Born To Be Wild! Travelling Route 66 On A Harley
Since Billy Connolly and his greasy pony tail cruised along Route 66 on the popular ITV series in 2010, the bike- riding British public simply cannot get enough of Harley Holidays . We recently arranged a Route 66 Harley Holiday for a terrific group of guys from the UK and Phil Colman did a great job of blogging about the trip: He’s kindly agreed to let us publish his account of the adventure. Over to you Phil……(far right)
Day 1: May 2012. Getting there.
OK, so the day had finally come – all packed and ready, say goodbye (and happy birthday to Melanie my wife) with lots of ‘be carefuls’ being offered.
We get to the airport early and take our time to check in – everything relaxed. All goes well so we decide to eat something before the flight. After waiting some 30 minutes for the food we get up to go after several warnings to the waiter that we don’t have the time for this. As we leave he comes out of the kitchen with our order. Oh dear!
We sit on the aircraft and are told that there is a discrepancy between fuel gauge and what the fuel tanker says we have on board. After an hour-and-a-half delay they decide that measuring the fuel level with a stick isn’t good enough and we disembark. A few hours later we board another plane and are on our way.
The guy behind me hasn’t understood the concept of a ‘touch’ screen. He is more of the ‘jab it hard’ school which has a hugely annoying effect.
8 hours later we arrive in Chicago, the Windy City, just in time to join the others for a meal at the Cheesecake Factory (cholesterol here we come). We meet Laura (known as Lala – yup – sounds as it spells). Tinkie Winkie, Dipsy and Po are not to be seen. Other characters are Mark – identifiable by cowboy hat – and a guy known as ‘The Preacher’. This could be colourful! Everyone is hugely friendly.
Weather is set to be very hot tomorrow but we are warned that in a few days we are heading into some wet weather.
After a long day it’s off to bed – writing this at 23:10 local time which is 05:10 in the UK.
Day 2: Collecting the bike and off to Springfield, Illinois
We woke up after our long first day still a little bit in UK time zone. i.e. we woke up at 04:00 and were wide awake. We got up at 05:00 ravenous and keen to get on a bike.
We had been assigned RED group which was to be the lead group for the day. We had 13 bikes (lucky) and would be together for the day led by Mark.
Our bags were loaded onto the support vehicle driven Gladys and we piled into a coach to take us for breakfast. It seemed a long way to breakfast (stupid to say that really with a 2,500 mile trip ahead of us) but we soon arrived at a bowling alley near to Eaglerider offices. Breakfast was bacon, toast, pancakes and maple syrup – my favourite.
Sorting out all the paperwork was a little time consuming but soon we all had our rides. I had mine re-wired by the guys at Eaglerider to allow me to have power for the iPhone so that I could report our GPS position (www.mapmytracks.com/hub/wildhogblog).
We visited the Gemini Giant, an old filling station, and several other remnants of Route 66. The ride was great; we slowly left behind shopping malls, small industry and houses and broke out into wide open plains of some seriously huge farmland. We crossed over the occasional bridge to see a lazy river slide beneath. We were away from the hustle and bustle, out into a massive sprawling countryside broken only the odd farm and amenities at major crossroads.
We stopped for our first diner experience. The decor played to the Route 66 theme and the booths inside the diner were just what you would see in any American movie portraying the 50s. The heat was pretty intense, but I’m told nothing compared to the desert (gulp). I changed from my normal biking gear into a mesh jacket provided by Eaglerider and was much more comfortable. I consumed about 6 bottles of icy water during the day and didn’t need to visit the mens room all day – it would be easy to become dehyrated.
The roads are pretty straight and uneventful with welcome diversions into old towns to see Route 66 memorabilia. I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I realise I’m actually doing it – riding across the USA on a Harley.
As we rolled into the last stop before Springfield, Illinois I suspect that my Road King is broken, so we swap it for a ‘softtail’. It looks very hillbilly to me with studded and tassled panniers, but it rides much better than the broken Road King.
It is about 21:30 as I’m writing this – we are absolutely shattered and struggled our way through a burger and beer at Brennigans. After today it has become apparent that this will be quite a challenge. The first 200 miles are done and it seems a long long way left to go.
