Saturday, August 9, 2008

(Day 10) Vultures: “Will work for food”…

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Day 10
Alva, OK to Liberal, KS

Up and rolling at 7:47am, the trail would lead me 26 miles in a northeasterly path to the Kansas state line before getting some good westward momentum. First picture of the day:

It felt a little ridiculous to be riding due east and into the rising sun, erasing about 10 miles of western progress made yesterday. But, as I would find out many times during the entire trip, this sort of thing would usually have a small reward. This time it was a small pack of coyotes nesting in a ditch on the side of the road. I stopped to take a picture, but they ran off before I could get my feet down. Having my feet down next to a nest of coyotes suddenly seemed like a bad idea… clutch, 1st, gas, gone.

My first glimpse of Kansas to the right, Oklahoma to the left:

My 2nd welcome sign at the 5th state… and I didn’t even officially enter Dorothy’s land, just drove by for now:

Don’t let the elevation changes fool you, it’s just a short teaser and New Mexico is still over 200 miles away:

May as well take some time to try to get some good pictures:

Notice the tall grass that runs along both sides of the road. Apparently this is a good place for birds to hang out…and scatter in every direction moments before a motorcycle arrives:

This had been occurring the whole day. Slowing down to avoid these small birds would put me to sleep, so my plan was to keep a 45-50 mph pace and just plow through any flocks of birds that would be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

What I didn’t think about were the big birds. The vultures (or buzzards, whatever you want to call them). You know, the bald-headed birds with 5-6 foot wingspans that are too lazy to prey on living animals, but rather feast on the dead? Well, this time I believe they were getting a little hungry and therefore more active. Their target? Me!

Most of the small birds would dart off in front of me well before I got to them. These vultures decided to fly directly in front of me only fractions of second before I reached their roost. I would guess there were 10 of them in total and the one closest to me was flying about neck-high and an impact was imminent. Rather than plowing through this massive bird, I must have veered right as I ducked my head. Since there were so many of them, I kept my head down longer than I probably should have. When I looked up, I was already in the ditch… heading for a barbed wire fence:

I decided to fall to the left into the ditch rather than driving thru the fence. I suspect I was down to about 25-30mph when the bike hit the fence which shot me and the bike back onto the road. You can see where the bike ended up in the picture above. I remember going head first into the ground as my feet came over the top and slid on my rear as I came to a stop. The following picture is where the bike hit the fence at the 3rd fence post from the foreground. You can see the two water bottles that were in the side pockets of my backpack on the road:

I felt my helmet do its job and absorb ALL of the initial impact with the ground. By rolling through impact, I think I avoided serious injury. The only thing that hurt was my right hand, maybe from being on the handlebar during impact with the fence post.

As I was gathering my senses and doing inventory, I noticed a few of the remaining vultures on the fence post in the distance, wings spread out completely:

Being alone in “No Man’s Land” and seeing these vultures made things seem a little creepy, kind of like I had actually ventured into a land where no man was welcome. How my bike escaped in one piece without a scratch, flat tire, or bent handlebars is beyond me. I was extremely fortunate myself.

Anyway, a rancher stopped to see if I was OK as I was getting everything back together. He was aware of vultures roosting around that particular fence post.

Facts from GPS:
Last recorded speed before accident = 49mph
Coordinates of final resting place of bike = N36 55.692 W98 57.952

Back to riding… here is Cowboy Cemetery:

A rancher and his son waved me down and asked me, “What are ‘you guys’ up to?”. Here he is laughing about my wreck:

I knew “you guys” meant all of the crusty dual-sporters that run through here, but it seemed I was the first rider he had talked with, so I filled him in on the trail and he seemed cool with it, just amazed that’d we actually want to ride through this area. I told them I was headed for Boise City, OK and they told me, “there’s NOTHING out there”. I looked around and asked myself, “What exactly IS out HERE?”

I moved on and looked for somewhere to take a break; maybe a tree, brush, gate or some other landmark to stop near. But, there was truly nothing around, so I stopped here:

A Suburban full of old folks dressed in typical church clothes actually drove by. They stopped and asked if I was OK. “Yep”. They seemed surprised by my response and slowly drove off.

