“For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.” – Yvon Chouinard.
We’re back, and I’ve mostly recovered from my recent moto-adventure trip. I learned a lot from this trip, and I had an amazing time. I just spent 3 days in Eastern Oklahoma with my 7 closest motorcycle friends. We explored the Ouachita National Forest by way of a short section of the Oklahoma Adventure Trail (OAT), and part of the infamous K-Trail.
I feel I can call this trip an adventure from the get go because the plan started to unravel as soon as it was put into play. It was mostly minor things, staying on schedule, last minute changes to camping arrangements (which worked out for the best!), tool failure and minor breakdowns to name a few. But things escalated to include fractured ribs, flaring tempers, splintered groups and abandoned routes. Oh, and worst of all, a lack of hammock friendly trees!
Not to spoil the drama, but everyone is (or will be) fine, and I’m pretty sure we’re still all speaking with one another. The trip was Steven’s idea. He rides a 2014 KLR650, the quintessential Kawasaki adventure motorcycle. I ride a DR650, the KLR’s long in the tooth, a bit more basic, competition from Suzuki. We had been planning on joining a mutual friend on a K-Trail trip some weeks prior. That trip was canceled at the last minute, leaving both Steven and I craving for an adventure of our own making. This was the longest and most involved offroad trip I’ve ever been on.
Early on I felt it might be best to include a few others on the trip, purely for self preservation of course. My theory was thus: if I had to be carried out, or my bike hauled out of a ravine, I wanted as many people around to help as possible. Steven agreed, although I don’t know if he knew my motive. The hunt was on. As a new (dirt) rider (since July) I didn’t know many people in the community, so we needed to find people interested in joining a pair of novice riders on what could be a rather dangerous trip; and we needed to go through a short vetting process to ensure there were no unwelcome surprises. It worked!
We ended up with a bustling event page on Facebook with 6 confirmed riders from the OKC area. Steven and I on our newly acquired steeds, Joey (DR650), Buck (Super Tenere), Dale and Austin (DRZ400, KLR650). We met a number of times to ride and talk about the upcoming trip. We’ve gotten to know one another pretty well, and I consider them all to be friends. I also invited some family from the Bartlesville area to join us, Cory and Jon (DR650, DR200). Our group has everyone from the very new rider to the ex-motocross racer. We all bring something different to the group, and we seem to mesh quite well. This trip is just the beginning, I hope.
The trip started for me on Wednesday night. We were to meet nearly everyone at Robbers Cave state park by Thursday evening. After working late on Wednesday I decided I should finally get around to doing my final packing. This wasn’t the first time I had packed for this trip – there had been a few trial packing sessions and a few trial trips just to see how the load would ride and to see what I was missing. I climbed into bed at a normal time and went to work the next day. The original plan was to load my and Joey’s DRs into the bed of my pickup and rent a small UHaul trailer for the KLR. This didn’t work, since I’d have to have my tailgate down to haul the bikes. I had a backup plan of course. My DR managed to snag a ride with Buck’s Super Tenere, leaving plenty (hah!) of room for the KLR and DR in the back of the truck. The new plan was to meet Steven and Joey at Steven’s house in Moore to load the truck. I managed to arrive only 30 minutes late, with Joey arriving meer minutes later. Loading took about 3 times longer than I had expected. We met up with Buck about an hour later than planned. This of course delayed our arrival at the first stop in our adventure, Robbers Cave. Once we arrived we setup camp and I enjoyed a great night of hammock camping. You CAN stay warm in a hammock, even when its in the low 30s.
Friday finally arrived, and with it the previous day’s scheduling sins were wiped clean. We set about our task of breaking camp and unloading the bikes. Dale and Austin beat us to camp, arriving early on Thursday and exploring the area, so they were ready to hit the road fairly quick. We were expecting to meet the 9th rider, Damian, in Heavener at 9:30 and Cory and Jon later in the day, about 40 miles into the actual route. We were to be kickstands up at 8:30 to make Heavener by 9:30, and we were to hit the trail by 10am to make the Cory/Jon rendezvous.
Our 8:30am departure time came and went. Finally ready to go, a full 90 minutes behind schedule, we all saddled up only to be stopped dead in our tracks by a low Tenere battery. The Super Tenere, being a 1200cc twin, had such high compression that even with the help of an Eastern Oklahoma hill we couldn’t bump start it. We did leave a few nice skid marks in the campground. A quick jumpstart from Buck’s truck and we were off. By this time it was 10:30am and we were a full 2 hours behind schedule. I opted to skip the fuel stop in Wilburton to save a little time.
