Jim Bradbury

Writer, Cycler, Strummer

Day 19: Clinton, OK to Oklahoma City, OK

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Distance: 94 miles
Climbing: 3,500 feet
This Ain't No Backroads Trip

I expected this to be a tough day, but it ended up being tough for entirely different reasons than the one I was worried about. The weather wasn’t exactly balmy, but that wasn’t what made the day hard at all.

Last night, a big thunderstorm moved through Clinton (and the rest of western Oklahoma, I expect) around midnight. So, we got lucky and missed the heavy rain completely.

At breakfast, I was happy to see Oklahoma resident and native Don Norvelle (and his wife Evelyn), who Lon had asked to scout out the Bridgeport option to see if the Canadian River might be fordable by bicycle. Don didn’t seem to think the option was a good idea, so Lon reluctantly canceled it.

Although there was no immediate sign of rain, people seemed to be in a hurry to get going this morning – even Lon, who usually is among the last to leave. Although I was a bit more optimistic about the rain forecast, there still was a headwind to contend with. I got with a medium-sized group that had Lon and Franz at the front breaking the wind, and then we quickly passed a couple of earlier groups that had left ahead of us.

I think we were the first riders to reach the first rest stop at an abandoned gas station at mile 24. I was impressed at the quick progress we were making despite the headwind, and cold, overcast skies.

As it was a windy day, it was appropriate that we passed a wind farm with gigantic windmills. They looked huge from the road, but when we passed a windmill arm on the ground in the town of Weatherford, I realized that a single arm was big enough for someone to live in. It was bigger than a whale, which is the only thing I can think of to compare it to.

Ten miles after that rest stop, we came to what was supposed to be the turnoff for the Bridgeport option.

I should explain just a little about Bridgeport. Back before Route 66, someone names Keyes built a big suspension bridge across the Canadian River and put a toll booth at one end. Because this was the only good crossing of the river for miles (maybe 50 miles?), his family made a pretty good living off of it. For complicated reasons that I’m too tired to go into now, it was acquired by the state shortly after it became Route 66, and it was bypassed in favor of a different route and new bridge shortly after it was acquired by the state (which meant the end of Bridgeport as a viable town). The road there, before, during and after its tenure as 66, was never paved. In the fifties, the bridge caught fire (it was a plank bridge), and it was ultimately torn down for scrap. All that remains are the pilings at either end – kind of as if the Golden Gate bridge were all gone except for the north and south towers.

Don now seemed to offer some hope that the road wasn’t too muddy for cycling, so Lon decided that he wanted to do the Bridgeport option after all. Who wanted to go with him? I think almost everyone in our little group opted to go. I wasn’t thrilled about the possibility of riding through mud with my road fenders on my bike, but how could I miss what might turn out to be a great adventure.

For the record, here are the proud, the few, and the foolhardy who did this option:

Tim and Vicky Arnold
Franz Neuer
Reed Finfrock
Leon Van Zweel
Lon Haldeman
Me

Don led us down the first part of the road with his van so we wouldn’t get lost. He pulled up in front of a farmhouse where a gate led to a field. We stopped while Lon got more directions from Don. I felt something wet on my ankle and looked down: It was puppies. Several farm puppies were curious about where the heck we were going.

Can I Come?

We were going across the pasture. This was a bit different than our previous pasture excursion a couple of days ago because the sand was wet and somewhat hard-packed. It was ridable.

We got down to somewhere near the river and got confused. Lon and a couple of other guys headed north to see if the river looked fordable while the rest of us waited for Don to follow us on foot.

The river was not fordable. “You could float a hippo,” said Lon. I guess the thunderstorm had done its work. Don came by and showed us where the old pilings were. They were quite large. This was a substantial bridge – and now it is just these incongruous poles sticking up in the bottomland between the pasture and the river. The area was heavily wooded, and Tim Arnold was kind enough to point out that it was also rife with poison oak.

OK, said Lon, we’ll just go across on the railroad trestle. The trestle was just a couple of hundred yards downstream from the site of the toll bridge. According to Lon’s route sheet, “the railroad bridge is very seldom used.”

I wondered if the definition of “seldom used” was as open to interpretation as “riding well.” Did it mean one train a day? One a week? One a decade?

We got back up to the trestle bridge fairly easily by way of the pasture.

It looked long.

Reed said he’d already been across it and back again while were waiting for Don and examining the bridge pilings and “it held my weight, so it ought to hold yours.” Off we went. The bridge seemed even longer. There was just one set of tracks and not much in the way of options should a train happen by. I looked down between the ties I was stepping on to see how far down the river looked.

That was a mistake.

Some of the ties looked pretty rotten, but they mostly seemed well supported by ironwork below. I tried to pick less-rotten ones to step on.

OK, so far this was all interesting and somewhat exciting, but once I got across to the other side, the hard part started. The “road” here was just wet sand, basically, and it didn’t take long before it was clear that my fenders were going to be a handicap. The mud just completely clogged up between the tire and the fender so that it was like I was riding with the brakes on – especially on hills. And this part of Oklahoma has hills.

By the time we finally made it to pavement, I was exhausted from trying (unsuccessfully) to keep up. I was also hungrier and thirstier than I should have been. By my reckoning, we had added almost 10 miles to our 84 mile day.

I was glad to be back on the pavement, but the endless rollers (“Oklahoma is like Missouri without the trees,” said Lon, which I think is unfair – there just aren’t as many trees. It looks sylvan compared with the Caprock in Texas).

Fortunately, Lon decided that we should stop for lunch at a Cherokee Truck Stop, so I got a chance to rest a bit and eat some food, although I think I was still running an energy deficit. Once we were back on the road, I continued to struggle, feeling like I was holding the group back. Reed hadn’t stopped with us for lunch, so now we were down to six.

Somehow I made it through the next forty miles, the last ten of which were pretty flat thank goodness. The funny thing is that I had started the day feeling the best I have for a while – I just left all that energy behind in the Bridgeport mud.

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Written by Jim Bradbury

May 4, 2006 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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