After a morning of last minute errands and goodbyes, I was finally able to hit the road, a moment I had been waiting for a long time. Going down on Route 66 had been a fascination of mine for as long as I can remember, but I never had the time or the money to do something about it. With school at its inevitable end, however, the summer of 2010 had finally provided me with the much sought opportunity. Although I still lacked the necessary funding for a truly extravagant trip, it did not stop me from leaving. In fact, my limited funds actually went nicely with my plan: I wanted to experience the Mother Road like a modern day nomad, leaving behind the comforts and security of everyday life as much as possible. I wanted an adventure!
Listening to some old country song in the radio, I headed to the Oklahoma state line, my ’97 Dakota faithfully eating up the miles. Beside me, a small tent, a sleeping bag, a gallon of water, my food stash of canned beans and instant noodles, and a large roadmap occupied the passenger seat; arguably not a lot, but they were really all I needed. I planed to camp out in the wild or sleep in my truck, feeling liberated and carefree. I had no idea where the night might find me—which, according to most of my friends, was borderline foolish—but I was fine with it, actually enjoying the uncertainty. It was all part of the plan, part of the adventure.
As I watched the small farmhouses fly by the window, the words of Primo Levi appeared in my mind:
“And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head...”
Although comparing the words of the famous Italian writer to my own self-imposed nomadic ways may seem absurd, I could not help but see similarities. After all, I too was about to challenge myself in a brand new way—not quite to the extremes that Levi described, but to challenge nonetheless. By abandoning most comforts of my simple college life in Texarkana and heading West in an old pickup truck with only minimal equipment and barely enough money to cover the gas, I felt I came as close to what Levi talks about as a responsible, conscientious, 21st century individual can become.
Of course, when imagination finally turns into reality, sometimes it also stirs up unforeseen responses in a person, and I would be lying if I sad I felt nothing but content. Truth be told, after months of planning and waiting, being finally on the road hit me with unexpected harshness. From the outside, I may have looked relaxed, but inside a vortex of emotions swirled: excitement, joy, doubt, a sense of freedom, and of course, panic. But the trip was happening and a little fear was only natural, far from being able to keep me from carrying on.
West, a little scared and shaky, but I was coming!
I crossed the Oklahoma state line near De Queen, Arkansas. A small stone monument greeted me modestly in “Native America,” hard to make out at 65 miles per hour.
Eagletown, Oklahoma. The name of this small settlement looked interesting on the map, and I was eager to dwell into Native American culture. Unfortunately, reality was a bit less interesting than I expected. Aside from a few historical markers, revealing the town’s history and its connection to the “Trail of Tears,” and a small—and at the moment closed—Choctaw museum, Eagletown had very little to offer. After realizing that the town might not be the best place to widen my understanding of native cultures, I continued my way toward west.
Similarly to Eagletown, my visit in neighboring Broken Bow was both short and uneventful. Even though the town had a few museums and several other attractions in its close vicinity, unfortunately I arrived too late to enjoy them. Having been already passed five o’clock, most museums were either closed or getting ready to do so, leaving me with no choice but to carry on with my journey.
Much like everything else so far in Southeast Oklahoma, Antlers had nothing particularly interesting to offer. Though this time I stopped and walked around in downtown, the same sad sight welcomed me as in many other small towns I have visited in the South before: empty storefronts and boarded windows. I often wonder that, if the spread of chain stores and migration to larger cities continue in this rate, how much of the traditional South will see the end of this century?
On a more cheerful note, the scenery around Antlers was quite pleasant. The lush hills provided a nice background to the small two-lane country road that carried me westward. Most noticeable, however, was a particular flowery smell that seemed to overpower everything else in the region—a local plant must have been blooming at the time of my visit.
My truck started to make a high-pitched squeaking sound, and it drove me crazy. More importantly, however, it made me a little nervous; I could not help but wonder if my good old Dakota would make it to all the way down to California.
