“We’re taking the bypass,” a wise James Pratt belts out from aboard his faded yellow Suzuki DR-Z400. “I’m out of gas and there is no way these guys will get those pigs through the woods in this muck.”
The “woods” we are about to enter are a segment of the Cross Timbers region of Oklahoma, a band of tangled, stunted deciduous trees and briars, many older than our United States. In the early 1830s, author Washington Irving called this nearly impenetrable region “forests of cast iron.”
Play–Doh for Grown Ups
After a weak attempt to negotiate the soggy trail, my Beta 525 RS sits facing the group, mud oozing through every opening like a Play-Doh Fun Factory. I just poured the contents of one of my two spare fuel bottles into James’ extended-range tank. He skipped the last gas stop holding out for ethanol-free fuel and has hopefully learned his lesson. Even ethanol burns better than air.
The sun is about to set, and we don’t know how bad it will get if we continue into these woods. The “trail” is blocked with downed trees and underbrush, and the mud has no bottom. I give in and we turn towards Hugo, 12 miles north by road. Oklahoma is experiencing an unusually cool and wet July and, except for the mud, it is perfect weather for an adventure ride. Brad, Josh, and Paul are riding new generation Kawasaki KLR 650s. Larry is on a Suzuki DR 650. I have to agree that pushing heavy dual sports into these woods under these conditions could spell a long night among the mosquitoes and poison ivy, and there is no dry place to pitch a tent.
Motorcycles & Gear
2008 Beta 525 RS
2012 Kawasaki KLR650
2002 Suzuki DR-Z400
2014 Suzuki DR650
Helmet: Arai XD3
Jacket: KLIM Induction
Pants: KLIM Mojave
Boots: Sidi Adventure
Gloves: KLIM Mojave Pro
Luggage: Wolfman Enduro Soft
A Study in History
Our trip over the eastern half of the Oklahoma Adventure Trail (OAT) began this morning taking us south from the Oklahoma City metro area. We decided to do the OAT counterclockwise, tackling the rugged eastern section early in our travels. After a 65-mile jaunt down I-35, we joined the trail near Davis, a bustling town in south-central Oklahoma, nestled against the Arbuckle Mountains. Day one brought a pleasant string of experiences ranging from a visit to Turner Falls to a side trip crossing the Red River on a 100-year-old multi-span bridge south of Durant. Many of those old bridges are being condemned. Near Durant we encountered bridge inspectors who almost gleefully reported that they were closing these bridges as fast as they could. I found this news disturbing, yet understandable, with the aging structures only able to support a fraction of their original weight limits.
We also stop at Fort Washita outside of Durant. At different times, Fort Washita was occupied by both Confederate and Federal Troops and was given to the Chickasaw Nation by the federal government after the Civil War. Some original structures have been maintained, and cannons and other weapons are available for viewing.
With our first day behind us, we take a break in Hugo, OK, to regroup and clean up the bikes at the local car wash. Slicing hunks of mud from our fenders and radiator shrouds with the high pressure spray before it turns to brick is a fitting end to a day on the OAT.
Barnum & Bailey Stopped Here
For more than a half century, Hugo has been known as Circus Town USA. Several major circuses have wintered here, and the circus theme is evident all over town. Even the cemetery has a corner dedicated to circus performers. Angie’s Circus City Diner provides good home cooking and a colorful atmosphere for the traveler.
The clouds are parting as we leave Hugo and take a quick side trip through Fort Towson, a few miles east. The OAT is a mix of historical sites, backroads, and trails with varying degrees of difficulty. North of Garvin we find the bridge over Little River barricaded. Built in 1959, this is one of the newer steel-truss bridges we have seen condemned. Giant concrete and rock barriers limit access, but we manage to slip through on the bikes, lamenting the fact we may be the last travelers to motor across this architectural beauty from a time when U.S. steel was plentiful.
Stopping at an abandoned house for a snack, we see an old pickup with a bed full of ranch dogs, banging across the nearby field and heading directly toward us. A lean black man steps out with a big skinning knife on his hip and an even bigger smile on his face. Willie Earl Watkins is a cowboy who tells us he quit riding when he was stepped on by a bull and wound up with a hole in his gut. He greets us as friends, provides a bit of local lore, and sends us on our way with the Lord’s blessing. Willie is typical of most people we meet on the OAT. Rural Oklahoma is full of friendly folks who will treat strangers well if given half a chance.
We camp at Clayton Lake State Park for the night and rest up in preparation for a rough day on the infamous K (or Kiamichi) Trail of eastern Oklahoma. Larry and Brad head home after breakfast, wishing they had worn more serious riding gear for the OAT. Hiking boots and cotton pants have left them wet and vulnerable. It is a wise decision to turn back.
Technical Difficulties and Attrition
The unmaintained K Trail has long seen service by loggers, hunters, and probably a few bootleggers. There is a rumor that it was once a supply road between Fort Smith, AR, and Fort Towson. Over the last three decades it has become popular among jeepers, dual sport motorcyclists, and mountain bikers as a challenging backcountry route through the wilderness.