Although I saw many and ran over one, here is my only snake picture. It’s a drive-by picture as I fear snakes more than Mr. T fears airplanes:

Find and identify the animal in this picture… I have no idea what these things were:

But they made some interesting noises:

Did you hear something else in that clip? At the time I didn’t notice it. Had I noticed, I would have guessed it was coming from a rattlesnake and the clip would have been much shorter as I would have bolted much earlier. There wasn’t much to really see out here, but when you stop and cut the engine off, you realize there is a very active wildlife culture.

I reach Liberal, KS shortly after 2pm and stumble upon the yellow brick road. I’ve been in Kansas for all of 5 minutes and I’m already at Dorothy’s house:

I saw many ATV’s on this trip, but very, very few dirt bikes. These two guys pulled up beside me as I was refueling:

I forgot their names, but they had just come back from Colorado riding these bikes:

How do you like that custom skid plate on a bike bought from Pep Boy’s? This was the shorter guys’ bike, he did all the talking, and he loved that thing.

Still early in the day, I drove around Liberal for awhile just to soak in the atmosphere. I stopped by an auto parts store and picked up some new Mechanix gloves (I rode all day without gloves) and some more oil. I finally find a cheap motel called “The Kansan”.

“I was wondering what your rate was for a single, non-smoking room?”
“OK, let me check a few other motels…”
“How about 30?”
“OK, room #8”

A nice Mexican meal:

And, I’m done:

Big day tomorrow, 4 states and finally some new scenery…

Total mileage: 2138
Daily mileage: 200
Wildlife observed: Snakes, coyotes, vultures and antelope.
Favorite Sight: My bike in one piece
Favorite Scent: Nothing in particular
Favorite Sound: KTM still thumping strong
Favorite Taste: Chips and Salsa
Favorite Feel: My helmet absorbing ground impact
Ailments: My hand is a little jammed at the lower thumb joint

Thursday, August 7, 2008

(Day 9) Mud day…

Saturday, July 12th, 2008
Day 9
Osage Hills SP, OK to Alva, OK

I was up, packed and rolling just before 8am this morning. A good night’s rest had me re-energized and ready to get back on the trail. The plan was to take 60 west and 99 north to pick up the TAT near the Kansas state line.

I hadn’t checked the weather radio the night before, but I was able to forecast on my own this morning before I ever left the State Park:

The circular shaped clouds had me on alert and reminded me that I was smack dab in the middle of tornado alley. I always wanted to be a storm chaser; hopefully I’d see some action today. The dark clouds are to the west.

Once I had my bike fixated towards the west on 60, my XM weather radar finally produced some data for me. What I saw on the screen looked exactly like what I saw in front of me:

The radar showed a large rain producing system north of 60 that extended for many miles westward…directly over the TAT trail. Once I reached 99, this is what the GPS was telling me:

I had two options. North to the TAT:

…or, south where all the babies ride:

My GPS tracks show that it took me 3 miles riding north on 99 to realize what I a mess I was getting myself into. I put my pacifier in, turned around and went south to bypass all of the rain:

South 99 turned into West 60. I drained my veins here:

… ate a granola bar, sipped on some water and pondered over my options.

It was great hanging out here. You could see cars coming from miles away. They’d look at you funny as they drove by at about 90 mph. I looked at them funny too, because I couldn’t figure out where the heck they were going as there wasn’t much around.

It was soon apparent I only had one option at this point, west on 60, wait for the storm to pass, then cut north and pick up the trail again. Ponca City was the point at which I had reached the tail of the storm. From here I could travel north on 77 to Newkirk, OK to pick up “the good stuff”:

Are you thinking to yourself: “Hey, Nick. You may not get rained on, but isn’t this trail full of dirt? And, didn’t rain just come thru your trail not 10 minutes ago? Wouldn’t that make things a bit muddy?” If you are thinking that, then you are thinking better than I was. Here is where I finally get off the pavement, pick up the trail and continue my westward momentum:

Ahhh, the sky is clearing and I’m off the pavement, good times… Well, not really. The road looked OK, but once I started riding, I realized looks can be very deceiving. I’m not sure how to describe this terrain, but the best I could do was 30 mph according to the GPS. The back wheel was probably spinning at about 40mph and the front wheel was probably spinning at about 25mph at this point (looking back to the east):

I can handle this, let’s grunt it out:

The track that progressively gets worse is mine, nearly lost it here:

And…as expected, lost it here:

Ok, seven miles every 50 minutes isn’t going to cut it. So now my mission is to get back on the hard stuff. I had to march forward and it only got worse. Excuse me for not taking pictures, but things were a little muddy!

