A trip to the magical land of Tulsa

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.

The leftover bits of the rear cassette

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.

Hogwart’s has a Tulsa campus now

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.

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Dirty Secrets of the Cycling World Episode 1

   There are some stark realities for commuters that are rarely discussed. If you just ride a bike and don’t often have access to a car then you are generally going to do just fine. But then occasionally you have a night where you are, let’s say, too busy at work to do more than snack on mostly sweets, even though you brought delicious leftover soup. Then you meet a friend for dinner at a burger joint and eat a ton of greasy fries and a burger. Then you walk around chatting just long enough to realize that there’s trouble brewing in your belly bits.

   So now let’s pretend (because this is all a hypothetical, purely imagined scenario that definitely did not happen to me last night) that you also noticed you have a flat rear tire just before your dinner.  So now you’re downtown, miles from home, walking along with your bike and your friend, trying to look casual as your discomfort slowly mounts.  Maybe your friend offers to let you use their restroom since it’s only a mile and a half from you at this point. And perhaps you say ok and make your way there. For argument’s sake let’s even agree that you make it there without incident.

   You arrive and head directly into the bathroom, at which point you realize several things.  First, the incredibly flimsy sliding door is not going to do much for staying closed on its own, much less keeping out the sound of a demon crawling out of your ass.  Second, the walls of the bathroom do not go all the way to the ceiling.  There’s a gap of several inches where they have clearly just built a basically permanent partition around the bathroom area when creating this particular apartment.  Thirdly, there’s a bottle of Tums on the shelve near the toilet.  What do you do with this sudden influx of information?  Well I’ll tell you what you do.  You make a valiant effort at trying to relax the muscles around your bladder without letting go of your sphincter proper.  This results in a sad trickle of urine that might ease your suffering imperceptibly, but it’s hard to tell.  Then you slam two Tums and resolve yourself to change that tube out in record time so that you can ride the remaining mile home to your own proper, safely defileable bathroom.

   Now you have to actually fix that flat, which isn’t too hard since you have all the tools in your saddlebag.  Your friend is there to keep you company and to (probably) smell the smells that have begun to eek out of your body.  All the bending over involved in the process does seem to help, oddly enough, though that could also just be the Tums.

   You say your awkward goodbyes, and now comes the fun part!  You get to ride home, only about a mile, while doing the bizarre internal yoga necessary to keep your legs moving smoothly while also clenching your buttcheeks together firmly, all while hunched forward onto your handlebars. This is what separates the men from the…men who smell like literal shit. Climbing that last hill gets a little dicey, but you manage it, and it really is all downhill after that. You roll to a stop at your front door, rush inside, and do what needs to be done, grateful for your own willpower and intestinal fortitude. And impressive sphincter control.  

   And that is just a thing that happens from time to time when your only vehicle is a bicycle. Of course, other folks might deal with this same situation differently, but those folks don’t have the same childhood-based bathroom issues that you do (or that I do for that matter). But it happens. Does it suck?  Yes, but not much more than regular old stomach distress sucks. And it’s usually manageable.  But even though I know a lot of bike commuters I don’t recall ever hearing any of their similar stories. Which is why I felt that this purely fictional tale was one that needed to be told. 

Harlequin wrapping my moustache bars

I really like the look of a harlequin wrap job, so I finally made my first attempt on the XO-3’s new mustache bars. I saw a tutorial that suggested starting from the top out to the brakes, then starting again at the bar ends and working your way back toward the brakes, meeting in the middle. I just went for it, though, and I like the way it turned out. I did have to remove the shifters momentarily to finish the job, but that was a minor inconvenience at worst. I then applied seven layers of clear shellac, leaving at least an hour between each over the course of a couple days. I wish I’d taken pictures of the bike all wrapped and taped up, but alas I did not. If it helps you imagine it, the masking tape was the basic beige kind and the trash bags were black. Plastic bags from Hannaford covered the bars. Et voilà! It’s just like you’re there in the attic with me, smelling the funky, melting-rubber smell of the shellac and thinking about how this shit used to be bugs. I’ve imbued my bicycle with the tortured souls of countless dead insects. And now that I’ve been riding it for a few weeks I can say that I do enjoy the feeling of that double wrapped cotton tape and all those melted and then rehardened beetles. It’s like the Soylent Green of the bicycle world.