Ok, OK, Ok… Time for an update.

May 4, 2010

Disclaimer: I told my sister I would take more pictures. There are more. Here you go, Julie.

Where were we?

Oh yes. Little Rock.

I left early and with a more functional back wheel, thanks to the Community Cyclist in LR. As usual, the weather was perfect. I felt defeated and worn-down, and for good reason. My body, after years of relatively sensible eating and moderate activity, had been given a jolt of monotonous bleached-flours and artificial flavorings on top of a tyrannical excercise regimen. It is hard to eat well on the road and keep the bills down. I began carrying fresh fruit with me, strawberries and oranges, mostly. I sleep heavily at night, and ride from the moment I wake until the sun sets, with short stops every 15- 20 miles. My body was about to go on strike.

Some friends of the family live about 70 miles west, in Plainview, AR, and had invited me to stay. The ride was easy, except for the last hour where I caught a taste of the Ozarks. I wasn’t feeling nostalgic for the mountains yet and can’t say that I will be soon, either.

Mike met me outside. They lived on a small farm and raised cattle and chickens. Mike worked days as an anasthesiologist and Melanie is a “retired” nurse. She hasn’t given up her many hours of volunteering and she spends her entire day taking care of the world. They both just don’t stop, really.

My first night I ate and ate and ate, realizing I hadn’t seen a vegetable in days. And I continued eating for the next three days. Sometimes I slept, but mostly I ate. Steak, shrimp, big heaping reakfasts, strawberries, oranges, and grapefruit. I felt imposing, but Melanie wouldn’t let me refuse food when I was hungry.

Mike and Melanie had raised three children, and then had taken on a few other boys who came from unfortunate home situations. Add to that a dozen or so large stray dogs, four house dogs, three cats, and the cows and chickens. They were caretakers, and wouldn’t let me ride away hungry or tired.

I ended up staying for a few days, and I needed it. It also kept me from getting swept up in the huge storm passing through. The one that tore up Oklahoma and Mississippi.

We went to Mt. Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas. The storm was just rolling in and made the atmosphere sombre but animated by the strengthening winds.

Afterwards we picked up the grandchildren, four of them, and headed back to the house. It had been a while since I had been around kids, and man do they demand attention. They kept Melanie awfully busy, with chocolate milk orders, playtime disasters, and just plain shenaniganing. And the power was out. Four kids, four dogs, three cats, Melanie and me.

Absolute chaos. I don’t know how she handles it, but she does so gracefully. It makes biking across the country seem easy.

I spent the next day a little more restfully and walked around the farm, because, you know, there is really no better medicine.

I got to spend a little more time with Mike and Melanie, with less distraction, and we had a wonderful dinner. With Melanie’s warmth and Mike’s good humor, my soul was elevated and ready to continue.

On a side note, I left out one important character in this episode: Mike’s moustache. It had an amazing quality of coloring everything Mike said. A big, fluffy, true Arkansas moustache. It seemed to make him laugh harder and his words softer. And he sure did keep everyone’s spirit on track.

It was hard to leave; they made me feel so at home, but I’m not one for long goodbyes, and lingering comforts. What’s good is good and won’t stay that way forever, and bittersweet is the de facto aftertaste of time well spent.

60 miles left of Arkansas, past the mountains, moving west again.

I’m not quite sure what Arkansas taught me. It broke me down and built me up. The people were kind and the Wal-Mart’s endless. The coffee was terrible and the country lush. I was dissappointed by someone I considered a friend and mystified by openness of strangers, now more like family. Nothing good will linger and nothing bad will stay.

 And now into Steinbeck’s country: the red country and the grey country and the home of the displaced native and the past of the displaced working man.

The first person I met in Oklahoma was vegan and gay. Goodbye preconcieved notions. I stopped at a restaurant on Highway 9 for some tea when I met the rodriguez family. Joseph Rodriguez and I talked for a while, and his sister offered me a taco and a cup of their homemade salsa made with habaneros grown in the backyard. It burned. Their father moved here 30 years ago from Tijajuana at the request of a man who imported his craft, which was leatherwork and casting.

“The people around here are so cookie-cutter. It’s all American Idol… Abercrombie, you know.”

But Joseph was happy in the small town of Spiro, and I think he really enjoyed being a different flavor than his surroundings.

“I love it here. I love the solitude, just being able to go where it’s completely quiet.”

Heading out from there, the hills gently rolled along and the towns became dustier and filled with denim-and-leather-clad men talking dryly to each other in stale lunch-counter rest-stops. They were friendly and good and offered conversation along the way.

