The Mid South’s Course Atlas: ‘This is about much more than the course itself’
Every participant will receive a copy of the 64-page book that prominently features Indigenous narratives and cultural and environmental histories amid information about the event.
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Event ‘swag bags’ can be hit or miss, sometimes filled with useful samples (chain lube, chamois cream) but often with disposable things we could do without.
At this year’s Mid South, however, there is something tucked into every rider and runner’s bag that race director Bobby Wintle deems almost as important as the event itself: The Mid South Course Atlas, a 64-page, 5×7 inch book that contains a library of information about Oklahoma — from Indigenous perspectives on the state’s cultural history to scientists’ takes on its flora and fauna. The book also features all of the course information for the running and riding routes.
Related: Monuments of Gravel: The Mid South
But Wintle doesn’t want the QR codes and maps to steal the show.
“This thing is about much more than the course itself,” he says.
For years, Wintle has been digging deeper into the cultural and environmental history of his adopted home state of Oklahoma. Although he changed the name of the event — formerly the Land Run 100 — for the 2020 edition, his education in shifting his one-dimensional perspective of place began a few years earlier, at the urging of friends in academia.
Related: What’s in a name? Why Land Run 100 became The Mid South
In fact, something he read then struck him and has stayed with him since.
“I read this when I was doing the work to change the name,” he says, “it was something like, the land holds us and without the land, we cannot experience these events because they wouldn’t happen. We have to know the history of the land, and who the stewards were before we were there.”
So, when Josh McCullock, a Oklahoma City-based photographer approached Wintle the autumn after the first Mid South and asked him if he wanted to deepen the conversation about place and Indigenous perspectives around his bike race, Wintle said, characteristically, “hell yes.”
“It started as an idea to take a closer look at a few topics and issues around outdoor recreation for participants,” McCullock says. “People come from all over the place for this event, and some people know a lot about Oklahoma, others just know that the dirt is red here. It seemed to me that an in-depth piece about this place for locals as well as people who are just coming here for the weekend, well, we thought that would be interesting and would connect people to the experience in a new way.”
McCullock and Wintle, along with friends and dozens of people they’d meet along the way, dove deeply into the project. In fact, Wintle hired McCullock fulltime to join the small scrappy Mid South staff (his title is Creative Instigator). There wasn’t exactly a budget for the Course Atlas, but Wintle was committed. Eventually, Easton came on board with some financial help.
Neither McCullock or Wintle claim to be an expert on Indigenous or environmental or cultural issues in Oklahoma. They wanted the people who are to contribute to the book.
Some of them include include Rusty Atkins, an avid Stillwater cyclist and the Indian education coordinator for Stillwater Public Schools, Yatika Starr Fields, a muralist and endurance runner, Ariel Ross, an English professor at Oklahoma State University, and John Hodge, a Stillwater cyclist and botany Ph.D. candidate at OSU.
J.D. Reeves, a Tulsa designer, designed the Course Atlas. Reeves is Cherokee and says that the project touched him personally.
“It combined my passion for the ways we encounter and experience the land on which we live with my deep appreciation for the history of the tribes who have inhabited this land long before us and inhabit it still today,” he says.
Both McCullock and Wintle say that the year and a half that they worked on the Course Atlas — and up until the present day — has been characterized by learning and evolving rather than producing a perfect final product.
“It started as, ‘let’s do a field guide,'” McCullock says. “And it evolved into a cultural history piece, environmental history piece and Indigenous perspective piece. I think our capacity to understand a lot of this grew along the way. We’re feeling our way through the dark with our hearts out.”
Oklahoma is a state with a deeply layered cultural and land use history. There are currently 39 federally recognized sovereign nations in Oklahoma, but that number belies how many and which Native groups inhabited the area before removal and reassignment.
Examples can be found in Stillwater, the home of The Mid South, itself. For example — Oklahoma State University sits upon on lands promised to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in exchange for their ancestral homelands during the 1830s removal period. Then, in 1889, the Annual Indian Appropriation bill was passed, authorizing opening up nearly two million acres of “unassigned” lands for settlement. Stillwater was settled that year during the Land Run that followed.
While designing the 2022 routes, Wintle and the Mid South team witnessed firsthand how muted the conversation on tribal issues has been. Unable to route the 100-mile course through the city of Pawnee, they hoped to work with the neighboring Pawnee Nation. When the team approached the City of Pawnee for help, they were met with blank stares.
“We said, ‘how can we invite them to be a part of what we’re doing?'” Wintle says, “And they looked at me blankly. ‘Well, we’re not sure.’ They didn’t give me a name, a phone number. No one’s ever been like, we should break this barrier down.”
Having the midpoint of the 100-mile race in the Pawnee Nation is an experience, something that doesn’t fit into a book, but Wintle sees it as another thread in the same conversation.
“The book is, for the very first time, having a real conversation about place and identity and what it means to be an Indigenous person and be involved in an athletic, outdoors community,” he says.
While pre-race jitters may preclude people from diving into the Course Atlas the night before the race, Wintle, McCullock and the whole Mid South team hope that when they do, it will heighten their experience of the place and thus the race. Or vice versa.
“You can really not pay attention here, but when you do start paying attention there’s some beautiful and profound things that can make you feel more connected,” McCullock says. “If this thing can deepen that experience, that’s what we want.”