Ever since I left Portland almost three weeks earlier, I’d been pushing to get to Oklahoma by June 1. I had planned to leave Portland on May 5 but due to delays with my shipment from Qatar, I had to push that back to May 13, which tightened my whole schedule to the point where I had to drop southern Utah from my itinerary, because I needed to get to Oklahoma by early June.
Above: After spending five days with my friends in Austin, I headed up I-35 to Oklahoma City. I planned to spend the next five days in OKC watching the WCWS, the NCAA college softball championship.
Why was I in such a hurry to get to Oklahoma? That’s a question many people have asked themselves over the years. All right, just kidding. Actually I love Oklahoma, even though it’s my least-visited state, having been there only twice: once when I was five years old during one of my family’s cross-country summer road trips and the other time back in 2001, when I spent a grand total of four hours in the state, driving through the southwestern corner.
I wanted to get to Oklahoma because of the WCWS, the Women’s College World Series – also known as the NCAA Division 1 college softball championship. You see, eight years ago when I was in Portland, I was flipping through the TV channels one Saturday afternoon and stumbled across the WCWS. It was a five-day softball tournament held every June in Oklahoma City featuring the 8 surviving teams from an initial field of 64, to determine that year's college softball champion.
I’ve always been a big supporter of women’s sports because, over the years, I’ve gotten tired of rooting for arrogant, overpaid male athletes, and there’s not much of that (either arrogance or wealth) in women’s sports. Besides, I like to see women succeed in whatever they do: in the classroom, in the boardroom, or on the athletic field. Except for Hope Solo, most women athletes are easy to root for, while male athletes? Not so much, in my opinion. I don’t have a lot in common with some guy who pulls in $3 million a year and then whines about it, and you don’t see a lot of that on the women’s side. I’m a huge sports fan, but unlike most sports fans, I root for players and not teams. In other words, I look past the team and ask myself, “Is this player someone I could root for?”
Anyway, I started watching the softball tournament that year, in 2008, and got hooked. I’d never watched college softball before but found it fascinating, just as fascinating as Major League Baseball but without the ridiculous salaries and pouty behavior. And each year afterwards in early June, I got hooked all over again. So after watching the WCWS for several years, I told myself that one day I was going to go to Oklahoma City and watch the tournament in person, and I figured this road trip would be a great opportunity to do just that.
Last January while I was still in Qatar, I thought about the upcoming tournament in June, so I got online to check out the ticket situation. The tickets had gone on sale a month earlier and all the infield seats were sold out, but there were still plenty of seats in the outfield so I ordered a ticket in left field for $125, which was good for all 17 games of the tournament. And then a few weeks later, I figured I better buy a ticket in right field, just in case I didn’t like my left-field seat, thinking I could always sell whichever ticket I didn’t want. So I had two tickets now, one I was going to use and other I was going to sell.
And that’s why I was driving from Austin to Oklahoma City. I hoped to find a state park campground in Oklahoma City and camp there for a week, figuring it would be much cheaper than staying in a motel.
The drive north on I-35 from Austin was pretty uneventful, though it seemed like the entire freeway, from Austin to Oklahoma, was one giant construction zone. There had been lots of flooding nearby during the previous weeks, as well, and that didn’t help. But after passing through Waco and Fort Worth and a bunch of other towns I don’t remember, I reached the Oklahoma border at the appropriately-named Red River in the early afternoon.
A couple hours later, I pulled off at Norman, just south of Oklahoma City and the home of the University of Oklahoma, then headed east for a few miles to a place called Lake Thunderbird State Park. I’d checked out this park online months earlier while I was in Qatar and it seemed like a pretty decent place. It took me 45 minutes of circuitous driving around this very large park, but I finally found the campground. It was a pretty sketchy campground, to say the least, with sparse campsites and I was starting to have doubts about staying here, but then I walked into the restroom.
Oh My God – and I don’t use that phrase often. Now, I’ve seen a lot of questionable restrooms in my travels (indeed, when I was a backcountry ranger, I didn’t even have a restroom for two entire summers) and I’ve spent a lot of time in developing countries, like Belize, Malaysia and the Middle East, so I’ve seen some pretty nasty affairs. But this was the scariest, most disgusting restroom I’ve seen in my life, bar none. Broken windows, broken urinals, clogged toilets. The list goes on and on, but you get the idea, but maybe you wish you hadn’t.
After spending 10 seconds inside the “Restroom from Hell,” I firmly decided that there was no way in hell I was staying at Lake Thunderbird State Park, so I took out my cell phone, got online and looked at my options. There was a motel called "America’s Best Value Inn" on the northeast side of Oklahoma City and, at $58 a night, it wasn’t that much more expensive than the state park, so I booked a room for several nights and headed north, then checked in an hour later. It definitely wasn’t luxurious but it was exactly what it said, a good value, and I was content. Whether it was America’s absolutely best value inn was a matter of opinion, and that sort of phrase was bordering on the domain of an Extreme Geographer to investigate. Perhaps a future road trip?
The first thing I did after checking in was drive to the nearby Love’s gas station where I bought a large pepperoni pizza for 10 bucks, which was another great value. As I settled in back at my motel room, with a ginormous pizza and orange soda in front of me and ESPN on the tube, I figured this motel room – the first motel of my journey so far – would work out just fine.
The first pitch was at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning and I was ready.
North to Oklahoma City