Reverse migration on two wheels: An Okie heads home from California

Dr. Scott Moses pauses to refresh at the General Store in Hackberry, AZ, along Route 66.

Before interstate highways and their homogenized sameness of truckstops, fast-food vendors and chain motels, Route 66 was our country’s Mother Road. It ushered travelers from east to west, provided them food, fuel and rest for the weary.

Route 66 doubled as Main Street in many towns that flourished until the interstates lured the traffic away. Most of the old road is still there and passable. OU Engineering Professor Dr. Scott Moses flew to Los Angeles in May, pumped up his bicycle tires and headed east, a reverse migration of sorts.

His solo, five-state tour follows an earlier pedal from Norman to San Francisco in 2014 to celebrate his 50th birthday.

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Fellow Norman cyclists and university colleagues followed his daily tour blog. Through words and hundreds of pictures Moses tells the story of once thriving but now abandoned cafes, motels, museums and full-service gas stations.

He gushes over places like Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch near Victorville or Najah’s Desert Oasis in Fenner. The Mojave desert, and its triple digit heat, become a reality after Barstow.

“After a brief foray on I-40 to get around a Marine base, I exit onto the Mother Road, turn on the Eagles greatest hits and as I get up to speed a train passes off to the left side, its horn sounding a long, mournful wail,” Moses writes on the fourth day. “Thrilling moments like these are why I’m here. I’m emotional and there’s a slight downward gradient that just adds to the feeling.”

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Moses, 52, arrived back in Norman Wednesday night after 25 days and 1,814 miles on a bicycle seat. He carried up to 10 liters of water each day, ate at roadside diners and prepared food from grocery and general stores. He camped 13 nights and sprung for a cheap hotel room the others when the need for a shower and air conditioning outweighed the romance and thrift of a roadside tent.

His touring bike, loaded with food, water and gear, weighed about 80 pounds.

The buildings, landscape, food and the people he met all made it in the blog, He blends the history and nostalgia of another era in a most readable blog. A seasoned rider, he already knew that touring on two wheels brings a kinship of sorts. The novelty brings smiles and often a bottle of cold Gatorade or a chocolate malt.

“It’s good to be a bicycle tourist and everyone is my brother when I am on a bicycle,” he wrote upon leaving Los Angeles. Besides music, he listened to an audio version of John Steinbeck’s Okie migration novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

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The trek through Flagstaff, AZ., impressed Moses. It’s a university town slightly smaller than Norman with an eclectic collection of locally owned shops and restaurants and many miles of cycling trails.

“It’s a model of what Norman could do,” he said. “They have a respect for their history and are not destroying it to build new.”

Moses grades the states by the respect cyclists are shown by drivers. New Mexico and Arizona rank highest, then California, followed by Oklahoma and Texas.

He has renewed empathy for homeless persons.

“Even with the ability to buy food and rent a hotel room if you need to, you get a sense of how difficult it is to stay clean on the road.”

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He had some help on the route from the Adventure Cycling Association which has 40,000 miles mapped out with suggestions on camping, water and other necessities for two-wheelers.

“On this one I knew more of what to expect and what to carry and what not to carry,” Moses said. “You learn how little you really need. You come back happy to live a simpler life.”

He always felt safe as “people treat you as a cyclist very differently.”

“Nobody asks you why you are doing this. They ask where you came from and where are you going and then they say ‘Wow.’ “

He was surprised at the number of international visitors on Route 66, often called the nation’s Main Street.

“They come here to see the real America. They see Route 66 as the real America.”

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