Dave's Cross-Country Trip 2003

Day Fifteen

by Dave Schultheis


Monday, June 2, 2003 - Sallisaw, Oklahoma

There was rain and thunder overnight, and it was raining when I got up and moving at about 6:30 a.m. Central Time. I did not see any lightning, but the weather report predicted some. It appeared that if I could get moving west, I would be able to avoid most of the eastbound storm.

So I checked the maps, and even plotted a course to get to the "Union County" sign when I got into New Mexico. I also packed some shirts that needed to be shipped back home. Many long-time tourers are familiar with the drill. You get a tee-shirt here, a tee-shirt there, and pretty soon you have too many tee-shirts for your T-bag!

At about 7:30 a.m., the rain let up. It was time to load the bike and get outta there. I snapped the T-Bag onto the bike, I checked out of the motel at 8:05 a.m. and was westbound Interstate 40 a few minutes later. It was cool, the roads were clear and there was no rain, but it was overcast with clouds, so I put on my rain jacket just in case.

I encountered some rain near Checotah and Lake Eufaula (Eufaula Lake?), then some heavy overcast, and then sunshine near Okemah. There was lot of sunshine by the turnoff for Wewoka. The roads were dry but in a bad state of repair in several places.

A little after 10:00 a.m. I stopped at McDonald's on North Kickapoo, just off the freeway, in Shawnee OK to take off my rain coat, and oh yes, had something to eat. A nice young female crew member named Charley gave me directions to the post office, but it turned out to be too far, so I decided that it could wait. I did stop at a Love's Travel Stop for a Mountain Dew refill and continued west on Interstate 40 in breezy sunshine.

About 11:00 a.m. I stopped for fuel at a Shell Station on Air Depot Boulevard near Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City OK. The sign said it was 73 degrees F. but it did not seem quite that warm. As I rode across the street to the Oklahoma Visitor Center, then parked and went inside for a map, I realized that it really was that warm when the sun was out, but then it went back behind the clouds.

About an hour and a half later I stopped in Hinton OK to remove the soft lowers. I could not find a post office, so I continued about 20 miles to Weatherford, where I asked a local police officer for directions, then found it at Franklin and Custer.

I went inside the beautiful old post office building and got a Priority Mail carton, then packed the shirts inside and stood in line to pay my $9.85 (based on the weight of the package). It was nice inside with the air conditioning because it was hot outdoors. And since I was in a small town, the postal clerks were cheerful and friendly.

Another customer saw "San Jose" on my vest and stopped to talk. He was from the general area but had moved to Weatherford, so I told him about some of the changes that had taken place back home.

Somewhere between Clinton and Elk City, I stopped at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) near Lake Clinton Road, exit 50, and asked if I could look at a kamping kabin. They gave me the key to Kabin # 4, so I rode over and took a look. There's not much to the kabins, but they have a door and a window, bed frames and mattresses, limited shelving, and electricity. I thought it was nice for what it was: shelter from the elements.

In the dirt outside, I found another key, so I took both keys back to the office, and the gal was thankful, because they had been looking for that other key. I thanked her for the self-guided tour and got back on the road.

About 2:45 p.m. I stopped for fuel at a Love's Country Store at exit 7 near Erick OK, then again a few miles later for a Texas picture at the state line. There was a young couple from North Carolina who had also stopped for pictures, and they offered to take my picture, so I also took a picture of them with their camera. You meet the nicest people at the side of the road in Texas.

The first mile marker I saw in the Republic of Texas was 176. This is the panhandle, the narrowest portion of the state; otherwise it would have been several hundred miles.

The uniqueness of this section of Interstate 40 is that the highway crosses the Gray County/Donley County line three times, so if you miss a sign, there will be another photo opportunity in a few miles. I wish I had known this back in 2001 when I circled back to catch a missed sign.

At 4:00 p.m. I stopped just off exit 112 in Groom TX for the opportunity to see "The Cross" more closely. I had seen the huge cross on previous trips (it can be seen for several miles), but never took the time to visit. There wasn't much to it, but the few minutes of rest helped with the battle of SBS (sore-butt syndrome), and I talked to a trucker and his family briefly.

At 4:45 p.m. I stopped at the Texas Travel Information Center on the outskirts of Amarillo. It's only accessible from the eastbound lanes, so there was some "down and back" getting there and then more "down and back" getting back onto the westbound lanes after I picked up a current Texas map.

Too bad they didn't put the information center in the divider so that it could be reached from either side. At least it was right on the freeway; in some places, you have to get off the highway and down a side road for a ways.

It was quite warm at 4:55 p.m. when I took exit 74 and stopped at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, known far and wide as the "home of the free 72 ounce steak." After taking a picture outside, I went inside to see about some dinner.

As I took my seat and scanned the menu, I noticed a young man attempting to eat the 72 ounce steak dinner. If you can eat the steak, baked potato, salad, shrimp cocktail, and dinner roll within one hour, it's free.

