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September 7, 2013

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Our First Time

This is the story I posted on damjambicycletour.com in 2000 or 2001 about how DAM J.A.M. got its start. I had no idea that simple day would lead where it has. All we meant to do was put on a bike ride people might enjoy. We never meant to do it again the next year. It’s been quite a few years now and DAM J.A.M. has become one of the favorites of Northeast Oklahoma cyclists, and I’ve become a Road Painter.

It was early summer 1992. Marie and I were talking with Allen about finding a way to ride to Grand Lake to visit Dana at his lake home. We were just three people who liked to ride, but we didn’t have much experience with organized bicycling. We weren’t plugged in to the local touring groups. We didn’t know many of the familiar Tulsa area routes and had no idea what it meant to ride all day long. But we thought it’d be a cool weekend trip. So I got out the maps and did what I do. (I’m the resident geek. I do maps and websites, among other things that aren’t much fun to talk about at parties.)

I pored over my USGS Quads and found what looked like a good loop from Pryor to Disney and back. I copied it and highlighted the route and off we went one summer Saturday morning. The plan was to ride this loop as a test, then go back to the maps and find the way to Pryor, starting from Tulsa.

We drove to Pryor and parked at a convenience store. After unloading our bikes we took off, knowing not for sure where. It was a little slow going at first. We headed down what looked like viable roads on the USGS map, but turned out to be paving-turned-gravel, sometimes after we’d gone a mile or two along the way. We had a couple of false starts like that until we finally got the rhythm.

The ride up to Grand Lake was fabulous. We had no idea about some of these roads. It seemed like every turn led to another smooth, sweeping, satisfyingly car-less road. They were meant for bicycling. The sights were beautiful and there were lakes and dams visible many times along the way. We traveled down Indian Springs Road and into the State Park in Spavinaw. That was one of several bonuses that day.

We made it up to Grand Lake about lunchtime, ate at a cafe near Pensacola Dam, and headed back. (I have a side story about eating at that same restaurant several years later while marking the route for DAM J.A.M. I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say we haven’t been back. I’m sure it was just a fluke. I’d encourage everyone to enjoy any of the fine restaurants along our tour. I’m just not fond of being on my knees in roadside ditches on a hot Labor Day afternoon.)

Anyway, on the way back we had a fine ride across the Grand River, and into Strang. It was a hot mid-afternoon, and lunch was heavy. There’s something about not knowing how much farther you have to go that adds anxiety to the tiredness. Some of us were getting a little cranky. So we stopped in Strang to ask about the shortest way to Pryor. It was pretty quiet in this little town but we found a couple of very nice folks that didn’t laugh at our lycra. They told us to keep heading west out of town and go across the old bridge. Then a couple more miles we’d find Waterline Road. Follow that till you get to the end then follow the section lines west into Pryor. Sounded easy enough.

Somewhere along Waterline Road we started feeling confident and rejuvenated, knowing we were nearly finished. We stopped for a break and marveled at “our discovery”. (Of course hundreds of bike riders already knew about a lot of this. Many of these roads have been used on various Freewheel routes over the years.) But we were full of naive excitement. We felt like pioneers.

While we were congratulating ourselves, the idea was born to make this into a tour and share it with others. During our giddy little brainstorm session, we sounded like new parents talking about names. We knew we wanted to use the word dam because of the obvious connection to the lakes. And we were egotistical enough to want our names in it.

Finally, after several silly ideas I said, “Do you realize that if we used our initials in it, we could spell…” But before I could finish, we all knew. Out of Jim, Allen, and Marie we could make JAM. And that rhymes with dam and when you put those two together you get damjam. We’re jammin’ at the dams!!!

Are you ever awed by your own brilliance? Yeah, me too.

Anyway, that’s how DAM J.A.M. was born.

But there’s more…

I think it was only three years later that Allen moved on to other things. After he quit, Marie and I continued to direct the tour and we decided to change the name. Of course it’s still called DAM J.A.M. But really it’s very different, because now it means Jim And Marie.

It’s much better this way.

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