Up and out by 08:00 tomorrow morning – off to St Louis, Missouri, the Arch and the Mississippi. I hope they’ve fixed my RoadKing.
Day 3: To St Louis, Missouri
Was a much shorter day than yesterday. Probably well planned because many of us were stiff and tired from day 1. Just sitting on a different bike with your arms higher or lower, further forward or back than usual has a huge effect on comfort.
First we stopped at the diner that invented the corn-dog, the Cozy Dog. A hot dog on a stick with corn batter around it. Can’t say it looked too appealing but hey – it was invented here. We rode some of the original ‘block-paved’ sections of Route 66, and it seems there isn’t much of it left. Then we stopped at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch where we saw some old Route 66 petrol pumps, a few old cars and several Volkswagen Golfs planted upright in the ground (I think the VW golf here was known as the rabbit). Not quite the Cadillac sculpture we will see later in the tour, but whichever way you look at it the question ‘why’ hangs in the air. The best part was a very tame rabbit sat on the shop counter wearing a cowboy hat.
Then we stopped in a picturesque town square for a coffee before shooting down to cross the Mississippi by the ‘Chain of Rocks Bridge’. This bridge used to form part of Route 66 and is now not used by motor vehicles. It is over 1 mile long and gets its name from the chain of rocks across the Mississippi river that cause rapids.
Back over the bridge and down to St Louis by about 15:00. The St Louis Arch is huge and stands some 600+ feet in the air. We tried to get the train to the top, but the last tickets for the day had been sold as today is Memorial Day and many families are out and about.
We grab a cab to the local Harley Dealer to stock up on some items we now know we must have for the trip – long sleeve t shirts for the desert, fingerless gloves to stop your hands melting in the heat – and one or two other items I will have to explain to Mrs Colman when I get home!
Out for dinner we stop at the Morgan Street Brewery to sample their fine locally brewed ales – like most American beer it is a bit fizzy and cold compared to English beer – however we still managed to sink a few.
Whilst riding today I had a big grin on my face as we swept across the countryside – I can’t explain what it is but the punch from the acceleration of the Harley, the distinctive throbbing sound of the exhaust and the openness of the roads is intoxicating. I’m loving it. There is nothing quite like doing something you always wanted to do. The places we visit are great to look at and allow us to have a break from the riding – but I find myself keen to move on and get the bike rolling again. I look at the map and realise that it has taken us two days to get to St Louis, the rest of the distance now looks quite daunting, but I’m really looking forward to the miles to come.
The guys at Eagle Rider couldn’t be more enthusiastic or helpful, keeping nearly 40 people together on bikes is a difficult thing but they seem to love what they do which makes a big difference.
Subject: Day 4 – 280 miles to Joplin, Missouri
Our longest day so far, we were with the third group of riders this morning, and that group was led by ‘Preacher’ who, I have to say, could stand a Harley on it’s nose with ease. I was following him today down the highway and he was intrigued by a large truck/tractor unit being towed backwards along the road. This had an odd effect of making you think a truck was coming directly at you down the highway. Preacher decided he needed a closer look so rode right up behind it. I was next in the formation so I switched on my video camera and tried to get close as well to video Preacher’s antics. I got as close as I dared and I have to tell you it looked like Preacher was almost touching the truck with his front wheel – I didn’t have the nerve to get any closer. Then he took out a camera and using both hands started either videoing or taking pictures. His bike has cruise control.
Later in the day we were riding down a straight piece of very old Route 66 which rose and fell with the contours of the land. Preacher was in front of me taking a video on his iPhone (using both hands) of the rest of the group riding behind him. By the way both manoeuvres were undertaken at 50+MPH.
We travelled towards a place called Devils Elbow, famous for a rather nasty corner. On the way there we had to travel along the ZZ road, a fabulous set of twists and turns amongst beautiful trees dappled in sunlight. Pure riding heaven. Preacher had got the measure of the group of Brits and shot off at a good enough pace to make the riding interesting.
