Don’t Talk About the Weather: The Mid South 2023

The Mid South is infamous for its weather, which is banned from conversation by the staff in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Instead, the good people at The Mid South put all of their energy into providing an incredible experience for every single type of cyclist and person. Arguably the most welcoming and inclusive event on the calendar, it has cultivated a special community in the increasingly corporate world of gravel. Oh, and as for this year’s race the unmentionable weather was perfect.

This was my first gravel event of 2023 and my first Mid South. Before lining up, I didn’t know how badly I needed this weekend to happen.

The vibes were off the charts. Everyone was happy, stoked, friendly, and accepting. Hugs were being shared like candy. The Mid South has prioritized the right things: building and bolstering friendships, not status. Making connections, not dollars. Seeking adventure, not results. I’ve never taken so much away from a single event.

Snowcones were poured, the signature release Mid South beer was flowin’, and everyone was chatting about the burritos from BAB’s – Big Ass Burritos! They really were great (and big) and I had two in as many days.

Stillwater in March is infamous for its weather, to the point where it’s taboo for the event crew to even talk about it before go day. Luckily it was a cool morning with a raging tailwind for the first half of the race, followed by some sun and diminishing winds for the latter half. Dare I say, it was hot! I even got a sunburn! Not common, from what I’ve heard, but much appreciated.

The racing was fast, I think the winning group averaged 22mph. There were a few pinch points on the course. The high water crossing at mile 14 funneled everyone down into a short singletrack path unless you wanted to get up to your frame’s bottle cages in water. The next spot came at mile 89 where a more legit stretch of, albeit fast and flowy, singletrack created some separation in groups and allowed some gaps to be made. In the end, Payson McElveen sprinted from 600m (!) for the win, with John Borstelmann and Kerry Warner taking 2nd and 3rd respectively.

The Mid South was notably the first race (at least that I know of) to have dedicated non-binary race coverage. They followed Rachel McBride to an emotional and amazing win, followed by Apollo Leonard and Sam Hansen, respectively. That podium ceremony roared as loud as any!

On the women’s side, probably unsurprisingly at this point, Lauren De Crescenzo came across the line first with a sub-5hr time, followed by Caroline Wreszin in 2nd and Heather Jackson in 3rd. The strength and consistency of LDC is mind-boggling.

Speaking of finish lines, watching the unrelenting energy of Bobby Wintle welcoming every single person with a hug and genuine recognition of their achievement was an absolute highlight. Bobby had red hug stains on the back of his shirt from the rider’s dusty arms. He gave all of himself, making sure they knew they were loved and valued.

The evening turned cool and windy as we waited for the DFL (Dead Fucking Last) rider to come across the line. This event does an amazing job at celebrating every rider’s finish and nothing illustrated this more than the finish line party. The event crew installed a disco ball under the finishing banner so, naturally, the crowd grew and we started dancing and celebrating. Even some of the professional riders made reappearances, with Pete Stetina, Borstelmann, and Ryan Standish joining the fun. I heard they always come back for the DFL, which is pretty rad and says a lot. Kudos, guys!

As the DFL came into town, the Red Dirt Jeep Club (who ran support for media and riders during the entire race) followed her into town with their lights blasting behind. Marley Blonsky from All Bodies on Bikes rolled in over 14 hours after she set off. The crowd absolutely went bonkers. Champagne everywhere, cheering, dancing, screaming. Bobby hoisted a cow skull into the air. The skull was presented to Marley, and a blanket signed by hundreds of peeps, including Mid South staff, was draped over her shoulders.

This was the culmination of an entire weekend dedicated to connectivity, intention, and love. Everyone is celebrated and appreciated equally. Bikes were just a vehicle to achieve those goals.