We made the expected time to Heavener, although it was a little cooler than I had expected. In addition to skipping the Wilburton fuel stop, I had also decided to skip the ‘street’ jacket to save some space. This turned out to be a chilling mistake. My Bilt Charger mesh armor (I find it difficult to call it a jacket, more like a shirt) and a knit shirt were doing their best to keep me from freezing. We arrived in Heavener only two hours behind schedule. At this point it seemed unlikely we would meet Cory and Jon at the point where the OAT crosses the Talimena Drive as planned. A quick call and I determined we’d have to try our best as they were about 3 hours away, and I had allotted 4hrs to cover the next 40 miles of trail. This was also the last fuel stop until evening in Octavia Oklahoma.
We pulled out of Heavener a little before noon, all in good spirits. There was a little light hearted (I think?) ribbing from some of the guys demanding an off-road route: “Where’s the dirt? If I wanted pavement I could have stayed home!”, but we eventually found pay dirt. Over the next few hours we rode the Oklahoma Adventure Trail, staying mostly to logging roads and trails, watching as some of the most beautiful sights our state has to offer passed by right outside our visors. To say some of these views were picturesque would be an understatement.
Our trip was almost cut short when we found a barrier of dirt and rock blocking the logging road ahead. A quick glance at the GPS (GPSMap 78, it was flawless the entire weekend) showed no obvious (or simple) alternate path. A crumpled sign at the base of the mound was difficult to read, but I could make out the words “closed” and “all vehicles”. I’m fairly sure the sign said something along the lines of “This road is NOT closed to all vehicles, if you can get around the barrier”, but we’ll never know.
A quick “I’ll be right back” to whoever heard me on the Sena, a little throttle blip, and around the barrier I went. About a mile up the road I found the reason for the barrier – much of the road had collapsed. There was a section a few feet wide that looked plenty big enough to allow a few dual sport bikes to pass. I now understood why the barrier was there, but I’m not so sure my sign theory is correct. I turned around, expecting to make a quick run back to the rest of the group to get their opinion. But a few hundred yards up the path I saw the group refused to wait and had joined me. Without a word half the group was across the washed out road section. We continued on down the road with each bind corner revealing some new breathtaking scene before us. We crossed countless creeks and streams, and enjoyed feeling like we were the only people for miles around.
There were some water crossings that were more epic than others. One that comes to mind occurred at about mile 35 into the trek. We came across a large, wide creek with large river rock all around. On the far bank we could see what looked to be a prime camping area. If we had only arrived at this point a few hours later in the trip we would have camped next to the flowing water. It just so happened that we were about 5 miles from our rendezvous point.
In the last few miles of this section of the OAT we managed a long, winding, very enjoyable climb up to the Talimena Drive. If you’re not familiar with it, the Talimena Drive is a section of state Highway 1 that runs from Talihina Oklahoma to Mena Arkansas. It is a well maintained section of highway full of twisties, hills, dips, and great views. If you’ve got a car that is fun to drive, or anything with only two wheels, I encourage you to visit the Talimena Drive. Especially in Fall, as the leaves turn. Once we hit the drive, we headed East and parked in the nearby scenic turnoff. I had just enough time to pull off the helmet, gloves, and start dialing Cory when I spotted a KTM and DR200 coming towards us. A KTM? Who has a KTM? It was a few seconds before I realized the KTM was actually Cory’s DR650 with custom painted (KTM orange) hand guards, and a full set of hydro-dipped plastics. We managed to make the rendezvous, with almost perfect timing. It was 3 minutes past 3pm, and we had completed the first 40 miles of the route in about 3 hours, including a few long stops.
It would be the last time anything happened on-time, but by this point exact time didn’t matter. The days started running together for me, and I didn’t mind. With the addition of the two new riders we headed East on Highway 1. A few miles down the road we caught up with the Lenox Trail. This trail leads to Muse, Highway 69, and Highway 259 which leads to our one and only commercial fuel stop on the route. The Shell station in Octava also has a restaurant of sorts, which most of the group decided was worth patronizing. The chicken fried steak sandwich was pretty good, and the tater tots were perfect.