Stopping for lunch at a Barbecue restaurant we were advised to ‘try the ribs’. By the time we had finished I was covered in barbecue sauce, was rather sticky and unbelievably full. Our bikes groaned as we got back on them. We covered a lot of miles on the freeway and just avoided a rainstorm brewing in the distance. We would have been glad of getting wet as it was still hot, but not as bad a yesterday.
We turned off the freeway back onto Old Route 66 to go to Gary’s Gay Parita filling station. An ancient but very courteous and welcoming Gary was there to greet us all. There were Route 66 ‘Root beers’ to drink and t-shirts and other memorabilia. There was no till, no people to collect your money and swipe your credit card – on trust you were invited to donate to the upkeep of the service station in a small wooden box on the wall. Gary was a fabulous character telling stories of the old days and chatting up all the women.
Today was long and a little tiring, but super riding with a some great stops on the way. Tomorrow we leave Missouri and head into Oklahoma for another 259 miles.
Need some sleep now.
Day 5: To Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Back with Mark (the cowboy with a rock star cracked voice) today as our guide. We started the day with a visit to the local biker chapter and the whole group of around 40 bikes meets up with the local riders who escort us around town and on our way. As the entire group queues up for petrol (gas) there was an interesting cultural exchange whereby there was an energetic and frank exchange of information between a Brit and one of our Austrian bretheren as to the remarkable variations in queuing etiquette.
We visited the local sites such as the Blue Whale and a couple of motorbike museums where it was possible to buy yet more t-shirts. What we need is a stop to purchase luggage as we are rapidly running out of space. The welcome as always was superb wherever we stopped.
For the bikers amongst you I started to think a bit about what I was experiencing and what was good and bad about it. The Harley machine is perfectly suited to the American habitat. Wide open roads with very few tight bends (so far) and it purrs along in glorious style and is very comfortable – I would hate to do this trip on a sports bike. After a few days, however, even a comfortable bike will show your weaknesses. Mine is between the shoulders. I have sat upright, leaned forwards, leaned backwards, slouched, stood up, swung my legs around, ridden with one hand and put my feet up on the engine protector bars which has the pleasing effect of sending a blast of cool air up your trouser legs :-)) Some of my colleagues have aches and pains where even the most dedicated masseuse would fear to go. We have seen freeways, roadworks, small town centres, extremely old Route 66 sections where your fillings are rattled and had some fabulous long sweeping curvy bits. America is no doubt a beautiful country and at the moment it is still very lush and green, but you can feel the heat build as we move south towards Texas. The stuff on the side of the road (the dead stuff) is also a change from what we are used to in the UK: Deer, armadillos, skunks and squirrels and even a turtle of some form I saw today. A skunk is easiest to identify from the horrible ‘burning tyre’ smell.
I was told by an American friend that the difference between the English and the Americans is that Americans think 90 years is a long time and the English think 90 miles is a long way. As I have listened to some of the people at the stops on Route 66 these heritage sites are within living history; people remember Model T Fords bumper to bumper going west. The guy who met us at the Blue Whale told us his father built it. The English in the group have realised through their aches and pains that 256 miles day after day is a long way.
Day 6: 271 miles to Amarillo, Texas
Lala started the day with an explanation that the roads today were mostly ‘this’ (she held her arm out straight) a little bit ‘this’ (as she snaked her hand up and down) and none of ‘that’ (as she snaked her hand left to right).
I have no idea what Tony Christie was on about with “Is this the way to Amarillo” – it’s easy mate, just follow the dead straight road with signposts to Amarillo for 200 miles. Bill – one of the wags in the group – spent all day asking any local he met whether this was the way to Amarillo – not a single bite.
If you have ever seen Disney’s film Cars by Pixar you would have seen a part of the film where they illustrate how the old roads used to pass through the landscape and rise and fall with the contours of the land, and that the freeways just cut straight through it. We travelled down Route 66 up and down over softly undulating land with a freeway right next to us that was dead flat. I have to say that Route 66 was more fun to travel on, except for a section of concrete road where each section of concrete had a dip before the next section started; at about 65 MPH this hit you about every second. It was quite annoying after a few miles but had the amusing effect of making the crash helmets in front of me all dance up and down in rhythm.
