OKEMAH — Tom Campbell participated in the first 40 Oklahoma Freewheel bicycle tours. But when it came time to register for the 41st, the retired physician from Sand Springs was not sure if he wanted to saddle up again.
“This year, I wasn’t going to go. I said, I’ve done 40, that’s it,” Campbell said. But the closer it got, I gotta do one more while I’m able.”
Riding from sunrise until late afternoon each day, about 400 cyclists are making the trek from Hugo to Sedan, Kansas, in the 41st annual Freewheel ride across Oklahoma.
Campbell enjoys the tour because it lets him escape from the noise and stress of regular life.
“You ever wanted to just lay under a tree and look at the clouds float by? I get to do that during this week,” Campbell said after finishing up Wednesday’s ride. “I think the biggest thing, though, is that it gives you a chance each year to only worry about getting from point A to point B.”
As riders arrived in Okemah, their fourth stop along the more than 400-mile route, old friends congratulated each other on making it as they settled in for the evening.
After dealing with a malfunctioning bike on the ride to Okemah, Alisha Mueller, who has participated in the tour once before in 2017, was happy to have some time to relax.
“My body is glad to be done,” Mueller said.
As the day wore on and other cyclists opted for a nap, Mueller waited for her friends to make it to camp.
“It’s more of a family feel, Oklahoma FreeWheel is,” Mueller said. “We always like coming here.”
Kirk Wester and his 12-year-old daughter Isabel Wester-Rivera, both Tulsa residents, are participating in this year’s tour on a tandem bike.
“The hills are very big,” Isabel said. “Since I’m on the tandem, I kind of switch back and forth with my dad. I help him, and then I rest, and then I help him, and then I rest.”
Isabel’s favorite part so far has been flying down the hills with her dad, but she is also really excited to participate in the talent show on Thursday, she said.
Riding down one of the bigger hills along the route to Okemah, Isabel and Kirk nearly hit 50 mph, they said.
“I beat my brother’s record!” Isabel said.
Kirk took his son on Freewheel when he was 10 years old, and he hopes that the experience will show Isabel “what she is capable of,” he said.
Kirk is excited for his daughter to be able to tell her friends at school, “I rode close to 500 miles across the state of Oklahoma, what’d you do this summer?’” he said.
Riders spend about 50-75 miles a day riding from stop to stop while a semi truck transports their gear.
The cyclists will leave Okemah for Drumright at sunrise on Thursday, before reaching their penultimate stop in Pawhuska the next day.
The finish line opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday in Sedan, Kansas.