It was my intention to stop by the office and pay for the campsite I was occupying at Lake Catherine once I woke up, but then I woke up at two in the morning and couldn’t sleep again. I was anxious and restless, ready to hop back in the car and charge. My idea was to hit almost the whole of Indian Territory in Oklahoma. As the days left on my trip began to wind down, my desire to stuff them beyond maximum capacity only escalated.
I tried to calm my frenzied mind, climbing up into a cross-legged position and attempting to monitor my breathing. Instead, my breaths came out hard and forceful, like those of a woman in labor. I zipped the door opened and tried again. The stars were showing above the pine trees. A few of them were scattered in the branches like Christmas lights. There it was, the electric hum of the crickets and cicadas that accompanied me for most of the journey. Lights from houses that circled the lake reflected off it; white, silver, yellow, orange. They rippled across it and then rippled through my mind. My mind was still racing.
Something raced past the door of the tent. Then another. I picked up my flashlight to investigate. It was four racoons, their eyes shining in the glare. One was already up a tree. Two others had begun to climb it. The fourth sat motionless on the ground. I sat back down and tried to calm my mind. It was impossible. I jumped up and started to break down camp.
It was the middle of the night. I was on my way to Oklahoma. I went gliding out of the campground, past the many RVs and registration office. Sorry about that. Many deer were standing by the side of the road. Their eyes looked like lanterns. Two of them crossed the road ahead of me, crouched as low as coyotes. I stopped for gas and got a coffee and Hostess cupcake. I had a long day ahead of me.
I took the 70 all the way to Broken Bow, driving through the dark night, with my headlights on bright for most of the time. My aim was to reach the Choctaw Indian Reservation. The first sign of it was the lights of the Choctaw Casino in Durant. I stopped at the travel plaza to fill up on gas and get coffee. Then I drove into downtown, the first light of day only now breaking in my rear-view mirror. There were two statues of horses at the Heritage Plaza, one on its hindlegs, bucking its way to freedom.
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is the second largest reservation in America. In the 1830s, many Choctaws living in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana were moved to Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi. This relocation, known as the Trail of Tears, shattered their way of life and identity. Other tribes that were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands included the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole. My hope was to visit the Choctaw Cultural Center, but it was closed. Instead, I crossed the road to the casino, and saw the Tim McGraw, Reba, and Keith Urban were playing there later that year.
It was two hours to get to the Chickasaw Nation. It covers 7,600 square acres in south-central Oklahoma and the tribe is the thirteenth largest in the States. To get there I took the 70 west to the I-35 and headed north. I exited on the 7 and came to the Chickasaw Cultural Center, which fortunately was open.
There was a large museum to explore, with interesting statues out front. Out back they were demonstrating a circle dance, which was one of the highlights of my trip so far. An elder was explaining the tradition behind the dance and seven young dancers were demonstrating. The women had cans with rocks or beads inside strapped to their legs that rattled when they danced. These were particularly apparent when they did the stomp dance. They also used deer hooves and turtle shells as percussion instruments.
It was another hour and a half to get to Oklahoma City. All I did was drive up there and cruise around the downtown for ten minutes. I didn’t have a destination. I was just passing through. When I left town, I went to get on the 40 east, needing, for some odd reason, to merge onto the freeway from the right. Someone wasn’t paying attention, and I came a quarter of an inch from being sideswiped by a car roaring past in the next lane.
Once again, I could not afford for something like that to happen. I was getting into the homestretch now. I could taste it. One false move and everything would go straight down the tubes. I would have to keep my eyes wide open from now on.