BIKING ACROSS KANSAS
OKLAHOMA ROUTE 66 JOURNAL
Rolling out of Sapulpa, OK on Sunday morning October 26th we had no idea that we were headed into the largest manhunt in Oklahoma law enforcement history!
Saturday October 25
Kelly and I met at Lake Sahoma, a city owned lake northwest of Sapulpa, late afternoon. The weather was cold, gray, and windy. However, the forecast called for improving conditions beginning Sunday and continuing throughout the week.
We managed to get the tent up before a gentle but cold rain began to fall. We did have the convenience of a shelter house nearby which allowed us to unload and sort our gear without getting it wet.
Lake Sahoma was shaping up to be the perfect starting point for our tour. It was here that we would leave our cars behind for the week as we explored central Oklahoma along Historic Route 66.
We turned in early and I began to mentally prepare myself for the week long ride.
Sunday October 26
Breakfast at Margie's in Sapulpa
Sunday morning greeted us with sunshine, 45 degrees, and a brisk north wind. The tent fly was soaked from the previous night's rain and heavy dew. Waiting for it to dry delayed our departure but we were soon on our way, leaving Lake Sahoma along a road of rolling hills and barking dogs.
We stopped at Margie's Restaurant in Sapulpa for pancakes, eggs, and coffee. A local fellow inquired about our trip and we were soon discussing everything from Big 12 Football to the local fishing spots. After about an hour we decided it was time to get this tour on the road and left Margie's behind.
A short distance outside of Sapulpa we detoured off State Highway 66 and rode along a three mile stretch of the original Route 66. The pavement was bumpy with cracked and broken asphalt which made the going rather slow. However, the cracked asphalt revealed the Portland cement that was poured for the original roadbed. It was a strange feeling to ride upon the same path that millions of people (almost one half million of them were Oklahomans who left the state during the depression) who drove this route to find their fortune "out west."
Original Route 66 west of Sapulpa
After a gentle, winding climb were back on State 66 and headed southwest for Bristow.
The road from Sapulpa to Bristow is a wide, well maintained road with ample shoulders. The traffic count was a little higher than we expected to encounter on a Sunday morning but it was very manageable and the drivers were courteous.
We arrived in Bristow around 11:30. Kelly stopped at the Wal-Mart for supplies. I waited outside with the bikes. I noticed that the parking lot had an abundant supply of Highway Patrol Officers in green fatigues milling about. Some kind of field exercise I thought and went about the business of stretching my legs.
A local man saw my attire and bike and asked "you bikin' today?" I told him that indeed I was and commented on the great Oklahoma weather. He asked "where you goin'?" I told him that a friend of mine and I were riding Route 66 to Edmond and back. Here came our first warning of the danger that lie ahead! He scrunched up his face and said that this might not be such a good idea as there was a manhunt on for a double murder suspect and we were heading right into the heart of the dragnet. "Biggest manhunt in Oklahoma history" he says. He related the events of the crime to me and told me that the search was centered on an area southwest of Bristow and we might encounter a roadblock or two...should we decide to continue on our intended path.
Just about then Kelly returned from his shopping trip and I filled him in on what I had learned. As I could have guessed he was not too concerned and was more interested in finding a place for lunch. So we pressed on, had lunch at a local eatery and headed for Stroud, our stop for the night.
On the way to Stroud we did see the Highway Patrol helicopter cruising along the treetops but we saw no road blocks or search parties with bloodhounds. But we were careful to maintain our progress and made a decision that if we saw anyone on foot on the highway or off in the woods we would promptly pedal off in the opposite direction.
Taking a break somewhere between Depew and Stroud
Between Bristow and Stroud we had our first encounter with those Oklahoma Hills (nobody told me that there would be any hills!). We would see very little flat terrain until we would return to Sapulpa later in the week. But this day we had a little help from the northeast wind getting over the hills with all of our gear.
Stroud came into view mid-afternoon. A small, very quiet town (at least on Sunday) with tidy streets and storefronts. We passed the famous Rock Cafe on our way through town and vowed to eat breakfast there Monday morning.
