March 22, 2017
I tried to post this on the first day of spring (two days ago), but just didn’t have the time. So my apologies for getting caught up two days late.
Spring, of course, is an essential notion of my trip, so the first day of spring is something of a watershed. For one thing, I am now technically riding in springtime rather than into it, although the solar equinox is only universal in terms of day and night being the same length all over the world. Certainly the weather is quite different. In the Rio Grande Valley, for example, my original departure point, the weather is much more akin to what northerners would call summer. And in southern Canada, where I now call home, it can signal anything from the first crocuses in bloom to an indication that the snow might persist for a few more weeks (with this year’s early spring, it’s more the former).
And as it happens, the first day of spring is nearly exactly both the geographical and chronological middle of my trip. I’ve now traveled a total of 1250 miles out of the intended 2300, and I have been a day short of six weeks on the road, and just a few days more than six weeks left to go, that is, if things go according to plan.
The actual day (March 20) found me in Northeastern Oklahoma, with temperatures atypical for the season but not so much for this year. A southern breeze brought with it memories of its origins, and it warmed to 86 degrees, actually the first 80+ day for me since Nacogdoches, Texas, three weeks earlier. I was beginning to wonder if or when I would see that 80-degree mark again.
However, in keeping with spring’s mercurial nature in a continental climate, the heat wave was short-lived. Today I am in Parsons, Kansas, and it’s in the mid-50s, although the forecast is for a return to the 70s tomorrow, with a stiff south wind. I’m now in the Eastern Great Plains, known for the wind—and for good reason. Yesterday I rode for more than 20 miles into a northeast headwind of 30 miles per hour, with gusts to 45. It was enough to shake the bicycle and move me three to four feet over from the paved shoulder into the driving lane, not a good thing with truck traffic. Today the route jogged west for 10 miles, and I had the experience of riding west in Kansas with an east tailwind, unusual to say the least. As I have mentioned before, at these latitudes an east wind does not bode well; indeed heavy rain is predicted for the day after tomorrow and Saturday, and possibly even into Monday morning. Ugh!
The terrain has flattened out, although it still rolls somewhat. It’s interesting to experience the change in the geography from the mountain foothills to the plains. First the frequency of the hills declines, as does their steepness. The hills become the exception rather than the norm. But no one seems to inform the streams of this fact. They continue to cut deeply into the landscape, necessitating some steep climbs out of their valleys until even they become tame and well-behaved.
In Northeast Oklahoma I encountered the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, a large hydroelectric and recreational impoundment of the Grand or Neosho River (it goes by different names but is the same stream). It’s popular with visitors from Tulsa as well as Springfield and Joplin, Missouri, and a favorite for bass fishing. In a somewhat isolated spot not far from the lake is a monument to an enduring American tradition that dominated the land from the late 1940s to about 1980, concurrent with the Baby Boomers, who even in their senior years comprise the core of fans of modified and custom cars.
Near the very small town of Beatrice, Oklahoma, is the National Rod and Custom Car Museum and Hall of Fame, a monument to the custom car subculture that flourished in Southern California but had followers everywhere. The museum is the creation of Darryl Starbird, an influential custom car designer and builder who had a shop in Wichita, Kansas, from the 1950s into the 1970s. Starbird was known for futuristic and fanciful designs that featured plastic bubble tops, an innovation he learned to mold and construct. There is a nod to Starbird in George Lucas’s 1973 film American Graffiti, the memoir of the filmmaker’s growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s in Modesto, California.
I never fooled with cars, apart from trying to keep my own used standard Detroit models on the road, but I had friends who did, and I certainly remember the magazine racks of my youth being full of the publications that catered to that interest. Darryl Starbird was a frequent contributor to these, and counted among his friends most of the major names of that specialty and that era. So it was a kind of curiosity to wander among their creations on display in the Northeast Oklahoma countryside.
A few miles later I turned onto and for a length of 10 miles followed the historic Mother Road, the celebrated U.S. Route 66, which ushered Americans into the age of motor travel in song and story from Chicago to Los Angeles (I was actually following it east at this point), beginning in 1926 and lasting until it was entirely replaced by interstate highways in the 1980s. As I child I traveled this route in 1958 on an epic western family vacation that was one of the highlights of my youth. Interestingly, I vaguely recalled one of the intersections that some 59 years later I now pedalled through. This trip I stayed at the Route 66 Motel, one of several of that name that hope to keep the memory alive. As are so many mom-and-pop motels today, it is owned and run by Indian-Americans (of South Asian origin). But I still recalled the sound of the trains only 150 yards away, as well as the wind that seldom yields as it crosses the plains.
Several of custom car designer and builder Darryl Starbird’s futuristic 1960s creations:
Another of his works:
I bet this is a lot faster than what I’m pedaling:
The historical route of the Mother Road:
I’ll be in the Sunflower State for a total of 236 miles: