Oklahoma City

Exciting update: I reach the Pacific Ocean today at 6pm ET (3pm PT) with a small ceremony in Santa Monica, CA. Check Instagram for live updates. I will now focus on writing freelance articles about my experience and return to these detailed trip reports when time permits. I’m only halfway through the country on here, so there’s much more to come!

 Former site of the Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the 1995 bombing.

Former site of the Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the 1995 bombing.

I must move on. Feeling insecure after being attacked leaving Tulsa, the fact that the criminal was caught doesn’t reassure me. Self-doubt and heavy rains make me want to give up. When my host tells me he’s taking his van to Oklahoma City for the weekend, it’s an easy decision to hitch a ride outta town. [I do not count such distance as part of my mileage.]

I track our progress on Google Maps, and cringe at the point parallel to where I was attacked in Sapulpa. I never want to pass through here again.

The president of the local visitors bureau Facebook messaged me “a heartfelt apology for your attack on our Route 66 corridor. That person was NOT a Sapulpan, and his actions will be met with swift consequences. We are so happy you chose Route 66 to tour the country, and I hope you will give us a second try in the future. I would love to have your address to send you some Sapulpa goodies.”

I appreciate the gesture, and although I don’t blame the city or state where it happened, I’d rather not have a teddy bear reminding me of that day. Rain is coming down in sheets. Gray fades to black and red tail lights are all I see through water-streaked windows.

Couch surfing debut
My first host is Mithun, who I found through couchsurfing.com. It’s my first time as a couch surfer, but have relied on the cyclist equivalent called warmshowers.org. Not having any references, it was hard to get people to respond much less accept my lodging request. Fortunately Mithun takes a a chance and I take a chance on him. He’s a Harvard Law graduate so I think that pretty much assures he’s not an axe murderer. Plus, I’ve already met an axe wielding butcher earlier in the week in Sapulpa. (The guy who attacked me tried to kill his buddy with a baseball and axe later that night… that’s how he got caught.)

Couch surfing’s level of trust is unlike Warm Showers. Remember the first night of my trip when I camped out on a porch in Lavallete, NJ? Or the second night when I slept inside a lake house all alone? Mithun kicks me out of his place when he goes to work, which is o’two early in the morning. I use this as a chance to get a productive start to the day at a local coffee shop.

The buzz continues
Elemental is the java joint of choice for OKC cyclists. As soon as I roll in, I’m recognized. Before I can even open he door, my latte and croissant are paid for. The owner Laura, a refined woman who would be at home as an art collector in Santa Fe, is actually from Sapulpa and apologizes for my misfortune.

I use my latte and laptop to claim a table and go over to pour water from the cooler. The more glasses and plates I have the less guilty I feel about staying put for hours!

“Hey biker boy,” calls a guy in mismatched sweats from across the room. I guess I’m Tulsa-recognizable even in Oklahoma City. I swagger over wondering where this will go. Stitches in my lip restrict me from smiling too hard.

Dave looks like a disheveled college student, but is actually a reporter for KOCO Channel 5 News. He jokes about his “off duty” appearance. He wants to do a story. Human interest. NEW angle. LOVES it. Talk to me. When? NOW. Later. Now and later. What a story. Tell him more. I feel like a cat watching a dangle toy, unsure of where to focus. His pushy personality puts me on the defensive, but his Long Island Jewish accent takes the edge off his approach. I can deal with this. I’m from New York.

We exchange numbers and agree to meet up later in the day. I bike to a pharmacy near the Gold Dome, an abandoned Route 66 relic that nobody knows what to do with because of its inconvenient circular configuration. Built as a bank in 1958, the dome may get a new lease on life as a much needed downtown grocery store.

Judith and I are waiting for flu shots.

“You’re not from NY are you?” she asks, overhearing my conversation with the pharmacist about my address. “You came all the way from NY to get a flu shot?”

“No, well, I’m riding a bicycle across the country and here I am,” I explain.