Our campsite would be found a Stroud Lake...six miles from town. Three miles north and three miles east. We calculated the time it would take to ride there, set up camp, return to town for dinner, and get back to the tent before dark. It was decided that we should head to the lake right then and return to town after we set up camp and jettisoned our panniers.
Our second warning! While on the lake road a local guy slowly pulled his pick up truck along side me and asked me where I was going. I told him Lake Stroud. He wanted to know if I was aware of the manhunt going on and I assured him that I was. He did not think that camping at the lake would be a good idea. He added that while the authorities had reason to believe that he was near Bristow (20 miles away) they could not say for sure. The murder victims had relatives in the Stroud area and no one really knew what this guy was up to. He seemed very concerned and for about 10 seconds the hair stood up on the back of my neck. For a brief moment the Best Western Motel back in town started to look like a good alternative to camping.
We decided to continue on to the lake to check it out and talk to the on site attendant. Once there we were assured that it was indeed safe and started to unload the gear. After the tent was up and the sleeping bags unrolled we pedaled the six miles back to town for dinner at the Best Western Motel's restaurant. We had a good dinner (we were the only customers at that particular time of day) and were filled in on some of the details surrounding the search for the killer.
After dinner and a quick call home we were back on the bikes for the six mile ride back to the campground. It was sure a lot easier pedaling without 40 pounds of stuff hanging off the sides!
Our first day of riding was not too difficult. The weather was good. The food was good. But we had another big day tomorrow...if we managed to stay alive during the night. I slept with one eye open just in case.
Monday October 27th
The sun was shining brightly when we crawled out of the tent Monday morning. We packed up and rode back into town for breakfast at the Rock Cafe. The breakfast menu was pretty typical of roadside diners but it was the conversation with the local folks that made this meal so memorable.
Of course we all had to talk about the manhunt and the likelihood of a quick capture. Although "quick" would not exactly describe it as the killer had been on the run and evading capture for nine days by this time. Obviously, he was skilled at surviving in the woods.
The Rock Cafe has been in business since 1939 and has served countless meals to Route 66 travelers for all these many years. It is filled with all sorts of memorabilia and knickknacks relating to Route 66. The bathroom walls are covered with the names of many a weary traveler. It is a small diner with a few booths and a long lunch counter lined with stools. The food was fresh and hot and tasty.
Inside the Rock Cafe
We soon were on our way towards Arcadia Lake at Edmond. This day would present us with one big hill after another. And just to make it interesting we had a stiff west wind to deal with. This slowed my uphill speeds down to about 6 miles per hour. But once I became comfortable with a steady cadence and resigned myself to riding only slightly faster than I could walk the ordeal was a little easier to handle.
We stopped in Chandler for lunch and a tour of the historical museum. We were in town for about two hours. As the day progressed we discovered that the extra hour spent there would cost us some daylight and make the trip to dinner more hazardous than it needed to be.
The hilly terrain continued to challenge us. The traffic increased as well and some sections of the road had no shoulder. We stopped at Wellston to rest and make calls home. After about 20 minutes we pushed on towards Arcadia. We passed the town of Luther and several large pecan groves. Harvest was underway and we heard what sounded like shotgun blasts off in the distance. To harvest the pecans, workers place a metal collar around the trunk of the tree which in turn is connected to a shaking device activated by a powder charge. The concussion from the blast shakes the tree and drops the pecans to the ground. Pretty cool.
The sun was going down minute by minute and we still had several miles to go to reach Arcadia Lake. I was not looking forward to pitching the tent in the dark not to mention completing the day's ride in rapidly fading sunlight. This particular section of Route 66 was not terribly bike friendly and it would only get worse as the afternoon went on.
We finally reached the town of Arcadia (and I use the term town very loosely) around 4:45. I caught a glimpse of the famous round barn out of my right eye and yelled out to Kelly: "Hey, there is the round barn!" I was so preoccupied with the road and the traffic that I almost missed this landmark. We stopped for a few minutes to look it over and catch our breath before making the final push to Lake Arcadia...which is not in Arcadia but in Edmond.
