By TEDDYE SNELL
One way to learn more about an area or town is to travel its roads on a bicycle.
Beginning June 8, about 650 cyclists will take to the roads in Northeastern Oklahoma as Freewheel 2013 gets under way. The event’s route changes from annually, and it will be the fourth time the group makes Tahlequah a stop.
On Wednesday, several of the riders – including Joy Hancock and Ross Snider – were in town, discussing logistics and planning with Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Kate Kelly and Tahlequah Main Street Director Drew Haley.
“We generally drive the route [in cars] once just to check it out,” said Hancock. “Then we’ll make the trip on bicycles just to get everything in perspective. I’ve been trying to blog about it, but the Internet and wireless capabilities have been really spotty. We will be doing video recaps throughout the actual ride, though.”
Freewheelers will begin their trip Saturday, June 8, at the Texas border and will ride to Idabel, 41 miles away. The route will then proceed all the way to Joplin, Mo., with stops in Antlers, Talihina, Warner, Tahlequah, Pryor and Miami. All told, the trip will be between 458 and 509 miles long, depending on the optional routes.
“Our mission, really, is to promote bicycle tourism in Oklahoma,” said Hancock. “Some of the riders participate for the fitness aspect, but most of them are riding as tourists, to see other cities and towns along the route.”
Kelly said riders have told her they often use Freewheel as a family vacation.
Riders will make two stops a day along the route at points of interest for a “fruit break.”
“We’ll buy local produce from vendors to provide to the riders,” said Snider. “When we stop in the towns, we’ll be visiting their restaurants and shops.”
Hancock said the restaurants are of key importance, considering the number of calories the riders burn each day.
“We describe ourselves as a plague of locusts,” said Hancock. “On this ride, we’ve ridden 350 miles over four days, so you can imagine how hungry we are. Tomorrow, we’ll ride over 100 miles.”
During the actual event, Freewheel will make camp in Tahlequah Wednesday, June 12 and Thursday, June 13.
Kelly believes Freewheel is a great way to introduce new visitors to Tahlequah.
“They will have a bunch of new riders this year, some from out of state,” said Kelly. “It’s just a great way for them to get to know our city. We’ll be running a shuttle service from the Freewheel camp at Tahlequah High School into town.”
Kelly said the event also provides a tremendous economic boost to Tahlequah.
“We are also offering our riders something new this year,” said Hancock.
“We have a Freewheel passport. Each participant should get five stamps or stickers each day in their book by visiting points of interest. At the end of each day, we’ll have a raffle for prizes.”
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