Fueled, both the body and bike, we headed back North on 259, planning on catching 69 East bound to our next stop, camp. The twisties on 259 were quite enjoyable, even with Joey’s bag added to my already 40lb load. Why did I have Joey’s bag? So Joey could carry the beer of course.
The plan that had been devised months before called for us to camp at the Big Cedar RV park. However, during a phone conversation with the operator of the park it was determined that they didn’t offer the amenities our mostly hammock camping constituency demanded – trees. Their $20 per tent fee didn’t exactly help the situation and it had been decided a few short days before the trip that we would gamble on finding a suitable camp site along the trail. A few miles East of Big Cedar we turned off Highway 69 and back onto gravel logging roads. We had food, fuel, and tired muscles. The day had started with a hunt for dirt, and with that desire mostly satisfied, now we had a new quarry: camp.
For nearly the entire trip, over 40 miles of trail, we had been surrounded by nearly perfectly straight trees towering over us. Our short highway jaunt had reminded us what the open road was like, but I, for one, was glad to be back among the trees. They almost welcomed me back. Our search for a campsite was surprisingly short. We passed a few nearly tree-less clearings along the gravel road we were traveling, and even spotted a promising spot near a creek. While stopped to discuss our options Jon mentioned a turn off that I had dismissed as it looked like it was just another road. He went back to give it a closer look and found what turned out to be our own little slice of heaven.
It could have been the soft pine needles covering the entire clearing, the perfectly spaced hammock friendly trees, the soft light filtering through the picturesque trees or the enticing single track trail that led out the back of the clearing that made the place perfect, but personally, I think the pre-made rock fire-ring and pre-cut firewood stacked nearby played a big role in our decision to declare this our camp site for the night. Most of us quickly started pitching tents and hanging hammocks, while others started the fire and broke out the still-cold beer. His chores done, Jon jumped on his DR200 and went to explore the trail that seemed to lead up the mountain through the back of our camp.
A few minutes later Jon returned and declared the trail the best he’d seen all day. Cory and I couldn’t let him have all the fun, so we hopped on our DRs and headed back up behind him. Filled with jumps, dips, and ice-slick pine needles the trail was lots of fun, although it was less than a half mile long before dead-ending. It turns out that a hill at nearly the end of the trail was about the only place to get cell coverage in the area, so those who didn’t ride the trail still ended up walking it. After returning to camp and enjoying the conversation (my part of which was mostly centered around suspension mods for my DR), beer, and fire until well after dark I decided to call it a night. I got up a few times that night, and each time I was rewarded with a beautiful moon peeking through the trees.
Saturday morning came much too early, but my thanks go to whoever got the fire going before I climbed out of my hammock. We were all a little slower and a little more sore than the previous morning. But we were in no hurry. After an MRE breakfast of sausage gravy and water I started breaking camp. I think everyone experienced the “It used to fit” phenomenon at some point. This is where, while at home, you can pack everything you need into one bag. But once you remove any item it is impossible to get it to all fit in the same bag again. Once everyone had convinced their luggage that it really was possible to carry everything we had brought, we were off again. The comfortable and almost friendly trails we enjoyed the day before very quickly turned to interesting, technical, and down right mean rocky trails and hill climbs.
The first few hill climbs claimed a few victims, both human and metal. A little trailside metal work with an appropriately sized rock fixed most of the damage. Protecting the innocent, I’ll omit their names for the time being. We pressed on, getting used to terrain that was more rock than dirt. Things had calmed down a bit and we were making good time. We had found a few large puddles that were crossed without incident. We eventually realized we were, without a doubt, on the K-Trail. At a hill I will forever call “Buck’s Hill” one of the un-named victims would be tested once again. It was on this hill that our group suffered our only real injury of the trip, fractured ribs. An inconvenient route for his tires, selected less by desire than by random chance, and judicious application of the throttle resulted in what I can only imagine was the majestic flight of a Yamaha. After climbing this monster of a hill, and waiting for some time for the next rider to crest it, Cory and I suspected a problem and headed back down. Its never a good sign when you spot an abandoned bike, nor when you spot a bike pointed across the trail instead of up it. We found both.
