The Tour de Cheese
Before it was over, the name was changed to Tour de Freeze. Well, it was a great idea to start with. Watonga has its Cheese Festival on the last Saturday in October so we decided that it could be combined with a final overnight bike ride of the year. The year was 1991 and the OBS Tour de Cheese was launched.
There's a group camp at Roman Nose State Park which is normally closed after the last weekend in October, but that year the 31st came on Saturday and Sunday was November 1st, so they wanted to close it a week earlier. After a bit of negotiating, they agreed to keep the main building and the A-Frame cabins open for us but close and winterize the main bathrooms to prevent damage in case of freezing weather. We could use the two bathrooms with showers in the main dining hall.
The plan was to ride to Watonga, have lunch, do the cheese festival thing and then ride on to Roman Nose State Park for dinner and spend the night. Then after breakfast we would ride home or at least to where people had left their cars. We had a sag vehicle for luggage, the Foreman's motorhome, two or three other vehicles and a total of 36 people on bicycles when we set out in the crisp fall air on a beautiful Saturday morning.
After a pleasant ride along rural roads, most everyone gathered for lunch in Watonga. While they were eating, it was as described by Samuel Coleridge in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, "The wind switched round with a hurricane sound, and blew straight in from the north." The temperature dropped 24 degrees in 20 minutes and a cold, pelting rain was driven horizontally by the wind. The eight miles from Watonga to Roman Nose became a test of endurance. Shivering riders were plucked from behind road signs, in culverts or under leafless bushes by sag vehicles. Rangers brought word that two directionally challenged riders had called in from Greenfield, eight miles in the wrong direction from Watonga. A sag vehicle was dispatched to rescue them. Another rider missed the turnoff and rode an extra 10 miles into the teeth of the storm before he found the village of Hitchcock and realized his mistake.
Several urns of hot coffee and lots of spaghetti returned most to something close to normal. In the meantime, the rain turned to sleet and when it came time for bed, people were seen dragging mattresses from the heatless cabins to the kitchen where an overhead heater kept things nice and toasty. Few souls braved the night in the cabins.
By the time daylight came, it was also obvious that riding a bicycle home was out of the question so we began planning the logistics of moving more than forty people and 36 bicycles out of there. We discovered that between Russ Harris' pickup and the other vehicles available, only 21 bicycles could be hauled. So, it was decided to ferry the extra people to their cars and they would drive back to get their bikes. Had the INS spotted the Foreman's motorhome stuffed with strange people, they would surely have thought it was smuggling a load of illegals.
After a certain amount of recovery time, everyone decided that in spite of the unusual turn of the weather, we had a great time and would do it again next year. That year the weather was even worse, but at least it came two days earlier and the day we were supposed to ride, every rural road in Blaine County was coated with four inches of ice. The park allowed us to cancel out on the camp without costing anything, so we gave the food bought for the event to the Rescue Mission and the rest of the money was refunded.
The OBS still needed an end of the season ride, but one with a bit better chance of escaping the wrath of those Kansas cold fronts that tend to slip in around that time of the year. The event was moved 150 miles to the east and became the Tour de Trees. It has run for the past seven years without a weather problem other than an occasional shower.
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