Through all the farmland that we had travelled over the last few days, there had been an odour that was missing – manure. It was as if there were no animals in that part of the world. Now we were moving out of Oklahoma and into Texas we were travelling down the Chisholm Trail, where cattle from the great ranches were driven to the rail head for distribution. Yesterday I saw my first ‘nodding donkey’ oil well pump and today I saw my first water pump windmill – you know the type in every western movie – on a tall pylon with a round fan affair and a vane to keep it facing the wind.
We had been travelling through Indian native reserves for the last day or so and stopped at our first Indian trading post (actually a very flashy shop attached to a fuel service station). I will wait until I get to Santa Fe before shopping for gifts.
The Route 66 museum we stopped at was closed, so we shot off to see another one. When we got there the group decided that it would rather have lunch and so we moved on without seeing more Route 66 memorabilia – but we took advantage for a group photo in front of the huge Route 66 sign.
We got off the freeway onto another piece of Route 66 that could be ridden and passed through one of the ghost towns caused by the arrival of the freeway. It was a bit sad really as these places had been businesses and homes in the past and were now just rotting away.
We took a photo opportunity at the Texas border state line and from here on in the “don’t litter” signs changed to ” Don’t mess with Texas” signs.
As a fuel stop we visited the inspiration for the Tower of Tyres owned by Luigi in Pixar’s Cars.
Then we drove off to the much promised Devils Rope Museum, a museum dedicated to barbed wire. I know what you are thinking, and yes, actually it was a bit ‘odd’ but I am now very impressed by the variations of types of barbed wire and the tools and mechanisms to erect and tension it. Bill bought the T-shirt.
As I sit here tonight I am full of fillet steak from the Big Texan – an open dining experience where a few head of cattle are consumed every evening. When we arrived one guy was at the top table under a digital clock trying to finish a 72 ounce steak and trimmings all in 1 hour. You have to imagine a steak that is as thick as your arm and bigger than a dinner plate – I felt ill looking at it. As the last few seconds ticked down he managed to cram the last few chips down his neck and was declared a winner – what they didn’t see was the bread roll that he palmed away under the table (we didn’t tell).
Tomorrow we are off to Santa Fe where we will spend two nights. It’s only 280 miles away….
Day 7: 280 miles to Santa Fe, New Mexico
Wow – what a day!
Straight outside of Amarillo is the Cadillac Ranch; yep, it’s just a bunch of old Cadillacs buried in the ground alongside the main highway – but these things are painted on with spray paints by everyone who visits. Ooccasionally they are all painted one colour to ‘refresh the palate’. The paint is about 1-2cm thick.
Then off to Magnolia Station, an old filling station that has been restored, and quickly on to the midway point of Route 66. The lady who owned the cafe until just this year was called Flo and she was the inspiration for the character in Pixar’s Cars. In fact the old car outside the cafe looks suspiciously like the model for Flo as a car. As soon as we left the Midway point the whole environment changed; from what were lush grasslands ripe for cattle, the road dipped down an escarpment and we were suddenly in something more like desert. That happened in about 1 mile of travel. This was rapidly followed by the end of Texas and the start of New Mexico.
We visited a ghost town and walked around an old motel which was in ruins. It seemed a bit sad as it had obviously been a nice place at some time past.
For lunch another diner. As I was taking some photos a local gent said “if you want to take a photo, take a photo of this” and he revealed a Colt 45 pistol under his waistcoat. I can’t say I like guns much, but thought it wise to snap a few pictures.
The main ‘feature’ of the day was wind. Preacher was hurrying us down the freeway and the wind was so strong that it was wise to hold on ‘very tight’. The wind came hammering across the freeway from the horizon which was uninterrupted from any direction. Soon we started to see some rock stacks a bit like Monument Valley, and that was followed by more and more hilly country – absolutely beautiful. I won’t waste words telling you how it felt to ride through that scenery. The wind was still pretty spectacular and the locals were a bit concerned that a large storm was coming in. Just before we got to Santa Fe we stopped off at the Pecos village. Well, we arrived at the main gate which was half open and the sign said closed at 5pm. It was about 5:20 so preacher led us inside for a quick look as often official guides get some leeway.