I hit one particularly rutty section of road and wrecked again. Only this time, I didn’t get my leg out from underneath the bike in time. I remember not being hurt at all, but the ground smelled really stale and sh!tty. The mud was thick and the bike was lying on top of my left leg, right below the knee. I had seen previously on the radar that another small rain cell was coming and after the bike choked out and died, I heard thunder in the distance.

I went ahead and relaxed all my muscles for a bit, which means I’m now laying totally in the mud like a pig in slop. I calculated what I had to do with all of my free extremities to have a chance of getting the bike off of me as I prepared to execute my plan. Right hand on left handgrip, left hand on right handgrip, right foot over stuck left leg as close to my center of gravity as possible. 1, 2, 3… push! pull! I had to use just about every ounce of energy I had (plus a small grunt) to get the bike up and off of me, but I was successful. My gloves were caked with mud. I took them off and threw them down. This was the only time I littered the entire trip. I hope my gloves dried and were picked up by those behind me on the trail. If not, I apologize for littering our trail, I’ll have to go back one day and make sure they were properly disposed of…well, maybe not.

Once I was back on top of the bike, I realized that I had twisted my forks within the triple clamp. This made things a little awkward as the handlebars were pointed to the left and I was going straight. I kept my speed down in case any weird physics took over.

Anyway, here is the final result:

I make it back to the hard stuff (route 177 I believe) and head back south to pick up the next pavement road that headed westward, route 11 in Blackwell, OK. 11 would take me all the way to Alva, OK where I could make a total mess out of someone’s motel room while I cleaned half of Oklahoma off of me. On the way I find a car wash in Blackwell, OK and get all the chocolate frosting off the bike.

A couple rednecks in Blackwell were hollering something at me, couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it looked like they were enjoying seeing a guy on a dirt bike caked in mud from top to bottom. Wish I had a video of that scene.

Oh well, I found a BBQ place in what seemed like the middle of nowhere around 2pm and grab some lunch. I’m surprised they served me being all muddy, but they did and even gave me some free peach cobbler. Good stuff:

Alva wasn’t too far away. The unlucky motel winner was Holiday Motel. They were surprisingly very nice to me and offered many extra towels; both for the mud and for me to change oil. Good people:

Liberal, KS tomorrow. Let’s get some dirt riding in this time!

Total mileage: 1938
Daily mileage: 176
Wildlife observed: Jack Rabbits, Turtles
Favorite Sight: Pavement
Favorite Scent: Freshly plowed dirt
Favorite Sound: Harley rider at BBQ place: “Why dirt roads?”
Favorite Taste: Free Peach Cobbler
Favorite Feel: Clean handlebar grips
Ailments: Nothing, just hurt my feelings a little by not riding much of the trail.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

(Day 8) New State = New terrain…

Friday, July 11th, 2008
Day 8
Alma, AR to Bartlesville, OK

“Free” Continental breakfast was waiting for me this morning. I sat between 2 women carrying on a conversation, 1 on the far left side of the lobby and 1 on the far right side of the lobby. I’m not sure what they were talking about, but if you drew a line from one lady to the other, it would have run right over my plate. I’m not so sure this motel thing is better than camping out.

Anyway, I stuff my face with stale bagels, fruit loops, orange juice, 2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, pack my bike and get back on the trail around 8:30am. I still have some of the Ozarks National Forest left to enjoy:

Throughout most of Arkansas, the water looked a little cloudy to me:

…but the road worker I talked with yesterday said it looked clear to him…? I made sure this section was NOT clear after I was through with it:

There isn’t a whole lot to write about today, I was just riding:

Leaving Arkansas behind me:

Here is the very last bit of Arkansas on the OK/AR state line:

And here is how Oklahoma welcomes me:

… with no welcome sign to be found. But notice how the road gets a little muddy entering Oklahoma…a sign of things to come?

Nahh, Oklahoma is just fine:

See, they’re even grading the roads here:

I even found God’s mountain:

(wait… which one isn’t?)