It was obvious Buck had fallen hard and was suffering because of it. We sat and waited for him to collect himself and make the decision to continue or turn back. We didn’t know at the time that his ribs were fractured, and the big concern was, I think, his shoulder. Thankfully most of us, including Buck, were wearing some form of body armor along with our kneepads, boots, and helmets. In this case there were nasty marks on both the helmet and the body armor. After some soul searching Buck decided the best course of action would be to backtrack the few miles needed to return to the 3 points monument and Highway 259. From there he would head to Honobia and meet us for lunch at the local diner. We were about 30 miles from the hunting lease that would be our quick access to the Honobia diner and the wonderful lunch awaiting us. We figured lunch was an hour or two away at most, and it was only about 11am.
I’m told the diner has the best burgers around. The sign out front sure makes them look good. I wouldn’t know because I ended up eating in Talihina that night for dinner. Not only did we miss lunch with Buck (we’re told he had the chicken fried steak), but we also missed dinner at the diner. Those 30 or so miles took us nearly 7 hours to cross and went from that horrible hill climb from hell (“Buck’s Hill”), a section of trail that wasn’t much easier to navigate (and it was almost flat and level!), to downhill sections that almost made me want to walk the bike down. Needless to say, Buck made the right call.
When Buck decided to return to Highway 259 and Honobia we sent Joey and Jon with him to make sure he got back to pavement without issue. Joey knew of a lookout with an amazing view near his lease, so the plan was made for the rest of the group to continue on and we would wait for Joey and Jon at the lookout. This would give the shutterbugs some time to grab some good photos. A few miles down the trail we found the famous fire tower. I’ve seen countless pictures and read many accounts of this tower, but no one ever mentions the view that awaits you if you follow the short trail behind the tower. I’ve seen lots of vistas from the Talimena Drive, but this put them all to shame. It was a very clear and sunny day and you could see for miles. The ridge that was home to the Talimena Drive was only about 10 miles away. It seemed so close you could touch it. Between us and the drive we could see Muse and and Whitesboro sprawled out in front of us. With a little effort you can approximate the view we saw in Google Maps
. I could just imagine a lonely forester being stationed here with nothing but a hot coffee and the view to keep him company on a cold day. I can think of worse ways to spend my day.
I’m not sure how long we stayed at the tower, but it wasn’t long before we heard the buzz of a pair of thumpers coming up the trail. With no time to waste we loaded back up and hit the trail, with our group reduced to 7. The intercom was mostly quiet as we contemplated the recent events. Watching one of the most experienced and capable riders in the group go down hard reinforced the reality that we were in a place that could hurt us, even kill us. And help was more than just a phone call away. There was a surprising amount of water on the trail in this section. Being solid rock a few inches below the surface meant that there was more water than mud, which helped a lot, but we did have a few drops. I lost a gopro in a mud puddle in fact (on the last major puddle of the trip, the only time I dropped the bike all weekend). A few in the group found out the hard way their boots were not water proof. Between the added stress of the rocky trail, wet feet, physically and mentally exhausted riders, and the rush to make lunch with Buck (with a corresponding increase in “hangry” symptoms) tempers started to flare. Looking back I realize we should have stopped, regrouped and abandoned the idea of a hamburger lunch. A lunch break may have helped, and certainly would have allowed us to slow down and enjoy the ride more.
We finally made it to Joey’s lease, which was originally to be just a mid-trail fuel stop. We blew past the fuel, and flew across the lease trying to make it to the local restaurant before closing time so we could not only catch up with Buck, but also grab a bite to eat. We got stuck at the lease gate. A man in a UTV appeared from the Honobia side of the gate, with a key. While he unlocked the gate he informed us Buck had arrived at the diner, had enjoyed a chicken fried steak, and left a few hours before. Its no wonder, by now it was almost 6pm. By the time we arrived at the diner they had stopped cooking. Austin and Dale decided they had enough riding for the weekend and were going to head back to Robbers Cave and then home. Our group which was once 8 was now down to 5. A short while later Joey’s friends from the lease arrived with our fuel. My DR took nearly 3 gallons I’m sure. I wasn’t quite on reserve, but I couldn’t have been far from it. Joey’s DR was even more thirsty. Between the 10 gallons brought to us, and the extra fuel Joey and Dale were carrying we all topped off our tanks. Even the KLRs, which probably didn’t need it.
