My First Road Tour
The City Cafe was nearly full of the courthouse crowd when I locked my bike to a signpost in front of it the next morning. The Sheriff's Deputies wearing guns the size of cannons were clustered around one table, the county clerk's office staff around another and three men in suits huddled with their heads together over short stacks at the third. They looked like lawyers, probably plotting legal chicanery.
The enlarged prostate generation, all wearing caps advertising farm machinery or seed corn, nursed their coffee cups at two tables pulled together at the back. They were the only ones who seemed to notice my arrival. I took a seat on a chrome stool with a red plastic cover at the counter. When I was a kid we used to like to sit on those stools while other kids spun us around and around until we threw up.
A sign on the wall advertised the "Two Fer" breakfast special: two hotcakes, two eggs and two slices of bacon or sausage for two dollars. "The special with sausage and over easy," I told the waitress as she slid a cup of steaming coffee in front of me.
"Sausage and turn 'em," she shouted to the cook.
I checked my map while waiting for my order. Clinton was 50 miles and Weatherford, home of Astronaut Tom Stafford and where I had intended to be my second night, was another 15 miles. Oh well, I'd just ride on and see how the day turns out.
Route 66 forms the north frontage road for I-40 for several miles, crosses under it for a few more and back again where it suddenly turns into a four lane with nice shoulders the final four mile business route into Elk City. I missed the first turn under the interstate and followed the frontage road for about three miles until it ended at a dirt road to a farm house. No safe way across the interstate so I had to retrace my route back to the underpass. A sign indicating that it was a dead end would have been helpful,
A tourist trap Indian Trading Post, complete with totem poles made from oil drums and curios made in Taiwan lurked in wait for gullible motorists falling off the interstate at the west exit to Elk City. The town was originally called Busch after the St. Louis beer maker but when Oklahoma joined the union as a dry state in 1907, the predominately Baptist residents felt that living in a town named after beer just wouldn't do, so they changed it to Elk City.
According to the maps, Route 66 had taken two routes through Elk City so I chose the easiest one which formed Main Street where I spotted a place that advertised itself as an authentic French bakery. Frilly curtains on the windows, chintzy table cloths and the menu written in French on one side and English on the other. I'll have to admit that even though they were as fake as the genuine Indian artifacts at the exit, they did have great coffee and sweet rolls. A couple museums tempted me to stop but I had miles to cover and kept riding.
Two miles east of Elk City at the intersection with Highway 34 is a historical marker indicating that as the location where the cattle trail from Texas to Dodge City crossed. Then another six miles is Canute where practically everything has relocated from main street two miles north to the exit on the interstate. I did stop at the city park which was built in the 1930s as a make-work project of the W.P.A. It is a long-time landmark on Route 66 with the Roman Catholic cemetery around a low hill topped by a life-size bronze of Christ on the cross. Dug into the side of the hill under the cross is a rock grotto containing a life-size wax figure or Christ and two angels. This park would also make a great camping spot for cyclists because I'm sure no one would complain or probably even notice your being there.
Nearly all of the route from Elk City to Clinton is just across the fence from the roaring traffic on I-40 but at least you don't have to fight the bow wave off the front of the big rigs or the vortex that tries to suck you in behind them. I was making good time so I stopped for a Subway sandwich and a short rest in Clinton, and to fill my water bottles before pressing on to Weatherford. It was only fifteen miles and I had picked up a nice tail wind.
I had seen the big puffy clouds building to the west, but thought nothing about them. After all, this was June and summer clouds were common. I noticed that my tail wind had turned much cooler which was certainly a relief. A few miles short of Weatherford I saw the first drops of rain begin to speckle the pavement. I pulled off the road at a mailbox to check the weather and looked up to see a huge black cloud rolling over me. Rain began to pelt down harder. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten to bring any kind of rain gear. You tour and you learn. A driveway led from the mailbox to a nice brick house with an attached carport with no vehicle under it. Not even considering that there might be a dog around, I headed for the shelter just as the bottom dropped out of the sky.
The first thing I noticed under the carport was a huge pair of dog dishes. Whatever ate from them had to be big as a water buffalo. The water dish was half full so I froze, knowing that a dog had to be around someplace. Perhaps the pounding rain had masked my arrival and the dog was asleep in the barn behind the house. Then I saw a bear-size head looking at me through the glass in the door. It was at least six inches between the eyes. He may have been inside the house but he certainly wasn't the least bit happy about me being there. I could hear him barking and lunging against the door. I just hoped that it held until the rain let up and I could escape.
After a few minutes the dog stopped banging the door but I could still hear it growling. The rain lasted only about five minutes until the cloud riding the gust front rolled on to the east. Just as I mounted and started to ride away, a pickup truck with a man and woman inside turned into the driveway. I moved to the edge to give them room to pass. He rolled his window down and stopped beside me. "Hi there," I said. "I took shelter from the rain under your carport; hope it was OK."
"Good thing Blackie was in the house or you would be missing a leg right now." he said. "Better get your ass in gear because we are under a tornado warning and it's coming this way fast."
"Thanks," I said as I rode to the highway, turned right and started a sprint for Weatherford, which I could see about four miles away. Behind me the clouds rolled and boiled and a huge anvil of frozen vapor fanned out from the top. It was so dark under the clouds that it was hard to tell where the clouds stopped and the earth began. Green streaks of hail could be seen as lightning zapped from the clouds to the ground. The constant roll of thunder sounded like a train bearing down on me.
I spotted motel signs at the exit where Route 66 goes under the interstate just as a blast of cold, wet wind hit me in the back. I was sprinting as hard as I could then the wind began pushed me faster and faster until I was spinning the pedals against nothing but air. I could feel the rain pelting against my back.
I thought of stopping in the shelter of the underpass but since the driveway of the first motel was only another hundred yards away, I kept my head down and went for it. I didn't care what the name was, I was just looking for a place to escape the howling wind and driving rain which was quickly turning to hail the size of peas. I rolled up to the door of the lobby and someone opened it to let me in. I was so out of breath that I couldn't even thank them. Someone said, "Boy, you just barely made it."
The hailstones rapidly increased in size, some as big as golf balls, as they pounded cars in the parking lot. The big plate glass front windows bulged inward from the pressure of the wind. Above the din of the storm came the wail of the town's tornado warning sirens.
"Everyone away from the windows and take cover in the hall," yelled the manager. Then there was a blinding flash of lightning and a crack of thunder as a bolt struck the poles supporting several transformers at the edge of the parking lot. They exploded in a ball of flames and smoke and the place went pitch dark. The storm raged for half an hour while downed power lines snapped and sizzled in the water tumbling six inches deep across the parking lot.
The storm stopped as suddenly as it had come and soon the sun was shining against the towering clouds as they marched away to the east. While people were inspecting the huge dents and broken windows in their cars, I found a back route out of the lot that would avoid the downed power lines. I made my way past broken tree limbs, garbage cans and other debris that littered the streets as I rode to the exit at the other end of town where the lights were still on. By the time I got the keys to my room, there was a line of people streaming in from motels at the west end of town where all power was out.
I called my wife that night to let her know that my three day tour had now turned into four. I didn't mention how close the tornado had come to me.
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Copyright © 2000 by Jim Foreman