Here comes the long and straight roads I’ve been looking at on the maps and yes, they’re definitely long and straight:

Who says I didn’t stop and smell the roses? (or whatever plant this is):

Finding places to “irrigate the land” was becoming easier; this looked like a good spot:

All bridges should be built this way:

Then there would be less of this:

It’s hard to see but flooding had taken out the far end of the bridge above. There was a path leading into this river, but the boulders in the foreground were obviously intentionally placed to prevent “most” people from advancing.

The next available bridge was about 5-10 miles away, so trying to get through this may not have been such a bad idea and I’m pretty sure the Orangutan was capable of completing the task. But, fortunately, the better side of me decided to take the long way around, however I’m sure it would have been fun to try.

I like the way they build telephone poles here. I’m no engineer, but I would venture to say these poles would last longer than the traditional “T” poles that I’m used to seeing:

Signs of life here on I-44, but their route seems too easy and non-interesting:

I kind of like my route better here around Loveless Corner:

Not only are the telephone poles different, so are the water towers:

And, you can’t stop on the interstate and take artsy-fartsy pictures:

Sorry for the tilt here, it was hard to get a good picture while riding, but look far off into the horizon, you can see the gap in the trees where the road leads, straight as an arrow:

Then I come into a not so ritzy part of town and another road closure:

“Road Closed” signs mean nothing to me… well, maybe they they do now:

So, I turn around and try another route. This is looking back:

…and this is looking forward:

It was a very, very slow descent into deeper mud and thicker brush. There was actually a paved road underneath all of this mess, but it was slick and smelled uninviting. I was running low on water at this point as well, so I turn around and take the highway to the nearest town:

Nowata, OK. Hopefully they had some wata… Amazingly they did and this is where I sat to refill my camelback and load my pockets with more granola bars:

I don’t know why I struggled with which side to sit on, I don’t really have an opinion on either school, but I liked the concept.

Hey, an oil well? I thought we imported all of our oil:

I saw a lot of these. But, they didn’t look like they were yielding much, I guess we have a long ways to go to meet up with our own demand.

Anyways, the sun was getting lower and it was time to find some camping. Osage Hills State Park looked like the closest option. Bartlesville, OK was in my path, so I drove through and couldn’t believe the amount of constant wind blowing through that town. A guy at a stoplight called it “relentless”. I call it annoying and I’m not sure why anyone would decide to move there unless they had plans to build a wind farm. But, apparently people do move there as it was a pretty nice town. I guess I was so intrigued with the wind that I forgot to take any pictures…sorry.

So, next stop is Osage Hills State Park, they’re serious about cars traveling in the wrong direction:

For 10 bucks I get a primitive site and a hot shower:

I forgot to pick up dinner in Bartlesville (10-15 miles of eastward pavement riding to go back) but I had some granola bars that would hold me over if need be. I was kind of hoping one of the other campers would offer some food. About the time I started thinking of this, a nice guy, his wife and grand-daughter walked by and offered hot dogs. Deal! I feel bad for forgetting their names, but, again, extremely nice people:

This guy has done some long distance riding before, so my story wasn’t so outrageous here. I was telling him the towns I was going to and he would try to offer “good riding roads” in between. I told him I already had some backroads mapped out on my GPS… “Oh, these are good backroads I’m talking about”. So, I walk him back to my campsite and show him on the GPS how I define backroad. Now he was a little more aware of my intentions and goals :)

Anyways, it was a long day and there was a breeze coming through the park during the night. Something I hadn’t in my first 4 camping nights, it was very comfortable.

Tomorrow’s plan was to simply make it to Alva, OK.

Total mileage: 1762
Daily mileage: 263
Wildlife observed: Just a bunch of birds
Favorite Sight: The small trees that filled Osage Hills SP. The tree-line seemed like it was only 10 feet tall.
Favorite Scent: Had a lot of bad scents today, nothing positive.
Favorite Sound: “Would you like to come over for some hot dogs?”
Favorite Taste: The hot dogs (mustard, ketchup and relish)
Favorite Feel: The wind holding me up at stoplights in Bartlesville
Ailments: Nothing really, still holding up well, I think my body has adjusted to life on the road.