San Francisco to New York to San Diego

May - July 1990

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Week 4

4 June - Monday -  81.1 miles/1467 total
Poplar Bluff to Thayer

Poplar Bluff had a serious bicycle shop, and I headed there in the morning to have my wheel worked on.  The proprietor didn't have much else to do for a while, and he took great pains with truing after he had replaced the spoke.  This time I got half a dozen spokes with nipples, and bought a multi-size spoke wrench.  And as the wire leading to the odometer pickup on the chainstay had been frayed by the out-of-true wheel, we took some enamel and coated the bare part to keep it insulated.

 After a while an unhappy looking guy walked in, a man about my age, who had started out to ride from central Kansas to New York, where he was going to work at a summer camp.  He was a high school phys ed teacher, but he didn't look like the type who would inspire much confidence in his students.  His bicycle - a mountain bike - looked as hangdog as he did.  His panniers, stuff sacks and equipment were randomly piled up on a rear rack, and everything was sloppy and dirty. This guy  was giving up and had come into the shop to see if he could have his bike boxed and shipped back home.  He had not really done so long a distance - half of Kansas and three quarters of Missouri, but he had decided that he was behind schedule and wanted to pack it in. This just reinforced my feeling that neatness counts.  Both Chris and I had made sure that we had the right panniers, with enough space for everything, and in general had the right equipment packed efficiently.  It seemed to me that this was at least psychologically very important for a successful trip. 

I was done about noon, and we set out, heading into the foothills of the Ozarks. We did what we could to avoid the US highway west, as it had been described to us as just as bad as the highway of the day before.  For a while, traveling separately, we each found our own routes; mine was a shortcut but wound up petering out into a gravel road.  After a couple of miles of gravel and after asking a couple of people, I found my way onto the state highway into Doniphan, where I found Chris,who had found a place to eat. 

I had already had lunch, but this place was worth having another round.  It was just a house with a "bake shop" sign out front, but the bake shop was run by a retired couple who also served lunch outdoors, under the carport.  So I ate again,  a beef salad sandwich, raw vegetables, potato salad, and chocolate cake.  This turned out to be the best meal we had had since Washington.  Meanwhile, the couple had called the local newspaper, and a reporter came over to interview us about our trip.   

Probably as a result of the distance I had done over gravel, I had broken another spoke.  I was feeling a little better about it this time, though; I figured I could now fix it properly.  But the wheel was doing okay, so we went on toward Thayer. 

Doniphan to Thayer really seemed to be the beginning of the Ozarks.  It was sparsely populated, very pretty, and the road was nicely empty.  We descended into Thayer around dusk, asked some locals in a pickup truck where we could eat, and were sent to a diner.  There we asked about a campground, and were told about a town-run RV park just around the corner.  While we were eating, the waitress called the local police, one of whom came by the diner to register us for the RV park.  The park wasn't much, just a strip of dirt and grass next to a run-down rodeo grounds, but we set up tents on the grass, and went to sleep without showers.

5 June - Tuesday - 108.9 miles/1577 total
Thayer to Harrison AK

Our night's sleep was a little uncomfortable because of the lack of showers.  When we got up in the morning, we found that there was a municipal pool a hundred yards away, and no one around.  So we climbed a fence and jumped in.  If only we had seen that pool the night before! 

After packing up, Chris left, and I stayed around long enough to replace my spoke.  That took half an hour - about the time it seemed to take most repairs on the road, including flats.  That done, it was only a couple of miles south into Mammoth Spring, AR, which inf fact does have a mammoth spring, 100 feet in diameter, right by the side of the road.  I didn't stop, heading west instead.  Our plan was to follow the northern border of Arkansas through the Ozarks to Oklahoma.   

Salem was a town that brought back my memories of Arkansas in the fifties and sixties, when my family would travel out that  way during vacations.  I don't know if I had ever been in Salem itself; but the town was very like places we had been, with dusty streets and rundown, ancient-looking stone buildings that could have predated the Civil War.

US 62 crossed Norfork Lake on a new concrete bridge, approached on a road lined with modern resort hotels, a lot different from what I remembered.  There had been a quiet ferry here, back in the sixties.  It looked like we would be crossing the country without ever seeing a ferry. 

I caught up with Chris in Mountain Home, where he had found a deli and ice cream parlor in a shopping center. 

