Onward from OKC

 Go West, one way or another

Go West, one way or another

Leaving Oklahoma City isn’t so easy. Blanketing 600 square miles, OKC is the nation’s largest city by area. Los Angeles (where I am now in February) covers almost 470 square miles. New York City (where I got the heck out of in August) is about 300.

Luckily I have a bike guide to escort me through the residential sprawl. Moni followed an American serviceman from her native Germany to Oklahoma, raised a family, and now lives on her own near the up-and-coming Plaza District where bike share Brent took me to lunch. Not only is she a Warm Showers cycling host, but also a reliable one. She has a 100% response rate to 18 inquiries in the past year, including mine.

“You’re a Warm Showers All-Star!” I proclaim in all seriousness. Such reliability is a godsend when battling the uncertainties of bike touring. We almost never meet because Moni was out of town for my original trip dates, which got pushed back after suddenly returning to Tulsa with stitches in my lip.

 Downtown OKC

Downtown OKC

Word of the assault reverberated online in cyclist forums. Moni reached out to me with an offer to host. I got her message while spending the night at the Aloft hotel in Bricktown, a restored neighborhood in downtown OKC. At almost $150, it was the most expensive night of the entire trip. After couch surfing with Mithun, I was left high and dry with nowhere to stay.

 View from the rooftop of Aloft in Oklahoma City

View from the rooftop of Aloft in Oklahoma City

I transfer to Moni’s place for my final night in Oklahoma’s capital. A pot bubbles. Foam spills over the edge and sizzles onto the stove. I enter the kitchen through the garage after parking the bulky bike in her narrow garage that barely fits her MINI Cooper. The kitchen smells like boiling pasta. I can’t wait for some carbs.

Moni serves an improvised creation of pasta, chicken and broccoli. It’s been forever since I’ve had green veggies, so I’m most excited for the broccoli. We chat about our respective biking experience and the challenges I face on a Citi Bike.

Three's company
Just as we finish, Max and Tyler arrive. These former classmates at the Bronx High School of Science used to bike commute to school in the Bronx from the Upper West Side. After graduating from SUNY New Paltz and Syracuse in the spring, they took off across the country in September.

Their trip began 42 days earlier in Yorktown, Virginia, the start (or end) of the TransAmerica bike trail. That’s only eight fewer ride days than I’ve pedaled while starting farther away in New York and riding fewer miles per day.

 Rise and shine, leaving Oklahoma City it's time!

Rise and shine, leaving Oklahoma City it's time!

Initially I resent their presence. I got to Moni first. Find your own place to crash. Max and Tyler called her that afternoon, and she had already offered me the Murphy bed in the spare bedroom. The boys can sleep on the living room floor or camp outside. They choose the floor. We all share one bathroom, accessible from my or Moni’s room. The communal living situation feels like a college slumber party.

 Best towel rack ever.

Best towel rack ever.

Turns out I’m glad for their company, just like I was with Spencer in Ohio. My friendship with Max and Tyler continues with tomorrow’s ride out of OKC and into future points like Adrian, Texas where we huddle around a propane heater in a laundry room at an RV park because it’s too cold to camp. Together we'll cross the New Mexico state line at Glenrio and wait out high winds in Tucumcari. We’ll meet one last time for craft beers and front row seats at a James Bond movie in Santa Fe.

Something fishy
Having three New Yorkers stay with Moni in one night overrides her last experience hosting just one. On that occasion pasta wasn’t going to cut it. The guy demanded seafood. Moni suggested a different cuisine because, hey, it’s Oklahoma and, well, we do beef better here. The cyclist wanted seafood. Insisted on it.

Before choosing a restaurant, Moni gently tried to change his mind and, failing that, lower expectations for fresh fish in a city as far away from the ocean as you can get in the continental United States. It didn't work. Although he paid for her dinner, Moni said the guy was bitterly disappointed and his big city attitude rubbed her the wrong way.

We New Yorkers are happy to eat whatever. Especially ice cream. After dinner I treat everyone to a round of double dip cones at Braum’s. Max and Taylor haven’t even heard of America’s most delicious ice cream for the dollar, but their eyes light up in delight after their first lick.

Leaving OKC
The next morning Moni readies yummy homemade muffins for the road. Max and Tyler depart. I go meet Brent again. He’s taking me out for breakfast at District House in the Plaza District. Looks like another soporific day at Spokies, so why not send off the cross-country bike share guy with a full stomach.

I return to Moni’s at 11 AM. The boys are gone and Moni wants to get a ride in, so we pedal together out of Oklahoma City, which I’ve mentioned covers a third of North America. She knows the best route with the least amount of traffic. Flat, straight roads lead through housing developments with nothing to see. We ride around Lake Overholser and finally breach the limits of America’s largest city by surface area.

