Oklahoma West-to-East Report

While it’s rare, if ever, that any “solo” ultraendurance event is completed without help from other people, it’s impossible to challenge or establish an UMCA record without the help of several non-riders who are committed to the record attempt. My Oklahoma West-to-East record attempt would not have happened without the following:

UMCA Managing Director: John Ceceri
UMCA Records Coordinator: Drew Clark
Officials: Susan Walker, Larry List, Bill Moore
Crew: Ann Williams, Laura Cramer, Cindy Puterka, Ruthie Loffi
Press Release Copywriter: Erica Rice
Sponsors and Supporters: 3 Feet Please Campaign, Budget Car and Truck Rental of Stillwater, OK

This record belongs as much to my officials and crew as to me. In every sense, this was a team, not an individual, effort.

I woke on the morning of October 20th thinking it was a strange time of year for my allergies to be kicking up, then realized the scratchy throat and itchy nose were not allergy symptoms, but the start of a cold. The irony was that 18 hours earlier I’d sent off an application for an Oklahoma West-to-East record attempt with a requested start date in just over three weeks. I wasn’t sure I was recovered from the 508. Now I’d find out if my body was too stressed. I took mega-doses of Vitamin C, multivitamins, and a few naps. The next morning I felt better. That gave me confidence that I could handle another 500+ mile event a few weeks after the 508.

Once Drew Clark, UMCA Records Coordinator, had received my record attempt application, and I’d contacted my main crew members; my mother Ann Williams, and sister Laura Cramer, things started happening fast.

Finding officials would be the biggest challenge. I have several family members and friends in Oklahoma who I thought might be willing to crew, but officials are not supposed to be closely related to the rider. I contacted the current North-to-South and South-to-North, Grand Masters record holder, Don Norvelle, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, to see if he knew area cyclists who would be willing to officiate my attempt. He sent a message to the Stillwater Bicycle Club, the Red Dirt Pedalers and I immediately got a response from Susan Walker. Susan had worked with Don at the RAAM time station when the route went through Oklahoma so she had experience helping with ultracycling events.

Larry List of Dallas, TX, is interested in ultracycling and was excited for the opportunity to participate as an official. Bill Moore of Stillwater, was also recruited. Two other Stillwater residents, my cousin, Cindy Puterka, and friend and runner Ruthie Loffi rounded out the crew.

Since no West-to-East or East-to-West Oklahoma record had yet been established it was up to me to choose the endpoints. I first looked at a northern route going through Ponca City and Bartlesville. When I realized that getting across Grand Lake would require a lot of extra miles, I compared the mileage to endpoints for a more southern route. It was only 5 miles longer and had several advantages:

  1. The paved west-east road in the southern panhandle, OK-3/US-412 has a wide shoulder, and passing lanes on hills. The west-east road to the north, US-64, from Hooker to Ponca City, and US-60 from Ponca City to Vinita, is mostly two lane with no shoulder.
  2. A section of US-60 between Pawhuska and Bartlesville has a few blind corners and I was afraid it could be dangerous for both myself and my crew.
  3. There’s no direct route across Grand Lake and it can be very congested at certain times of the year.

The southern endpoints weren’t perfect. It would require routing around or through Tulsa and riding about 50 miles of Highway 51 west of Stillwater which is two lane with no shoulder. But in my view, a slightly southern endpoint east of Stillwell, offered better cycling routes without adding significant distance. I also liked that using southern endpoints I’d travel through Jim Thorpe’s home town of Yale, and Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.

My original interest in attempting an Oklahoma record was primarily driven by a little birth-state pride; “Oklahoma is a perfectly good place to ride a bike. Why has no one established a West-to-East or East-to-West record?” I thought when I saw that there was no West-to-East or East-to-West record. I also thought that the West-to-East or East-to-West endpoints should include the panhandle. That was three years ago. More recently, my sister made the mistake of telling me she’d love to crew for me if my events were only closer to where she lives. “How about an Oklahoma cross state record?” I said. I’m certain when she said, “OK,” she did not imagine that she’d be following me across the state a few weeks later.

My experience riding in rural Oklahoma has been that Oklahoma drivers are very considerate of cyclists. Still, far too many cyclists have been killed while riding in Oklahoma in recent years andA I wanted to support Oklahoma bicyclists as part of my record attempt. Knowing that like Colorado, Oklahoma has a 3-feet-to-pass law, I thought that trying to bring more awareness to that law would be a good contribution. I contacted Joe Mizereck of 3FeetPlease.com, he was very supportive and enthusiastic about helping me with that aspect of the ride. My friend, Erica Rice, spent many hours writing a press release for the ride, and distributing it. I also contacted the Oklahoma Bicycle CoalitionA who helped get out the message.