In fact, you pay $54.13 in advance and sign a form stating that you understand the rules, then sign again when the steak is delivered, to verify that it's cooked the way you specified. I did not stay long enough to see if he finished, but by the time I left, he was looking a little green around the gills, so I doubt it.

I called my friend Dave Clements on the cellular phone (yes, I was using the cel-phone in a restaurant, but nobody was nearby to be bothered, so give it a rest!) and found that he and some others were back from their Northern California tour (sorry I missed it). They had a little rain and one of the riders didn't have any rain gear, so she was moist. But as we all know, the worst day riding is still better than the best day working.

I ordered a 10-ounce Prime Rib, served with juice and horseradish and a big green chile with a Texas flag on a toothpick. (Yes, the horseradish and the big green chile with a Texas flag on a toothpick were genteelly set aside.) I had a side of steak fries, another side of beefsteak tomatoes, and a glass of lemonade. All told it was $19.38 on my American Express card. Just a little bit more than I could comfortably finish.

An older couple sat down near me, and I greeted them politely. There were visiting from Germany, which kind of 'splained why the (non-English-speaking) wife was so wide-eyed when the waiter came along asked for their order. I wished them a nice visit to America, and later bid them "Wiedersehen" as I left, about 6:15 p.m.

I stopped at the gift shop before leaving and bought a Big Texan Steak House patch to have sewed on my vest. The young woman picked one of the patches and put it in a bag. As I got looking at it, there was an obvious manufacturing defect, so I gave it back and asked for another.

In a move that may relate to the general quality of teenage retail workers in America, the young woman, who would have far preferred talking to her friend than helping the customer, put the defective patch back into the display, instead of putting a note on it, and giving it to her supervisor.

So I got back onto westbound I-40 and fifteen minutes later stopped at Tripp's Harley-Davidson in Amarillo, where I had an oil change and tire replacement on a previous trip. This time I briefly browsed the MotorClothes department and got on my way prior to their 7 p.m. closing.

A little later I stopped for fuel at a Texaco Station in Vega TX, then rode another half hour or so, through some construction, into New Mexico at 7:50 p.m. Central Time, where I changed to 6:50 p.m. Mountain Time, even though there was no state sign or time zone sign at the border. (This is the second time I've been through construction at the TX/NM border and the signs were missing.) The first New Mexico mile marker I saw was 372. It's a little wider than the panhandle of Texas.

I stopped at the New Mexico Welcome Center for a picture, where it was hot and windy. Later I stopped at a KOA on the south side of the highway, just off exit 335 near Tucumcari NM, but they wanted too much for a primitive cabin, so I kept moving. It turned out to be a good decision.

I have stopped at Tucumcari for gasoline and photos on two previous trips, but I was coming from a different direction this time, and couldn't quite get the lay of the land, so I decided to go into town from the east end (exit 335), ride down the main drag (Tucumcari Boulevard) past various motels and gas stations, and out the west end of town, exit 329, then back on the freeway to exit 332. Some of it looked familiar, some of it was obviously new construction, but it began to make sense to me.

I stopped at the New Mexico State Police building for a couple of photographs, where it was hot!, then went back into the old downtown area. On my way to the Quay County Detention Center, I found a Quay County Justice Court sign, so I took a couple pictures there, then took flash and non-flash pictures at the jail (4th @ High Streets), then went back to motel row to look for a place to stay.

Sometimes it's hard to judge a book by its cover, or a motel by its outward appearance, but I did the best I could. The Rodeway Inn looked like the best choice, so I stopped there at about 8:40 p.m.

The clerk originally assigned me to Room 42 but remembered that the phone wasn't working. I told her I'd like to have a phone (in case my cellular phone did not work), so she reassigned me to Room 151. This happened to be right next door to the room where they kept the washer, dryer and ice machine. Normally this might be a noisy place, but since I had laundry to do, it was a good choice.

There was another motorcycle parked nearby, but I never saw that rider.

I put away a few of my things and started the air conditioning, then rode out to the nearby Circle K (convenience store) for milk and juice. It was mighty hot! I think I rode all of two blocks without helmet, since New Mexico is a non-helmet state. It was certainly refreshing, not dangerous at all, and I wished I could do it at home.

Back at the motel, I snapped the soft lowers on, in case I needed them in the morning, then cabled the bike to a decorative railing, and went inside Room 151 to get full enjoyment from the air conditioning.

[Touring tip: the soft lowers are much easier to snap onto the engine guard when they are warm. When they're cold, they are not as flexible and are a pain to manipulate.]

It was late enough that I would not be able to finish my laundry before closing time, but I knew I could get a fairly early start in the morning.

Later, I watched the Discovery Channel for a while (Monster Home, Monster Garage and part of American Chopper), then went to bed sometime after 11:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

Miles for the day = 553. Miles for the trip = 5426.

Tomorrow: laundry, a long ride for a picture, and Villanueva.


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Created on January 7, 2004. Updated on January 25, 2004.
David W. Schultheis, San Josť, Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, California, USA