From Mountain Home, it was a bit of a grind into Harrison.  The wind wasn't awful, but it was always there; the terrain wasn't seriously mountainous, but it rolled constantly.  We had met an eastbound cross country cyclist in Virginia - I think it was the ex ski instructor - who had told us that the Ozarks were very nice, but the worst part of his trip, because of the constantly rolling terrain.  We didn't find it all that bad, but it was tiring.   

Outside Harrison, we asked at a filling station about campgrounds and were sent to an RV park close to town, then rode a mile or so past it to eat at yet another Pizza Hut, this one the least luxurious of any we'd seen, as it had no table service.  Then we rode back, set up our tents, did our laundry, and turned in.

6 June - Wednesday - 116.9 miles/1694 total
Harrison to Flint OK

From Harrison to Springdale, we had another day of pushing over hills.  We separated pretty much for the whole day, agreeing to meet around Springdale.  I stopped at Huntsville for lunch, in a rundown, fly infested hamburger joint, and that was the best place in town, so far as I could tell.  The road we were following was marked on my map as a state highway - AR 68 - but it was in the process of being turned into the major truck route from Tulsa to Memphis, and it now had a US route number, US 412.  There were a lot of trucks, but there were some fairly steep grades along the way; it seemed as if the heavier stuff would be better off taking another route.  It did have shoulders all the way, though, and was just fine for riding. 

After Springdale, things flattened out a bit, and as I approached Siloam Springs, it was pretty flat.  I took a four-lane bypass around Siloam Springs, and halfway around the town, I had a flat.  As we had agreed to meet at the Oklahoma border, which was less than a mile away, this was frustrating, but after a while I caught up to Chris, not at the border, but at a Chinese restaurant where we bought some take-out food for dinner. 

A waitress at the restaurant told us about a campground not too far beyond the Oklahoma border, so that's where we headed.  Around dusk we arrived at a big collection of RV's, a lot of them permanently moored, it turned out, and we went in to find out if we could camp there.  We soon found that they didn't want tent campers, and they pointed  us down the road, just across a stream, where we found some rundown RV's.  There was a small general store out front, but no one was around.  Meanwhile a car full of kids, fourteen to sixteen years old, had pulled up; they also were looking for somewhere to pitch a tent and had heard of this place.  Next to the creek there was a fenced in area with a waterslide, a sort of park, and it turned out that this was the camping area, although no one ever came around to register us. 

There were no showers, so after eating, we took a quick dip in the stream.  There were mosquitoes everywhere, and the banks and streambed were all rocks, so swimming turned out to be not very comfortable.

7 June - Thursday - 81.6 miles/1776 total
Flint to Tulsa

We were planning to spend two days off in Tulsa at the house of friends of Chris' family; this would be our longest time off the bikes.  So the eighty miles or so we had ahead of us didn't seem too bad.  And although I was predicting some serious hills at the start of the day, as I thought the Ouichita mountains were between us and Tulsa, I knew that the last half of the day would be completely flat. 

Getting up, I had to fix another spoke; I had been riding on a broken rear spoke since before Siloam Springs.  As I had broken two since Poplar Bluff and five over the length of the trip, I decided to have my entire rear wheel rebuilt, with new spokes and even a new rim if necessary, once we got to Tulsa. 

The road we were on, now OK 33, but still US 412, still had a fair number of trucks on it.  The heat, as the day progressed, got intense, and a very strong southerly wind picked up, but the mountains I had predicted never materialized; there were a couple of long shallow climbs, and that was it.  The countryside was getting arid; not desertlike, but hot and dry.  We stopped for breakfast at a windowless coffee shop near Kansas, OK; there were cowboy hats  all around.  After breakfast, we separated, meeting again near Choutou, where the main road jogged south a little, then turned west and became a four lane highway.  Stopping at a convenience store, we learned that the old route 33 still existed, running parallel to the new road, a little south of it.  We took this, and as we expected,  it was mostly empty. 

Almost immediately we were in prosperous-looking farmland.  The land was pretty flat, but not completely so, and the fields of wheat went on forever.  Once I saw a huge house, recently built, in a sort of prairie-moderne style, a little out of place in th middle of open, isolated fields.

The old road stopped at the Verdigris river; the original bridge had been torn down, and we had to ride up to the main highway to cross.  But it was easy enough to find the back road again, once across the river.  This we followed into Tulsa, where it became Admiral Blvd. 