“You’re not the young man who was on the news, are you? I saw that and said, ‘oh gosh, not Okla-homa.’ That was just terrible. I hope the rest of your journey goes well.”

“Yeah thanks, so do I. Hopefully you won’t see me on the news anymore.”

 Chairs symbolize lives lost at the OKC bombing memorial. Small chairs denote a child.

Chairs symbolize lives lost at the OKC bombing memorial. Small chairs denote a child.

Recognition ends there, although at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum I’m mistaken for a player trying out for the OKC Thunder. I’m wearing black and Thunder blue athletic gear. I used to play basketball recreationally, so heck yeah, why not. The museum staffer is expecting to give pre-season players a tour. Her comment is an ego boost until she says this:

“Oh OK, I’m sorry, I just thought you might be because you’re wearing their colors. I wasn’t real sure, and thought you could be one of the short ones.”

Short ones? Thanks, lady.

 These bike share bikes would  not  have made 3,000 miles across the country.

These bike share bikes would not have made 3,000 miles across the country.

OKC bike share
Since Mithun kicked me out of the house hyper early, I have plenty of time to kill at Elemental before Brent shows up. Brent runs OKC’s tiny bike share program called Spokies (Bicycle spokes + Okies). He says the outfit is basically a 2.5 man operation.

With only a few dozen bikes at eight stations, Spokies aren’t geared to get Oklahomans out of their cars and onto bikes. Furthermore, both the bikes and docking stations are pieces of junk. There’s a station right outside Elemental, and while handling a locked bike in the dock, it falls out.

Brent laughs in embarrassment before redocking it and grabbing a road bike from his SUV. He’s the general manager and even he doesn’t ride these beat-up beach cruisers! He also confides that the entire system went down for seven hours yesterday, but since so few people rely on it, it wasn’t a big deal. Having a network failure in NYC for even seven minutes could spell sh*tstorm unless it were three or four o’clock in the morning... during a blizzard.

Brent was born in Oklahoma. He spent almost two years in NYC as communications director of Bike New York and then time with B-Cycle in Denver (a network that Cincy Red Bike is part of) before taking this job. He’s actually on his way further west to become the communications and marketing director for the Cascade Bicycle Club based in Seattle. With no current boss and a new job ready to go, he has plenty of time to ride around town with a visiting bike share dignity like myself.

Brent and I go on a bike tour of downtown Oklahoma City, which is more developed for tourism than is Tulsa. However, Brent favors Tulsa’s music scene, bicycle culture and overall coolness.

“Tulsa has an actual river flowing through it, but they don’t take advantage of it. They don’t know what to do with it. Here in Oklahoma City they’ve turned a drainage canal into a riverwalk!” he exclaims.

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He’s right. A bunch of tourist-oriented bars pushing food and alcohol have taken root in the area. Murals liven up walls. We ride over to an old railroad station that now houses some offices, including Spokies. The one mechanic, who is part-time, is on vacation. We rummage around dusty boxes and find some stickers for my bike and take a pic on Sky Bridge, which represents the state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, whatever the heck that is. Being from NY my avian encyclopedia doesn’t go beyond garbage-eating crows, salt-shaker-sized sparrows and rats with wings (pigeons).

First down
My final noteworthy OKC experience is with a friend of Mark, the guy who paid for my pizza in Tulsa, who connects me with his college buddy Sam. His wife is away for at a girl’s weekend in Vegas, so I’m invited to stay with Sam and his two boys for the night. Lucky for me, Sam has an extra ticket to the afternoon football game at his alma mater Oklahoma University.

Seeing the Sooners kick Texas A&M butt is my first real college football experience because Dartmouth doesn’t have a “real” football team (although gee whiz, they tied for Ivy League champs this year for the first time since 1996). The Big Green have a grand total of one national title from 1925, which is news to me. The Sooners have seven titles along with the most wins and best winning percentage in college football since 1945 and plenty of other accolades.

My experience amid the crimson and cream pageantry in Norman, Oklahoma is next. But first, I need to finish this cross-county ride to Santa Monica today!