Day 18: Clinton OK to Wheeler TX - 85 miles with 2300 feet of climbing
I met Alvin and two other 'bent' friends at 8:30 this morning. We rode west from Clinton following US 66. One of the friends is new to recumbents and to bicycling, so the bents only accompanied me for about an hour - ten miles before heading back. Alvin and I got to visit a good bit and it was a throughly enjoyable hour of riding. I wish the rest of the day had been as nice.
After the bents headed back to Clinton, I rode on towards Elk City which is about 30 miles from Clinton. The wind was strong, and getting stronger from the south and moving around to the southwest. My average speed from Clinton to Elk City was ten mph. There were some hills and the overall climb that is a result of heading west in this part of the US, but the real reason for the slow average speed was the wind. The first twenty miles were south west and the last ten were west, but the wind had come around to the southwest and strengthened by the time I was heading west.
Route 66 and a beautiful sky
As I approached Elk City, I was riding on the south frontage road. This was more pleasant - quieter and less gusty - than the north frontage road with the strong southerly wind. My Street Atlas maps show a route crossing from the south frontage road to Business 40, but it does not exist, so I had to turn around and ride back about a mile and a half to get on the north side frontage road. My speed riding east was 50% greater, e.g. 15 mph instead of 10 mph, than my speed riding west.
I stopped in Elk City to stock up on food and water for the ride to Wheeler. It is 46 miles with no certainty of any services, so I added two liters of water to the two liters held by my water bottles and a box of fig newtons and four applesauce cups to my stock of food. I ate a good lunch at Braums - a great place to eat in this part of the world - and headed west following OK 6 towards Wheeler. The weather was not good - a 20 mph southwest wind and light rain that seemed to be getting heavier, but I asked a fellow who seemed to know about such things and he said there was just rain and wind out along OK 6 - no strong storms. I was tempted to just to check into an inexpensive motel - there were plenty of those in Elk City - and call it a day, but, being stubborn and having no real reason not to go on, I rode on into the rain and the wind. I think there was a song about that....
After the rain on OK 6
It really wasn't too bad for the first eight miles. OK 6 has a great shoulder on this stretch and the wind, although it blew the rain almost horizontal, seemed to slow me down less that before. I got wet, but I wasn't uncomfortable and riding was almost fun except when big trucks came by from either direction and blasted me with their road spray. Then the rain picked up in intensity and I had to wear my rain cape (which worked very well) for the next hour or so. When the rain picked up in intensity, the wind dropped and seemed to come around to the south east. After the rain died down, the wind did not come back to its original intensity or direction until well into Texas.
At ten miles OK 6 intersects US 283. There is a closed convenience store at that intersection and, after the intersection, the shoulder shrinks to 18 inches. At twenty five miles, OK 6 intersects OK 6 at the, very small, town of Sweetwater. There is a grocery/convenience store there and it looks to be stable. Alvin said the store at US 283 had close and reopened many times, so you can't count on that one, but the Sweetwater store looks like a fixture in the community.
By the time I got to Sweetwater, the rain had stopped, so I cleaned up my bike a bit and changed maps - Sweetwater OK is five miles from the Texas Border. Unfortunately while I was there it started to rain. I thought about it for a while, then put my cape on and headed on down the road. I ran into road construction before I got to Texas. By that time I had taken the cape off again (first using it al la Josi Drew (sp?) as a privacy shield while peeing) and, although light rain came and went for the next ten miles. I didn't need the cape again. I took my camera off my handlebars when the rain started in Elk City and only took it out twice: The first time was during a lull in the rain maybe five miles before Sweetwater - I did see a fresh banana peel on the shoulder near the same location: I think it was a bicyclist dropping - and the second time, in light rain as I entered Texas.
The shoulder in Texas - OK 6 becomes TX 152 - was wide and clean and the riding was pretty easy, although generally slightly uphill, but I was tired from the earlier wind and rain and didn't really enjoy most of that part of the ride. I stopped about five miles from Wheeler because I was bonking. After a little snack I was able to crank on down the road again, hoping that the motel in Wheeler would be open. It was, and my $25 room is OK even if the air conditioning quit. To be fair, the folks who run this motel wanted to move me to another room but I'd already spread out my stuff and it wasn't worth the trouble. Oh yeah, I haven't been able to use my modem with the phone system, but I'm happy to be clean and well fed with a good nights sleep ahead of me in a nice little town.
I walked a quarter mile or so to Mel's Diner for a very good supper and a bit of sightseeing. Wheeler is a nice little town! Also a friendly one: on the way back from supper a nice lady offered me a ride. It was too pleasant walking to accept, but I appreciated the offer. Wheeler definitely does not fit my stereotyped image of the Texas panhandle. That gives me hope for a nice ride tomorrow after a good breakfast at Mel's.