Its strange, I’m beginning to enjoy, and sometimes event relate to, the average good-old-boy. Excluding of course guns, bigotry and machismo.

I ended up in Elfaula, on the edge of Elfaula lake, and camped for the night.

Oklahoma continued steadily rolling the next day, and it was rather droll.

Reading the Grapes of Wrath has been a perfect companion for this section of the trip.

I noticed a cyclist around 11 a.m. quite a ways ahead, which was strange considering how “out there” state highway 9 was at this point. I struggled to catch up. Then I noticed packs on the rear.

Glenn was riding from Florida to Alaska, and had made it to Oklahoma in 16 days. 1672 miles.

His mission was simple; he was riding for epilepsy awareness, talking it up as much as possible and riding small tours year round, and then one big tour a year.

You can find him here: http://www.destinymakerevents.com/Glenn/index.html

The next day brought me through Norman, OK, where OU is located. I stopped for a minute and nothing interesting happened so I rode on.

That’s when the wind started.

The wind out here can drive a man mad. That day brought me 24 mph sustained headwinds and even stronger gusts, which, on a bicycle, prove to be a little inconvenient. I shifted to my lowest gear and was riding at a leisurely jogging pace. I’d like to say about 5mph?

I muscled and grunted down the road, occasionally being blown off the shoulder and litterally screaming with frustration.

And the winds just kept a blowin’.

Cars zipped by, and I envied them. Oh lord help me I envied the automobile.

Pedal pedal pedal pedal, where am I? I must have gone at least 20 miles. Oh, 7? Oh. No. But I’m getting closer to California. If I ride 100 miles a day I can make it in a couple weeks. Oh, only 40 miles a day? Oh.

I ended up just past Chickasha, in a little town called Verden, exhausted. It felt like a 100-mile day but I didn’t get far at all. It’s odd though, when you’re not in the wind, stopped or whatever, all the frustration disappears and quickly becomes forgotten.

There was a beautiful farm right where I stopped to refill my water, and I asked if I could camp.

A woman in a full-length full-sleeve old style dress answered, and her daughter was busy behind at the sewing machine. Mennonites, I guess. Seeing their staunch adherence to old ways of living lifted my spirits.

“Mind if I camp here?”

“I don’t see any problem with that.”

Awesome.

The wind kicked around the top of my tent all night, but otherwise, the sounds of a baseball game lulled me to sleep and I slept well.

Next day, still blowing.

As soon as the wind started the frustration came back. I quickly adapted, as being mad at an emotionless force much much stronger than me is quite pointless. It renders one quite powerless, too. Ah, mother nature, in her infinite indifference is here again to teach me lessons of humility, determination and temperament.

And then my front tube started leaking, and I ended up patching it a few times. I have had the same tube in my front tire since Raleigh. I guess it’s time for a new one.

 By the afternoon I was singing all of the Magnetic Fields’ love songs that I could remember and joyfully riding through the flattening and barren countryside. There were mostly ghost towns in western OK, and the only signs in between towns were small green signs pointing to long-forgotten cemeteries.

I made it 60 miles to Hobart, the last “big” town until Wellington, TX.

A little ways outside of town I stopped at a farm and asked the man working it if he’d mind me camping.

His eyes were pulsing and evergreen, and he was amazed at what I was doing. He hopped on his tractor and mowed me a spot behind a 15-ft tall pile of brush he had recently cleared.

Goooooooooood sleep. Quiet, dark, peaceful and safe.

I woke up, ate a bit, and read; it was still quite cold. A truck pulled up and honked once.

“You up? I’m gonna burn this brush here, so you might wanna pack up out a the way.”

I began to break down the tent and get my things together, and he began throwing buckets full if fuel on the pile.

“Got fifty gallon deesul here. That outta make her go. My friend runs a gas station, gives me the stuff from the bottom for free. A little oily.”

Before I had completely packed, he had thrown on every drop, and set about lighting it.

“Sometimes it takes a minute to catch.”

It didn’t.

That thing went up and burned down in all of about 10 minutes. The heat was intense and I quickly moved my things 20 feet further away.

Talk about lighting a fire under your ass.

We watched her burn, it smoked heavily until the oil was burned off, and I headed out for the day.

Only a few ghost towns were left in OK. This small highway was rendered mostly obsolete by I-40 and the superhighway culture, along with the towns in it.

I sailed smoothly into Texas, with only a little wind. The land was changing drastically, the trees became thinner and the grassland less lush. There were darkening clouds moving over me but I didn’t care. I was in Texas. And that is awesome. I felt tough as nails.

