Alarms went off quickly two weeks ago. After checking in at the Quality Inn in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the front desk directed me to drive to the back of the hotel where my second floor room would be a walk-in directly from the parking lot. That is far from ideal for a photographer traveling with expensive camera gear, and in my case, an expensive bicycle.
When I turned the corner and saw what was waiting for me, the evacuation alert was screaming in my mind. I felt the short drive somehow transported me to a border down just a short dash from Mexico. There in the parking lot and spread across the balcony, there seemed to be the remnants of one of those big vans, seen often pulled over by troopers, to reveal a cargo area packed to the ceiling with illegal aliens. A car stood with major engine components spread out on the black top with a cluster of men heads all ducked deeply into the now empty engine compartment.
From above heads turned immediately towards me as I made way up the stairs passing groups of men and women sitting on battered chairs outside their rooms. Carrying nothing more than my backpack with laptop inside, I opened the door to the overwhelming stench of cigarette smoke made worse by the fact the air conditioner was not running. There was no chance I was bringing my camera equipment or my bicycle upstairs in front of those staring eyes.
Digging out my laptop, I started the search for another hotel. The problem being there was nowhere else to go in Stillwater. I was in town for one of the three NCAA Women’s Golf regional that featured the KU women’s team for the first time in program history. It was also graduation weekend at Oklahoma State. Hotel rooms in town proved to be an impossibility. Limited rooms at the event’s primary hotel for team members and coaches forced others staff members into the only hotel planners could find, the Quality Inn. I just wanted to flee.
My escape took me back west to I-70 and north 15 miles to Perry where I found the last room at a Comfort Inn. The difference was stunning. Perry is often Laura’s and my one stop on the way from Kansas to the Oklahoma City area. I knew it only for the fact the gas station features a Subway, our fast food of choice, as well as Laura’s beloved Braum’s for those rare ice cream cravings.
As a guest of the small city equipped with a bicycle, I found so much more. Perry is one of those towns that makes you wonder why everyone does not live in a small town other than that there would be no more of these peaceful moments.
I rode twice while in Perry. The first was a 20-mile sprint against fast-closing storms, a battle against 30-mph winds and a race against nightfall on Hwy. 64. There was little time to think about much more. Late in the afternoon Saturday, though, that all changed. I needed an easy ride to flush my worn legs and tired back from the long walks around OSU’s Karsten Creek Golf Club following the second-round of three for the women’s golf team.
Taking a different route, I circled the wonderfully kept town square with the stone city office building shining proudly as the setting sun made it gleam. The downtown buildings were enjoying a rebirth as new bakeries and eateries found locations in older store fronts. A movie theatre, converted into a restaurant, looked like a fun place to dine. Meanwhile on the edge of town, the rustic youth baseball diamond was brimming with players and parents.
On another day, I would have stopped and cheered on the teams. Instead, I turned north on Hwy. 77 which took me past the massive stone front of the high school football stadium. Detouring to ride around the stadium, I found the rodeo arena. My guess is that some Perry linebackers might spend their falls wrestling down opposing quarterbacks and running backs but trade their pads for rodeo gear and steer wrestling in the summer.
Before I knew it, I traveled much further and quicker than initially planned. Rare for Oklahoma, the south winds lightened as I turned around north of Perry for the trip back. I stopped to enjoy the mailbox stuck into a bear’s belly and waved to the cow, horse, llama and mule farms I passed on the 25-mile ride that left me very satisfied for making the move north for the weekend.
The golf did not fail to bring me joy either. There is very little to indicate a golfing paradise sits just two miles off the highway leading from I-35 to the Karsten Creek Golf Club. Flat roads and ponds filled with red-dirt-tinted water give way to rolling hills and thick forest. Created in 1994, the course takes advantage of surrounding lakes, creeks and waterfalls to create a masterpiece.
The distinguished OSU golf teams hone their skills on what is an idyllic practice facility, said to be the finest in the nation. Maybe that is why many of the men’s golfers walking to the flawless area squired flawless girlfriends. At OSU, golfers are commodities every bit as important to young women as football or basketball players.