Temperatures in Oklahoma in early November normally range from the mid 70’s to mid 40’s (F) and I was looking forward to sunny skies and warmer temperatures than I’d been experiencing at home in southern Colorado. I arrived in Stillwater just after midnight on November 11, to “balmy” 50 degree temps. I certainly wouldn’t mind riding at night in this, but I knew that a cold front was predicted to sweep through before the start on Friday. A gray Thursday morning, turned to a drizzly Thursday afternoon, and rainy Thursday night. We were tentatively planning a 4:00pm start at the Oklahoma/New Mexico state line on Friday. Hourly weather forecasts looked like that was feasible since the rain was predicted to clear out by 2:00pm leaving sunny skies and gusting winds.

After the official vehicle inspection, I left Stillwater at 9:40am on Friday, with official Susan Walker, and crew Laura Cramer and Cindy Puterka. We arrived at the state line on EO200 west of Boise City, Oklahoma, just before 4:00pm. It was sunny with gusty winds from north northwest. I got dressed and got my bike ready while Laura and Cindy set up the van and Susan completed the bicycle inspection and made sure the crew had all the vehicle signage and lighting correct. I touched the fence line with my bicycle for the official start at 4:37pm on November 12, 2010, then carried my bike back to the road and started riding.

The wind was moderately strong from the northwest, changing to the west, and eventually calming to 7-10mph. The ride to Boise City was flat (actually slightly downhill) on chip sealed rural roads with very little traffic. The crew was startled when two antelope ran across the road directly in front of their vehicle. We scooted through town as the sun was setting and after a graveled railroad crossing turned west onto OK-3/US-412.

What beautiful pavement! From Boise City to east of Guymon the highway had been resurfaced and was in great condition. The shoulder looked like it had been swept recently. Even at intersections with gravel roads there was little debris on the shoulder. The terrain to Guymon is mostly flat with long gentle rollers, a hint of things to come; as the state gets increasingly crumpled as one goes east. The temperature was dropping quickly. Water in my bottles turned to slush after a few minutes and we had to swap bottles frequently. I added another layer under my “3 Feet Please” vest and tried to keep moving, knowing that slightly warmer temperatures had been forecast farther east.

We made a quick pit stop as we skirted Guymon, and then started the long haul to Woodward. I’ve driven this road many times in the past 20 years and know that it seems interminably long even when traveling at highway speeds. Mentally I was prepared to feel like I wasn’t making much progress. I also anticipated the longish climbs between Fort Supply and Woodward. Some sections of the road were bisected with expansion cracks. In others the pavement was in need of repair. But between the wide shoulder and passing lanes on hills there was plenty of room for other vehicles to pass us safely. We encountered fog and damp roads before Fort Supply. I worried that we might catch up to the storm, but clear, starry skies reminded me that was unlikely.

Everyone was guessing before the start that the second crew/official shift would take over around 7am west of Woodward, but my unspoken goal was to get to the other side of Woodward before 6am. The first shift was already putting in long hours with the drive from Stillwater to the start, and I wanted to get them as close to home as I could so they’d have a shorter drive once they were relieved.

We stopped a few minutes before 6:00 am, about 20 miles southeast of Woodward on OK-3, because I was shivering and needed to warm up and take a short rest. Soon after we stopped, shift two arrived; official Larry List, and crew Ann Williams and Ruthie Loffi. I was a little sad to see shift number one so jubilant to leave, but I definitely could relate to their fatigue. Shift two was wide awake and full of enthusiasm. As we turned off OK-3 for a backroads route to Okeene, the sun was just starting to lighten the sky. The grass was covered with frost as we traveled towards a brilliant orange sunrise, past farms and fall foliage.

When we turned onto 51A, I noted that the road was in good condition and had decent shoulders, unlike the much busier, OK-51. We entered Blaine County where my grandfather spent most of his youth on a farm near the Canadian River, and a few miles later arrived in Okeene. The crew made their first stop for fuel. I stopped too and ate some food, while peeling off a couple of layers and changing from tights to knickers.

