I was freezing. The thin blanket I had over my sleeping bag did nothing to keep in the warmth, and my heavy motorcycle jacket laying on top of it only barely helped. Whether it was because I had little more than a few thin sheets of plastic to insulate me from the ground, or because my lightweight sleeping bag wasn’t up to dealing with temps in the upper 30’s, I was uncomfortable. With many more nights of camping left to go, I had to make a change.
Though easily considered a small town, Tahlequah is nothing like the towns I had passed days before in the Deep South. This was a town that still had life left in it, as shown by some of the street markets and wall murals I passed. The artistry for the murals was impressive, and I wondered what it took to paint something like that, not just in time or material, but in desire. What made this one wall the perfect canvas for this specific work?
I carried on into Tulsa, where I stopped at a Bass Pro Shops to look for some new camping gear. Eventually finding a 2” thick pad and a sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees, both long enough for my 6’4” self, I checked out and struggled to figure out how to put my new gear on the bike.
Fully loaded, I pulled out of the parking lot and made my way through town. As I went, I’d pass a street sign or a store and a vague memory would scratch at my consciousness. I had been here before, years ago, as a kid in first and second grades of school. I stopped for lunch and called my mom, checking if I was crazy or if these were actual memories. I rattled off some of the places I had passed and she recognized them all. We had lived only a couple of miles from there, 20 something years ago. Having been so young, I hadn’t paid much attention to the town back then, so seeing what had changed meant nothing to me: I wouldn’t have known the difference. I drove on.
With the city behind me, the landscape around me transformed into the flatlands I remembered from when I was stationed in Oklahoma City. I recalled a line from the movie Officer and a Gentleman: “There’s only two things from Oklahoma: steers and queers” and I joked to myself “if that’s true, then these oil pumps must be known as ‘queers’ because there are thousands of them.”
I traveled onwards, the road stretching endlessly towards the horizon. Many people would think that such a long, straight slab of pavement would be boring to ride on, but as my tires ate up mile after mile a strong wind continuously came at me from the side pushing me to the north. I leaned my bike into the wind to maintain a straight line but with each time I passed an oncoming truck the momentary shelter it provided from the wind was replaced with the strong blast of air it pushed aside, making me swerve one way or the other. Overloaded with my new camping gear, I already had less weight on my front tire than I wanted, and in the back of my mind I worried about a steering wobble occurring.
I reached the Great Salt Plains state park where I intended to camp for the night, but I was hungry and hadn’t really seen anywhere to buy groceries since Tulsa. I didn’t think Enid was too far away so before finding a campsite, I drove into town to hunt for food and soon found myself at a Wal-Mart. I bought a couple of groceries, but on the walk back to the bike I realized I didn’t feel like driving another 30-45 minutes to get back to the campground. Instead, I pulled into a parking spot at the lodging office on Vance AFB, and checked myself in for the night.