I walked the course for three days. I used a mapping app to discover I walked over 23 miles over the rolling course. Each hole was exclusive to itself. The thick woods blocked views of any surrounding holes. Standing on a tee box, the tight fairways seemed to shrink to pencil stripe width because of the thick foliage. Nearly every approach shot from anywhere but the fairway’s middle came off a side lie or off-kilter pitch. Get on the wrong side of the green, and player’s had little hope. The women used the white tee boxes, but I often walked all the way back to the “Cowboy Tees” where it would take a whole of lot of Rickie Fowler just to get to the fairway. Giddy up.
The KU team withstood all this to finish tied for fifth and advanced to the NCAA Finals in Tulsa. Sitting in front of the clubhouse on a shaded bench I worked on my final gallery as members of OSU women’s team sweated out whether they would qualify.
That was sweet to me, for earlier that morning as I gathered my camera equipment at the trunk of my KU van, an OSU fan decked out in orange asked me whether I was a parent. I told him I worked for the athletic department which must have given him the freedom to comment, “I didn’t even know KU had a women’s golf team, ha, ha.” It was 6:30 in the morning, and I was not in the mood. I just stared at him. He quickly became uncomfortable so he added, “but, I guess I’ve heard you do play some basketball.” Again I just stared at him and moved on. In an early evening playoff with Florida, OSU did not advance. Ha. Ha.
This past weekend, another graduation forced the KU softball team to hotel rooms in Jefferson City, Missouri. This time, the extra 24 mile daily trip was a joy for the NCAA softball regional at the University of Missouri, the long-time arch rival now lost due to conference breakups. It proved to be an eventful weekend for me and the team.
The humorous NCAA selection committee selected former Big 12 teams – Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska – for the regional. If Colorado only had a softball team, and would have qualified, the former Big 12 teams would now represent the Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12 and SEC. Instead, Bradley was the regional’s final entry.
There are some that questioned KU’s inclusion in the NCAA Championship. Whether just or not, once in, KU took full advantage of the opportunity with an upset of Nebraska in the first game. In the second game, the Border War revived itself again with a matchup against Missouri. Fans were loud and boisterous, but overall civil. The KU team received instruction should any of MU’s raucous “Antlers” arrived to taunt and verbally assault the Jayhawks. One did, but quickly ran out of gas, probably the result of a schools-over hangover.
Kansas could not match their opening day’s efforts, losing Saturday to Missouri with Nebraska eliminating them. Nebraska came back Sunday to soundly defeat Missouri twice to win the regional. The Husker in me loved that and the bit of Jayhawk in me loved to see the Tigers slain.
With work completed, I happily made the drive back to Jefferson City. Just three miles from the hotel with a cross of the Missouri River and a three flight ride down a cool ramp system to the river’s flood plain, I was quickly riding on the popular Katy Trail.
The Trail is the longest stretch of the rails-to-trails system in the United States. From Clinton to St. Charles, riders can traverse most of the state of Missouri for 240 miles. The trail consists of crushed limestone that packs tightly for a generally very smooth ride. As part of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT or KATY) Railway Line, towns along the route created in whistle-stop sections approximately of 10-12 miles. Small rail station landings greet riders with various amenities. Some of the towns thrive now by catering to cyclists who ride all or parts of the trail along with walkers and runners. Stores, diners, and Bed and Breakfasts allow for overnight rest or short stretches of relaxation and fueling before carrying on further.
Laura and I were planning on riding the Trail over four days in June, but an inflamed knee looks to have put those plans on hold for Laura. Now, after rides of 25 miles west and 38 miles east from the North Jefferson Station, I might still tackle it alone meeting up with Laura at various stops if she is willing. The ride certainly will be on our schedule for next summer.
As for this summer, there are possibly four more weeks of travel before Laura and I can take a deep breath. Finally all will be together. We are now in Tulsa for NCAA Women’s Golf Final before a trip west to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 Baseball Championship. We will often bounce back and forth between the two events. Then we are off to the NCAA Baseball Regional, at a site to be determined, and, hopefully, the next week a baseball Super Regional before wrapping the year’s athletics up at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Wish I would have told the OSU fan at the golf course, KU play a lot more sports than just basketball very well. I will just say to him, again, ha, ha.