36 Hours in Kitsbow: Wheels and Weddings

Recently Tyler and good friend of the shop Taylor Weichman had the opportunity to work with Kitsbow Clothing to make a video documenting a series of adventures culminating in a wet and muddy ride to our Service Manager Austin’s wedding. Seth Wood wrote up a beautiful piece documenting the adventure which didn’t make the cut on Kitsbow’s post, so we decided to post it here in it’s entirety. Special thanks to Anthony Croff, Tessa Burris, Trey Nixon and Mark Siems for all of their help putting this thing together.

36 Hours in Kitsbow: Wheels and Weddings

By Seth Wood

Not every ride goes according to plan. With the right company, it doesn’t matter. For better or for worse, for richer and for poorer, all that jazz…

The stars of this ride report are its people or the bonds between them. A wedding occasioned the ride. It came together as a side effect of a reunion among certain too long parted friends. The other player in this narrative is the setting: the red dirt roads of Oklahoma – a rugged and hilly expanse surrounding the small, big college town of Stillwater, and the ever changeable weather of the American Prairie. The opportunity to share a ride in video form featuring our little corner of the world inspired a modest vision: after closing down the local bike shop, we’d ride to the nearby bikepacking haven, Keith’s Bike Fort, and hopefully get moving early enough the next day to make a detour from our ride back to Stillwater to hit some single-track at Lake McMurtry Park. This last idea represented the first of several deviations from the original plan: heavy rains the previous week had caused the wedding site to be moved from Lake McMurtry to Downtown Stillwater, so the trail-riding (the trail riding that ultimately never happened) was a bit more out of our way than initially designed.

We thought we had time to sneak in all this riding before the wedding, but we weren’t fussed. The twelve-mile ride to Keith’s Bike Fort in Perkins, OK, carries you along one of the main gravel thoroughfares of Payne County. South Washington St. connects small pockets of residential dwellings, abandoned and derelict ranch infrastructure, oil and gas extraction sites and storage wells, and one white-paneled church. Riding due south from Stillwater toward the Bike Fort on Washington carries you over sets of short, punchy climbs we call “rollers,” but the virtue of the route is its accessibility. It was the road my son and I slowly pedaled over during his first bikepacking trip at the age of 8. About every other road that intersects with Washington can carry you westward toward some of the best climbing and most scenic vistas mid-south gravel has to offer. On that ride with my son I would point down the gnarliest roads to show him what we were building to. On this particular night, our crew bee-lined to the Bike Fort, having taken more time to close down the shop than we’d hoped, stopping at intervals to capture video and photos in the failing light along the way. It was dark by the time we arrived at the Bike Fort. Friends had driven out to hang, and they greeted us with pizza dinner, a fire, and s’mores. Bike Fort magic held sway until everyone was asleep. Since he had journeyed farthest to be there, Taylor claimed the coveted double bed suspended from the tin roof of the Bike Fort patio; every other rider took to a bivy, tent, or (ahem) VW Westfalia Camper van.

Perkins resident Keith Reed began construction on his Bike Fort several years ago after accomplishing a cross-country ride utilizing the Warm Showers hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. Keith wanted to build a stopover for bike tourers passing through north central Oklahoma, dozens of whom have left notes of thanks in the Bike Fort visitor’s book. Today, the place has evolved beyond its original design to serve as gathering place and unofficial community center for local bike lovers. Keith installed an aboveground pool there to help get us through the hot, summer months; we hosted a kid’s birthday party there and projected Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on a white sheet hanging from the porch so we could enjoy a movie under the stars (until it rained); we’ve had pot lucks there to say goodbye to friends who moved away and to greet newcomers to town. There’s the beginning of a pump track emerging out of the earth in the backyard. Keith’s latest pet project is a gazebo housing seating for ten and a fire pit that vents through a ceiling of grapevine and coffee bean bags, and Keith constructed it without anyone’s help. Because he’s Keith. And his Bike Fort is pure magic.

Our overnighter in Perkins prior to Sally and Austin’s wedding delivered all the fun we have come to expect from the Bike Fort. There was a perfectly cooked marshmallow or ten. There was an endless pile of wood. There was rib-cracking laughter around the fire. Later, after we finally bedded down, it poured. The night was so mild and peaceful I had fallen asleep with my bag and bivy gathered around my chest, and I woke up to a face full of rain. I sealed myself into the bivy easily enough before the water started falling with such force that I could feel droplets shattering into smaller bits through the Cuben Fiber. I unzipped, carried my sleep kit into the Bike Fort, and got another couple hours of shut eye curled up next to the wood burning stove before racing the sun to get myself to work on time. In the morning, the rain abated long enough to let the folks who stayed at camp make coffee in the open air, but it came and went at intervals throughout the day. Trail riding, we knew, was out, but that didn’t stop a soggy ride out to the lake for those who weren’t needed at work or at the wedding.

I mean, what’s the point of owning posh gear if you never test it? But, really, we’re just good friends looking for good times on bikes. In Oklahoma you learn to make a lot out of a little. The remains of a cyclocross course in the park downtown, a flask half-full of whatever, a rain jacket, some puddles, and a handful of free hours can make a year’s worth of memories. Like how an emptied coffee shop can be a last-minute backdrop to the most special of moments if it’s filled up again with the right mixture of souls. Turns out that the unfortunate weather that scrambled our storyboards helped us tell a truer story. Ask around about the Land Run 100, and you’ll learn that we know how to put together an epic ride or two in Oklahoma, but a more honest reflection of our community of bike riders is found in those everyday rides that go according to plan or don’t, while the people sharing them barely notice the difference.