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Tahlequah Adventure.

September 20, 2010

I have returned from my trip to Tahlequah (pronounced TAA (rhymes with the a in “fat”)-LEH-KWAH), Oklahoma.  I lived there four four years during my tenure as optometry student and worked at its Indian Health Service Hospital.  It is near and dear to me as the place where I bought and learned to ride trails on my first mountain bike (a 1994 Giant Rincon with thumb-shifters).  At least twice each summer I floated the Illinois River by canoe.  I rediscovered my love for the outside here.  Tahlequah, headquarters of the Cherokee Nation, is full of oddity and wonder– a sampling of which is to follow.


The past weekend marks my first foray into the world of backpack camping, and was a success.  I did learn a few things about camping, however:

1.  The ground is hard

I camped under a grove of tall walnut trees to shield my campsite from the unseasonable 95 degree high temperatures.  Shade is good.  Shade keeps soft grass from growing, however, so even though I had a small “sleeping pad” under my sleeping bag (which provided about as much cushion as sleeping on a large flour tortilla), I found myself tossing and turning until finally I checked my watch, knowing that it must have been at least five in the morning.  Nope–12:30am.  Ugh.  So I decided instead to brave the mosquitoes and sleep in the ENO hammock that I had brought.  If you haven’t slept  outdoors in a hammock–I highly recommend it.  I finally swayed back asleep to the hammock’s gentle rocking and only suffered a few bites by morning.

2.  Walnut trees drop walnuts.  Every five seconds.  All night long.

I’m not particularly frightened by the dark, but it took me an hour or so to get used to the constant bombardment.

3.  It’s easy to go to bed way too early.

I’m used to falling asleep around midnight to twelve-thirty most nights, but it was dark at 9pm and there was little to do, so I turned in that first night at 10:00.  When I woke up at 12:30, my body treated it like a nice nap.  It took me awhile to fall back asleep in the hammock.  One thing I did was to listen to an audiobook on my iPod, Arsenals of Folly by Richard Rhodes, a brilliant book about the cold war (as are his books on the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs). 

My buddy “Ben”, the one-eyed camp dog

This is Ben:

Ben. A good, good boy.

He greeted me moments after I pulled into the parking lot, proceeded to accompany me on all of my outdoor adventures, and gave me someone to talk to while I was alone in the wilderness.  He followed me as I hiked down to the river for a night swim, and as I crossed the shallow Illinois (it is only about waist-deep across its breadth this time of year), he was paddling next to me. 

Flows slow, and smooth as glass.

After eight hours of CME classes on Saturday, I decided to eat at none other than “Sam and Ella’s Chicken Palace”.  Surely this is a play on words for “Salmonella”.  So what do you eat at a chicken palace?  Pizza, of course (they inexplicably don’t serve chicken).

Sam and Ella. Salmonella?

Mmmm. Pizza!

I kid you not, until recently there was a restaurant just down the street from Sam and Ella’s named “Ernie Coli’s Chili Pot”.  It apparrently did not survive the great recession, but you can still find reference to it on google:

E. Coli and his chili pot?

That covers the big two microbes that give us food poisoning.  Following this logic, CarboRocket should be called “Poison Liquid of Death”, but I digress.
Sweet, Rocky Singletrack
After my pizza, I picked up the Frankenbike for some climbing up Sparrow Hawk Mountain, my weekly ride thirteen years ago.  It is largely unchanged with smooth-rolling flat sections puctuated by continuous rock garden for climbs or descents.

Me. and Frank. and Ben

It is peppered with stunning views.  Some of the more technical downhill sections run along a very steep ridge.  The price for failure is pretty high.
Needless to say, I walked the Frankenbike with its 700cx30 Kenda Kwick tires through the gnarliest sections.  I am somewhat amazed that I used to manage it on a hardtail, period.  Ben and I continued up to the peak where a small community, Sparrow Hawk Village rests.  Locally there is a lot of rumor and legend about what goes on at Sparrow Hawk Village. 
I remember tales that they worshipped and kept peacocks, especially one albino peacock that was of particular reverence.  A buddy of mine told of being chased from there.  Once I personally witnessed the comings and goings of a religious ceremony of some sort, watching people walk purposefully about in full-length hooded robes of varying colors as I filled my CamelBak from a water spigot next to the peacock pen that still stands, replete with peacocks: 

Herein reside the sacred peacocks.

After the climb and trek through what appeared to be the deserted village–I did not see one soul milling about–I headed for the descent via gravel road.  This is a steep and treacherous path, rendered frightening by the Frankenbike’s skinny tires and braking setup.  Awesome for ‘cross, but not so much for bombing down steep, curvy gravel.  After about two miles it turned into rolling blacktop, where the Frankenbike’s low rolling resistance shone.  I began to worry about Ben whom I had lost on the gravel.  He was miles from home.  Later that evening, though, he trotted down to my camp for a visit.  Silly me, he knows this area like the back of his paw.  I gave him some pizza bones, and he crashed by my tent.
I slept better the second night in my tent (thanks to exhaustion) and I arose the next day for another half-day of CME.  After breaking camp and getting learn-ed, I decided to eat at  a favorite haunt before driving the 3.5 hours home:  “Del Rancho”. 

The Ranch.

 Del Rancho is a fifties-style diner with good breakfast and features chicken fried steak bigger than my face.  They also have great burgers, and as a bonus, you get to order from a “batphone”:

Hello, Batman?? Supreme Soviet??

When I picked up I half-expected to hear either the voice of Adam West or Dmitry Medvedev on the other end.
SS 69’er Winner Chosen Friday
Remember that this Friday, a winner will be chosen in my charity auction  for the “Unholy Roller”, my single-speed 69’er to raise money for glasses and medicines for my annual mission trip to India.  Click here to see the ‘niner and to learn about my mission to Ghoramara.  More importantly, click the Donate button below to donate to the cause.  You will be helping the blind see and might just win a new bike!  I will be posting shiny new pictures of the bike in the next day or two.  And I’ll up the ante a little.

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