Love, Joy and Hope at The Mid South 2024

The Mid South doesn’t need an introduction. But if you missed or, or have yet to visit Stillwater, Oklahoma, maybe you need some vicarious feels. Jarrod Bunk shares photos and words that try to capture the magic of the most inclusive event in gravel.

The Mid South, now in its 12th year, has touched so many folks’ lives in ways you probably wouldn’t associate with a gravel race. But, then again racing is such a tiny part of what makes up the event. This is the place for you if you want community over competition. Over the last 12 years, the sleepy streets of Stillwater, Oklahoma, have been bursting with runners and bicyclists from all over the world, just as the students of OSU spend their spring break out of town. This weekend in March has been reserved in so many folks’ hearts and calendars as The Mid South weekend, rain or shine. And believe me, I’d pick this part of the country over where I usually reside at this time of the year ten out of ten times.

So what does an event with no cash purse offer to its competitors, cough: its attendees? Love, joy, and hope. It is a special place for folks from all over to feel good. What I mean is in a world filled with hate, this beacon of an event, of a community, is something that can provide folks with hope year round, in Oklahoma, no less. No really, you can ride this wave for 365, it’s just that good. It’s a place that can show you what real family and friends are about. Few places can provide what this crew does.

Not your grandpa’s gravel race, the three-day festival was stacked with rides—like the Salsa Denim Ride and the Chamois Butter X Sad Velo Ride—and non-stop live music from: Tyler Siems, Bobcat (with special guest Rhett Shull), King Cabbage Brass Band, and Belle and The Vertigo Waves, just to name a few. A stellar lineup of vendors like Moodust, Concrete Trails, Swift Industries and Salsa rounded out the weekend.

The event has shifted from its original drop-bag format from a few years back and is now filled with aid stations on all the courses serving up high fives, stoke, and, of course, snacks, water, and other amenities. The 50-mile, or the halfway point of the route, felt particularly uplifting.

As Crystal shared with me and others over a family dinner the other night, The Mid South doesn’t believe in imposing cut-offs. Having spent time at the back of the pack on a lot of gravel rides with cutoffs, I found something pretty special in hearing that folks rolling into the halfway point who want to keep going aren’t cut off, and because of this, there will be folks waiting at the finish line ready to welcome them with stoke, a hug, and finisher regalia, whether a rider is number 1 or 3469.

It is hard to express how great a feeling it is to be appreciated, seen, and allowed to wrap a ride under your agency, no matter your body size or fitness, because maybe that moment is the thing that can get you out of a dark place. I know, I’ve been there. Conspirators and friends over at The Mid South have been converging for years and while the scale of the event has grown three fold, to over 3,000 attendees, since the first time I touched down in Oklahoma in 2017, it hasn’t lost what makes its special.

I’d only ever witnessed the event from the course over the last five year, but this year, the Mid South really came alive for me in the hours after dark. In Oklahoma the sunsets are some of the longest out there. I got to see folks roll in as and after the sun set but the party doesn’t stop until the last rider is in. Last place or, to use the event’s term, “dead fucking last (DFL),” is celebrated here, and by many.

How many? Several hundred folks joined in unison to party til the last person rolled in. It was wild. This year our friends over at All Bodies on Bikes hosted an official party. Alma Rivero rolled in with Beth McBride just a few tenths of a second behind to take the DFL crown and take home a set of steer horns. Over sixteen hours in the saddle to get that Bobby hug!

So what does it take to put on an event like this at this scale? Heart! Everyone I’ve encountered from earlier in the week til the event wrapped, has something special about them. Sure, there’s the hustle, but there’s something so much larger here than words or a gallery could ever clue you into. Folks fill each other’s hearts with love; this year may have been the most love-filled. Bobby really drove home that everyone should be present and that being present is a present. Maybe you’ve had a rough few years, and the fact that you’re still breathing is the greatest gift ever. Take time to appreciate that and hold onto hope while you can.

The Mid South continues its legacy of love and elation next year from March 13-16 2025, will you be at the finish line to get your Bobby hug? If you had a life-altering moment out there, or felt the love, please leave a comment below and let us know.