As the rally staff was preparing to transfer Rally Central from the Start hotel in Pittsburgh to the Checkpoint 1 hotel in Tulsa, we received news that the power was out for over 200,000 people in the Tulsa area. A couple of days prior, a storm front packing 100 mph winds blew through Tulsa, resulting in widespread devastation. The outage area included the Checkpoint 1 hotel and without electricity, they couldn’t check us in. Houston, er…Tulsa, we have a problem.
We immediately began discussing options and potential scenarios to keep the 2023 IBR on track and to hopefully minimize the impact of this disaster on the riders. We had 106 riders converging on Tulsa, with the possibility of having nowhere to sleep, nowhere to eat, and nowhere to get fuel. We looked at worst case scenarios and started hoping for the best.
After a few brainstorming sessions, discussions with hotel staff (who were in their homes), and rejecting several options as unworkable, a contingency plan emerged from the chaos. We lined up generators to be trucked up from Texas, checked for available rooms within a 50 mile radius (there were none), and looked into party tent rentals, among other options, during the process. The only glimmer of hope was that the hotel is in the same area as a hospital, which is usually prioritized for power restoration.
The plan that made the most sense included posting a message to the call-in bonus line to give the riders a heads up on the conditions in Tulsa. We needed to alert them what to expect and when they called to leave a message for points seemed like the most effective way to do it. We also prepared Dennis Bitner and John Ferber to provide additional info to the riders at the group photo bonus. It was decided to bring the riders in to the Checkpoint in the hotel parking lot (we were given permission to do this), get them checked in and their mileage recorded. Scoring would be deferred for the time being and completed in Denver at Checkpoint 2. We were still working on a solution for feeding everyone, but trucking in boxes of delicious (but cold) pizza was pretty high on the list of options.
Riders who arrived prior to the opening of penalty window would be given the Leg 2 bonus information and be allowed to depart at 8:00pm. Later riders who were in the penalty window would be given the info for Leg 2 on arrival and allowed to depart. Riders who missed the 10:00pm close of the Checkpoint would be a DNF, as is always the case. All riders would be required to take a zero point 6 hour rest bonus starting by midnight on Wednesday. There would be a 10,000 point penalty applied for not taking this rest bonus. This would keep the rally on the correct time schedule and allow the riders the time needed to get away from the area affected by the power outage. With that less than ideal, but workable plan in place, the staff proceeded to load up boxes and start moving.
Just before boarding the Southwest flight to Tulsa (the airport was still open), we received word the hotel had power restored. They didn’t know what the food or fuel situation would be, but it was still great news! In the hours we were in the air, things continued to improve in Tulsa. By the time we arrived at the Checkpoint 1 hotel, the parking lot was overflowing with power company trucks and the hotel was filled with tired linemen. It took a while to check in and get set up, there was still no food available, but we had rooms and air conditioning.
The rally disaster we were facing was averted, thanks to the hard work of the dedicated and exhausted linemen and the great hotel staff at the Tulsa Doubletree Hotel at Warren Place. Our thoughts and prayers are still with the remaining 100,000 people who remain without power in the Tulsa area.