Talimena Tour

Kurt & Mary’s tour to the Talimena Drive and back.

620 miles (999 km) over 12 days from September 24, 2006 to October 5, 2006


Our tour to Southeastern Oklahoma and the Talimena Drive

Mary (my fiance), and I enjoy touring. Before this tour we had done three short self supported tours together and had crossed Oklahoma twice while on supported rides. When we were able to get two weeks vacation time we decided we wanted to use as much of the time as we could. We also knew from previous rides that we wanted to return to eastern Oklahoma where we love the scenery.While planning our tour we were very tempted to drive to south eastern Oklahoma and start our tour there. In doing so we estimated we would save 4 days travel time just getting there and back. However, we decided that it would be a much more exciting adventure to start from and return home.So we studied our Roades of Oklahoma map book and plotted a course that would give us a place to camp each night, places to eat lunch, buy groceries, get water, and also to hike on our rest days. We knew from previous tours about how many miles we were able to ride each day while carrying our gear and we knew that once we encountered the Talimena Drive that we would have additional challenges with the many 13% and above grade climbs, and the fact that food and water would not be very available.We planned on carrying and cooking our own food for breakfast and dinner while finding lunch in the many cafes and Convenience stores along the route.

Day 1: Midwest City, OK to Holdenville, OK

Sunday September 24, 2006, 90 miles (145 km) – Total so far: 90 miles (145 km)

After distributing our gear equally our bikes weighed 104 Lbs each. In addition our Camelbaks which included water and a few snacks weighed 10 lbs each. I rode my trusty Trek 520 tour bike with my Arkel panniers. Mary rode her Trek Fuel 80 mountain bike and pulled my B.O.B trailer. I added fenders and touring tires to her bike. She seems to be quite happy with this setup as a touring bike. From my apartment in Midwest City we rode east on Reno Ave. We continued east out into the country on rural roads until we reached Hwy 270 just south of Harrah. From there we traveled south through McLoud, Shawnee, Seminole, Wewoka, and Holdenville. Our original plans were to travel 60 miles and camp at Sportsman’s Lake near Seminole but we had a strong tail wind and were making such good time that we decided to continue the additional 30 miles to Holdenville City Lake where we camped for the night.
We were the only ones camping at the campground. There were tent and RV camping sights but we never found a place to pay the fee. We also never found out what the fee was supposed to be and nobody ever came to collect. It was our first night of several where our camping was free.

Day 2: Holdenville, OK to Elm Point Camp Ground Lake Eufaula, OK

Monday September 25, 2006, 57 miles (92 km) – Total so far: 147 miles (237 km)

We woke up with the sunrise and broke camp. The temperature was 42 degrees as we were preparing our breakfast. We dressed for winter riding but by mid day we had already peeled off our winter layers and were in short sleeves again.

We had originally planned on camping at Hickory Point campground on the south side of Lake Eufaula. When we got to Krebs we thought we might call ahead. The ranger told us that that campground had been closed. She said there was no water there and she highly recommended we go to a Elm Point campground 8 miles further north. She told us that not only was there water there but there were also showers. So we rode north to Elm Point where we camped for the evening.

When we got to Elm Point the camp host told us there was plenty of water but no showers. So we picked a rather secluded camp sight and we hung the tent fly in a tree in such a way that we could take a shower inside using our dromedary bags. The camp host explained that the reason the Hickory Point campground had been closed due to the activities of the “local druggies”

We also talked to another man who was camping there in his RV. He said he vacationed there every year for two weeks to fish. He said if we had been there a few days earlier he would have invited us for a fish fry.

Day 3: Lake Eufaula, OK to Sardis Lake, OK

Tuesday September 26, 2006, 54 miles (87 km) – Total so far: 201 miles (323 km)


This was our first of many big hills. It showed as a 6% grade on my inclinometer and was about 2 miles to the top.

We camped at the Potato Hills Park Central campground at Sardis Lake. It was a nice campground on a very pretty lake. In the area where we camped we were the only campers there. We had hot showers and good well water to drink.

After pitching our tent I went to try to pay for the campsite. At the gate there was a sign saying the camp host was gone. I couldn’t find a place to pay nor could I even find anything stating how much a campsite cost. Just as I was about to leave a guy came to close the gate to the campground. He explained that Jerry the camp host had gone into the city for a doctor’s appointment. He said there was no place to pay and that someone should be around to collect our fee. By the time we left the next morning nobody ever came to collect. It was our second free campsite.

While at the gate I ended up talking to the guy closing the gate. He was very interested in our trip and asked me all about bike touring. He said he was 65 and wished he were younger because he would have liked to have tried it.

Day 4: Sardis Lake, OK to Talihena, OK via. the “Scenic Route”

Wednesday September 27, 2006, 70 miles (113 km) – Total so far: 271 miles (436 km)

We slept without the tent fly because it was a warm night but just before dawn we awoke to lightning. We broke camp quickly just before it began raining and cooked our breakfast under the awning of the building where the showers were. By the time we finished our breakfast it had stopped raining and the sun was out.As we traveled south from Sardis Lake toward Clayton we could see more clouds rolling in. Up ahead we could see more lightening and heavy rain. We were hoping to make it to Clayton before it hit but it came upon us a lot more quickly than we anticipated. All of a sudden we were in a heavy downpour with lightening. We’d see the flash and hear the thunder at the same time. We started looking for shelter from the lightening and saw an old shack across a grassy field. There wasn’t any fence so we both rode across the field toward the shack. I shouted to Mary that I sure hoped there weren’t any stickers because we were riding across anyway! When we got to the shack we couldn’t get inside because it was all boarded up but when we went to the south side of it we found what was left of a partial roof so we sat underneath and waited out the storm. After the rain and lightening stopped we proceeded toward Clayton. Even though we had a very
steep and long descent into town the headwind prevented us from going very fast.