The road finally flattened out so now we just had the west wind with which to deal. But Kelly predicted that there would probably one heck of a hill to encounter before we reached the campsite. Of course he was right...most lakes are surrounded by hills. After all, what keeps the water in, right? And sure enough there was one monster of a hill separating us from our intended destination. Not very long but plenty steep and I was not sure I had the gas left in my tank to make it up without having to...shudder the thought...walk up the hill. No, I won't do it...never, ever!
Early on in the climb my legs began to cramp. This final hill of the day was clearly intent on doing me in. I shifted down to granny gear (for the first time on the trip) and spun those pedals like a madman. I blazed up the hill at a blistering 4.5 miles per hour. My leg cramps disappeared and Kelly and I managed to roll into the campground at Central State Park with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare.
We talked with the park attendant for a while as he gave us directions to the camping area and directions into Edmond so we could find a place to eat dinner.
Arcadia Lake is indeed a gem of a camping spot. We had a site that overlooked the water. The shower facilities were not too far away and except for a few RV's we seemed to be the only campers in the area.
Arcadia Lake Campsite
After the tent was up we raced (and I mean raced) into town for dinner. The rush hour traffic made the six miles to town a hair raising affair. There were four wide lanes but no shoulder and everyone was intent on getting home for the night. This was probably the most dangerous part of our trip not only because we were riding after dark (with lights, strobes, reflective vests, etc.) but because the these folks in Edmond were not very friendly or tolerant of cyclists. They reminded me of the rude and sometimes unsafe drivers back home.
We did make it safely to the restaurant although I was exhausted to the point that eating dinner was not very high on my priority list. The day's ride wore me out and the ride into town took whatever energy I had left. I forced myself to eat. Kelly, on the other, hand had no trouble eating a big steak and all the trimmings.
After dinner I summoned the strength to get back on the bike and ride back to the campground. I started to feel a little better after chugging some Gatorade and taking a warm shower. But I knew that morning would arrive shortly and I would load up the bike and hit the road once again.
Tuesday October 28th
This morning the sky was full of clouds and it looked like it could rain any minute in spite of the forecast that rain was not even a remote possibility. We packed up and made our way out of the campground and back on to the highway. Today we would ride back to Chandler where we would spend the night. We only had about 30 miles to go (a break from the previous day's 50) to get to Chandler. However, Mother Nature played a nasty trick on us and turned the wind from the west to the north!
We had planned to stop in Arcadia at Hillbillee's for breakfast but found it did not open until 11:00. No great loss as it was a real dump. A conglomeration of run down buildings and a passel of vagabond dogs running about. Across the street was a convenience store so we parked the bikes up against their rickety fence and went inside. Except for the hoard of flies hanging around the eating area and donut case it was not all that bad. I figured that the bottle of orange juice I had my eye on would be fairly safe for consumption. Kelly was brave and sampled the baked goods.
We ate outside and tried to figure out why Hillbillee's (or whatever the heck it was called) was such an attraction for Route 66 travelers. It was beyond me why anyone would stop there unless there car happened to die right out front.
We soon were on the road again and dealing with heavy overcast and a 25 mile an hour north wind. The traffic was not nearly as bad as it was the day before and, in spite of my exhaustion a mere 12 hours before, I was feeling pretty good.
We stopped in Luther at Charlie's Corner Cafe and had a great breakfast. We had completed about 10 of the day's scheduled 30 miles so we could take our time. The staff was very friendly and hospitable.
Soon we were back out on Route 66 heading towards Wellston. Today we would take 66B into town whereas the day before we just stopped out on the highway at a c-store. We were still having to deal with the seemingly unending hills but they did not seem as bad today. Perhaps I was getting onto the groove!
Kelly was stopping every so often to pick up roadside junk and I gave him all kinds of grief until he showed me the new binoculars he found! I pledged to stop poking fun at him as this was indeed a real find.
After stopping for about 20 minutes in Wellston we were headed towards Chandler, about 10 miles or so away. The sun kept moving in and out of the clouds but we definitely saw more sunshine in the afternoon than we did in the morning.
Welcome to Chandler!
