an understatement. Over the 14 years the Tulsa Tough has run through the city, the annual festival has swelled from its original 15 or so attendees in year one to an estimated 3,000 in 2015. With sunshine and no rain in sight for Sunday, attendance will match, if not exceed, that figure.
The growing influx of eager partygoers on the hill has in turn necessitated hiring security and the “Cry Baby Hill referees” to keep the celebration, relatively, in order. Yet even with those safeguards in place, Tulsa Tough officials and the referees have struggled in the past to keep the racing course clear of crowds and debris for oncoming riders, stoking increasingly heightened fears of a serious incident.
With barriers in place, the hope is that those issues and the stress that they come with will be mitigated this year.
“The primary responsibility will now turn over to the barricades,” said McCollam, who is riding in his first Tulsa Tough this weekend.
“The Cry Baby Hill referees will not need to be up there in the kinds of numbers that they’ve been in the past. I think they’re pretty pumped about that.”
Long held over the Cry Baby Hill faithful as a threat in response to bad behavior, the introduction of the barricades has been largely met with acceptance and understanding, Wheeler said.
While the decision was met with some intermittent backlash, most have come to view the barriers as necessary to keeping their yearly tradition alive.
Even with the new safeguards in place, Wheeler and his fellow Cry Baby Hill organizers will still be on the move, crowds will still need to be monitored and the importance of hydration, in particular, still needing to be preached.
But the addition of the barricades will remove much of the burden from their backs and will allow for those organizers to take in the event a little more than they’ve been able to in past years.
“I haven’t been able to sit back and enjoy the event in about six or seven years,” Wheeler said. “It’ll be nice to finally take a break.”