We had planned on refilling our Camelbaks and water bottles at Honobia. We had been to Honobia the previous year on the Oklahoma Freewheel tour and knew there was a small store there. However, when we arrived we discovered the store had closed. We knew we had a long steep climb ahead of us on Honobia Hill and we became worried because we were almost out of water. We looked around and didn’t find any water faucets so we decided we had better see if we could find someone who would be kind enough to let us have some water. We noticed there was a house behind the store and knocked. A young lady answered and after we explained our predicament she let us into her house and allowed us to fill our containers from her kitchen sink. She explained that the store was in the process of closing and would reopen one last time for the Annual Sasquatch Festival which was the following weekend. Little did we know that this would be the first of several days when finding water would become a challenge.

It only took us 45 minutes to reach the highest point of Honobia Hill but then we realized that there were at least a half a dozen more peaks before we would finally descend on the north side going into Talihena. We reached the campground just after the sun had set and pitched our tent by flashlight.

Day 5: Talimena State Park. bought groceries, and went hiking.

Thursday September 28, 2006, 14 miles (23 km) – Total so far: 285 miles (459 km)


About 8:00 Am we were awaken by the sound of engines starting. Apparently the roads through the park were being repaved and the work crew was there to begin work. It was getting noisy but we really didn’t care because we had planned on going into town to buy groceries and then do a hike on one of the trails. We ate breakfast, washed our clothes in the shower and hung them to dry. We left all of our gear at the camp and went into town with lightened bikes and a set of empty rear panniers on my bike so we could buy groceries. It was weird at first to be riding such light bikes.
We rode into Talimena and found the sporting goods store. Up till now we had been eating freeze dried backpacking food which we heated on my SnowPeak Gigapower stove. The stove uses a small canister of compressed gas (propane and butane mix). To our surprise nobody in town sold either. The sporting goods store was the type I remembered as a kid. They sold older style cane and fiber glass fishing poles, Zebco 202 reels, lead sinkers, bobbers and hooks. I believe they even had live bait. And although I thought it was really interesting to see the kind of fishing equipment I used as a kid instead of the graphite and high tech stuff available now I also realized we had a problem we hadn’t anticipated. We needed to come up with a different solution for cooking. Our freeze dried meals of course were pre cooked and only required boiling water to rehydrate and heat them. I calculated that we’d have enough fuel for two meals a day through the rest of the trip but that’s if we only had to have the stove on long enough for boiling water. However, we wouldn’t have enough fuel to cook or simmer regular food. So it was off to the grocery store to search for food that didn’t have to be refrigerated and didn’t have to be cooked. This turned out to be a valuable learning experience for us as. We searched throughout the store and found several items that worked well for us. Oatmeal, Raman Noodles, Minute Rice, canned and precooked chicken, a brand of peanut butter that had honey already in it, and a brand of flower tortillas that did not require refrigeration. The Raman Noodles turned out to be a real treat because it was high in carbohydrates and sodium which our bodies needed after each days ride. This experience was also a blessing in disguise. After returning from our trip I’ve since purchased a multi fuel stove that will even burn gasoline when we can’t find anything else. The stove weighs a few more ounces than the Gigapower stove with the titanium pot but now since we can buy our food as needed in grocery stores along our routs we won’t have to carry nearly as much food and will be traveling several pounds lighter. The other obvious benefit is that we can now cook REAL food and have good meals each night in camp!
After returning from our shopping trip we hiked for about two hours on the trail. We found out that this trail is about 200 miles long and ends in Arkansas. Some day we will need to come back and hike it through to the end. After our hike we took an afternoon nap and then cooked our evening meal. Just before sunset the Park Ranger rode up on his ATV to collect the camp fee. He was interested in our tour and talked with us for some time about it. He seemed very surprised that we had climbed over Honobia Hill the previous day and even more surprised we would be riding across the Talimena Drive the next day. When I mentioned the fact that we had to search for water the previous day before climbing Honobia Hill he began telling me about how bad the drought had been. He asked us where we planned on camping on the Talimena Drive and when I told him the Winding Stair Camp Ground he acted very concerned. He told us that their well had run dry over a month ago but that it was rumored there was water in it again recently. He suggested that we carry extra water as there would not be any available on the drive until we got to the Queen Wihelmina State Park in Arkansas. He said to be sure to check with the visitor center that they were the ones who would officially know if there was water available.

Day 6: Talimina State Park to Kerr Nature Center via. on the Talimena Drive.

Friday September 29, 2006, 26 miles (43 km) – Total so far: 312 miles (501 km)

Remembering what the Park Ranger had told us the night before about the well at the Winding Stair campground we decided to check with the people at the visitor center. We were the first one’s there when they arrived to open. I had two 2 liter dromedary bags ready to fill for extra water but the lady at the visitor center assured us that the well was pumping water again and that we had nothing to worry about. Since our bikes were already carrying over a hundred pounds each and we knew we were about to start climbing some serious hills I readily accepted her answer and stowed the empty dromedary bags in my panniers. All the while my gut was telling me that we should play it safe and take the extra water. This would soon turn out to be another learning experience for us. First of all we learned the locals don’t always know what they are talking about even when they wear an official looking name tag!

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