We stopped in Chandler about 1:30 for refreshments and directions to Bell Cow Lake. I know...it should be Cow Bell Lake but who am I to argue. A lady at the local bank gave us good directions to the lake and campground so we headed off north of town. The lake road was very hilly and it seems that we would never arrive at the campground. One big hill led to another. We would curve around one corner only to find another curve and another big hill. Finally, we found our campsite and I must admit it was worth the effort. Great tent sites, showers, a good view of the lake. The only problem was it was too far from town for a couple of guys relying on pedal power to go eat dinner. With Daylight Savings Time over traveling by bike late in the day was complicated by the rapidly setting sun. Our option was to unload, set up camp, hurry back into town for a quick dinner, and then race back to get off the road before dark. We were not overly excited about this plan.
I remembered that I had brought along information from the Oklahoma Travel Guide which included restaurant listings for all the towns were would be visiting. I reviewed the list and found that there was Ken's Pizza in Chandler. I made a quick call to them and inquired about delivery and they happily agreed to drive out to the lake! So...a little after 5:00 we had a large, hot pizza on our picnic table and we were indeed "happy campers."
We thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed afternoon at Bell Cow Lake. Our spirits were further raised by the prospect of a strong south wind on Wednesday as our route had us headed due north to Cushing. For the first time this week we were expecting a true tail wind to push us along for most of the day! I could hardly wait.
Wednesday October 29th
The weatherman was right...the south wind was in high gear by the time we had packed up the tent and loaded the bikes. We did not (at least I didn't) care to ride back into town for breakfast. I insisted that we would find something to eat in Agra about 12 miles up the road. My reasoning was that every small town had to have someplace to eat. Kelly, while skeptical, agreed to ride on to Agra leaving Chandler behind.
Once out on the highway we rolled due north with a 25 mile per hour south wind propelling our bikes. We still had numerous hills to ride up and down but the breeze took some of the sting out of the climbs. It was very enjoyable.
The road was in good shape and we encountered only a few cars and trucks along the way. Before too long we found ourselves in the community of Agra and looking for the local cafe.
And if did not take too long to locate "The Coffee Shop" complete with a handwritten sign that announced "Yes, we are open." After parking the bikes we went inside to be greeted by the owner and his waitress. We were soon dining upon our breakfast of fresh coffee, eggs, hash browns and bacon. According to the owner/cook this was the best $3.00 breakfast you will find. He was not wrong.
The Coffee Shop in Agra...ask for the $3.00 Breakfast!
We visited for a while and discussed our trip. The owner wanted to know if we were students at OSU. I informed him that we were a long way from college age and in fact we were old enough to know better than to spend a week pedaling our bikes all over the country side with a murder suspect on the loose! The Creek County Killer had not been caught yet. The further we were from Creek County the less we worried about coming up against the fugitive. Nonetheless, it was still a dangerous situation for the folks in the Bristow area and we all hoped for an end to this drama.
An hour passed and we decided it was time to saddle up and move on to Cushing. We thanked our hosts and rode on.
Our tail wind would stay with us for a few more miles before we turned east for the last handful of miles to Cushing. Highway 33 was very bike friendly...wide shoulders and smooth pavement. The cross wind, while rather brisk, was manageable as it was a tiny bit out of the southwest. This aided our pedaling ever so slightly.
We arrived in Cushing shortly after 12:00 noon and promptly found the main business district. Cushing turned out to be our Oklahoma Oasis! We had no idea that this last overnight stop on our tour would be such a great place. We admired several large murals painted on the sides of buildings...mostly having to do with the history of the town. They were real works of art.
We rode up and down Broadway looking over the shops and storefronts. Kelly was quite impressed with the architecture. It appeared as though great care had been taken in not only restoring the buildings but in the day to day maintenance as well.
Even though we had only eaten an hour or so ago we did not hesitate dropping in to Sandella's for lunch where we visited with the owner and upon his recommendation had the tortilla soup and chicken salad sandwich. The soup was great! We considered coming back at closing time and making a deal for whatever they had left in the pot! But it was unlikely that there would be any left as it was quite good.
Our plans were to spend the night at the Cushing Airport as my pre-trip research turned up a campground there. It was south of town a couple of miles. The Cushing Airport is one of three in Oklahoma that can accommodate jet aircraft. If you want to land a jet in Oklahoma you have three choices: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Cushing.