We all rolled up to the main car park next to some offices – nobody about – Preacher shot off to the main offices and told us to wait there and take a few pictures. No sooner had he gone than a small woman dressed in park ranger uniform with a heavily laden utility belt (including gun) accosted us, shouted and threatened to give us tickets, I was just waiting for the gun to be pulled – she was quite remarkably out of order, but was not capable of listening to anyone. So we all duly left. On reflection I guess that one small woman with a gun could still be intimidated by 15 bikers on Harleys – even if we were respectable English business folks.
Out for a tour around Santa Fe tonight, maybe off on a 150 mile loop through the mountains tomorrow, or maybe a big lie in around the pool and a bit or retail therapy.
Day 8: Rest day in Santa Fe, New Mexico
We gained an hour by travelling west yesterday and set the alarm clock for 07:00 (effectively 08:00). When it rang we ignored it and slept in a bit more – no rush to “move it out!” today. Last night we grabbed dinner at the Coyote Cafe and I had a Navajo taco – pulled pork, ground buffalo, chile, salad, guacamole and some other stuff I couldn’t recognise. It was pretty filling. We sank a few margeritas as the beer is not agreeing with us much. Any excuse.
So when this morning came we decided to take the Harleys into town. We didn’t want to wait for the bus or pay for a taxi so that meant minimal protective gear, otherwise we would be walking around town in the days heat in heavy gear. Boots, jeans and a mesh protective jacket and helmet was the lowest protection we were prepared to go. Most of the locals obviously consider ‘suncream’ to be satisfactory protection as they roll around with shorts and t-shirts and sandals.
Santa Fe is full of artists, craft folks and shops selling goods from the local pueblos made by the likes of the Navajo Indians. The quality is superb but the prices do tend to match the quality though. You would struggle to browse every shop unless you had 3 or 4 days. I bought a few things for my sons and my wife to take home.
After 2 hours we shot off to the local Harley dealer to browse the bikes and accessories. On the way back we managed to get lost and travelled a few more miles than planned. Back to Santa Fe for lunch and then off to the Veterans Memorial Cemetery. This is a place where surviving veterans of any war in which America was involved can choose to be buried when they pass away. Although a little sad to see so many beautifully ordered white headstones, it was a fabulously kept and impressive place. As we sedately rode our bikes through the many small roads on the hillside we came upon more and more gravestones as they travelled over the top of the hill and beyond.
Everywhere we went today, it was impossible to avoid a conversation with the locals. Just opening your mouth with an English accent and carrying a crash helmet was an opening for a chat. Everyone was hugely friendly, wanting to know where we had started and where we were headed.
One memorable conversation happened in a trading post. A very “friendly” sales lady accosted us at the door and was busy showing us everything and ceaselessly talking. She eventually introduced another colleague, a petite blonde lady wearing glasses, as a fellow biker. She spoke with a southern drawl and explained that “she had been the passenger, taking the photos, the flasher”. I looked at her through my eyebrows and the first lady said ” Oh lordy no, she didn’t mean that, she meant the photo flash” – where the second lady said “No…. I meant the flasher”; her eyes twinkled for a moment, she blushed and lady number 1 looked horrified. We bit our lips and left as soon as was polite.
Day 9: 255 miles to Gallup, New Mexico
I wrote a blog yesterday on our day off, but was unable to send it because the wireless signal was too weak, as was the orange juice for breakfast and the excuses from the hotel as to why the pool was closed.
We were the early group this morning and set off through the outskirts of Santa Fe. Our group leader passed through some lights and then they turned orange, at which point I stepped on the brakes. Behind me and to my left was Nick and directly behind me was Bill – unfortunately Bill didn’t manage to stop in time and ran into the back of Nick’s bike. Nick – noticing that his bike was having an accident – stepped off calmly. A few bits of dented chrome, and Bill’s knee is a bit sore, but we all walked away. In the second group there was a coming together between one of the bikes and a car at a junction. A glancing blow but enough to turn the bike over and do some more damage to chrome.
