Bikecamping Weekend

A couple weeks ago one of my wife's sisters asked her to go with her to see another sister so that left me at loose ends over what the weathermen forecasted to be a beautiful Oklahoma fall weekend. So, the logical thing would be to go someplace out of town.

One of the neatest places for free camping within easy riding distance of my house (38 miles) is the city lake at Purcell. It has half a dozen camping areas around the lake with porta-potties, however just inside the gate is an RV park with bathrooms, showers and even a coin laundry. Next to the RV park is a large grass area with a picnic shelter, boat ramp, volley ball net, grills and electric lights. With several good restaurants in town and a McDonalds just out side the entrance to the park, there was no reason to even consider cooking.

Packing took at least fifteen minutes. Tent fabric, footprint, off-bike clothing for a cool evening, towel and my bathroom bag went into one pannier and the sleeping bag in the other. Tent poles were rolled in the Therm-A-Rest and strapped between the panniers on top of the rear rack. Pump stays on the frame while tools and spare parts ride in a bag in the lower bottle cage. Phone, camera and things like that went into the handlebar bag, pump up the tires and I was ready to roll the next morning.

First stop was Ozzie’s Restaurant at Westheimer Airport for breakfast. It's not a buffet breakfast but you order whatever and how much you want, all for $3.85. Being on an old Navy airbase owned by the University of Oklahoma keeps prices down. The OU flight school located there was where some of the terrorists who flew into the WTC received their training. At around 100,000 people, Norman is the third largest city in Oklahoma. The main traffic routes through it are I-35 or Highway 77, known as the Old Dallas Highway, neither of which makes for pleasant riding through town. However with the university located there, they have a number of marked bike routes along residential streets. That makes getting through there fairly easy.

Once out of town, traffic on Highway 77 drops off quickly and with wide shoulders, it's a good route. About ten miles further is the town of Slaughterville, named for the man who originated it by opening a store in 1927 where the old highway made a sharp turn. So many cars crashed when they came to that square corner that many people thought that was the reason for the name. Several years later they did away with the old square corner but it's still sharp enough that unwary drivers still run off it.

One of Oklahoma's six wineries is located at the north edge of Slaughterville so I stopped to take advantage of their tasting table and pick up a bottle of wine for the evening. About a year ago the PETA organization tried to get them to change the name from Slaughterville to Veggieville. They weren't successful but their attempts did make national TV News and a couple weeks of amusement.

Another five miles brings me to Lexington which is better known as the location of Oklahoma's largest prison. It's only half a mile from the much larger town of Purcell, but separated by a narrow, half-mile long rickety bridge over the Canadian River and the county line, the two towns have a totally different feel and personality.

The bridge is being rebuilt and traffic is limited to one way at a time on a single lane. There are lights at each end to let traffic cross single file but evidently something didn't work because traffic was backed up on either side while two cars sat nose to nose in the middle of the bridge, neither driver seemingly willing to be the one to back off the bridge. A couple police cars arrived at the west end and the officers were walking beside the cars, telling people to back off the bridge. I was stopped next to a man in a pickup truck so I asked if he would haul me and my bike across. He not only agreed but helped me load it.

I had lunch at a Subway then checked out the four restaurants along Main Street to pick which one I would visit for dinner. They were all about the same except one displayed a rack of home-made pies so it got my vote. The Interstate highway doesn't really effect Purcell because the two exits to it are some six miles apart and traffic simply roars past at 70 mph.

When I got to the picnic shelter where I planned to camp, a man was sitting on one of the tables reading a newspaper. I stopped to visit and found that he was holding the shelter for a local Custom Car club which was going to have a club picnic there. He said they were having the meat catered with the rest bringing potluck dishes and invited me to join them. He also said that they would be gone by 10:00pm and I was welcome to pitch my tent on the grass. I pitched my tent and headed for the shower to change into my street clothes.

It was a lively bunch with a number of really nice cars. The men spent their time with their heads under hoods admiring the chrome and polish. The dinner was great and while the adults talked cars, I entertained the kids with stories and as soon as it was dark, I showed them how to spot ground spiders with the headlamp off my bike.

After the group had cleaned up the trash and left, I remembered my bottle of wine but since we had polished off a keg of adult beverage along with the beans and ribs, I returned it to the pannier unopened. I locked my bike to a table under the shelter, visited the bathroom and turned in. A few minutes later I heard a car pull into the parking area and stop. I watched through the bug screen as a spot light swept across the shelter, stopping on my bike, searched around a bit and centered on my tent. I figured that I was about to get a visit but a few seconds later it winked off, they backed out and left. The rest of the night was totally uneventful.

The air was heavy with moisture when I woke to find a few low, scuddy clouds drifting by and the tent sagging from the weight of dew. My clothing felt damp and clammy as I pulled them on. You could see my tracks where I had knocked the moisture off the grass and little rivulets of water cascaded down to the edge of the fly and dripped off. At least the roof of the shelter had protected my bike and the saddle was dry. I rode a little over a mile to the Golden Arches at the exit off the Interstate.

By the time I finished my Egg-Mac-Something, a third cup of coffee and the local newspaper I found on one of the tables, the sun was beginning to work on the dew. Back at the park I knocked down the tent and spread it out on the tables to finish drying.

I'd wasted a couple hours by the time I was packed to leave and other than the sleepy morning crew at McDonalds, I hadn't seen anyone. It was what is known as a Hangover Quite Sunday Morning as I rolled down the main street of Purcell. Four pickup trucks were parked side by side in front of the only cafe that seemed to be open. I turned off main street and coasted to the end of the bridge where the light was green. No one was coming from the other end so I set out on the half mile journey on the single lane. About half way I saw a car coming from the opposite direction so I stopped, moved my bike against the barricade and waited for the car to pass. It was driven by a man in a suit with a woman wearing a hat and two kids dressed in their Sunday best. Obviously a family on their way to church.

He slowed and stopped beside me, "I'm sorry, I didn't see you on the bridge," he said.

"No problem," I told him. "Have a nice day."

"Same to you," he replied.... and it was.

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Copyright 2004 by Jim Foreman