Brian A. Hopkins
The Quest for the
Holy Grail ... er, Arch, I mean.
Last October, en route to Clayton for the Oklahoma Dual Sport Rally organized by my good friend James Pratt, I attempted to locate the only natural arch in the state of Oklahoma. Expecting there to at least be a sign or historical marker or something -- if not a few local rednecks attempting to eek out a tourist dollar or two -- I was completely baffled by the arch's exact location, which seemed to be a closely-guarded secret. (Plus, I was kinda in a hurry and didn't feel like scrambling around in the woods.) Then I got a flat tire which I had to ride on at 10 mph the rest of the way to Clayton Lake State Park and so on, the upshot being that the arch remained elusive. (You can find that ride report here on my website if you're interested in reading all about those adventures.)
What with an illness, a rather nasty treatment regimen, and one thing after another interfering with what should be a life filled with nothing but exploring on my motorcycles, it took nearly a year before I got around to renewing my quest for the arch. This time, however, I would have help. I would be assisted by the bloodhound determination of my good friends Daniel Holloway and Rich Desmond. We decided to leave from my house at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
With my BMW F650GS Dakar all ready to go (and the ZZR pouting in the background because it would be left at home), I waited patiently for my friends. My tires were aired up. My chain was lubed. My Camelbak was stuffed with ice cubes (which would give me cold water to sip on for at least the first hour or two on the road). And my appetite for adventure was whetted. Dammit, let's ride!
They finally showed up -- not more than 5 or 10 minutes late to be honest, but it sure felt like a lifetime. While Daniel tried to convince me to wake Betty up to make him some coffee (ha!), Rich and I took a few minutes to discuss our route. Rich suggested that we swing south and avoid the great metropolis of McAlester, Oklahoma. It sounded like a plan. "Who's leading?" I asked. "You are!" Rich replied, knowing that I hate to lead. I grumbled a bit, but agreed to take point, whereupon Daniel suddenly popped a wheelie on his 1200GS and roared off down my driveway, spraying poor old Lucky Dog with gravel. Apparently, Daniel wanted to lead. Fine by me!
What we didn't know was Daniel had a plan all along (and it involved that coffee he was wanting!). He blazed a trail to Calvin (smoke coming off his rear tire the whole way) and an old bridge over the South Canadian River. I'd never ridden over this bridge, so that was cool (even if Daniel's route did take us through McAlester). I'm amazed this bridge is still open, as the new modern bridge is within spitting distance (in fact, you can see it in most of these photos).
One thing we did find odd was the sign on the bridge. Exactly what does it mean to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places? Does that mean someone in Calvin is just too lazy to submit the paperwork to actually add the bridge to the Register or what?
Here's Daniel thinking about that cup of coffee. He would get it, just across the bridge in the sleepy little burg of Calvin. In fact, we all had a good breakfast there in a little Mom and Pop cafe kinda thingy (I think it was actually a gas station), somewhere Daniel had obviously eaten before. The food was good, but Daniel and I were both appalled that Rich didn't get the reference to "Elevensees." We very nearly booted him out of our motorcycle gang at that point!
I did some wistful gazing of my own, one foot on a peg in case the impatient Dakar decided to take off without me. There's nothing like the magic of two wheels turning beneath you to invigorate the mind and rejuvenate the soul. Some of my most profound thoughts ambush me while on a motorcycle. It's the Muse of Motion, a wind-borne clearing of the cerebral cobwebs, a vitality and a focus generated by the gyroscopic effect of those two wheels humming along the asphalt or crunching over gravel. This hasn't been a very good year for me -- and I'll probably write about it eventually -- but for the moment everything was perfect: good friends, a destination, and one of my beloved motos to take me there.
But enough of that mush ... like I said, the bridge carried us over the river and into Calvin where we tanked up on bacon and eggs and other essentials required by hard-riding Don Quixote types. Then it was on with the Quest!
The trick to completing the quest and finding the arch (once you've gotten by the Sirens, the Cyclops, and the 12-Headed Dog) is to know where to stop along a gravel road way out in the friggin' boonies. It also helps to have Rich navigating. Here he is standing next to his new (to him) SV650 where he decided we should stop on the aforementioned gravel road. This road parallels Highway 63 between Blanco and Hartshorne, south of the highway, running along the vast limestone ridge that stretches east to west through that area.
You'll never see me argue with the Richmeister (after all, it's Rich to whom I usually go with technical questions about motorcycles!) -- though I might leave a squirrelly line sliding the Dakar to a stop on gravel. You take your fun where you can find it, doncha know?
"These woods harbor the final stage of our epic quest," Rich promised. "We're so close, I can smell it!"
"I know exactly where I'm going!"
"Twas this mighty creek that formed the arch over thousands and thousands of year's time," Rich speculated. (Though we waited, the Lady of the Lake never did rise to endorse our adventure.)
Perhaps it was the fetid and slimy condition of the stagnant water...?
And then Rich broke through the last barrier of brambles and scrub oak to lead us to the promise. There lay the ridgeline, like the craggy back of a sleeping dragon. And where the creek cut down through the limestone, we found our arch. ("A river runs through it," quipped Daniel.) I was prepared to be utterly disappointed - after all, this is Oklahoma, not Utah. I didn't expect anything that would compare with Arches National Park. But as I joined Rich abreast the dragon's spine, I was pleasantly surprised.
This was no rabbit burrow, but a full-blown freakin' archway! Woohoo! The sun came down through the tall trees, dappling the limestone and shining back as if from the blade of Excalibur. Somewhere in the forest, angels sang. We all felt a little bit like Lewis and Clark ... or maybe Sacagawea. We knew if we bathed in the creek, all our troubles and pains would wash away forever, but no one wanted to risk leeches, staff infection, Giardia ... piranha.
"Crawl down there," Rich said, "so I can give it some perspective." So I did. (The Vanna White gesture was entirely my idea.)
We even got Daniel down there. Daniel pointed out that we weren't the first to make this epic trek. Evidently an ancient tribe had once worshipped here at the Holy Arch of Oklahoma. These ancient ones worked in metal and traveled in groups of six, as evidenced by the aluminum artifacts they left behind. We believe these ancient ones might have called themselves the Budweisers.
"You guys take me to the coolest places. I could just kiss you both!"
Then we saddled up and rode home. I was home by 3:30 in the afternoon, in time to watch the final round of AMA motocross, which Ricky Carmichael didn't win for once because he crashed and was injured. James "Bubba" Stewart won both races, which is what Stewart can do -- winning, that is -- now that Carmichael's retiring. When he's carrying the #1 plate next year, I hope he realizes it's only because Carmichael's not there to whip his ass anymore.
Copyright © 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-08-01 19:27, www.bahwolf.com