The airport manager was very accommodating. He pointed out that the campground was down the road a bit but we might be better off putting up our tent closer to the main complex so that we could have some shelter from the strong wind that continued to blow. He walked us out to a patch of ground near a water spigot and told us we could camp right there and if we wanted him to he would mow the grass. We assured him that this was not necessary, we were just grateful for a safe place to sleep.
He did warn us that it could get a little noisy as the Highway Patrol was using the airport as the command center for the helicopter and aircraft search for the killer hiding near Bristow. It seemed as though we could not get away from the manhunt!. Well, at least it was unlikely that this guy would come wandering up to the airport so we felt pretty safe. We were offered the use of the airport courtesy car as well as the bathroom in the airport office. We could not have been treated any better!
Cushing Airport...heads up for that rotor!
Kelly schmoozed the helicopter ambulance staff into letting us use the shower in their mobile home so we could clean up before we took off for dinner. They, too, were very accommodating and friendly. Our stay in Cushing was shaping up to be the highlight of our trip. I had expected the same level of friendliness along Route 66 but never quite found it. Cushing more than made up for what I had missed.
On the way to dinner we toured around town. They have a great city park and pool complex. We saw so many unique homes. It certainly looked like a good place to live.
After dinner Kelly washed the airport car while I hit the convenience store for candy bars and Gatorade. Before turning in we visited with the airport manager in his office for a few minutes.
The wind was still fierce and the tent walls flapped all night long. The weather was very mild with the overnight temperature dropping to only 65 degrees. This was at least a full 20 degrees warmer than it was when we started this trip.
We had only one more day on the road, about 40 miles to Sapulpa via Drumright. The weather promised to cooperate one more day and for this we were thankful.
Thursday October 30th
In spite of sleeping only about 100 yards from the flight line I slept soundly and awoke full of energy and anticipation for this last day of our tour. For breakfast we decided on a return engagement to Sandella's. The sun was bright and the south wind blew us back into town.
There were several gentlemen having morning coffee out front on Sandella's patio. We visited with them for a short while and they were all very anxious to tell us about Cushing. One particular fellow told us that his grandparents came to Cushing in 1894! And except for the time he spent in the Army he had lived there all his life. He knew the history of all the buildings up and down Broadway and gave us a virtual tour of Cushing...past and present.
For breakfast we enjoyed sandwiches and gourmet coffee and watched the morning news on the big screen plasma TV in the lounge area. There was to be live entertainment this evening and we concluded that we came arrived one day too early. But we left knowing that there were plenty of reasons to return.
We finally and reluctantly left town heading for Sapulpa. Mid-afternoon was our target for arrival at Lake Sahoma. Our route took us due east along Highway 33. The route was four lane divided with wide shoulders and little traffic. It was perfect. Our spirits were so high that even the hills could not do anything to dampen them. The sky became slightly overcast as the morning wore on. We cruised into Drumright and took a short break before resuming our ride. Drumright had several large murals painted on the sides of downtown buildings.
We stopped for another short break around noon at the intersection of highways 33 and 48. The convenience store we visited was perched atop a hill with great views in all directions. The wind was still blowing at a pretty good clip out of the southwest. The weather was very warm (for late October).
Visual evidence of the Oklahoma Wind!
We still had about 20 miles to go before completing the trip so we moved on. We were really enjoying the roadway until we were about three miles or so from rejoining Route 66. We found ourselves having to negotiate major road construction and lane closures. Thankfully, the traffic was relatively minor and the construction crews working the project actually helped us rather than hinder us. We "white-knuckled" ourselves through the construction zone and made it back to Route 66. We were less than 5 miles from the finish. We decided to take the same stretch of original Route 66 we rode when we started last Sunday back in to Sapulpa. This kept us off the much busier highway and was a more scenic route.
Kelly found a back way in to Lake Sahoma which, amazingly, was FLAT all the way to the lake! The road must have been in a flood plain or something. It was nice to be able to finish up relaxing and laughing instead of huffing and puffing up and down hills.
We arrived back at our vehicles at 2:00 sharp. We logged 250 miles in the five days. Now came the job of dismantling our bikes and packing up for the trip back home.