And then there were two

I awoke the morning after my whisky drinking with Jim with no so much a full-on hangover, but rather a feeling of major dehydration. I drank a half litre of water before setting off, but I still had to stop 4 times in the first few hours of riding for more fluids.

My 3rd stop of the morning was at Stop N Shop in Bristow, OK. I was paying for fuel and the guy behind the register, who turned out to be Don, heard my accent and asked the now very common questions where I was from? and where I was going? He got to telling me of all the foreign Route 66 travellers that had stopped by. He then produced a Route 66 coffee table book and asked if I would sign it. He said I could look through the book if I wanted and he offered to buy me a coke. Well it would have been rude not to accept, so I sat and looked through the book. The book was half full of signatures and messages in every white space, from visitors from Hungary, Germany, and Australia among other places, and lots from England. I signed too, on the first page for Texas as there was no space in the Oklahoma section. I sat chatted with Don and a couple of other guys in the store, hearing of the big parties of rental bikes that go past almost every day in the summer on their 2 week Route 66 guided tours. I told them of shipping the Trooper over and of my plans for the next 3 months. I’m sure I’ve said this before, and I’m bound to say it many more times, but the Americans you meet, especially outside of the big cities, are some of the most friendly, helpful and hospitiable people you are ever likely to meet.

I carried on and around the north side of Oklahoma City following Route 66 as best I could. This didn’t take me anywhere near More, so there was no sign of  any tornado damage and I think it would have been more than a little distasteful to have gone looking for it. After Oklahoma City I came to El Reno and stopped at the M-place for an iced tea and an internet fix. Just as I was getting ready to leave a guy comes up and says “So you’ve flown your bike over from Scotland?” I was a little surprised, most Americans don’t pick up the Edinburgh Harley Davidson clue on the licence plate that quickly. But it turns out Ed wasn’t an American, he was a Canadian from Toronto. We stopped and chatted for quite some time, as he was a fellow road warrior travelling Route 66. He had an Ultra Classic with trailer attached. He’d been on the road for over a month already and had been touring and visiting friends in the south. His plan now was to follow Route 66 and then turn back inland before heading up to Sturgis to see the unveiling of the new Indian motorcycle.

Ed is an amiable and interesting chap. He’s been divorced 30 years, raised his two daughters from the ages of 7 and 3 on his own, and has been riding motorcycles since the age of 16. Since he retired 5 years ago, he had spent his summers on his bike on the road touring the US and Canada from around 3 months at a time. I was definitely talking to a kindred spirit. I asked what the trailer was like to ride with, and he told me he used to tour like me, with all his luggage piled on the back. He mainly camped, and now that he had reached retirement age, he liked a few more comforts. The trailer contained among others things a camp bed, inflatable mattress and pillow. It also had an ice box. I’m sure we could have stood chatting and comparing travellers’ tales for another hour, but Ed said that since we travelling in the same direction, why didn’t we ride together for a while. Sure thing I said and off we set.

Ed had warned me that he liked to stop and photograph any of quirky sights you find scattered along Route 66, but that was fine by me. One of the first things we came across was the bridge below.

From Oklahoma, July 2013
From Oklahoma, July 2013
From Oklahoma, July 2013

We were struggling to keep to the original Route 66 and wouldn’t you know it, we ended up on a gravel road for a while, and Ed doesn’t like them any more than me. We got off that just as quick as we could and took the frontage road to the I-40 for the most part.

Every so often we’d stop for fuel or refreshment and we’d chat some more. My original route plan had me stopping in Clinton that night. Ed had been planning to get a bit further along the road to Elk City, and as it wasn’t too late and I was enjoying his company, I thought I’d stick with him until at least the end of the day. Ed was mainly camping on his trip to keep costs down. Now whilst I have a tent and sleeping bag etc, I’m not so keen on camping for various reasons. I have the kit for Sturgis and for occasions when there is no alternative. I don’t like the extra time setting up and breaking camp takes, and I also seem to travel with a small pile of electronics (laptop, phone, iPod and camera) which need charging sometimes daily. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer the comfort of a real bed and an en-suite shower. Ed must have picked up on this reluctance and asked if I wanted to split the cost of a motel room for the night. Since most American hotels have rooms with two queen size beds, this seemed like a good plan. I’m not adverse to saving some cash, even if I’d rather not camp.

