[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on November 14, 2004]
Hi, folks! I made it to Texas! Last time I wrote, I was poised to ride into Oklahoma City from the north.
Wednesday dawned clear and dry in Edmond, but with rain clouds moving in at an astonishing pace. I got rained on all the way into town as I rode past childhood landmarks: Enterprise Square USA, the Kirkpatrick Center, the church we used to think looked like the Legion of Doom from "The Superfriends," several familiar parks, and finally my grandparents' old house. Shepherd Mall, a block from the house, has finally found its calling as an office park; I never saw its parking lot so full when it was a shopping mall.
The rain finally stopped as I reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, so I left the bike uncovered. The museum was very well done, very emotionally intense, but I found the babble of recorded voices overwhelming and had trouble paying attention. My bike stayed dry while I was inside, but as soon as I started riding again another cloud burst over the city!
I rode south in a downpour, and the tornado sirens blew just as I found a motel. The place was named the Swank Motel. Near as I can tell they misspelled "Skanky," or perhaps "Squalid," but it provided a dry, well-lit place to repack my bearings again (after the rain), and the Mexican restaurant next door was excellent!
I woke Thursday morning with a new pain in my left knee, in addition to the aches that had been with me since Bartlesville. Between that and the wet, cold morning outside, I had trouble getting going, but the stale smoke inside was worse! I decided I would ride as far as Norman and seek medical attention there, reasoning that a town known for its football team would be familiar with sports injuries. But the address Blue Cross gave me for an urgent-care clinic turned out to be a hole in the ground! Fortunately I was feeling so much better that I laughed it off and went on down the road (US 77).
In Purcell I was tempted to stay in a motel, because the day had gotten quite chilly and the night promised to be below freezing, but the motels were expensive, so I kept going. In Wayne I asked at a few farmhouses, but the people suggested I try the town park, and I was unable to reach the police to ask if it was OK to stay there. I wound up camping in a fallow back corner of an out-of-use pasture outside of town. I wore every piece of clothing I had and stayed nice and warm, despite the wind and cold. The sky view was incredible!
In Paoli Friday morning, I stopped for coffee and wound up talking with the cafe owner about the cattle driving he did in the '70s. He gave me my coffee for free and assured me that I'll remember this trip for the rest of my life. I certainly hope so -- it would be a shame to forget it all! US 77 turned out to be a great ride, since it parallels the interstate, but I didn't dare follow it south of Davis because it heads right into the Arbuckle Mountains, and my map showed a double hairpin turn near Turner Falls! So I turned east at Davis and rode into Sulphur.
Sulphur is just like I remember it from several childhood visits, only there's more to both the town and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area than I realized. Black Sulphur Spring is as smelly as ever, and the spring-fed Travertine Creek continues to offer a spectacle that's rare in Oklahoma: transparent water! It's enough to make an Okie question whether all bodies of water are really supposed to be brown. I camped in a secluded, southern part of Chickasaw because it was the only campground with showers! That decision meant that I started out Saturday morning with two miles of steep hills to scale with my stiff, sore knees. But they stopped hurting around 10:00, so I was able to keep going all the way to Texas!
I was tempted to stop at Lake Texoma State Park in Oklahoma, but all my fond memories of that park are specific to early August, so it just wouldn't be the same. Instead I crossed the lake farther to the west and found a campground just south of the state line. I noticed that there are still live insects at Lake Texoma: mosquitos, crickets, and grasshoppers. At Lake of the Arbuckles, one day's ride north, all the insects had already been killed by frost. I could do without the mosquitos, and I sure could do without encountering any live fire ants in Texas, but it's lonely camping without crickets singing.
I had a wonderful visit in Oklahoma! It was really good to be back in my homeland during the warm weather for a change, and to see it from a bike, and to connect all the dots of the places I remember on the human scale of pedal power. Favorite Oklahoma quirk: In nine days of riding, not one Oklahoma motorist yelled anything rude at me like "Get off the road!" This is remarkable not only because people have yelled in every other state I've passed through (not counting Minnesota and Kansas, where I spent only a day each), but also because they used to yell at me all the time when I lived in the state and would bike or walk places. Maybe they were shocked into silence by my appearance, or maybe they just had their windows rolled up!
When you receive this message, it means I'm near Dallas. I plan to be there until Wednesday. Happy trails! --Ben