Monday, August 18, 2008

Getting Home from Tulsa the Long Way

I expected to awake to rain, but the skies were clear as the sun rose at 6:30 AM. I jumped out of bed, got cleaned up and dressed, and did a video checkout before lugging my things downstairs to the bike. Just as I was getting my helmet on, Sal came over to wish me a safe ride home. He's always such a joy to be with! I wished him a safe ride home, as well, and then rode out of the parking lot, headed toward my first "BIG" thing of the day.

Sunday morning and the roads were nearly deserted, which made it very easy to make my stops as I headed out of Tulsa. I had three big things to collect, and each went quickly and easily, and next thing I knew I was on the expressway, heading toward Route 66 and some more point collecting in Catoosa, Claremore, and Foyil.

I spotted the blue whale in Catoosa, on the other side of the divided road, so did a U-turn at the next cut-through and drew up slowly on the shoulder to choose my spot. But I overshot the best angle, so went down to a cut-through, did a U-turn, continued up the road to another cut-through and another U-turn and stopped a few dozen feet further back to get a better photograph. This done, I did yet another U-turn to head in the right direction on Route 66 toward Claremore and my next point collecting opportunity.

This one done, I continued on to Foyil in search of a large concrete totem pole. As I approached the coordinates I could see that parking on the side of the road would not be an option and I would have to pull into the little driveway which led to the owner's gravel and grass back yard parking lot. The angle was tricky, but I did get most of the totem in the photograph. As I was parking my bike, a tall lanky fellow in a leather riding suit and riding a KTM pulled in next to me. I thought maybe he was there for the same AMA tour, but as he watched me take out my AMA flag and drape it over the bike, he asked what rally I was doing. I explained what the AMA Grand tours were, hoping I was a suitable ambassador for these great excuses to get out and ride. He asked me where I was headed next, gave a nod of approval at my response, then headed out on foot with his camera in hand, and I got back on my bike, did a U-turn in the gravel and hoped I didn't embarrass myself by doing something stupid. But I managed to negotiate the difficult turns and got out on the road unscathed.


My hunt for "BIG" things continued as I headed toward I-44, where I'd get a turnpike-spanning McDonald's and a giant Indian, before heading north into KS and Big Brutus. the KTM rider assured me that I'd start seeing signs for Big Brutus and he was correct. the signs routed me a different way than my GPS, which was probably a good thing, since one of the roads on the GPS route would have been gravel.

However, the roads the signs directed me to would barely qualify as paved, and I had to wonder if they were paved only for the tourist attraction, since every other road coming off this route was gravel, and I was pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. Whatever the reason, I was grateful for semi-solid pavement beneath my tires.

I could see Big Brutus poking up above the trees about a half-mile before I got there. This large electric earth shovel was enormous!! I pulled into a spot right in front of the shovel, for a great photograph! The parking lot was plenty large enough to take a large U-turn on the deep gravel and I exited and got back onto the little roadway, headed east toward the road that would take me to Ft. Scott and lunch with Genia and Glenda.

I was pleased that my timing was working out well, despite all of the stops, and I arrived at the parking lot of Ft. Scott National Park at 11:15, just ahead of our 11:30 AM meet time. I no sooner had my riding gear off and National Park passport book in hand, and I heard them coming. Perfect timing! We went inside so that I could get my NP stamp and asked the park rangers for lunch recommendation, which turned out to be the pizza parlor across the street.

We had a great lunch and nice long visit. I reluctantly said goodbye and got back on the road at 2:15 PM, headed east toward Milo, MO and an "Italy in America" photo. It was a tiny little town with no post office, no police station, and no green town limits sign. I was worried I'd not find anything, but I then spotted a small volunteer fire department building down a side street, did a U-turn to pose the bike in front, and took my photo.

Now it would be a fast haul up the highway to Rich Hill for an indeterminate, unconfirmed "BIG" item. First, I needed to stop on the edge of town for gas. As I was getting off my bike, an attractive young lady returned to the car that was parked next to me. She started to say something to me, but I had to get my helmet off and earplugs out to hear her. Soon the rest of her family - mother, father, brother, sister - joined her and both her mom and she seemed very interested in my riding experiences. The young lady wanted to learn to ride, but had been discouraged by others who said she'd hurt herself. I encouraged her to take an MSF class, start small, and learn to handle risk with proper gear. She and her mom both thanked me and wished me a good trip.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for and wandered around the small town looking for a big coal shovel. I guess I was looking for machinery, but did eventually find what the town proudly proclaims as "Big Mouth." I got the photo and then continued west on what proved to be a fantastic road, SR-A, with lots of 90-degree curves, taking me to US-69 south back to Ft. Scott, where I picked up 54 towards Gas, KS another "BIG" photo.

From Gas, I had a straight, long ride west toward a decision point. Either head north toward Florence, Newton, and McPherson KS or head straight west toward Wichita. I would make that decision depending on the time, but also on the weather. Skies were looking very black to the west and it would be after dark if I chose to get those three towns and their AMA points. I opted to cut this loop from my route and just head straight to the hotel. It was a good decision, as it started to rain about 30 miles east of Wichita. I filled my gas tank and checked into the hotel a few minutes after 7:00 PM, with the rain on my heels.

Tomorrow: headed toward home, but not before gathering some Italian towns and meeting Suzanne and Brenda for dinner in McKinney, TX.


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