City Cycles 2024 Osage State Park Bikepacking Trip

City Cycles 2024 Osage State Park Bikepacking Trip

I pulled my bike down from the workstand and admired its wide, silver bars and the utilitarian aesthetic provided by its rear rack and front basket. Everything was ready to go. I threw my panniers on the rear rack  and stuffed my frame and basket bags with food, the rainfly to my tent and a water bladder. 

Tomorrow 15 people and myself were headed 65 miles north into the tallgrass prairies of the Osage Reservation and camping out in Osage State Park. 

It had been nearly 8 months since my last bikepacking trip, and I was itching to get back in the saddle. I had been eyeing the (locally) iconic gravel roads that sprawled up and out of Tulsa into the countryside for the last few years and I finally decided to take the time to sit down and draw out a route. The shorter route, which I would be doing, was a solid 60/40 split between gravel and tarmac. We received a ton of interest upon sharing the route online, and soon, we had quite a crew together. 

The morning of the ride Caleb and I arrived at the shop around 7 and brewed some coffee, welcomed all the long-route folks (who would be departing from the shop and doing 80 miles that day) and sent them on their way. 

Caleb’s awesome aunt, Katie, had offered to SAG for the weekend, and all of us gratefully accepted her offer. There was only one stop on the first day in Wynona, and the second day in the loop only offered a stop in the recently ravaged Barnsdall about 25 miles into the day. A water stop in those long, unpaved sections of country roads would be pretty nice.

The other short route riders and myself linked up with the long-route group at the Zink ranch fire station and met the owner, Charles, who gave me a tour of the new venue space they had built out on the property and gave the rest of the short route riders the thumbs up on parking overnight. Charles is a fourth generation rancher, and the land his family has ranched has stayed in the family for nearly a hundred years. 

A decent number of the riders were from Stillwater, and they had met up with the long-route folks on their way up to the fire station where the short-routers were starting. 

And then we were off!

 Within ten minutes of riding we were onto some of the most iconic gravel roads in Oklahoma. Zink ranch never disappoints. We were gently ushered into the expansive backcountry of Oklahoma; a theater of dust, cattle and clear blue skies.

We briefly hopped onto some paved roads again to traverse the rocky shores of Skiatook lake and jumped into its waters for a final taste of cooler temperatures before the relentless midday Oklahoma heat.

Then, it was back onto the gravel roads, due northwest for Wynona. 

We all arrived in one piece and regrouped at the small gas station in Wynona. Doritos, pizza, chocolate milk, Redbulls, iced coffees and all manner of processed food products were devoured within a matter of minutes. After resting for about 45 minutes and refilling water bottles, we hit the road again and beelined for Osage State Park.

Coming out of Wynona, hills began to erupt out of the earth, small valleys parsed open and the evidence of controlled burns and wildfires revealed themselves. 

By this time the heat had gotten pretty intense. We would all huddle underneath the one or two sparse trees growing along the side of the barren roads like thirsty cattle. By now, my legs still felt strong, but my body as a whole was beginning to yield to the heat. 

 The occasional sight of Katie’s navy Honda SUV in the distance was always a sight for sore eyes. Twice in the second half of the day we stopped to fill up our bottles out of the back of her car. A true godsend. 

The final 12 miles into camp brought the most intense ascents of the day. By now, temps had reached the 90s and every climb was more so a battle against the hot and stagnant air that came with moving so slowly up the steep grades than the effort required to pedal up them.

Eventually, we pounded out the final mile to the entrance of Osage State Park on Highway 60, and made the long, winding descent into the valley. We all regrouped at a park pavilion and crawled into the cold, rocky waters of Sand Creek to wash away the day’s sweat, dust and heat. I regretted not bringing my ultralight fly fishing kit to hook a few bass, but alas, there's always next year! 

The weather forecast for that evening had been hanging over our heads all day, and even all week prior to the trip. Intense thunderstorms with the chance of softball sized hail and tornadoes were forecasted to blow in from the west. I spotted several old stone buildings on the way in, and the park ranger recommended one in particular that had been standing for over a century. 

It’s fascinating to see all of the old Civilian Conservation Corps buildings in our state parks from FDR’s New Deal. The CCC was one of the few New Deal programs that actually gained any traction in Oklahoma. These old timber framed and stone structures are still standing an entire century later and would serve as our shelter in the event of a tornado or intense hail. 

A friend of the shop made a heroic drive up from Tulsa and brought us some delicious potato and veggie salads that were a tantalizing supplement to our packaged camp food and gas station snacks. 

For two hours, several of us watched as lightning cracked and splintered through the eddied gray skies overhead. I was both enamored by nature’s astounding beauty and praying that its indifferent forces did not violently come thrashing down on our small camp of tents. Luckily, as the night wore on, we received only dabblings of rain and several lightning strikes close to camp. 

The next morning I awoke to a small puddle of water in my tent and a wet rainfly. One of the sewn seams on my rainfly had begun leaking over the past year. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to spend another night in the tent. I removed the rainfly, shook off the previous night’s rain (and the several Coors I’d had) and let the rest of my tent dry out while I made instant oatmeal.

Caleb brought his AeroPress and whipped up a tasty brew to supplement my flavorless cup of instant Folgers. 

The crew from Stillwater left about an hour and a half earlier than us, citing a desire to beat the heat, and I couldn’t blame them. The rest of us took our time getting ready, and by 8:30 we were fed, watered and loaded up for the day. We began the long and steady climb out of the park towards Highway 60. I felt pretty well rested from the day before, but most of us just took our time on the first climb of the day to warm up our legs. 

Within 2 miles, we were back on the primeau gravel roads of rural Oklahoma. 

The first 35 miles brought several climbs at 10 percent or steeper, almost always followed by slow and steady descents. The views were literally breathtaking. Those climbs were no joke, and you earned every second of awe. I almost had to walk several of them despite the sub 1:1 gearing on my All-City Gorilla Monsoon.

Luckily we knocked those ascents out before noon, and descended into the wreckage and disaster in Barnsdall. Amazingly, the C-Store was open. 

As I rode by the dozens of homes leveled by the tornado, I was reminded of how lucky I was to have a home to return to, and to have the privilege of voluntarily leaving that home to go explore and convene with nature and friends. 

After slamming 4 pieces of fried chicken, a tray of potato wedges, a large Coke and chocolate milk, we refilled our water bottles and bought some extra candy for the long, scalding stretch of gravel ahead of us. 

As we continued southwards we encountered many false flats and (what felt like) intense climbs. It felt never ending. The views were incredible, but I was admittedly losing sight of the bigger picture as the heat sapped my mental clarity and physical agility. My legs weren’t tired, but this was one of my first rides in the heat this year, and I was feeling it. 

When we finally made it back to Skiatook lake, I finally felt like the end was in sight. I realized how much fitness I’d lost since opening the shop. Almost a year prior, I had finished the Tulsa Ironman. Now, a 65 mile day in the heat was a real challenge. Luckily, I finally had the time to start riding in a real way again. I was so grateful to be able to pound out some decent miles in a fantastic landscape. 

The final stretch through Zink ranch was surprisingly easy, as we had a strong tailwind carrying us through the last few rolling, gravel roads and the final section of tarmac to the firestation. 

Overall, it was an amazing trip. The connections made with friends new and old made for lasting memories. It was so rewarding to see an event that our shop hosted bring people together in this way. This is what I love most about cycling: its ability to provide intimate access to incredible places and create a community held together by shared experiences. Here's to many more incredible adventures!

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