Our original intention was to go to Arkansas and maybe stop by to visit Mike’s cousin. Our first little stop was on 160 just before Dexter, Kansas. Frequent stops are required for us because of Mike’s back and my RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis). I don’t mind because it forces us to take our time and find hidden gems along the roadside. This first stop was on the corner of a dirt road and the highway.
Three neglected geldings were grazing in a mostly dirt filled pen. It was only about half an acre. The condition of these gentle creatures was very poor. Their hooves were in need of expert care, cracked and curling up towards their shins. The coats that hung on these thin majestic creatures were mottled with chunks of crusting mud and balding patches with sores. There ribs were visible underneath their overlooked hides. It was a sad sight. Despite their apparent mistreatment by people, they sauntered to the fence where we stood.
Mike grabbed a patch of long thick leaves. I grabbed patches of newly sprouted rye grass. The first horse that approached the fence nibbled on my offering a little bit but then he darted towards Mike and inhaled what he had to give. I was enjoying rubbing the muzzle of the last horse to come to the fence. He seemed to be on the bottom of the tiny social structure that was in this paddock. His condition was the worst of the three. He had a few large sores on the inside of his spindly legs. I pitied him but there was a connection with this one.
“They really like this stuff over here.” Mike pointed to a large patch that looked similar to several of the tall patches that dotted the pasture and were on the corner around the power pole outside the fencing.
“Whatever you have, it smells like onions.” I grabbed a nice cluster of these juicy greens but the horses backed away from the fence. One horse took and separated what Mike said they liked and spit it to the ground. They ate the few pieces of weeds that had come along for the ride with the other plants I picked. “I don’t think they like those plants. He just tossed what I gave him in the dirt and didn’t touch it.”
“I think they are onions. Look.” he held up a large bundle, roots and all. Sure enough, they were onions. We were surprised by discovering wild onions. The horses made their way away from us. Tired, I suppose of us attempting to feed them onions instead of the fresh, bright, green weeds they preferred. Mike started the bike. It startled the trio and set the sprinting to the corner farthest from us.
We stopped again in Cedarvale to put gas in our tank, grab a drink and buy smokes for Mike. The town was basically the tiny gas station surrounded by minute structures falling into disrepair. I discovered a ladybug on Mike’s back as he started to fill the tank. We considered it a lucky blessing for our trip. The road we traveled was very scenic. I love the Flint Hills. It delights me to travel through them. Watching as the horizon ebbs and flows like a sea hued with nature’s vibrancy. It is for me an inspiring landscape. The creams, tans and light oranges of the flint interspersed with greens, greys, bright yellows, oranges, brilliant purples and flashes of an occasional blue or violet.
I can embrace the awe I have for this section of country in a more intimate way on the bike. You get to touch the scenery and be touched by it. There are too many distractions in a car. The car ride dulls the experience. It steals the emotional connection of the place from you. I was never aware of how much I had missed of what surrounded me in a vehicle. When the casket of glass and metal are removed the richness of life is able to flow into the soul in a profound way. It releases the chains and lets loose an abundance of beauty unrivaled by any modern convenience. It allows for introspection and connection to the vast possibilities that abound. This, for me, is church.
I would like to take a moment and express my heartfelt concern for the people of Quapaw, Baxter Springs and others that were hit by the recent tornadoes. Our trip on Route 66 took us through Quapaw and will be included in this series but due to the recent storm outbreak I wanted to share that our thoughts and prayers go out to all who are suffering because of this disaster.
We stopped in front of the weathered old post office in Niotaze, Kansas. The dilapidated white building brought to mind a simpler time. A time when this small, quaint place was important. We noticed a Harley Davidson motorcycle under the carport of a house across the street begging to be rode on this wonderful spring afternoon. Its owner forced to ride the lawnmower instead.
The weather was perfect. The wind had a pleasant chill to it. Normally, I don’t tolerate the cold but this was refreshing when partnered with the warmth of the early evening sun. I was also decked out in a sweatshirt, and sweatpants. If the temperature had been any colder I would have donned my helmet.
I enjoy riding sans helmet. It allows me a fuller experience. I love the feel of the sun on my face.
We made our way quickly through Caney, Kansas. Caney is close to the Oklahoma border. Mike and I have a tradition that started when we were younger about state border crossings. Well, any border crossing, actually. We got to the leaving Kansas sign and began our ritual. Arms in the air with jazz hands (not spirit fingers), singing dootooly, doo, dootooly, doo (ala Wayne’s World dream sequence theme) over and over until we have passed the welcome to Oklahoma sign. This time Mike added a Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive disco move to the mix and wiggled the bike a little. I joined the disco moves. I was even brave enough to add a couple of extended leg moves aka kicks while dancing with my arms and body. We were both laughing at the pleasure of our choreographed border tradition.
