After leaving the motel, I spent the rest of the morning looking around in downtown Shawnee. Though not too large, the city center had a pleasant atmosphere. Quite a few newly restored buildings and streets paved with bricks stood as mementoes of the locals’ efforts in trying to restore the traditional look of their historic district. Work still had to be done in the future of course, but it was nice to see a reasonably well kept Southern downtown for a change.
Once I felt I had seen everything, I left Shawnee and continued my way toward the nearby Oklahoma City. Before I could even reach the freeway, however, I noticed an alarming change in the handling of my truck. Shaky and occasionally hard to steer, it was a problem that needed immediate attention; I had no other choice but to take the vehicle to a shop!
Besides the obvious loss of time, however, this sudden turn of events had other, much more serious, implications as well. Due to my limited funds, an expensive repair carried the very real possibility of shortening my trip or, worst case scenario, even putting an end to it. Cursing my bad luck—and my desire for adventure that kept me from bringing enough emergency money—I turned back while keeping my eyes open for a mechanic.
I spent about thirty minutes driving around in Shawnee, looking for a decent mechanic, but none of the places looked reassuring enough. Fortunately, my truck gradually stopped acting weird; so, I decided that the problem can wait at least until I reach Oklahoma City where, hopefully, I would have more options. With the good old Southern heat on its peak, however, I postponed my immediate departure and retreated back to the comfortable coolness of the local mall for a few hours.
Since I was afraid of driving on the freeway, I took the service roads and soon arrived to Oklahoma City. Though I kept my eyes open for a mechanic, the roads eventually led me to the city center where I stopped to look around.
“Since I’m here already,” I thought, “I might as well use the opportunity.”
Even though I did not expect much from it, Oklahoma City positively surprised me. It was readily apparent that the city poured an enormous amount of money and effort into its downtown—I think successfully. The entertainment district, called Bricktown, clearly stole the show. With its many bars, restaurant, and newly renovated brick buildings—hence the name—the old industrial neighborhood presented a very attractive, and most certainly popular, destination among seekers of entertainment.
Oklahoma City kept me occupied for a couple of hours, and if it was not for the extreme heat— and my bothersome car trouble—I might have stayed longer to experience the city’s nightlife and then a few of its famous museums. But, unfortunately, I had urgent matters to take care of. By the time I found my way out of the downtown, however, time had already passed six o’clock and I could not find a single mechanic on duty. This obviously left me in a bit of a pickle. I had two choices: I would either keep moving, therefore risking a car breakdown, or stay in Oklahoma City but pay a high price for a place to stay. Since my truck was still handling fairly normal, I let it be a sign and chose to continue westward.
Further pictures: #1, #2, #3, #4.
On the way to El Reno, I made my first contact with the famous Mother Road. Still afraid of driving on the freeway, I took the smaller roads, which eventually led me to Route 66. Though bearing no resemblance of its historic predecessor—a modern, four-lane service road—it felt good to finally reach the central purpose of my trip.
Reaching Route 66 also seemed to mark the historic highway’s dominance. From that moment on, shops, bars, motels, and even churches frequently bore the name Route 66 in some form.
Once I had some time to digest that professional help had to wait until the next day, I decided to try my luck and take a look at the vehicle myself; with a little help from above the problem would be something obvious and easily corrected. I pulled into a small park next to a lake and climbed underneath the truck. Besides a few ant bites, however, I did not gain anything from the exercise. I was about to pack up my tools and leave, when a man feeding the ducks nearby noticed my situation and walked over.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“’Been better,” I replied.
After briefly explaining my problem, the newcomer immediately offered his help. Though not a professional mechanic only a self-thought enthusiast by his own account, he felt he knew enough about cars to feel confident looking at my truck. Unfortunately, not even teaming up with the helpful stranger seemed to be enough to figure out the source of the problem. On the other hand, my makeshift mechanical endeavor was not a total loss, as I got to meet a truly interesting person. My helper turned out to be an intriguing character, a person of good heart and friendliness.
About twenty miles from Oklahoma City, under the orange light of the descending sun, El Reno seemed almost surreal. Even though I did not plan to stop there, it had such a charming downtown that it immediately captured my attention. Once I was done looking around, however, I promised myself not to stop in any more downtowns unless it absolutely stood out—they were already one too many, occupying the majority of my trip.
Little by little, I made my way westward while also keeping an eye open for a viable place to spend the night. After many miles without seeing anything reassuring on the side of the road, however, I turned to my map and decided to try out a nearby state park, Red Rock Canyon.
Although I arrived after hours, the other campers ensured me that it was okay, and the warden would simply collect the camping fee the next morning. Relived, I picked a site next to the canyon wall and got ready to set up camp, which due to my unfamiliarity with my borrowed equipment actually took quite a while. After recharging my electric appliances and finishing my humble noodle soup dinner, I quickly turned in, but sleep seemed to elude me. The trouble with my truck kept my mind running incessantly until the faint stars through the tent window and the softly whistling Oklahoma wind slowly made the world turn black.
|Distance covered on the second day|