So after that excitement we headed for Madrid the scene of the Wild Hogs film. We stopped at Maggie’s diner (which isn’t a diner) and met Maggie. We took the obligatory pictures in front of the diner and just stopped short of wrapping one of us in gaffer tape and hanging him from the local tree (you need to see the film). We then headed for the old centre of Albuquerque for coffee and then off to the Sky City
Now we were entering interesting riding territory; sweeps and bends in fantastic desert scenery. Sky City is an Indian Pueblo that has been built on a sandstone stack a few hundred feet above the valley floor. We were not allowed to go there or even take pictures – just look. Pug – one of the real bikers on the tour – commented that the buildings looked just like “portacabins painted up a bit”. I’m not sure the village elders would have approved but he had a point. Using binoculars you could see what looked like portaloos dotted around the outskirts of the town. Maybe that’s why visitors are not allowed.
Finally we arrived at the continental divide, the point at which all rainfall east of this point flows into the Mississippi, and west of this point flows into the Pacific. There was nothing visibly, geographically remarkable about this spot, but we took some photos anyway.
At the end of the day we rolled into a super old hotel ‘El Rancho’ where a lot of the 1930/40’s Hollywood stars would stay as they filmed westerns in the surrounding countryside. Tomorrow – The Grand Canyon.
Day 10: 290 miles to Grand Canyon, Arizona
We have just returned from watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon. The Canyon was so impressive that Pug was forced to comment how much like Newport Pagnell it was.
It is difficult to gauge the sheer scale of it but it doesn’t matter who you are – it’s impressive.
Today was a good day but physically quite hard. We started off crossing the Arizona state line and gained another hour in time zones. The weather has been strange with phenomenal winds, and they continued through today. We were riding our bikes constantly leaning to the left to keep them on the road with gusts up to 60 miles per hour. As we approached the national park that holds the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert we picked up a huge amount of dust. Most of our clothes and electronic kit is now full of dust. We have been air-blasted and finally sand-blasted. I for one have been wind-burned today, any part of your face or hands exposed suffered.
The Petrified Forest is the remains of trees from thousands of years ago, buried in mud, minerals eventually replacing the wood and then erosion revealing the trees. Alongside this spectacle is the Painted Desert which is an eroded landscape with multiple colours caused by the minerals in the soil. The wind was so strong now it was difficult to stand upright to take a photo. In fact the usual sport of seeing how far you could lean into the wind without falling over ensued.
As we rode from one end of the park top the other the sand blasting continued and the landscape made it feel like we were riding on the moon.
We then stopped for fuel and had a bite to eat at Denny’s, which has just about everything you want to eat, but you know you shouldn’t. I had a strawberry milkshake that came in two containers because it was so big, and a double cheese burger which stood about 6 inches high.
The we shot off down the freeway at high speed (and a left leaning angle) to Winslow and “took it easy”, standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona. Not being an Eagles fan it was all a bit lost on me.
Then off to Flagstaff down the freeway through sand storms and heavier winds. We gained about 2000 feet in altitude and the unseasonably cold weather was made very difficult riding at speed in our summer gear (we had expected from Texas west to be sweltering). By the time we got to Flagstaff I was so cold that I made for the first store I could find and bought a sweatshirt (heaven). We rode for another 70 odd miles up over a range of hills that took us up to 8031 feet (very cold) to the Grand Canyon Village. We checked in to the hotel and everyone put on at least 3 extra layers for the ride to the Grand Canyon for the sunset.
I’m now sitting listening to a Country and Western singer murder every song. They have both types of music here – Country and Western. Thank God he’s taken a break: Mick says that it must be the start of ‘Happy Hour’
Up at 07:00 tomorrow for a helicopter ride over the Canyon.
Day 11: Best riding yet – Laughlin, Nevada
We completed a superb day by riding into Laughlin (a mini las vegas). After having ridden across some of the most beautiful rugged country and some superb driving roads it was a bit of an assault on the senses to suddenly see an adult playground with people blasting about on jet skis and powerboats next to high rise buildings and neon signs. We had just travelled down from Oatman, a real old western mining town. I have decided not to like Laughlin already.
The day started early with a flight over the Grand Canyon, the statistics came thick and fast and I only remember some of them but they were all pretty impressive (10 miles wide on average, over 1 mile deep at some points; the Colorado river is 300 feet wide etc etc). What you lose is any ability to comprehend the scale of it. As you look at it your mind tends to shrink things for you, so the other side looks like it might be a long way away, but surely not 10 miles. When you fly in the helicopter and see how fast it is going, but the scenery isn’t moving very fast at all, you begin to appreciate just how big it is.
