Our bikes had taken us to Texas but our ministry required us to go to Oklahoma. Chaplain Major Doug Gibson had asked me to come to Fort Sill to speak at a Prayer Dinner for the 6th Brigade ADA. No, not the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the Army, ADA stands for Air Defense Artillery.Â The Army is really big on using acronyms. Around noon on Wednesday we left Texas and began our 48 hour detour into Oklahoma, the land of red dirt roads and oppressive heat.
We soon entered the town of Hollis. Darlaâ€™s maiden name is Hollis. We had seen a sign for this town out on the freeway twenty years ago when we were passing through this part of the country. Darla wanted to go then but the town was forty miles off our route and we couldnâ€™t stop. The town has a population around two thousand, one stop light, and two restaurants. One of the restaurants was called The Hollis Inn. We would have liked to stop for a bite to eat but our truck and 35 foot fifth wheel were a little big for the parking
lot. Even though, it was a thrill for Darla to finally get to visit Hollis, Oklahoma. You would think Darla was one of the few people to be thrilled to be in Hollis but, no, there were more. It was common to see bumper stickers and signs that read, â€˜I love Hollisâ€™. Every time I saw one, I thought, So do I.
We arrived in Lawton, just outside Ft. Sill, and I called Chaplain Doug to let him know we were there. He had us meet him just off post so he could lead us to our campground. We followed him through the gate and up a long, winding road to Lake Elmer Thompson Recreation Area, or LETRA, as they called it. Army acronyms, again. Along the road we saw signs warning us of the dangers of being so close to an artillery training area. That was of great concern to us. As we set camp we were visited by a couple of fellow campers. They
were friendly folks with an enjoyable gift of lively conversation. The first was Vince, followed by Willy and Becky. Willy was retired military and had spent much of his service time at Ft. Sill. He invited us to a wild boar roast Friday evening. Willy and Vince had shot a boar that morning and would be serving it up in two days. He informed us the brush and ravines around here had lots of wild pigs in them. Curious, we asked what other forms of wildlife we might encounter. Willy rattled off the list; deer, elk, rabbit, mountain lion,
rattlesnake, tarantulaâ€¦He kept going but we stopped listening after he said tarantula.
In our book about our last journey across America I told you about Darlaâ€™s two greatest fears while pedalingâ€¦dogs and rattlesnakes. Our last ride was across the northern tier of the US. This ride is across the south and soon revealed her greatest fear â€“ tarantulas. We were in the land of the Oklahoma Brown Tarantula. Or, OBT, as the Army might say. Each person we talked to had a story about encounters with this common spider. Our concern about artillery fire soon diminished. I searched the habits of the OBT on the internet and found they were active from sunset to the early morning hours. Most of the people in our team decided they could see no reason they needed to leave the RV after dark. So ended our first day in Oklahoma.
Thursday morning Chaplain Doug picked me up at 7:00AM. We went into the base to speak to the Warriorsâ€™ Transition Unit. The WTU is set up to help soldiers recover from various combat and service related injuries. I make it a priority to speak to the WTU whenever I get the chance. The session went well and I saw a few soldiers I had met when I was at Ft. Sill last November. After the talk Doug took me back up to LETRA to spend the day with Darla, Grant, and Chanel. Darla and I went for a bike ride while Grant and
Chanel explored the lake and swimming area. Afterwards, Darla and the kids rented a paddle boat and cruised around the lake in 104 degree weather.
At 5:30, we headed into the base to speak at the 6th Brigade ADA Prayer Dinner. On the way out of camp we noticed smoke and came upon an area of fires along the road. There were men working on the fires. I thought they werenâ€™t going to let us go through but they finally waved us on. I was surprised there werenâ€™t any water tankers up there trying to put the fires out yet. I figured they knew what they were doing and was glad I wouldnâ€™t have
to call Chaplain Doug and tell him we were stuck up at camp.
