Ride Oklahoma – Eisenhower State Park to Twin Bridges State ParkPosted: August 8, 2013
I rode South to North through the entirety of East Oklahoma covering about between four and five hundred miles between Eisenhower State Park and Twin Bridges State Park (onto Joplin, MO.). This is my review.
I spent very little time in large cities due to the lack of them. Muskogee was probably the largest and as
far as I saw there was no bicycle infrastructure. People were indifferent to my presence. Defensive riding was definitely the constant mode. The roads were very bad. I found watching traffic and avoiding large pot holes and missing road sections very tiring. On the upside there wasn’t too much trash and my tires weren’t in peril of punctures for the most part. Unless the city you are riding through has some sort of bike infrastructure like paths or a bicycle awareness campaign I would suggest avoiding them.
Oklahoma’s road ways are in desperate need of repair. This sentiment was often lamented by locals I met without me touching on the subject. Pinch cuts are inevitable.
Pinch Cuts result from hitting stones, curbs, or sharp edges of holes in the road surface. When the tire hits a sharp edge hard enough, it compresses so that it bottoms out. The inner tube can get pinched between the rock and the rim. Pinch cuts usually put two small holes in the tube. This type of damage is sometimes called a “snake bite” because the two holes look like the wound made by the fangs of a snake.Pinch cuts sometimes ruin tires as well as tubes, but usually the tire will not be damaged.
The impact that causes a pinch cut can also make a dent or “blip” in your rim.
I had four tubes blow out in three days due to pinch cuts while riding Oklahoma. The best was to avoid this happening is keep your tires well inflated. You run the risk of blowouts due to the tube not taking the pressure, but in my opinion it is the better of two evils.
After my fourth pinch cut casualty I bought some Slime Tubes. They are self sealing tubes filled with a “slime” which seeps into small holes immediately filling them. Some cyclists argue against them because they are slightly heavier (we’re talking grams) while others contend the slime is bad for environment. All I know is I had no more flats after installing them. Worth the weight to be sure.
Traffic is courteous but not expecting or watching for cyclists. Again there is little bicycle infrastructure and no awareness campaign I saw. Ride with your head on a swivel.
Carry a lot of water and enough food for a day. Water stops are few and far between. Locals often will be helpful if you are desperate. Refer to Ride North Texas – A review on the proper way to ask for water.
Be careful not to wonder onto the turnpike. OK’s highways sometimes will end at the turnpike and the authorities will stop you.
While the road ways are quite clean of trash there was a staggering amount of dead animals on the road. In some regions it was literally every ten yards. This makes for putrescent air and dodging bodies by riding into the driving lane. There really isn’t anything to be done about the road side carrion. If you have a particularly weak stomach using a scented lip balm or vapor rub beneath your nose may be effective. In any case keep your eyes on the road at all times otherwise you may find yourself hub deep in armadillo.
Be very wary of your GPS in Oklahoma. Gravel roads are a pretty big gamble. I found a good rule of thumb was: if there is grass growing down the middle of the road, don’t take it since it is likely to be unmanageably rough, and possibly end abruptly even though the map says otherwise.
Make sure you know the weather trends of the region particularly if you are wild camping. While there
is much less traffic on these roads you will find yourself in dust clouds from passing vehicles. Take caution in these situations. If there is another vehicle passing they may not be able to see you. If the traffic becomes consistent wear a bandana around your neck to pull up over your mouth to block dust. Average riding sunglasses should be enough to guard the eyes but contact wearers may want extra precautions. Again carry a lot of water. Push comes to shove you can ask any local farmer and they will likely be accommodating.
Oklahoma is very difficult to wild camp due to fences stretching for miles and miles. If the sun is going down and you see an ideal spot but wanted to make it another few miles, take the spot. It is likely you will have a long way to go before you see another spot. Major highways often have land at intersections owned by the county and state and are less likely to have fences. Do your best not to camp on land posted with signs such as “no trespassing”, “posted”, “private property”, “do not enter”, “keep out”. A fence post or tree painted purple also means the aforementioned so take heed, the owner is not decorating. Oklahomans are friendly and simple. If you cannot find a place to camp go up to a house, knock in a friendly way and step back so the owner doesn’t think you are a push-in robber. Introduce yourself and why you are there. Politely ask if there is a place to set up your tent. More often than not you will get a meal. Possibly even a shower and a couch to sleep on. If they say no, thank them for their time and be on your way. Always be polite. Remember, you represent all cyclists to everyone you meet.
Again pay attention to the weather and season. This is tornado country and flash floods aren’t unheard of, however staying out of flood plains and watching the weather should keep you out of harm’s way. Getting an app to warn of extreme weather takes some of the leg work out. I used weatherbug and it was acceptable, however the weather is often unpredictable and an eye on the sky is better than any app. Learn to read weather patterns visually. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” If the sky turns green or yellowish, get to shelter. Cover your reflectors, don’t build fires (cook stoves are acceptable if you have enough cover), and most importantly leave no trace. Getting a lightweight camo mesh to throw over your tent is wise as well and can double as a bug net in a pinch.
There are some camping areas in this region varying in quality, size, cost, and amenities. All will be able to accommodate a tourer. A preplanned route is advisable. Finding, food, water, and lodging was more difficult than I expected. Know the park rules. Read them when you come in or look them up before hand. Check for burn bans in the area before lighting a fire.
In general wild life is not going to be an issue. It is wise to hang your food pack at night and never eat in your tent. There are some animals which are very dangerous to humans like, panthers, bears, and venomous snakes, but they want to bump into us as much as we want to meet them. Some precautions to take: Make lots of noise when going off trail or scouting a wild camping area. Carry high-grade pepper spray on your person. It does no good in a pannier bag. A snake venom kit costs few dollars at most sporting good stores. An emergency charger/battery for your phone to call 911. I used a solar charger I got for $20. Again, it is unlikely there will be any issues with the local critters but they don’t call it wild life for nothing.
I found East Oklahoma absolutely gorgeous and loved the varied terrain and scenery, but it is the worst riding I have had to date. The stink of dead animals, the invariably poor condition of the roads, the utter lack of bicycle awareness and infrastructure, and vast distances between food and water made it a largely unpleasant experience. I would give it one out of five stars and do not intend to make a return tour.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.