Our First Time

The first year, DAM J.A.M. started from the football stadium on the east side of Pryor. This photo was taken just after the start with our first-year riders being led out of the parking lot by Pryor's Mayor Lucy Belle Schultz. Lucy Belle was the first female mayor of Pryor. She served three terms from 1991 to 1997. Lucy Belle was voted Oklahoma's "Mayor of the Year" in 1992 by the Oklahoma Municipal League. 

For the next 30 years, event-central was at Whitaker Park in the middle of town. Whitaker Park was a wonderful setting as the consummate small community gathering place. For nearly three decades, three generations of riders met early on the first Saturday after Labor Day and returned to Whitaker Park from their day-long rides.

But of course, if you aren't changing, you aren't growing so, in 2022, we moved the start/finish and event gathering to the Pryor Creek Recreational Center across from the Burdick Center and Pryor High School. This has been a wonderful move with lots of space, great facilities, easy access, and loads of parking.

In 2023 we welcomed some fresh faces and new leadership at the Pryor Area Chamber of Commerce. And now in 2024, we're excited to include our new partners, Mayes County HOPE (Health, Outreach, Prevention, Education) and the Mayes County Trails Alliance. A warm welcome to all of you!

Be careful what you wish for.

In early 1991, Marie and I were talking with Allen about finding a way to ride to Grand Lake to visit Dana at his lake home. Sounded like a cool weekend.

We were just three people who enjoyed an occasional ride but knew little about organized bicycling and less about bicycle road trips. We weren’t plugged into the local clubs. We didn’t know many of the familiar Tulsa area routes and had no idea what it meant to ride all day long. But how hard could it be? 

So I did what I do--pored over some old-school USGS quad maps and marked up what looked like a good loop between Pryor and the lakeside town of Disney. I showed it to the others. It started to look real.

We made a plan to ride this loop as a test, then go back to the maps for the segment from Tulsa, then test again. So, one summer Saturday morning, with a paper map in my pocket, off we went. 

We drove to Pryor, parked at a convenience store, and unloaded our bikes. Adventurous spirit overcame naivete and we took off, knowing not for sure where, or what we'd find along the way.

It was a little slow going at first as we headed down what appeared as viable roads on the map but turned into gravel, sometimes after committing a mile or more. We had a couple of false starts like that until we finally found our groove.

Once we got away from Pryor, the ride up to Grand Lake was fabulous! We had no idea about most of these roads. It seemed like every turn led to another smooth, sweeping, satisfyingly carless road. They were meant for bicycling!

The landscape was beautiful, with lakes and dams visible many times along the way. We traveled down Indian Springs Road and into the State Park in Spavinaw, one of several bonuses that day.

About lunchtime, we rolled into Langley and spotted a cafe near Pensacola Dam. We went in to fill up our tanks before crossing the dam to our turnaround in Disney.

(I have a side story about eating at that same restaurant several years later while marking the route for DAM J.A.M. Details aren't important but let's just say I’m 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 between Grand and Hudson Lakes before turning west toward Strang. Also, about that time, we were talking less and riding slower.

It was a hot mid-afternoon and lunch was sitting heavy. Some of us were getting a little cranky. That's when knowing you have to keep pedaling but not knowing how much farther to go adds feelings of anxiety to the physical tiredness.

We were ready to be done. In Strang surely someone could tell us the shortest way to Pryor.

So we rolled into this quiet little community and found a couple of very nice folks sitting on their porch. They waved with friendly looks of amusement so we stopped and asked. Just keep heading west and go across the old iron bridge they said, then a couple more miles and we’d find Waterline Road. Follow that till you get to the end, then follow the section line roads west into Pryor. Got it, easy enough. Thanks.

Somewhere along Waterline Road, we got a second wind and started feeling confident and rejuvenated knowing the end was in sight. We stopped for a roadside 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 felt like pioneers!

While we were congratulating ourselves, an idea started to form to make this into an organized ride and share it with others.

All three of us had ridden a handful of "t-shirt rides" so we knew what they looked like. We'd had some good times and a growing collection of memories. Without really understanding the many unseen details, we thought putting one together seemed like a snap.

During our giddy brainstorming session, we were like new parents kicking around names. Maybe it needs the word "dam" with the obvious connection to the lakes, and of course, our egos wanted our names to be on it. After several silly suggestions I said, “Wait a minute, if we put our initials together, we could spell...” 

But before I could finish the sentence, we all knew. Out of Jim, Allen, and Marie, we could make J.A.M. and that rhymes with dam and when you put those two together you get Dam Jam! That's it, jammin’ at the dams! 

Back in Pryor, exhausted from a long day, we were excited about a potential new "venture." Back in our Tulsa lives, we talked up the idea with others and picked a date.

After some months of planning and more than a little guessing about what to do, the first Saturday after Labor Day came around and that brainstorm became the first of many DAM J.A.M.'s to come. Putting it on and seeing people enjoy themselves is gratifying. It was also the beginning of some great relationships with the wonderful people of Pryor. 

So, that’s how DAM J.A.M. was born. 

But here’s a bit more…

About three years later, Allen moved on to other things. After he quit, Marie and I continued to direct the event and add our personal touch. That's when we decided to change the name.

Of course, it’s still called DAM J.A.M. but it’s really quite different because now J.A.M. stands for "Jim And Marie."

I think it’s much better this way.

Jim Beach, Road Painter