During this day we dropped 6000 feet (not in the helicopter, but on the ride) So we started the day with freezing temperatures and ended them with 90 degree heat.
The first stop was Williams, Arizona. We had coffee to warm up at what was originally the town bordello, the Red Garter. Pug and Nutty got into the swing of things right away.
Next, a stop at Seligman and lunch at a diner where it seemed everyone had left a business card or a message on the wall. The theme of the serving hatch was to take the mickey out of the customers – I had fake mustard sprayed on me – unfortunately Horst (a rather stern German fellow) didn’t see the funny side.
Then to the highlight of the day, the ride through ‘properly’ twisty roads, like the ones we get in England. I was following two behind Preacher who is a stunning rider; I managed to keep pace, but I’m sure he wasn’t even trying. At the top of the climb he stopped and invited us to go down to the town below by ourselves. The descent into Oatman was the best fun I’ve ever had on a bike and really tested my skills.
Oatman has a small standing army of donkeys and they stood patiently amongst the very noisy Harleys as we arrived. The usual t-shirts, local crafts and assorted goods were available, but the setting was a little bit special; much of the original wooden buildings had survived, and apart from the modern cars and bikes it looked like a movie set.
So off now to find somewhere in this horror movie of a town, to get a quiet bite to eat.
Day 12: To Vegas, Nevada!
We left about 07:30 this morning and I waved enthusiastically as Laughlin disappeared in my mirrors. Up onto the Mojave Desert we hit the longest and straightest road yet. It wasn’t very interesting and at the fuel stop people were wishing for more entertaining riding. In the next few miles we hit the beginnings of the scenery that hosts the Hoover Dam. Some spectacular roads cut through the rugged mountains and it seemed that there were freeways suspended in mid air amongst the rocks. We finally turned off these roads and down a winding side road that took us across the top of the Hoover Dam itself. We parked on the Arizona side of the dam and spend a few minutes walking across and looking over the edge – well those of us without a fear of heights (like me).
Many people died making this dam – a strange fact is that the first and last people to die were father and son.
In the distance after a few miles, we could see the Las Vegas strip. It was still 20 miles away and sat in the middle of a bowl of mountains.
We rolled onto the ‘strip’ and down to the hotel. This is a much more classy place than Laughlin. It ‘feels’ very much like Disney and everywhere you look there is something to entertain you. We walked down to the Bellagio Hotel and watched the fountains that you see on the movie Oceans 11. We are heading to the Harley Davidson cafe for dinner and then off to paint the town red.
Tomorrow – Victorville some 200 miles away and we are crossing the Mojave desert again.
Day 13: 275 miles to Victorville, California
It wasn’t so long ago that doing 200 miles in a day seemed like a real physical challenge. Now we seem to do 275 miles easily – and I mean so easily that it seems like lunchtime now, but the day has passed quickly. Thinking about why we can munch so many miles quite so easily has to do with the roads. They are pretty straight, uninterrupted by junctions, traffic lights, roundabouts – and out here there isn’t much traffic. So the miles fall easily.
I was wondering after all my riding whether I could now say I was an ‘experienced biker’ – I think not. When it comes to straight roads I have it nailed – apart from that I still have some things to learn.
Today was introduced by Lala as ‘Stinkin Hot Desert’ – and she wasn’t wrong. Having lost altitude over the last few days, the temperature has soared. Fortunately for us the temperatures in the high 90s are still relatively low. We finally resorted to a tried and tested technique to give ‘personal air conditioning’ when we were riding. Your choices are: strip back to the bare minimum and risk serious injury if you have an accident (you are not required to wear even a helmet in all states). Or soak your t-shirt in the ice-water bucket and put it on under your mesh protective jacket. Pretty much all of the guys resorted to the latter technique; strangely enough the ladies declined and decided instead to “glow” (horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow).
