Lillian Guess isn't sure whether it's the beauty of the countryside, the nightly chats around a communal campfire or just the chance to relive a piece of history that draws her back to a trail ride every year.
The 35th annual trail ride sponsored by the Sooner Teamsters and Trail Riders Association begins Thursday near Lawton. The 144-mile, nine-day trek commemorating the Land Run of 1889 concludes with an 89er Day Parade in Norman on April 20.
This is the 23rd year that Guess, who lives in Noble, has participated in the ride. She'll finish the ride on Cherokee, an older, gaited horse that has accompanied her on several of the treks.
“Cheyenne is getting older, so I'll finish the ride on him, but he's too old to make the whole trip. I'll ride some younger horses for the first part of the journey,” she said.
For Ray Waldron, the annual ride is a vacation he wouldn't miss. At 88 — he turns 89 in July — Waldron is the oldest participant, known to his fellow travelers as “Papa Ray.”
“I've crossed rivers, forded streams, gotten cold, gotten wet, but I've always enjoyed it. It gives me something to do,” Waldron said.
Waldron sleeps nightly in his well-equipped red wagon, unlike most of the travelers who ride all day but sleep nights in air-conditioned trailers or recreational vehicles. They get up each morning and drive their trailers to the next night's camp, then catch a bus back so they can ride the trail.
About 100 people and 25 wagons will make this year's trip. At 4 mph, the wagons average 20 miles a day. The group camps at ranches on the way, ending the ride with a stay April 18 at the Expo Center in Purcell and a campout at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds on April 19.
The public is invited to the Purcell or Norman campsites to visit.
Riding the trail is a way of reliving history and educating future generations about Oklahoma history, Guess said.
“You have to experience it to really appreciate what it feels like,” she said. “When you get on one of those wagons, time slows down. You slow down. You get to really communicate with people. There's really nothing like it.”