While taking votes as to what we would do next I learned I had missed another decision. Joey decided he was going to stay on the lease and ride with his friends the following day. Our group was down to 4. While discussing our camping options it became known that we were only 11 miles from Talihina. As soon as i heard that I made an executive decision, we were heading to Talihina. A few quick jabs on the GPS and the course was laid in. Pam’s Hateful Hussy in Talihina was 17 short minutes away. With no cell service I couldn’t check their hours, but I was banking on them not being closed by 7:30, our ETA. I hastily hit the road without much ceremony or patience. I would get that hamburger one way or another!
With the “Open!” sign flashing and crowd visible through the window it was obvious we were in luck. Over a great dinner we discussed our sleeping arrangements. Cory and I had been here before, we knew there was a very comfortable camping area at the Talimena State Park, and we knew there were plenty of trails behind the park to keep us busy the following morning. With no dissenters, the plan was made. Once we paid our tab we were off to the Talimena State Park camp ground. It was money well spent. There was yet another supply of pre-cut (and pre-split) fire wood, a fire ring, and a well maintained lawn to sleep on. Most of the more secluded (and hammock friendly) camp sites were already claimed, so we made camp near some guys who had a pair of dualsport bikes parked near their box trailer. The bikes looked familiar, and their roaring fire looked inviting. It was the same pair of guys we passed on the K-Trail just West of the fire tower. At the time we had all marveled at how clean the bikes were, it was as if they had just appeared on the k-trail. It turns out they HAD just appeared. We got to talking and there is a trail that leads from Muse almost directly to the tower.
After replicating their fire in our own fire ring, we made camp around the fire. For the first time in years I was not sleeping in my hammock. I forgot how annoying it was to slide around on a ground pad. Thanks to the borrowed thermarest ground pad from Joey I was still quite warm. At some point in the night Cory got up to stoke the fire. And I woke the next morning to Jon sleeping next to the fire. It seems they had problems staying warm in the tent. The next morning was rather uneventful, more MRE breakfast, and a slow round of breaking camp. Jon, Cory, and I decided to hit the single track type trails behind the camp ground. These trails were more tough than what we experienced on the k-trail – not because they were more rocky, but because they were tighter, more twisty, with more frequent (but not extreme) altitude changes. Being much more technical, and being exhausted from from the previous two days, I was glad we were on a short time table. In all the 45 minutes we spent on the trails felt like 2 hours.
We returned to camp and picked up Steven. We said our goodbyes (and thank yous) to the couple who operated the camp grounds and hit the road. The Talimena State park camp ground is, by far, my favorite camp ground in the area. Its easy to get to, easy to get out of, they have great and comfortable sites, have the great trails behind (that lead all over the state park), and they are cheap at $12 per site (2 tents per site). All the firewood you can use costs another $5.
The trip back to Robbers Cave took about an hour. We split from Cory and Jon at the Highway 1/Highway 2 exchange. They headed to Harthorn, Steven and I headed towards Wilburton. Loading the bikes took about 30 minutes, and the return trip to Oklahoma City another 3 and some change. Overall the trip was uneventful. The astute reader will note that we exited the K-Trail at the lease and never returned. We have another 20 miles or so of the K-Trail left to explore. I’m not sure if I’m willing to say the K-Trail beat us, but we sure didn’t conquer it. I think next time we’ll attack from the West. Besides, that extra 20 miles gives us reason to go back!
I learned a lot from this trip; I learned I’m a more capable rider than I though but I’ve got a lot more learning to do. I learned I can lead a group of people in a ride, but I’m not very good at it. I found myself dis-engaged with the rest of the group for long periods, leaving them to fend for themselves. I came to count on Dale to bring up the rear, knowing he could handle what really is the most important place in a group such as this, since he was forced to help pick up those who had fallen and make sure no-one got left behind. I learned we need to work on posting turns and maintaining good following distances. I also need to get better at reading others body language so I can more easily spot fatigue. I learned that even if you don’t think you’ll need it, and even if you want to get a good audio recording of your exhaust, you should always put the waterproof door on your GoPro camera. I learned the value of a good standalone GPS unit. I bought the GPSMap78 almost on a whim and I was afraid it would prove to have a screen that was too small and it turned out to be perfectly suited to the trip. There are many more lessons I’ve left out, but most importantly I’ve learned that there is more to learn and more to explore.
See you on the trails!
P.S. If you want the GPX track of the ride, or the GPX track we followed, let me know.