On the way to Atoka, I came across a sign advertising a free-of-charge campground. After looking at my map and determining that it must be the McGee Creek Lake State Park, I decided to check it out. Though it was not even seven o’clock yet, I was in no hurry, and a peaceful campsite near a picturesque lake seemed like a good way to spend my first night on the road. Or so I thought…
By the time I arrived to this conclusion, I already passed the road that led to the site and was forced to make a U-turn. Once I was on the narrow, dirt road that, supposedly, led to the campground, I noticed a blue Mustang behind me. The vehicle did not look as if it was going camping, and the fact that it turned up right after I made my U-turn—a clear indication that I might be lost and probably not local—was a little suspicious. So, just to be safe, I increased my speed and, thanks to the rough road, I slowly left the suspicious vehicle behind. Unlike the Mustang, my truck handled the loose gravel just fine.
The campsite turned out to be a huge disappointment—although, on second thought, I should have noticed that something was not right when I first saw the dirt road leading to it. It was in the middle of a dense forest, about ten miles from the main road, completely deserted, and in a very rough shape. Nature had already started to reclaim her territory, plants growing in the cracks of the neglected concrete slabs. The place looked more like a drinking spot for local youth than a state campground. With the Mustang behind me and no one else around, there was absolutely no way I was going to spend the night there.
While heading back to the highway, I kept my eyes open for the Mustang—since there were no other roads connecting to the one I was on, by logic, we had to cross ways. But, at some point, it must have turned back because I never saw it again. It was at that moment when I realized: the suspicious vehicle might have been actually following me! This thought also made me realize that being on the road alone can be dangerous and that I needed to be more careful in the future.
Three miles down the road, I noticed the entrance of the real McGee Creek Lake State Park—I have no idea where I had been. It was much nicer than the place a few miles down the road but, unfortunately, full; so, I had no other choice but to continue westward.
In Atoka, since darkness was about to fall, I decided to find a place for the night. Ideally, in consideration of my limited budget, I should have headed straight to a rest stop or other free-of-charge place. But, I did not yet feel comfortable enough with my self-imposed nomadic lifestyle—especially not after the Mustang incident—to just willy-nilly “camp out.” Instead, I decided to check out the local motels in hope that I can find a cheap enough place that even I could afford. Needless to say, it did not happen…
With no other choice, I parked my car at a remote spot in the local truck stop and, after eating a small stew at the local bar, I got ready to spend my first night on the road in the cabin of my standard cab pickup, curled up in fetal position. Sleep, however, seemed to elude me. The uncomfortable conditions in my vehicle, the rumbling of the eighteen wheelers passing by, and the constant coming and going of people around my car, all played their part of keeping me from falling asleep. I felt incredibly uncomfortable and, most of all, exposed.
After about a half hour of tossing and turning, I decided that there was no point of staying. I might as well hit the road and cover a few more miles. Though I did not feel good about driving at night, afraid that I might miss many potential attractions, it was better than pointlessly staring at the ceiling of my truck.
|Courtesy of ESO|
The road, pitch-black and empty, had a nice calming effect—driving at night while listening to some slow music on the radio can be incredibly relaxing. Frankly, since I started my trip, this was the first time I felt entirely worry-free.
I arrived to Ada but, since I still did not feel tired, I decided to keep on going. My goal for the day was to reach Shawnee. A larger place near Oklahoma City, Shawnee hopefully would give me more lodging options then the places I had visited so far.
I killed my first opossum… :(
By the time I reached my destination, I started to feel the weight of the eventful day; time to find a place for the night had definitely arrived. Shawnee, however, did not seem to have a truck stop or a campground. And, since I did not want to risk a loitering ticket by simply pulling over to an empty parking lot, I was left only with one option: motels.
The cheapest room I could find in Shawnee cost me more than I really wanted to pay, but I was left with no other choice. Nevertheless, in the future I would need to avoid costly stays if I wanted to make it all the way to the Pacific Coast.
|Distance covered on the first day|