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The Motorcycle Diaries
Choose your chopper: Oklahoma offers thousands of miles of prime pavement and scenery ripe for riding.
By Dyrinda Tyson
Photography by Tom Luker
Published May/June 2012
Oklahoma’s roads don’t only wind through land. They wind through time—through plains roamed by buffalo and the men who hunted them, through the towns that sprung up as settlers moved in, through countryside so still and silent it’s hard to remember modern farms are just over the rise.
From the lush and majestic lake country in the east to the windswept prairies stretching out to the west, Oklahoma offers plenty of road and plenty of variety for the motorcyclist on the prowl.
It’s a journey measured in more than miles. There’s something about the drone of an engine mixed with wind on the open road, a heavy-metal mantra that settles the mind and pushes the duller parts of life aside. Terri “T” Collier of Stillwater, editor in chief and publisher of Thunder Roads Magazine in Oklahoma and Arkansas, likens the effect to the sound of ocean waves.
“It’s very peaceful,” she says. “There’s a lot of serenity and a lot of meditation that I can get just by riding my bike.”
But some journeys are, in fact, measured in distance.
“Everybody who rides motorcycles wants to ride curves—they don’t want to ride straight lines,” says Edmond photographer James Pratt, who has ridden motorcycles for thirty-five years, since he was able to defy his protective parents at eighteen and buy a bike of his own. Some of Oklahoma’s roads, laid out in orderly grids, may not offer a lot of those curves, but they make up for it in hidden jewels.
“There’s a lot of intrigue out there if you understand a little bit about what’s going on,” says adventure journalist Bill Dragoo of Norman, who has spent more than four decades riding motorcycles all over the world.
Intrigue can range from a sod house keeping lonely vigil in a field along a northern Oklahoma highway to a 1902 iron bridge spanning a waterway between Wanette and Byars in south-central Oklahoma, its heavy iron bones impervious to the insults of time and graffiti. It can be nature at its most mellow—the soft scent of blooms in the spring and blazing colors in the fall—or at its most grand, such as when the soaring, glittering Gloss Mountains suddenly loom into view in northwestern Oklahoma.
The problem might be deciding just where to go.
“There’s so much in our state for riders,” Collier says. “It’s so easy to put together a ride because there are so many cool places for us to go and see, whether they’re rich in history, flat or curvy, with trees or without.”
To begin a spring motorcycle journey of miles and of mind, consider these five rides spanning 533 miles in the state.”