We pulled out of the Vegas strip at about 08:20 and shot off down the freeway back towards Hoover Dam before turning right and heading west. Stopping at the California state line for yet another photo opportunity, we then crunched a few desert miles on the straightest roads you have ever seen. You come to a ridge and there it is stretching to the horizon; arrive at that horizon and there it is off to the next horizon. The scenery is beautiful, but it becomes a blur as distant rocky hills remain at a distance, no matter how far you travel, and you are surrounded by miles of scrub land and desert.
All along this section of road people have stopped to write their names in neatly arranged rocks on the dirt. We rolled into Amboy where the station owner had a bucket of iced water ready to cool us down. Roys of Amboy is an old fuel stop and motel that is surrounded by miles of nothing, and would have been a welcome stop to the early travellers in their Model T Fords heading West. As I was hammering down Route 66 on my modern vehicle I began to marvel at the feat of travelling Route 66 in an old piece of 1920/30’s machinery. At an average speed of around 30mph it must have taken months and must have been quite risky to cross these desert areas.
The last visit of the day was to the Bottle Tree Ranch – owned by a rather eccentric retired marine. It was……er….. interesting and not a little bit odd.
Tomorrow – Los Angeles and the end of the road.
The last day: To Los Angeles, California.
Victorville is only about 80 miles away from Los Angeles, so we imagined that we would ride for a VERY short time, take a few photos with the Hollywood sign behind us and then run on to Santa Monica pier to the end of the Route 66.
If you look on google maps at Victorville and trace a route to Los Angeles it is very straight and boring. However if you scroll northwards you will find Angeles Crest Highway. It is a very wiggly line – biker paradise!
As we got off the freeway and started to climb there was a very distinctive fragrance that initially reminded me of hops and malt at a brewery, but it seemed to be a mix of pine and the local flowers. We rode around rocks, trees, sweeping bends, crests and dips in on a superb road surface. Nothing is ever perfect ,though, and because of the rocky environment there were often rocks in the road; even small ones have the ability to drop your bike if you happen to hit it in a tight corner.
Throughout the trip we have delighted to see a small yellow sign that has a wiggly black arrow pointing upwards denoting bendy roads. Under the sign there is an indication for how far these roads will continue. At the start of this road we saw a wonderful black wiggly sign; it said “for 53 miles”. You could hear the collective cheer from the group.
Then we reached LA. What a nightmare! The traffic is like the M25 in rush hour but it was only 12:00. We rode down freeway after freeway, full of expensive BMWs and Mercedes. Some of the houses we passed were fabulous. This place smells of money.
Eventually we turned onto Santa Monica pier, over a tarmac bridge and onto the wooden boards of the pier. We parked up and had a small YeeHaa! which we reserved Brits had been practicing along our journey. I had mixed feelings; great that we had done it but a little deflated that it was over. We took the group photo by the end of Route 66 sign on the pier. We consoled ourselves by having lunch at “Bubba Gumps” a Forrest Gump based seafood cafe. A great place I would highly recommend.
We then walked to the end of the pier and stared out over the Pacific. Everything from here was East. If this environment was what awaited the Route 66 pioneers in their Model T Fords all those years ago, then I can totally understand why they made the effort. There was the occasional grumble that neither Pamela Anderson nor Jasmine Bleeth were running in slow motion down the beach in unfeasibly tight red swimsuits to rescue someone, but the sunshine was glorious and the temperature a very pleasant 70+.
We handed the bikes back to Eaglerider and I took a photo of the odometer. I will do the maths later and announce the winner. None of our bikes agreed with each other as to how many miles were done. Some registered over 3000 miles, others barely 2700.
If you remember, Nicks bike had an accident. It tore the buckle off his pannier bag and dented the exhaust pipe. Total damage $60. We were amazed! In fact it is worth saying at this point that the whole tour has been excellent. The arrangements, the hotels, the stops, the meals, the guides. There were things that weren’t as expected, there were things that weren’t perfect, but you won’t hear much grumbling from our group.
Call Bon Voyage to discuss your Route 66 holiday on 0800 980 7091. You can experience the mighty The Mother Road adventure on the back of a Harley Davidson, as a Route 66 fly-drive, or on an escorted tour. You decide. We’ll make it happen.