5 a.m. Saturday morning is a quiet place. A place before anyone else is awake, even the rooster down the hill, the one that crows at all hours regardless of the sun’s position. And most days it’s a place for noiseless ambling, for starting the day slowly, for thinking about a lot of nothing and deciding what to do with the day. But this Saturday was not most days. This is the start of what might be considered a “riding season”; the time of year when before bed you gathered all your gear so you can be up in the early hours, dressed, a few cups of coffee, last bike checks and gone with the dawn.
In Oklahoma we don’t have a true “riding season,” unless you’re a fair weather rider. Our worst winters you will still have days for riding in the coldest month. What you don’t have in winter is the ability to comfortably leave in the predawn first light and be gone until well after dark without need for a half cow’s worth of leather plus a few layers and a sizeable vocabulary for cussing the stupidity of it all. For those of us who ride not just for fun but also as a daily means of getting from point a to point b, when the days become warm enough to leave for a full day’s fun ride, when we actually plan to get up early and go and enjoy the warmth of spring, when we can again enjoy a full day of just going, the seasons have changed. And if you’re like us, you celebrate that change with a fifteen hour day of riding.
Ok. We weren’t supposed to be gone that long, but we were having too much fun to hurry back.
Up before the alarm, excited and quick to wrap up anything that couldn’t be left undone, by the time the sky was turning from black to clouded over gray, we were on the highway. Westward, again, we picked right back up where our adventures last year left off, this time leaving the mother road for state highways through deeply Native American frontier, Comanche, Caddo, Kiowa, Apache, Cheyenne, Delaware, Wichita, Arapaho, and so enamored was I with everything we passed, with the quickly shifting landscape, with the chop hills and the granite mounds and the wide open forever, before it ever dawned on me how far we’d gone I realized I was looking at West Texas on the horizon.
“All that open. These folks can see clear to Texas – not that any Oklahoman would want to, but if they did all they have to do is look out the window!”
The smell of sage and cedar hung heavy and the deep gray clouds’ humidity heightened the earth clay smell with promises of rain that just won’t come. “Pray for rain” signs flash by and in the distance intermittently in all directions on the horizon granite mountains and hills rose suddenly in the miles of flat wide open. Here and there, abandoned years ago under the grind of corporate farming and the dying of rural America, a collapsing homestead, empty windowed and element beaten, using its remaining gumption to stand as long as is left for it, standing on pure stubbornness, some with beautiful views of bold green field foreground and mountainous horizon line.
“These folks had the taste in settlements. I could drive a plow all day if I had that to look at.”
We’d left the main stop I had semi-planned as a landmark long in the mirrors and were lazily enjoying the sun that finally decided to appear as we rolled southwestward, as far as Altus before turning back and taking the longest way possible home because I was bound and determined to make that day stretch until my legs screamed and my eyes were barely staying open. That part of Oklahoma is so beautiful, its always hard to leave; to me it feels so inherently like home for being so different from my home. Best guess it feels that way because it looks like every western my Papa and I watched together from the time I was little, that mythical place in the history books and the native stories and the cowboy movies, the place he and I shared a fascination with as we watched Rooster Cogburn or the Preacher and admired their roguish-slanted raw virtue, as we grimaced at inaccurate portrayals of Native Americans, as we wondered aloud at the fortitude and resilience unlike any other.
And out here that place is a very real place, not so long gone are the outlaws and settlers, most of the tribes are still strongly represented, and the frontiersman history is not at all forgotten , even if the outlaws’ myths are often a bit more celebrated than the tribes’ and settlers’ reality. Murals of warriors in glorious paint and feathers, of wagons full of entire lives and hopeful eyed men and women hiding fair natured worry under mauve and periwinkle bonnets, of cowboys driving herds of longhorn and breaking mad-eyed horses, all chipping and fading under the haze of the western sun, the lives that forever shaped and changed our country. This is the land that wrote our modern history as a nation, a sea of hardship and hope, of challenges and promise, the place that paved our current path, the link between the coasts, a place snubbed now by the cities of the East and West, but too damn full of shrewdness and resourcefulness to give a damn what they think anyway.
And so our “season” began officially and perfectly, in a place I love deeply. Over lunch we jotted down ideas for highways that looked interesting and places we bypassed, this time, and planned big plans in all the excitement of a fresh new year of riding.