Friday 15th June 2001, Ontario CA
The day started badly. Scheduled time for departure from the hotel was 5.15am, with the prospect of a long ride across the Mojave Desert. I don’t think anyone was particularly looking forward to this part of the Rally, save that, by that evening, we would be on the outskirts of LA – near our journey’s end. (That, in itself, brought mixed emotions.)
Thanks to the inefficiencies of the Royal Mail, who had singularly failed to implement the re-direction of our mail at home, John spent 40 minutes, in the early hours, making frantic phone calls to the UK. In consequence, we spent the next few hours playing ‘catch up’ … and, as we all know, John does not do mornings! Definitely not the best start to the day.
We left the hotel 5 minutes after everyone else, to catch a quick breakfast at the nearby truck stop. However, by the time John had stood in line, waiting to pay for some batteries for the CBs, Pat Evans was already putting on his helmet. Brigid had ordered some coffee, but there was no chance of getting anything to eat. We hastily paid for coffee, and John went to buy a chocolate bar.
As he stood in a queue behind several truck drivers paying for fuel, the cavalcade moved out. By now in a rage, John abandoned the chocolate bars and jumped on his bike. Unfortunately, neither of us saw Pat and the others turn right out of the truck stop.
We set off in hot pursuit … in the wrong direction …
Five miles down the road, Brigid (who had been in the lead – and therefore responsible for navigation) pulled over and admitted that she might have got it wrong. After a quick glance at the map, John (getting more cross by the minute) roared off in search of Route 93 South … regrettably, he missed the turning and ended up going North instead. To cut a long story short, after 10 miles and 20 minutes, we ended up back where we started. At this point John suffered a major sense of humour failure, and started throwing his toys around – much to the distress of Brigid, whose mistake had already exacerbated his bad mood.
Then the cavalry arrived in the form of Fred, Joe, Ed & Karen, Doug, Rich, and Frank (who also apparently do not do mornings – having elected to leave an hour later than everyone else – and, fortunately for us, were also going in the wrong direction). They immediately did a U-turn, and we were thankful to tag along behind.
We had some fun on the twisty road up to the old mining town of Oatman. The road is closed to any vehicle over 40 ft, and it is easy to see why. When one comes across roads like this, it is hard to imagine how the early pioneers of Route 66 ever survived, with their open trucks, overloaded with all their worldly possessions.
In Oatman, we caught up with the main group (briefly). The town probably hasn’t changed much in 100 years. We spent a few minutes there, taking photos, and then carried on into the Mojave Desert.
Once past Needles, as far as the eye could see, the land was parched and barren, with no vegetation other than short scrub. It was hot, but we were blessed. I doubt the temperature exceeded 105 degrees at any time. Last year when the Rally crossed the desert, temperatures exceeded 116 degrees. Off the paved road, the ground was littered with rocks and boulders. It made one question how the early travellers ever made the trip with horse-drawn wagons.
Per the itinerary, we stopped at Roy’s Café at Amboy, CA. The stop was scheduled for 32 minutes, but the Café was closed. A few of the group took advantage of the ‘facilities’, then we doused ourselves with cold water from Ed’s coolbox, and carried on the old road through Ludlow to Newbury Springs, passing many rundown dwellings and businesses, long since abandoned.
Newbury Springs has one claim to fame. It is the site of the Bagdad Café, where the film of the same name was shot. The Café itself is a focal point for local characters and travellers alike, for whom it brings welcome relief from the heat.
Service is slow. But then no one who takes the time to call in is in a hurry. We were entertained by ‘General Bob’, a local octogenarian, who told us that he had been awarded 15 degrees by Oxford University in 1917. He also professed to have founded the United Nations. More believably, he claimed a friendship with the actor, Jack Palance, dating back to the 30’s
Back on the road, we stopped at the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, CA. Until his death a few years ago, Roy took a personal interest in the museum, spending several hours every day, meeting visitors and fans. The museum documents every detail of his and Dale Evans’ life, both on and off screen. In a slightly macabre scene, the horses from his show, Trigger and Buttermilk, and his dog, Bullet, and other pets, have been stuffed. All around are items of Roy’s clothing, guitars, guns, saddles, cars, and every other conceivable form of memorabilia. This museum is a Mecca for Roy Rogers fans of all ages.
That evening we stayed in Ontario, CA, some 70 miles outside Los Angeles. We enjoyed a last dinner at Rosa’s Italian restaurant opposite the motel. Nearly all the diners had been with us since Chicago.