Tour de Meers

By Shel Wagner

Teddy Roosevelt first expressed what folks in the Wichitas had long known:  that southwestern Oklahoma’s mystical mountains are a national treasure.  It was 1905 when he proclaimed 59,000 rugged acres would be set aside for future generations, as a forest and wildlife preserve.

Thrumming with tales of hidden mines and buried fortunes, this swath of geography was the last piece of America to be opened to white settlement.  It is the closest you will ever come to touching the authentic Wild West.

One of my favorite ways to soak in the splendor of the Wichita Mountains is to whisper past them via bicycle, during the Tour de Meers event.

Begun in the late 1980s as the sole source of funding for the Meers Volunteer Fire Department, the ride is held annually on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. (May 26th this year).  Most bicycle events attract a share of hardcore racers, but the variety of routes (from 10 to 62-mile treks) assure that Tour de Meers draws as many families and casual riders as it does serious cyclists.    

My tween-aged daughter and I resolved to confront the mountains together.  We chose the 22-mile route which proved a bonding adventure, with terrain challenging enough to instill a sense of accomplishment, but not so impossible as to leave us cranky and resentful. 

As the day stretched out the riding pack thinned until, for segments at a time, it was just the two of us, tiny against pristine pastures and epic, boulder-covered mountains.

My daughter still talks about gliding past free-ranging bison “not even behind a fence!” and the velocity of the steep mountain roads.  At one point, glancing at her bike speedometer she hollered, “Mommy, I’m going forty!”

Early finishers don’t receive a metal or trophy, but instead something even more coveted:  the front of the line at The Meers Store, an old rattletrap of a building you might not brave without encouragement.  Their burgers, made of prize-winning Texas Longhorn beef, are the recipient of a slew of national “Best Burger” awards.  This bucket-list delicacy is served on a pie plate and cut into quarters, so you can actually grab hold of it.

While you digest, head to the neighboring cobblestone community of Medicine Park, where the Mayor’s Red Dirt Ball guarantees to keep toes tapping for three solid days. A dozen top bands perform live on an outdoor stage:  Friday, May 25th through Sunday, May 27th. 

Built as a pleasure resort and health spa in the early 1900s, Medicine Park gets its name from the creek that meanders through town, rumored to have healing powers.  We threw our noodled legs, cannonball-style, into the cool, restorative waters. 

Medicine Park is also where your comfy bed awaits.  View lodging options, from B&Bs to motel suites, by clicking TravelOK.com and searching “Medicine Park.”  We claimed a recently-rescued one-room cabin, cloaked in those signature, bowling ball stones.

The next day, linger for lunch at The Old Plantation restaurant, a faithfully-restored landmark, plating up substantial American fare.  The walls are lined with photos of Medicine Park’s past, and if you listen closely you can almost hear the echo of this building’s “Roaring 20s” hey-day.  Yesterday’s bike ride has justified at least one more indulgence, and I’d suggest a “Skookie”: a giant chocolate chip cookie in a skillet, topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup.

Even before Skookies, giant burgers and Red Dirt music, Teddy Roosevelt recognized this corner of Oklahoma for its tourism gifts.  Just think how impressed Teddy would be if he could pay a modern-day visit, especially over Memorial Day weekend…