The sun was still very bright in the sky. The wind however was getting crisper with the coolness threatening the disappearance of our warm beacon. It was not very long before we were in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It was around 7 in the evening. Hunger had set in for both of us. We noticed a Golden Corral and swung in for a much needed meal. We were delighted to discover that the steaks we got at the buffet were tender, juicy and very flavorful. The cook had gotten our steaks perfectly medium rare, which was an absolute treat. We were surrounded by tables full of families with small children. There were two precocious little girls seated to the left of us. The face of the older of the two girls was framed in a delicate cascade of bright yellow gold curls. They were not the intentional kind, forced to be by curling iron or brush. Her little sister had a short do of light brown fluff. They were with their grandma and great aunt. Mike and I both reveled in the excitement of having finished that part of our lives and began contemplating our new role as grandparents with joy.
When we stepped out of the restaurant the sun was working on its departure from the sky. The air was getting colder. I grabbed my leather jacket and gloves out of our saddlebag. I forgot to leave my gloves off in order to put my helmet on. This time it didn’t matter I was able to put it on and snap my chin strap together with gloves on. That was a first for me. We jumped (not really, we mounted in an awkward, uncool, and definitely old person way) on the bike.
There was a deep brownish gray haze growing in the sky towards the west of us. Traffic was fairly light as the sun was setting. As I looked behind us to the east, I witnessed a beautiful sunset. There was a diamond, cross pattern of clouds with a radiant neon pink, orange swirl in the center of one of the diamonds.. I wish I was brave, and experienced enough to have snapped a picture of it.
The haze began to build as we drove further south. The luminous scene showed that there were a few grass fires on the left of us. There was even a minor section along the highway on fire. The flames licked at the pavement and moved fast through the dry grass. The fire deep in the hills behind the highway was intoxicatingly stunning. The smell was richly sweet like the smoke that comes from the smoker when Mike smokes meats.
The sun had finally set just before we got to Tulsa. The transition from light to dark was highlighted by the range fires. Shifting focus from visible smoke to the increased intensity of the red-orange flames. The flames dissipated from sight as we entered Tulsa.
We got a room at the America’s Best Value Inn. We were surprised at the time when we finally got to our room. It was only 9 o’clock. We were ready for a break. Our bodies were wore out from the road. We savored our tiny respite.
Our room was reasonably nice. When I had undressed and laid down on the bed I was transported back in time to the friend of a friend’s basement and the lone busted spring mattress on the floor for “unsupervised fun”. It was not very comfortable. We could both feel the individual broken down springs digging into our sides, backs, hips, legs and arms. Nothing the earlier mentioned mattress had inspired in my younger self was going to happen here. We laughed at how uncomfortable it was.
Mike discovered that the motel did offer a breakfast. I woke early looking forward to blueberry muffins. We went to the front desk area to discover the “bounty” that lay before us. I had clearly gotten my hopes up. Clearly. There were plastic shelf units on the counter that contained mini powdered and chocolate covered donuts. There was another plastic shelf unit containing the bulk biscuits you get from Sam’s Club or Costco with a hand written note on how to heat them in the microwave. A crock-pot was at the end of the counter with sausage-less gravy for the biscuits. They had a juice machine with apple and orange juice. I reluctantly selected the apple knowing that the orange juice from these machines is often more pith than juice (bitter and very sour). I opted instead to drink a $1.00 12 ounce can of Pepsi from the vending machine after watching a chunk of unidentifiable matter land in my cup. He went to town on his biscuit with cream gravy sans sausage. I grabbed a very green banana, thought better of it and then settled for a half dozen of the chocolate covered mini donuts. Mike gave me shit for being “prissy”. I explained it wasn’t prissiness it was disappointment plain and simple. I had expected a traditional continental breakfast with muffins, bagels, cereals, milk, juices and fresh fruits. I’m aware that we were not at the DoubleTree and that I should have been grateful for the minimalist version of continental breakfast we got. I was glad the chocolate covered mini donuts were fresh and they did hit the spot.
While we were munching on the slim picking breakfast, I grabbed a bunch of pamphlets from the brochure stand. We began discussing where we thought we would go from here. I had noticed from perusing the map on my smart phone that we were just a few miles from the original Route 66. We looked at the other ideas from the stand. It seemed to us that we were getting a call from the mother road to examine what she had to offer. So, it was decided we would head towards Miami, Oklahoma and zig through Missouri, then back to Baxter Springs, Kansas on our way back home. We would be racing a storm system on it’s way to the East so we opted to take this route instead of our intended visit to Mike’s cousin in Arkansas.
We piddled around in the room looking over guides and examining websites to figure out our path along 66. We began to load up the bike for our departure. I had to do some personal “emptying” before we took off. The door to our room was open because we parked the bike right outside our room and I gave no thought to shut the bathroom door. As I was attending to personal business I heard Mike talking to a man outside our room. He was asking to gather towels. I hollered “That’s not a good idea right now!” He told Mike he spotted my leg and abruptly turned around. Yikes!! Oops.
We got on the bike after it was loaded up and began to head out. I told Mike he had to take a left but he said it was a right that would take us to Route 66. He said “There’s a QT up ahead and we need to grab something to drink for the road. We can ask there so you can see I’m right.”
At the QuikTrip I learned he was right.
To Be Continued . . .