And then the wind picked up again, and then the rain started, and there wasn’t a town until 15 miles after the border. That isn’t a long way usually, but with wind and rain it goes on forever. I took it in stride, gritted my teeth and kept riding.

Wellington is thirty miles from anything, in all directions. I met Preston, originally from Huston, working at a little store on the edge of town. He was a city kid, tight jeans, military cap, a little beard; so we talked about music and coffee and all sorts of silly things.

“They don’t know what to think of me here. I get harassed alot.”

He ended up in Wellington after a series of unfortunate circumstances, and was saving up money to get back to Huston. I spent the evening talking to him.

I ate at a diner and had a cheeseburger, which if you know me, you know isn’t usually something I would go for. Bike tour is changing my habits. A group of 20 something guys walked in speaking rapidly to each other in a language I couldn’t place. Apparently, every spring and summer, a bunch of South Africans are contracted to work the farms around Wellington. They pay to fly them over and to work, and then fly back. But for some reason exclusively South Africans.

A little ways out I found a couple of pre-fab shed like things, with lockable doors, and decided to sleep there for the night. I should have felt safe, but for some reason I didn’t and slept spottily.

There was nothing outside of Wellington for a long time. Then there was a small college town, Clarendon, and then nothing again. Just flat panhandle land. The riding was peaceful, except for the not-quite-as-strong wind. And then in the evening, more rain. And more wind. And more cursing.

I made it to Claude, TX and stopped for a cheeseburger. It was a quaint little one-light town. I looked like a maniac in the dairy queen, dirty and walking on stiff legs like a zombie. Another cheeseburger and I felt alright. People started asking questions, and a guy eventually pointed me to their small park in the center of town to camp. I walked next door and let the sheriff know I would be there. Fed and happy, and 30 miles from Amarillo, I set up for the night.

I chose a spot behind some trees in case the wind picked up during the night, and set up the rain fly just in case. There is a two-foot gap between fly and tent on either side, which is where I usually where I keep my shoes.

At about 3 a.m. I heard sprinklers on the other side of the park and a few dogs barking. I rolled over and fell back asleep. Then a head popped up in the gap between the fly and tent.

Uh-oh.

I got real wet real fast. All inside my tent.

I pulled up a little of my groundcloth and tried to direct the spray away from my tent, and I sat there cursing for about 15 minutes until it stopped.

It had dropped to the upper 40’s that night, so I stayed warm as best as possible. Luckily, the water hadn’t soaked into the interior of my sleeping bag very much.

I mean, what else do you do?

I ended up still getting plenty of sleep, and feeling great in the morning while I laid my things in the sun.

Some strawberries and donuts for breakfast, and off to Amarillo.

The wind was at my back and carried me easily to the city, in under 2 hours.

I found the best cup of coffee in town, based on the recommendations of some couch surfers, at this place called the 806.

Things are alive where a great cup of coffee is, and that is where you can find the heart of a city.

The barista, Heppe, on finding out what I was doing, yelled to a friend across the shop.

“Hey, this guy is looking to couchsurf. Do you still have Victor’s number?”

Well, they found me a place in about five minutes, without me even asking, and in a little while I was sitting and talking to Alex, who runs a bike shop called bikelife.

His current project is an old dental office that he is renovating and turning into a hostel. In Amarillo. I was surprised. He invited me to stay and tuned up my bike a bit.

One room was still full of old dental equipment. Gives me the willies.

I met one of the roomates, Matt, who wasn’t staying the night and offered me his room and bed.

We cooked tacos, had a feast and ended up talking until after midnight. The people I’ve met in Amarillo are of different character than I have seen anywhere. They are easy and kind and it seems completely devoid of pretension. No stuffy attitude anywhere in sight. I like it here.

But today I’m off towards New Mexico, and I am anxious aout what’s to come. This part of the country is completely new to me, and I’m reeling with anticipation.

And these are kittens. Enjoy.

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6 Responses to “Ok, OK, Ok… Time for an update.”

  1. Rae said

    So proud of you.

  2. hwardphoto said

    me too dude, keep positive, your halfway here.

  3. leeann said

    of all the people i know riding a bicycle across country..you are the most entertaining…

  4. ÆX said

    great to meet you andrew! may the wind be light.
    O, and its bikelife not cyclelife.
    hahah

    ill keep an eye on you.

    • andrew said

      yeah, I caught that… 35 mph winds today… 30 miles from 6 hours of pedaling. Oh, and I did have that tube so I don’t know what you’re thinking… goober. Amarillo was awesome. Thank you thank you.

  5. Alex said

    Sure thing. Thanks for the link!

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