Column: Cycling Route 66 in Oklahoma: Eastern half brings variety | Opinion

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part column about a cross-state cycling cruise on all 432 miles of Route 66 through Oklahoma.

Our cycling journey on Route 66, known as America’s Main Street, continued as we point our wheels east.

The Mother Road, as it’s also known, turns 100 years old in 2026. In Oklahoma there are just over 432 miles of the old highway, much of it still passable if you can find it.

During the summer and fall of 2021 and in part of 2022, some fellow cyclists joined me as we pedaled the 432-mile length of the Mother Road across the state.

Along the way, we stopped to celebrate the famous Oklahomans who lived on the route.

The road symbolized more than automobile mobility. It represented the freedom to travel from Chicago to Santa Monica with only a map and some cash. It represented a way out for struggling “Okies” during the Depression and a route back home, too.

• • •

My cycling partners were OU professors Dave Sabatini and Bob Dauffenbach. Joining us for two of the legs were Chip Minty and Gary Miller.

Two of us joined the Route 66 group ride that begins in Edmond and winds down Lincoln Boulevard by the Capitol in Oklahoma City before heading back north and east. We ride through eastern Oklahoma County through Luther towards Arcadia and its round barn.

We look briefly for the home where Paul McCartney stopped while touring Route 66; it eludes us this time. At the diner/store Pops, we stop for more photos as a military veterans group is gathering its signs and flags.

The round barn, which began life as a dairy operation about 1898, sits dangerously close to the Mother Road in Arcadia. It was in near ruin until 1989, when a group rebuilt and restored it to the museum-like structure it is today.

Farther east, we rendezvous with our sag driver at the Seaba Machine Shop in what’s left of Warwick, a town founded in 1890.

Downtown Chandler is often described as one of those Route 66 towns where time stands still. The buildings have the feel of the 1920s where stone masons took pride in each of their projects.

We roll through Davenport and stop in Stroud for photos at the Rock Cafe, where the proprietor is the personality who inspired the “Cars” movie character Sally Carrera.

We’re running short on daylight (and energy) as we approach Bristow, so we send our sag driver back to Wellston for takeout BBQ from The Butcher BBQ Stand. He buys all they have left at the end of the shift. We couldn’t wait to get home and enjoy. Bon appetit.

• • •

The thermometer barely topped the freezing mark on a March morning when we offloaded our bikes at the McDonald’s on Route 66 in Bristow.

The road was dry, but the snow and ice on the shoulders reminded us that it was still winter. It provided a marked contrast to when we started this trek in the middle of the summer.

We breezed through Kellyville and ate lunch at the Patriot Cafe in Sapulpa after stopping for pictures at the Rock Creek Bridge. The historic span was built in 1921 to serve the Ozark Trail, and later became part of U.S. Highway 66 in 1926. It was replaced in 1952 when the highway was moved to the south.

As we approach Tulsa, we develop mechanical issues: a dirty shifting cable and then a flat tire. After MacGyver-like repairs to the tire, we now make a beeline to the Phat Tire Bike Shop in downtown Tulsa before closing time.

Two detours throw us off course, but we finally wind our way back to Southwestern Boulevard, which was once Route 66. We take the 23rd Street bridge and make it to the shop for quick repairs just before closing time and a side trip to the Cyrus Avery memorial sculpture, “East Meets West,” and Route 66 archway honoring the founder of the Mother Road.

In Tulsa, we stay overnight at the Campbell House hotel on Route 66 before venturing out early toward Claremore.

Earlier we passed by the famed Meadow Gold Sign, Tulsa University, Ike’s Chili House (where Will Rogers dined) and the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church. We travel old Route 66, known as 11th Street in Tulsa, to 193rd before passing the Hard Rock Casino on the way into Catoosa.

At the Blue Whale, we stop for obligatory pictures. The 80-foot concrete whale in a pond was built in the early 1970s. Many families are doing the same on this Sunday morning.

The road is well traveled and developed, much more than in western Oklahoma, where I-40 replaced the Mother Road. Our shoulder is wide enough for us to feel safe on this morning’s leg. It’s quite a climb up the hill to the memorial.

• • •

The stately Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore beckons travelers from around the world. Oklahoma’s best-known humorist had a calming effect on a troubled nation. Rogers’ Oklahoma brand is strong and enduring.

Outside Claremore, we headed east through Foyle. Agriculture is still king in the country with cattle, corn and wheat fields aplenty.

The mostly-divided highway has decent shoulders for cyclists. Except for a few knuckleheads, motorists were respectful of the two-wheelers pedaling in the Oklahoma heat.

We pass by gas stations and motor courts that were welcome sites nearly a century ago when the road opened. Today, only the foundations remain on many buildings.

In Vinita, the famous Clayton’s diner downtown didn’t disappoint with its chicken fried steak and cream pies. That fueled another 15 miles of pedaling before we met up with our ride in Afton. Four wheels took us to Miami, where we drove on Steve Owens Boulevard.

We stayed at the Buffalo Run casino and enjoyed a low-priced prime rib buffet. The next morning, it was on to Commerce, birthplace of New York Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle, Commerce High School Class of 1949.

From Commerce, we followed the historic highway to Baxter Springs, Kansas, a quaint town with a vibrant downtown. Another cyclist we encountered there was making the roundtrip from Joplin that morning.

Native American tribes are a force for change in eastern Oklahoma. There are many casinos and tribal health complexes. In the towns, there seems to be as many marijuana dispensaries as churches.

We dipped our wheels in Kansas before heading back to Miami by way of Picher, the troubled mining town that the federal government is still cleaning up.

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