The south wind had been getting worse all day.  Chris' friends, the Reillys, lived pretty far south in Tulsa, and it was a struggle to get there.  Tulsa is not set up for easy bicycling.  There is a gridwork of main through roads, at one mile intervals, but these are all very busy.   The network of streets in between the larger grid seems logically enough arranged, but none of them seem to go any distance reliably.  They are always dead-ending or twisting in odd directions.  So I had  to take the major roads, after a few false starts with side streets. 

It seemed to take forever to get to the Reillys, but once there, it turned out that Chris had arrived only very shortly before me - he had stopped for lunch.

8 June - Friday - 0 miles/1776 total

The point of the day was to do nothing; I got up late and spent a lot of time sleeping in the afternoon.  My main interest was to get my bike to a bike shop; I spent some time calling around to see who could do my wheel quickly, and found on a place called Fay's, not too far away.  So we piled my bike into the trunk of the car Chris has borrowed from Mr. Reilly, and headed over. 

It turned out that this was the week of the annual Oklahoma Freewheel, a cross state ride that varies in route every year.  So the shop was very busy, but they promised to have the wheel ready the next day, completely rebuilt. 

We then went to a bookshop, where I found a book listing campgrounds, mostly RV campgrounds, for the western states.  This turned out to be very handy for the rest of the trip, as state and federal campgrounds were now going to be few and far between on our route.

9 June - Saturday - 0 miles/1776 total

More rest.  Lunch was leftover vegetables from Thursday night's dinner.  We went over to pick up my bicycle; no surprises: the spokes had been replaced, but the rim was the original.   

The afternoon was spent at a Belmont Stakes party a the house of a friend-of-a-friend of Chris.

Afterwards we went to pick up some food to cook for dinner.  Mr. Reilly was busy that night, so we had the house to ourselves.  I cooked a steak - always easy - and Chris put together a plate of vegetables.  We put our laundry through, and I washed and dried my sleeping bag, which badly needed it. 

10 June  - Sunday - 105.7 miles/1882 total
Tulsa to Seward

We were on the road by seven, after packing and eating a big breakfast.  Our maps showed a bridge at 91st Street, but it turned out this didn't exist; we had to go back north to 71st to cross the Arkansas, then loop up and around to get onto US 66 to Sapulpa.  Looking at the map now, of course, I see that there was a shorter route, but it was early in the morning and we didn't see it then.  In Sapulpa I saw the first pumping jacks; I don't know why we hadn't seen any before, driving around Tulsa as much as we did. 

I had talked to my father about riding past an area in north central Oklahoma where he owned some mineral rights he was optimistic about and where some drilling was soon going to start; but the country there was apparently pretty forbidding gypsum desert.  Chris was interested in going through Amarillo, as someone had recommended a national park near there, so we decided instead to take OK 33 all the way west across the state.  Thinking that Oklahoma was flat, and hoping for favorable winds, we were looking forward to doing record distances with no problems.  This first day out of Tulsa was not flat, and the wind against us was serious.  I had seen an article in Bicycling a few years back in which a meteorologist had claimed that in the central part of the US, in the summer,  the wind was more likely to be easterly than otherwise.  For the rest of the trip, our experience completely contradicted this.  It was hot, too; in Drumright it was 97 degrees, and the humidity was stifling. 

We had been hoping to ride some 160 miles to Foss Lake state park (it would have been nearer 200, as it turned out), but by Guthrie I was completely worn out from the heat.  Looking in my campground book, I found an RV park in nearby Seward, and we set out to get there.  It wasn't easy, as the directions in the book were for approaching from the interstate, but after some asking and a little bit of dirt road, we got there.  The place was a level stretch of hot grass, with a couple of tiny trees; we grabbed a spot under one of the trees and set up our tents. 

We had passed a Stuckey's by the interstate exit a few hundred yards down the road; we walked there and had a fast food dinner, with ice cream.  Amazingly, the place was not air conditioned.  Sitting at the next table to us was a summer resident of the RV park; he had left his RV at the park and driven his pickup down to get something to eat.  He was an ex-Walmart manager who wanted to become a schoolteacher and was taking summer courses in Guthrie.  He gave us a lift back to the campground, and then a tour of his RV.  He was having a lonely summer, and went back home every weekend to visit his wife.

Week 5