The Prayer Dinner was the first one the 6th Brigade ADA had hosted and it went great. I was able to share a clear message of salvation and the importance of following Christ. As an added story, there was a Grandma there with two of her grandchildren. I stopped by their table to visit. The Grandma told me she was from a little town in Idaho I ministered at in the early â€˜90s. She said I spoke at the school and the local church when her daughter (the childrenâ€™s mother) was in high school. She reminded me there was a 14 year old boy in the town that had meningitis and was in a hospital inSeattle and just had both legs amputated. The boy was from a family in town that was known for drinking and drugging. The local pastor asked if I could stop in and see the boy. I visited the boy and he gave his heart to Jesus before I left the room. When the boy told his parents about his new found joy, they gave their lives to Jesus, also. The boy died two weeks later. The Grandma told me the funeral was a blessed testimony for the whole town and the parents are still serving the Lord today. The Grandmaâ€™s daughter is in the Army and serving at Ft. Sill. Recent surgery kept her from coming to the Prayer Dinner but she told her mom, â€œYou are not going to believe it. Bob Mortimer is speaking on base this week.â€ The Grandma said she didnâ€™t know if she was allowed to come hear me but she was coming anyway. It encouraged me greatly to be reminded of how God is working yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
After the Prayer Dinner, we drove off base to fill our truck with diesel. On the way, we noticed huge plumes of smoke in the sky. At the gate I asked the guard if we could go back up the road to LETRA. He said they had closed the road for the fire but we might be able to drive three miles down the highway and come in through another road. We got fuel and headed down the road. One mile down we were stopped by a roadblock. The fire had spread rapidly and jumped the highway in front of us. We could see the flames destroying the
hillsides. We pulled off the road and watched as people hosed down their roofs as the fire departments evacuated people from homes. This had turned into a full scale wildfire.
I turned back towards base in hopes the road was reopened to camp. The guard said they thought it was still closed but a few cars had gone up and not come back. He said we could go at our own risk. I figured we could go up and see if we could get through. It looked promising for a few miles until we came to a roadblock. Two other vehicles from our camp had pulled off to the side. They were going to wait it out and see if they would open the road later. One had tried some side roads, got lost, and came back to here. I wasnâ€™t
willing to wander around the artillery range at 10:00 at night to try to find the back roads so I pulled to the side to wait.
Before long a vehicle came past us, up to the roadblock, turned around and came back down and stopped next to us . The window rolled down and a familiar face appeared.
â€œWilly! What are you doing out here?â€ It was our friends from camp, Willy and Becky with Vince and his wife in the back.
â€œWe spent the day in Oklahoma City and are trying to get back to camp. I am headed up the back roads. Want to follow us?â€
â€œDo you know the back roads?â€ I asked.
â€œOh, yes. He knows the back roads,â€ the rest of the people in the car chorused.
I replied, â€œIâ€™ll follow you, Willyâ€
We turned around and stayed as close behind their car lights as possible. The roads were long, winding, and dark. I was sure glad I was not leading the way. We could see the glow of the fire over the hill and the flash of lightning and explosions in the sky. Our headlights illuminated a rattlesnake crossing the road in front of us and we wondered how many other critters were scurrying about in the darkness. After several miles, we entered LETRA
to the surprise of the other campers there. The fire had not touched the camp but the electricity and water were not working due the power lines being burned in the fire. Willy and Becky were packing a few things to head back to their house in town. We wondered if we should hook up the RV and follow them back out. We were done with our speaking on base and planned to leave in the morning anyway. We could park the RV overnight at WalMart.
The camp seemed safe unless the wind direction changed and brought the fire towards us. The camp director came over to report she had been in contact with her superior and he had not given an evacuation order yet. If he did, we would need to get in our vehicles immediately and leave our RVs behind. The prospect of leaving our RV behind did not seem inviting. I decided we would go and asked Willy if he would wait 30 minutes for us.
We went into â€˜evac â€˜mode and started loading bikes, unhooking utilities, and preparing the RV for departure. All the while, mindful that OBTs (Oklahoma Brown Tarantulas) are most active at night. Darla, Grant, and Chanel worked on the above ground items while I got on the ground to unhook things from underneath. Before long I was backing the truck up to the fifth wheel for final hook-up. It was all done in twenty minutes.
Willy and Becky led us down the mountain to the best WalMart in Lawton. We thanked them for being our heroes and gave them a copy of Hope and Courage Across America. They really helped us out of a tough spot. We found ourÂ place on the edge of the parking lot and settled in for the night. It was midnight.
Friday morning we got up and went into WalMart for breakfast. We grabbed a local paper to read about the fire. The front page article stated 14 homes were burned, seven of them to the ground. The town of Medicine Park was evacuated and the fire was only fifty percent under control. Beneath the article about the fire was a picture of a family enjoying a cool
ride on Lake Thompson in a paddle boat to beat the summer heat. Grant looked closely at the picture and noticed familiar swimsuits.
â€œHey, thatâ€™s us in the picture!â€
Sure enough, Darla, Grant, and Chanel were on the front page paddling across the lake. Amazing.
We pulled out of the WalMart parking lot and headed for the freeway. By noon we were crossing the Oklahoma state line back into Texas. Thus ended our 48 hours in Oklahoma.