GROVE, Okla. – The sun was just breaking through on Saturday morning as 350 cyclists left Grove on the last leg of the 426-mile Oklahoma Freewheel bicycle tour.  

Delaware County District Judge Barry Denney of Grove has ridden in the Oklahoma Freewheel tour for the past ten years.

“I’ve always been active,” Denney said. 

The 71-year-old judge had back surgery in 2014 and began riding mountain bikes with his son.  He later developed an interest in riding road bikes, he said.

“It was great,” Denney said. “You meet a lot of interesting people.”,

Denney said he met a woman who graduated in 1959 with the Little Rock Nine.   

The actions of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine Black students, in September 1957 set up the 1954 Supreme Court Case known as Brown v. Board of Education, and its subsequent ruling declaring segregation in public schools as unconstitutional.

Denney said one of the highlights of the tour was listening to the woman’s historical account of segregation.

One of the downsides of the trip was the rain, he said.

Dealing with rain all week was the most challenging aspect of the tour, said Trevor Steward, No Drop Tours director, and co-owner.

Most of the riders left Grove between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Saturday and arrived in Galena, Kan. around 10 a.m., he said.

The riders wanted to beat the Oklahoma heat.  The heat index topped around 100-degrees on Saturday, according to The Weather Channel.

We budgeted over $1,300 just for ice,” Steward said.

The week-long bicycle tour started on June 5 in Idabel and zig-zagged around eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas ending Saturday morning in Galena, Kan. Bicyclists camp out in several Oklahoma communities along the way, including Broken Bow, Poteau, Vian, Tahlequah, and Grove.

Oklahoma Freewheel is one of four tours sponsored by No Drop Tours.

“I thought we were going to be down,” Steward said referring to the number of bicyclists.

The Covid Pandemic prompted the tour to take a break in 2020, he said.

“We might have had more (riders) this year than last year,” Steward said.

Steward said there is an upward trend in the number of riders.

The average age of the group was 60-years-old, with the oldest rider being 96-years-old and the youngest being 13 years old, he said.

The 96-year-old rider didn’t complete the tour, but he did ride 196 miles, Steward said.

“Some riders used electric bikes which help keep people riding longer,” Steward said.

Steward had high praise for the food provided by several Grove restaurants.

The Masons provided breakfast, he said.

“I have never run out of food (during the bicycle tours), but I did last night,” Steward said, referring catering by The Café at Har-Ber Village. 

The riders camped on the Grove Community Center lawn and held their “End of Trail” celebration on-site, he said.

The specialized eateries were wonderful, he said.