Very soon, Tulsa will be inundated with bicycles as the 11th annual Saint Francis Tulsa Tough opens on Friday June10. The Tulsa Tough is a three-day cycling festival that offers rides for just about every fitness level. Even if you’re not a cyclist, it’s amazing to watch the criterion rides on Friday night in the Blue Dome District or Saturday in the Brady Arts District. It’s thrilling to be among the crowd cheering the skill and speed of these professional cyclists.
There are also rides for recreational cyclists to join; ranging in distances of 36, 64 and 102 miles. There is even a 5.8 mile Townie ride on Sunday afternoon for families. This will be my fourth year to ride the Gran Fondo - which is a distance of a little over 100 miles. It may sound crazy, but I look forward to this event every summer. It’s become a tradition for my husband and me. Our oldest son began riding this event in 2011, and he inspired me to attempt the distance.
Bikes and cycling have been part of our family from the very beginning. Steve and I rode many miles together in the months we were dating and through our early marriage. Each of our kids can recall being pulled behind Steve’s bike in the trailer before they were on their own two wheels. Now that they’re all teens and older, we’ve returned to riding as a couple. These are sweet times together, reminiscent of our early years.
Being on a bike brings me a sense of happiness – joy – freedom. I am generally a cautious person, but on the bike I find a higher level of courage and tolerance for speed. Admittedly, on a bike, speed is relative. Slowly climbing a hill at 8-10 mph and then flying down the other side at 25-30 mph is something I welcome. On the long, flat roads of Oklahoma, cycling can feel like a nature walk on two wheels; listening to the rhythmic rustling of tall grass, the calls of birds, the occasional sighting of wildlife, even the chance to stop and forage mulberries along the trail. There are also a few less-than-pleasant realities of cycling on the open road: blasts of hot air from passing vehicles, drivers who honk and yell as they come alongside you and the presence of fresh road kill. As a cyclist, you just take it all. Welcome to life in the bike lane!
Cycling also tests me as an athlete – pushing me to summon strength, develop endurance and dig deep for determination. The Gran Fondo ride is no Sunday afternoon picnic. It’s incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding. The event begins downtown with hundreds of cyclists leaving en masse. There is the familiar whir of chains gliding over cogs, the cheers of spectators and the adrenaline rush of a tribe coming together again. But after only a few miles on the course, the riders spread out behind the peloton into clusters of bikes and several will ride alone for much of the 100 mile distance.
For me, the Tulsa Tough is a chance to enjoy time with part of my family as we press through one of the most physically demanding days of our year. It’s also about being in and among the cycling community. This is Tulsa! And this event brings together cyclists from all over the nation, and support from all over town.
I am looking forward to testing my training again next weekend. I’m not a fast rider, and that’s okay. This is not about winning or setting records. It’s about fitness and family. I am grateful for both.