My ride from Amarillo, TX to Oklahoma City, OK was a journey characterized by farms on the left, farms on the right, numerous close encounters with trucks on highway 152, and even a couple of close encounters with wildlife. The first two things – farms and trucks – are nothing new on this website, so I won`t talk about them much in this entry, save to say that if you are planning your own trip across the Midwest, I might recommend trying to find a northern route around I-40 rather than going the way I did (HWY 152) b/x 152 is quite dangerous… There are even possibilities to be explored with riding in I-40 itself (frontage roads, etc.) but be warned – highway 152 is sketch! Below is a video of the ride out of Amarillo (pre-152, but similar shoulder, and similar countryside – to give you an idea of what TX/OK/some NM riding is like!)
Although 152 was exciting, I found that the true excitement in riding from Amarillo to OKC came from the wildlife I encountered along the road… In addition to the eagles, ravens, crows, hawks, crickets, caterpillars, ants, millipedes, birds, snakes, barking dogs (get chased by barking dogs a lot!), cows, goats, donkeys, mules and llamas which had kept me company during the ride up to Amarillo, I had the new experiences of encounters with 2 animals I hadn`t seen yet (and in a way, still haven`t really seen…) during this part of the tour.
When I was camped outside of Cordell, OK – a nice looking town in Washita county along highway 152 – I had my first animal encounter. It was Halloween night, and I had been settled into my sleeping bag for about 15 minutes with my eyes closed, thoughts poring over the events leading up to my current situation in life. I had been trying to fall asleep when a noise to my left spurred me to roll over onto that side, open my eyes, and see what was going on. The noise was a kind of rustling in the dry grass which sounded like an animal moving toward me. When I opened my eyes and leaned up on one elbow to survey the scene, my suspicions were confirmed. I saw, through the fog of sleepiness, terrible eyesight, and darkness, the fast-moving form of a medium-sized animal moving rapidly toward me through the darkness. Instinctively, I did two things simultaneously: 1) I thought, “whoa!” and two, I made the noise, “psssst!!!” as though this animal were a misbehaving dog or cat. Without breaking stride, the creature incorporated a 120-degree angle into its course, and continued at the same rate of speed through the grass and through the darkness. Fortunately for me, this alteration to the creature`s course meant that I was no longer involved with the its plans which, 1.5 seconds prior to my having made the noise and having had my thought, had almost-certainly involved me at least to some degree. My suspicion is that the animal was either a normal-sized coyote, or a very-large raccoon.
It is difficult to say exactly what kind of creature I was involved with from the perspective I had – dark, no glasses, not much time, and the confusion of sleepiness. Despite my inability to identify the type of creature with which I was interacting, it is my firm belief that both parties involved had successful encounters. Because I made the noise, the animal was able to change its course before getting involved in any kind of physical engagement which would have left us both in a bad spot. I was able to put my head back down and go to sleep within about 20 minutes of the encounter, after mentally debriefing the situation with myself. I suspect that the animal had been waiting in the bushes near my sleeping bag for awhile, and had smelled the food that was on the ground next to me. I believe that the creature had lain in wait for some time in the bushes, and, after some thought and consideration, had decided to make a run for the food, not realizing that the lump in the grass between it and the prize was a live human. However, because of the noise, and the change in course, it was able to return to its fellow coyotes or raccoons – most likely – without any kind of physical encounter and (presumably) report that it had planned some kind of reconnaissance outing to see what was going on near the lump of grass, and that after running up to it, changing course by 120 degrees about a foot from the lump of grass, and returning to the surrounding farm, had determined that the lump was a hostile human… And that humans are not to be disturbed while sleeping? The creature would never have needed to make mention of the fact that its food gathering plans had been foiled. Rather, it could pass off its nighttime activities with me as a great triumph! We both preserved our dignity and our well being while getting interesting stories out of our experience… That was my first notable encounter with wildlife while touring on highway 152. The next encounter came the following day between Cordell and Oklahoma City.
I was riding along the shoulder of 152 – i.e. I was riding on the white line which is painted on the right side of the road, and turning into the gravel / grass whenever I heard a truck behind me – and passing the normal string of crickets, caterpillars, butterflies, ants, etc. when I noticed a larger red lump on the side of the road. I slowed down a bit, and when I got close to the lump, I noticed that it was a turtle!
The turtle was standing so that he could gaze out over the vast expanse of highway 152 and look toward the other side, which stood about 30 feet away from the point where the turtle was standing. From his perspective, he would only have been able to see the small ridge of the first of two yellow lines which divide the lanes about fifteen feet to the North. He was also able to take in the view of the sun reflecting off of the tall bushes in the distance behind the North side highway…a beautiful view to be sure, but his position was quite precarious. The turtle was getting passed every 25 seconds or so by a large vehicle of some kind which invariably would come within a few feet of turning him into a splattery mess. So I picked him up, oblivious of the capacity of turtles to secrete foul smelling yellow goo from the undersides of their shells, and placed him about ten feet from the edge of the shoulder in safer territory. Then I noticed the goo – which this turtle had chosen to secrete when I picked him up – on my left glove. The yellow goo was truly one of the most horrible-smelling things I’ve ever experienced…I think that it must be a defense mechanism that might persuade other animals not to eat turtles. I washed my hand with water from one of my bottles, but it didn’t really help. I hoped that the turtle wasn`t on a journey which required his crossing to the North side of152, because I would`ve just set him back about two hours at his rate of travel. I set off again toward OKC with thoughts about the turtle and hoped that he wasn`t trying to cross. Really, it didn`t look like he was planning to go too far in any direction at all when I started riding again, so I wasn`t too concerned. My encounters with the turtle and with the mystery animal were among the more memorable experiences to occur between Amarillo and OKC. These were some other notable happenings:
In Wellington, TX I went to the Ritz Theater which is a local non profit operation that shows Hollywood movies as well as live music. It was one of the most beautiful movie theaters I`ve ever seen, and I`m not gonna lie – I was really happy to get to a town with a movie theater! I didn`t even care what I would see on the marquee when I spotted it from a distance, I decided immediately that I was going to see a movie. Movies are always one of the things that I miss most when I`m backpacking or traveling. The movie that night happened to be Eagle Eye with Shia LeBoeuff (sp?) It was not as bad as I thought it might be… but not great either! Joe, the manager of the Ritz theater asked me about the STW project and let me take a shower in the Ritz dressing rooms! Quite awesome. Also, I met another Wellington part-time local named Marlin who is a minister at the Baptist church in town, and he let me pitch my tent right on the lawn behind the church. That was another great bit of hospitality, which allowed me to see the movie in fact because of the church`s close proximity to the Ritz. Wellington made a good impression – lots of green grass, friendly locals, and a movie theater… can`t go wrong with that! I am currently at a hotel in Oklahoma City where I will be tonight and tomorrow night so that I can give a slide show presentation at Bicycle Alley tomorrow (Monday). It should be a great time, and as always, if you know anyone in town, or if you yourself are in OKC, come check it out and spread the word! Thanks for reading!