Well, this is
how it all started.
By Laurie Allshouse
In 1997, I was working with Alan Green at Oklahoma Graphics. He told me how much fun biking was and how much he enjoyed the exercise and camaraderie. He encouraged me to give it a try. He knew I loved to travel and told me all about the Katy Trail in Missouri. It is a Rails to Trails program, where the old Katy Railroad was transformed into a biking and walking trail 225 miles long. The trail consists of finely crushed gravel and cars are not allowed. I thought I would love biking and Jim would hate it since there wasn't a motor involved. That would start one more argument as the bikes hung in the garage, unused.
We were vacationing in Missouri in the fall of ‘97 and stopped at Bed & Breakfast in Augusta. The H.S. Clay House happened to have two bikes that we could borrow and ride a little of the trail. We rode to Defiance 7 miles away. We stopped for a snack and on the way back we had to get off our bikes and walk for a while. Our butts were just not in shape. But we both loved the ride and decided to buy two mountain bikes and come back to ride more of the trail. I didn't want to ride on roads with cars. It was much too dangerous.
When we purchased our first bikes from Jerry at The Bicycle Store, we explained that we were planning on riding the Katy trail in the spring on '98. He told us we needed to train for the ride and then we wouldn't have butt problems. That is when we were introduced to the OBS Saturday Donut ride and the gentle guidance of Fred Kamp. Riding on city streets struck fear in my heart but most streets were low traffic. We met some great people, including Jim Nelson who talked us into riding t-shirt rides and he invited us to ride FreeWheel with him. But I hadn't camped since I was a child and 50 or 60 miles in a day sounded like too much to me.
In April of 1998 we rode from Columbia, MO to St. Charles on the Katy Trail with my mom and friend, John Reasoner. We had a vehicle parked at both ends so our transportation needs were met but it proved to be a major pain jockeying both vehicles around. We made plans for October 1999 to ride from Sedalia to St. Charles and back to Washington to catch the train, returning us to Sedalia. Jim and Arletta Webster, Steve and Cynthia Wade, and Susan Walker joined my mom with Jim and I for that trip.
In 1998 Jim started asking for a road bike. I kept hesitating because I didn't want to ride in heavy traffic. Jim Nelson kept talking about how great FreeWheel, the annual ride across Oklahoma, was but we would need road bikes to ride the long distances. We were in the bike store, one day in June, and I spotted two silver Giants on sale. Our 25th anniversary was coming up. It is the silver anniversary and I thought it would be neat to get those bikes for the occasion.
By the spring of 1999, Jim Nelson had talked me into considering FreeWheel. There was still that camping issue and the traffic issue but I was getting more comfortable in traffic. We went on the OBS Spring Fling down at Lake Murray. I LOVED camping. Jim Nelson jumped right in and talked us into riding FreeWheel 1999 in the hilliest portion of Oklahoma. We rode in Jim Nelson's van along with Gary Cannon, Mike McKee and Bob Noll. Being the only female, I was terrified. My fears were soon put to rest and I had the funniest week of my entire life. I never laughed so much for so long. Mike and Bob were a comedy team 24/7. I got to drive on Tuesday, which seemed to be the hardest day. One day we were on some narrow road that all these big trucks were on for some unknown reason. Even the sag people were griping. Me? I was having the time of my life. If one of those trucks hit me . . . . . I would die a happy person. I couldn’t believe that I went from being scared to ride on roads to sharing those roads with 18-wheelers.
The weather was perfect for me. I didn't have to fight the heat. The last day into Baxter Springs it was raining, again. All the guys decided they needed to drive. Arletta Webster said she would ride with me. When we hit that Kansas border, you couldn't have wiped the smile off my face with anything. I grinned like fool all the way through town. I was so proud.
The thing that bothered me the most about that first FreeWheel was finding out that the showers were not private. No one had told me. They said they were primitive. The guys really teased me about my shower phobia.
We've ridden three more FreeWheels since then in 2001, 2002 and 2003. I often think about those fears I had initially. Traffic really bothered me while riding Tour de Wyoming in June of 2003, but it was traveling at high rates of speed. In some places I thought we were riding on the German Autobahn. NONE of the showers were private. I get better all the time with that issue. And as for camping, I think I would camp every weekend in the spring and fall. When they invent an air-conditioned tent, I'll be out in the heat of summer, too.
There is nothing like discovering the world while sitting on a bike. The planet looks different. You can smell and feel the spirit of the land. We’ve met the nicest people, who never cease to amaze us with their friendship and generosity. May the adventures continue to inspire our souls.