I’m sure you all know by now how much I enjoy a cold beer at the end of a day’s ride, and since it does my spiritual well being no good at all to find I’ve checked in to a hotel with no bar near by, especially when it is in a state or county that doesn’t sell beer in gas stations or convenience stores. So one of the things I have taken to doing is trying to check out on Google where the bars and restaurants are in the town I think I’m to be stopping in, and if one of those bars is a biker bar then so much the better. I then look for hotels within walking distance of the bar. I think I have my priorities right. This doesn’t always work, as I found out in Lebanon. Google had told me of a couple of bars which must now be closed, but it didn’t tell me about the bar at the Days Inn.

Ed must have been a little bemused by my little ritual of deciding where to stay in Elk City. I found what was meant to be a biker bar named Knuckle Head Reds, and then found a motel right by it. So that was our destination. But we rode up the road through Elk City without seeing any sign of the motel, or bar. We turned around and came back. I even checked our exact location on my iPhone, but the motel had gone, and perhaps the bar had as well. Major disappointment for me, Ed took it all in his stride. We found the Flamingo Inn a couple of blocks further down, next to Pedro’s restaurant, and settled for that. As we were checking in, I asked at the hotel about Knuckle Head Reds. The hotel receptionist said there was a corner bar on the back street, but he wasn’t sure of the name of it. After we’d unloaded the bikes, Ed and I ate at Pedro’s which fortunately served cold beer, complete with frozen glasses. But I was still curious about the biker bar and decided to go to look for it, Ed said he was getting too old for late night drinking and decided to retire to the room for the night, so off I set in search of Knuckle Head Reds and I am so glad I did.

I found the bar a couple of blocks down and went in to find the following:

From Oklahoma, July 2013
From Oklahoma, July 2013
From Oklahoma, July 2013
From Oklahoma, July 2013

I immediately got chatting to a couple at the bar, and I’m sorry but after a couple of beers, I have no head for remembering names, it’s usually too hard for me to remember a group of names with no beer. We talked about tattoos, and bikes, and Sturgis, and music, and travelling. They both rode Harleys, had some great ink and were going to see Black Label Society, one of the bands I wanted to see at Sturgis, soon in Oklahoma City. Soon another couple came in and joined us, again Harley riders, and we chatted and bought each other beers. After a while one of the guys said he wanted to introduce me to some one and brought over a lady he introduced as Big Moma, which I guess I can remember as it is a little unusual. My vision of a Big Moma didn’t match this lady at all. She was tall, perhaps 6’2″, certainly several inches taller than me, and slim. She sat down and we chatted. She was certainly a character, in a good way. She seemed to be the surrogate Moma for a lot of the thirty-somethings in the bar. She’d lost her husband the year before to a sudden heart attack, and she showed me the picture of her and her husband above the bar, with the patch from the memorial bike run the bar had organised. The clientele of Knuckle Head Reds were a close knit community of locals, with numbers swollen sometimes by the occasional traveller like me and itinerant oil-workers who based themselves in the town. Big Moma had inherited three H-Ds with her husband’s passing and she rode all of them, but her favourite was her Fat Boy. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to her 30-something daughter, also a Harley rider. Funny thing is, there was a bit of role reversal going on here, because it was the daughter that was telling Big Moma that they should be leaving as she had to be up for work with the Postal Service at 5am the next day.

Well the beers kept flowing, but since this was Oklahoma, only 3.2% beers, until 1am, by which time her daughter had convinced Big Moma to leave, and I thought it was time I left too. I felt a little guilty that I’d wake Ed up when I got back to the room as I said I’d only have a couple if I found the bar. When I left it was hand-shakes or hugs for everyone in the bar. I’d had a great time. They are such a nice bunch of people. Steve (I hope I got your name right dude), you run a great bar. If I had a bar, I’d want it to be a lot like that. If you ever visit Elk City, I can highly recommend Knuckle Head Reds. Great bar, great people.



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