I was recently back in Oklahoma for the holidays and I got a chance to see how the bike I have living there is doing. How’s that Oklahoma bike, you ask? It’s just OK. Actually, aside from needing a little air in the tires (which I gave it) and some lube on the chain (which we couldn’t find, so it went without) it was in remarkably good shape for having just hung in the garage for almost exactly one year. It still had the same mismatched wheels and tires, but my kindly old father had gone and found a replacement seat and seatpost since the last ones were both cracked in their own ways. It was a lot more comfortable, and I never had to worry that at some unknowable moment the post would fail and I would be impaled rectally on my bicycle.
I had made a plan to ride 23 miles from Owasso down to my cousin’s place in Tulsa. I’d been wanting to make the ride just to say I did it, as well as to show my family how not a big deal it is to ride 20+ miles at a go. Several members of my OK tribe have proven to be bike curious, but none have really gone for it. My dad did a ride with me last year, but he was on a bike that didn’t really suit his…agedness. He does have a second bike that is more comfy with an upright position and thumb shifters, but he never seems to ride that one either. My cousin to whom I was paying a visit does ride when his bike works, but every time he has something go wrong it always takes forever for anyone to fix it (often it’s my dad or myself if I’m around) and unfortunately it tends to be pretty catastrophic failures. This last time, for instance, I was planning to fix his bike when I arrived (and maybe even go for a brief ride together) but when I got there not only was the chain trapped between the cranks and the BB more thoroughly than I’d ever seen it happen, but also his freewheel had sheared off from the inner workings and was just flopping all over the place like it was hoping to escape.
I managed to fix the chain, but I lacked the proper tool to remove what was left of the freewheel bits, so I was forced to leave it in my father’s hands. Hopefully that gets sorted out sometime before I visit next.
I was also looking forward to taking a nice long ride in some relatively pleasant weather. I was leaving Maine just as the temps were due to go sub-zero, and on the day I was planning to ride the Tulsa forecast called for temps in the mid 40’s! Last year I went for a ride right around the same time and I was sweating in just a light hoodie. I had been hoping for something similar this time around, but unfortunately as the day grew closer the forecast got cloudier and colder. By the time Thursday rolled around it came with a high of 32, which is still cold, but warmer than I was used to on my commutes back home. I borrowed some thicker gloves/hat/etc from my dad, got the bike as ready as I could, grabbed some water and some snacks, and set out for Tulsa.
My family made a big deal out of two things. First, they were concerned that a lot of my route might not have any sort of shoulder or bike lane, and that I’d be in danger since “folks aren’t used to looking out for bikers”. And second, I would have to pass through the “rough neighborhood” of north Tulsa. I can appreciate the first point, but the second seemed way overblown and likely motivated by ignorance. But either way I don’t worry about riding through bad areas unless I’m planning to traverse northern Mexico or some other place where there’s an actual, statistical chance that my headless body might be discovered later. Generally I’m never concerned because I’m never giving off moneyed vibes when I’m out for a ride. At worst the homeless population might give me a knowing nod as I roll past, but in all my days and nights of riding I’ve never experienced any issues from any humans who were not driving a vehicle and also being total dicks. So this kind of thing I will continue to dismiss out of hand.
The first couple miles were just getting across and out of town. I chose a route that would keep me on the backroads until I hit the airport, then it kind of meandered through neighborhoods until I was half a mile from my cousin’s. After the first mile or so I had to pull over and adjust my layering, removing a hoodie and stuffing it inside the front of my jacket. Right after I got back on the road I took a turn onto what looked like a rural dead end road, but I was following the signs for a bike lane. It turned out there is an off-road, paved bike path that runs from just outside Owasso, through several fields, all the way to the outer edge of the airport! From what I could tell they had put down a narrow strip of asphalt on top of the middle of what had been an old, little used, crumbling street, and then they just put up gates to keep large vehicles out. This was a very pleasant surprise.
After that stretch it was fairly uneventful, though I really enjoyed seeing this town that I always felt like I knew so well, but from a bicycle. It really lets you discover new sides to every area through which you ride. And I got to wander through parts of town that I’ve never been near, relatively speaking.
The rough part of town was actually pretty run down; lots of houses with roofs caved in, but still seemingly occupied. But even that only lasted for a few blocks.
I grew up in Jenks, which is a little area across the river from Tulsa proper. I’m not really that familiar with the city any more than I was at 18 when I last lived there. Less so with all the changes since. Aside from the airport and the Fairgrounds/Expo Center I didn’t pass much that I was familiar with, which was exactly what I’d been hoping for from this ride.
A brief digression: Pleasant rides like this always make me wish I’d ridden my bike back when I lived in all of these different places. I could’ve ridden around the countryside where I lived as a kid. I could have commuted the 1.5 miles to work in Baltimore (it eventually became a 2.5 mile trip) and gotten to know the city so much better. I…don’t like riding in Texas because of the oppressive heat most months out of the year. I did start when I lived there, though, and I discovered something new in my little half-a-suburb with every ride I suffered through. And Portland I know pretty well at this point. A lot of the surrounding environs, too. But I am occasionally troubled by all the great rides I missed by not owning and operating a bicycle for most of my life.
The next thing I passed was the fairgrounds, followed by a meandering path, calmly described to me through my earbud-lady-friend, that led through several neighborhoods. This was nice because when I finally did have to hop onto an actual road for a mile or so it was Harvard and it didn’t have any sort of bike lane to speak of. Luckily folks mostly gave me lots of room and no one honked. But I turned off when a sigh of relief when the kind google maps lady told me to.
I stopped at the side of the service road by I-44 and ate a protein bar that I swiped from my parents and which I was surprised to find myself needing so badly. I gave up halfway through and pedaled off through the last stretch of neighborhood bike trail, letting out onto Lewis less than a mile from my cousin’s place. The road had a decent shoulder there, so I had a comfy home stretch. I arrived in good shape, pretty hungry, sweaty-backed and in need of a quick hair washing, but otherwise passable in polite society. I washed my hair, dried my shirt about a quarter of the way, then my wife and son arrived to take us all out to lunch. Perfect timing!
I drove back to my parent’s house after the outing that followed and my dad picked up the bike and brought it back later that night. I need to remember to bring a few things with me next time I return to the Great Plains to be sure I’m ready for anything the road throws at me!
Ugh, that sounded terrible.
But I’m keeping it.