Ride to the Rockies, Day Three
I got up at 5 am the next morning and had a good breakfast at the included breakfast bar. In spite of my early rising, it was 7 by the time all the bags, which I had to remove the night before, were all resituated on the bike. A few years ago I had wandered around in the Ozarks and southern Missouri, so this morning I decided to go a bit out of my way and head west through the Ouchitas, instead.
Not long after crossing the Arkansas River I saw the sign for AR 28 and turned left. I had been confused because my map had 7 and 28 marked as one road heading down to Rover, where I wanted to pick up AR 27 (another designated scenic highway), but because of scale I had missed that 28 went southwest leaving 7 for a while before rejoining it miles south of where it had left. I knew something was wrong as I rode seemingly the wrong direction, but when the road intersected AR 154 I saw a sign to Rover, and turned right returning to 7 and my intended route. Being lost for a while was actually pleasant as the road passed through nice riding terrain.
At Rover, I got on AR 27 and rode south overt the Blue Ouchita Mountains, and caught AR 88 west following the blue map squiggle of the Ouchita River to Mena, past Queen Wilhelmena State Park and to OK 1 it into Oklahoma's Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. I had never thought of Oklahoma as being mountainous, let alone hilly, but that area surprised me. Although the peaks were not much over 2,600 feet, they fell off sharply to the valleys as I rode the ridge on a Cherohala-like parkway and the views were very reminiscent of the Blue Ridge I had traveled so many times before.
In the Ouchita Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma, almost reminiscent of the Blue Ridge
Exiting the mountains I continued west in continually flatter terrain on 1 until US 75 where I ran north catching OK 270 for a westward jog to US 377 northward again, shooting between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Oil wells appeared everywhere, which would accompany me from there all the way to the foothills of the Rockies. It had been warm all day, but the heat had increased dramatically since leaving Talimena, and a strong wind began to blow from the southwest. Once past I-44 I ran west again, finally turning north on US 177, and US 77 which would take me all the way into Winfield, Kansas. There I dogged west to avoid Wichita and once on the southwest side I headed north again on small secondary roads toward Goddard, on the west side of the city on US 54.
The day was bittersweet for me. I had contacted my old college roommate, Dean, a few months ago and filled him in on my plan to be passing by his way in Wichita in June. We had roomed together back at Anderson College during my first stint at higher education and had worked together in the searing summer heat of Kansas at his father's business. He had been dating a girl at Anderson who also lived in Kansas and we had all gotten to be very close. My friend had married Judy after college and she and Dean and I were all looking forward to catching up. Only three days before I left, I had found out that Judy had lost a very sudden struggle with cancer. Dean still wanted to meet, but his house was full of grieving family, so we decided to meet up outside Wichita and have dinner together at least, so as I approached we made plans to meet up in Goddard. It was nice to see Dean after twenty-four years and I would guess it was good for his to have a break from his house of gloom.
After a meal and some catching up, Dean left for home. Although it was late afternoon, there was still a couple hours of light left, so I thought I would try to make some westing before night fell completely. I had not had time to plan an alternative to staying with Dean and Judy, so I just winged it, thinking if nothing else, I could find a windbreak somewhere like I used to hunt in, and duck into some place my tent and bike would not be seen and hunker down for the night. I had in the back of my mind a place I had seen on GoogleMaps near Dodge City that offered free camping, but by then I could see I was not going to get that far without at least an hour or two riding in the dark across the prairie overpopulated by deer.
Soon, I realized my time estimate was way off, and I entered Kingman as the sun raced to the horizon. Dean had mentioned some roadside parks in Kingman and Pratt, and thought I might be able to camp there. I saw one way side park in Kingman and pulled in where I saw a saign that said “Travelling Camped Allowed, Must Have Permit.” I road a mile or so to the next gas station to ask about it, where I saw a state trooper just about to leave. I waved him down and asked about it. He called his local counterpart and obtained permission for me, agreeing with my stopping before nightfall because “We have way too many deer in Kansas.”
I pitched the tent next to a recently cut field of wheat and sweltered in the warm night air as I listened to trucks rumble by on 54 just a hundred yards away to the south.
So far 1,716.4 miles