 Leaving town and drowning in OKC's residential sprawl.

Leaving town and drowning in OKC's residential sprawl.

Interestingly, Oklahoma City is also home to the most confused drivers with respect to bikers. Vehicles aren’t comfortable sharing the road, but not in an aggressive way. For example, on-coming cars slow down upon seeing a biker while cars behind bikes crawl along because they’re nervous about passing and now can’t pass because approaching traffic has slowed.

Cars may yield their right of way or stop awkwardly in an intersection when they should keep going. Normally demure, Moni erupts at a four-way stop sign. A car to our left gets to it first. Then we stop. The car should drive across our intended path. Instead, the driver motions us forward.

“NO, YOU GO… SHEEH!” Moni bristles. “What do you think? I’m already stopped here, my foot is DOWN, I’m not going NOW.”

I’m stunned and embarrassed by the outburst. The female driver scowls as if to say, I tried being nice and you screamed at me instead. Stupid bikers.

Moni also has a habit of waving “thanks” to drivers who pass with care. That’s great, but rather than a gentle flash of the palm, her wave looks like she’s shaking a fist in anger. She blows hot and cold, but I admire her tenacity on the road.

I’m more timid and fear being disruptive to vehicles simply by sharing the road despite barely ever getting honked. Moni offers revealing insight on why drivers don’t get irritated with me (meth-addled, would-be axe-murderers excluded).

It’s the trailer.

“They probably feel sorry for that poor shmuck because he doesn’t have a car,” she laughs. “When I tour with saddle bags it’s much different than when I’m riding without them.”

Maybe she’s right. The Travoy trailer is the biker’s equivalent of a homeless person’s shopping cart. It excuses my blasphemous presence in the road. Clearly I have no car, so I gotta schlep the hard way toting all my possessions. A cyclist with a fancy bike and skintight suit is out for a joy ride at the expense of slowing down traffic. Maybe that’s the motorist mentality?

A giant tree casting shade over a quiet road marks her turn-around point. We’ve gone 15 miles averaging 11.3 mph, which is speedy given my equipment. We hug good-bye and I change into lighter clothing. I roll my bike into a dirt driveway, but Moni won’t follow. She fears goat heads, a thorny weed that is a mortal enemy of bicycle tires.

In Oklahoma City I paid Schlegel Bicycles a visit to get my tires lined with a Kevlar belt to increase resistance to these spikes that can cause multiple flats per day. I have one spare tube and no tools heading onto desolate Route 66 across the Texas panhandle and New Mexico desert. In the next 540 miles between OKC and Albuquerque, only Amarillo has a bike shop. One cross-country cyclist from Long Island who I follow on Instagram said he got eight flats between Amarillo and Santa Fe. Wish me luck! 

I frown at facing the open road alone with nasty thorns lying in wait to bring me down. This is only the third time I’ve had company on a ride, and the first since Travis in Illinois. Before that was a few guys on the C&O Canal way back in Maryland. Otherwise I’ve pedaled alone, which is fine, but I’m feeling flat picking up riding for the first time in 10 days after the assault.

In the distance something slowly approaches. Two cyclists with panniers on their wheels… cross-country cyclists! Max and Taylor? YES. They left an hour before me, but here come the boys from New York. We exchange high-fives and I gain instant company for the rest of the day.

We quickly sketch out a route. I’m riding to a campground west of El Reno and they will push 20 miles farther to a host’s house in Hydro, a tiny town named for the quality of its well water.

Taylor takes the lead. I fall in the middle with Max behind me. We ride a dozen miles without stopping. We reach El Reno and I’m ready for a break. The boys could keep going, but I persuade them to stop for Sid’s famous onion burger, which is good but not great, yet offers plenty of patty to fuel the rest of the day. I wash it down with a coffee shake and pay for everyone.

Surprisingly, I keep pace in the middle despite the rolling hills. Normally I’d walk up a few of these, but I don’t want to break our rhythm. Plus, plowing ahead shows these young bucks who is boss. When Taylor pauses to pee on the roadside, I make my move. Well, actually, I simply keep moving knowing that he’ll catch up. But he doesn’t or doesn’t want to, so I climb the final hill feeling like the winner.

I’m exhausted and can go no further. I bid Max and Taylor good-bye and enter a KOA campsite below a gas station off I-40. Subway sandwiches and a poorly-lit trucker restaurant are my only eating options. Precipitation in the forecast begins to materialize, and the cold rain makes me feel alone again.

 Home for the night west of El Reno, Oklahoma

Home for the night west of El Reno, Oklahoma