Oh, Highway 51 to Stillwater! How I’d been dreading this road! Two lanes, lots of traffic, increasing rolling hills as one gets closer to Stillwater. There were also moderate crosswinds coming from the north. It was not nearly as bad as I’d imagined. Drivers were polite and patient, even on the small hills where they had to wait a minute or more before they could pass. There were even a few friendly honks and waves. My bigger problem on this part of the ride; I was starting to feel fatigued and very sleepy. In retrospect it was probably due to a lack of calories, but I decided to stop and take a nap when I got to Stillwater hoping not to start the second night too sleepy.

The third shift took over at the Stillwater Courthouse at 6:30pm; official Bill Moore, crew Ann Williams and Laura Cramer. I enjoyed the ride through Stillwater. Though I did not particularly enjoy all the stoplights, it gave me several opportunities to stop and chat with the crew. East of Stillwater, OK-51 has a shoulder, and as Susan had told me, most of it is good for riding. However the section before Yale was covered with debris. Susan had mentioned she frequently gets flats in this area. Even though I was sure I was tempting fate by continuing to ride the shoulder I did. Until my rear tire flatted. Actually both tires were damaged. Because I ride tubeless with sealant,A neither went flat immediately. There was a strange squeaking noise from the rear of my bike, which I later decided was sealant, squirting onto the pavement. I finally realized my rear tire was low a mile or two later and stopped at Yale to fix it. We tried to air it, but it didn’t seal immediately, so I replaced it with my heavier a “training” wheel. My front tire had sealed right away and didn’t need any attention.

We crossed Keystone Reservoir, which is more like crossing a creek at this part of the lake, and continued the rollers into Sand Springs. The rollers got steeper as we made our way into Tulsa. About 3/4 of the way across Tulsa, I stopped again for food. One of the problems I encountered on this ride was that temperatures both nights required me to wear my heavy gloves. That made it difficult to get food in and out of my back pockets. Combined with reduced intake of Perpetuem the second night, I wasn’t getting a regular stream of calories. I’d ride for a while, feel faint, drop back and ask my crew for food, or stop to eat again. In retrospect, I should have had my crew make a Hammer Gel solution in a water bottle to carry on my bike. That would have allowed me to get more calories while I was moving.

The crew needed a pit stop as we left Broken Arrow so we stopped again for a few minutes. Knowing there were only 60-70 miles left, I felt confident about finishing in spite of the cold. The roads are mostly flat between Broken Arrow and Wagoner, and I was happy for a short break from the rollers. We crossed Fort Gibson Lake. Fortunately, it was early morning, because there was a lot of ongoing road repair and several long single-lane sections where it was impossible for vehicles to pass us. The few vehicles who did catch us were patient, and we pulled over to let cars pass whenever there was an opportunity.

West of Hulbert was another construction area that I’d been fearing. For about 1/2 a mile there was single lane, lined with Jersey barriers used by both directions of traffic. Access was controlled by a stoplight. I didn’t know how the stoplight was actuated and worried that cars going the opposite direction would be allowed in before we exited the “tunnel.” As it turned out my fears were unwarranted. No other traffic, in either direction was nearby while I we negotiated this construction zone. I stopped briefly in Hulbert and put on a thinsulate layer over my three wool layers and a non-breathable shell. I also added a pair of cross-country ski pants over my bike tights. I wasn’t warm, but at least I no longer felt like I was icing over along with my water bottle.

More climbing into Tahlequah. I had ridden this road in 2009 and had a vague memory of it. For some reason there is comfort in even a little familiarity. We then cut through Tahlequah. The sun was beginning to rise as we left town and headed onto Eldon. The winding descent from Eldon on the foggy, fall morning was a blast. Worth the 500 mile ride to get there. More rollers to Stillwell. A I’d been focusing all morning on trying to finish in under 40 hours. When I saw theA sign announcing “State Line 7 mi,” I knew we would do it.

After some gentle rollers I saw the back of what I thought was the Oklahoma welcome sign. After I’d turned the corner I could see the Arkansas welcome sign east of Stillwell on OK-51. I was very emotional to have completed the trek across the state. I was both happy and relieved to cross briefly into Arkansas as I rolled past the sign, at 8:20am on November 14, 2010.

One thought on “Oklahoma West-to-East Report”

  1. Great review of your amazing feat Cathy!! I must admit my burning question which I never did ask, was why you wanted to do it … you answered that question for me and what a great answer it is. :)

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