Saturday 30th June 2001, Denver CO

We had thought we might try to escape the Interstate on our way up to Denver. The map indicated that there was a smaller road running alongside for much of the route. We duly left I-70 at Gypsum, and made our way into Eagle for lunch.

At Eagle’s pizza restaurant (the only eaterie that seemed to be open), we ordered a BLT wrap and a malt each, and settled down to read the local giveaway newspaper. For reasons that were never explained, lunch took an age to arrive, and it was about an hour before we were on the road again.

The way out of Eagle seemed to be barred due to roadworks, and having followed various detour signs to no avail, we gave up and headed back onto the Interstate.

As Interstates go, I-70 is an attractive road, winding its way up through the Rockie Mountains, following the path of the Colorado River, and passing several of the State’s best known ski resorts on the way. As we climbed, the air was, as we had hoped, cooler, and patches of snow were still visible on some of the peaks.

We arrived in Denver at around 6pm, opting to stay on the south-eastern edge of town. The Fairfield Inn on Colorado Blvd was comfortable and inexpensive, and conveniently close to I-25 to make ‘Downtown’ easily accessible. Better still, the Irish bar across the road served a nice drop of (albeit expensive) Guinness!


Tuesday 26th June 2001, Kanab UT

We had a very comfortable night’s sleep in our log cabin, though we were both aware of having been woken once or twice by heavy rain. We were slightly disappointed, when we eventually awoke, to have missed the dawn. However, since the morning was grey and overcast, we probably didn’t miss much.

We treated ourselves to a slap-up breakfast in the dining room overlooking the canyon, where several attempts at getting a photo of the diners silhouetted against the view through the window failed miserably.

After breakfast, we took the ‘Bright Angel Trail’ to Bright Angel Point, along a perilously narrow path along a ridge of the canyon (about 3’ wide in places … but don’t panic mother, as you see we lived to tell the tale!). At about 10,000 feet, we really felt the altitude. We had considered ourselves fairly fit, but still found the need to stop every few hundred metres to ‘admire the view’.

Soon it was time to head back to Kanab, before the next batch of dark clouds caught up with us. It was quite cool, so we stopped once at Jacob Lake for a warming coffee, and then made the final dash. The wind over the scrubland between Jacob Lake and Kanab was strong and gusty, but the rain held off until we were three miles from home.


Saturday 23rd June 2001, Kanab UT

We badly needed to send a fax to the Post Office, but discovered that long distance calls from our room at the National 9 were not possible without a phone card. (A problem we had already encountered in the Motel 6 in Las Vegas.) This presents all sorts of problems for our modem, so we decided the only thing to do was to decamp to slightly more sophisticated lodgings.

We moved to the Parry Lodge motel, a few yards up the street. We had called in to Parry Lodge yesterday, as it holds a list of about 200 films and TV series which have been filmed in the area. Between 1930 and 1980 many stars stayed at the motel, and their pictures are proudly displayed around the lobby and restaurant. The big names include John Wayne, James Garner, John Ford, Henry Fonda, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and Maureen O’Hara, to name but a few. The plaque above our door bears the name Barbara Stanwyck.

Kanab became known as ‘Little Hollywood’, as at one time practically all the townsfolk were supplementing their income, appearing as extras in films such as The Big Trail, Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, Sergeants Three, McKenna’s Gold, and The Desperados. We felt it was particularly apt that we should end up staying here, having decided against battling the heat and traffic to visit the real thing in LA!

Looking at the landscape surrounding Kanab, you can easily imagine yourself caught up in a Western movie. Millions of years of erosion have created steep cliffs of red-coloured rock around the town. Although the soil is sandy, there is plenty of natural vegetation. We are no longer in the desert here, though when it rains, the pink earth smells strangely burnt.

Yet again, we planned to visit the Grand Canyon at dusk. Yet again, just as we set out, the weather closed in.


Wednesday 20th June 2001, Las Vegas NV

The previous evening Brigid had spotted a competition in the Harley Davidson Café, with a new Harley as a prize. She was determined to buy at least one drink in there, just to enter the draw. John was determined to lose some money in the Casinos – after all you can’t come to Las Vegas and not gamble, can you?

We made another attempt on the Ford Mustang, and collected another set of vouchers. We had another hamburger, more Margaritas, and cashed in a $50 token each for the slots.

John set the fanfare going by winning a ‘jackpot’ prize of $50. Unfortunately, neither of us had brought any ID with us, so we hastily switched seats while John beetled back to the motel to find our driving licences. Eventually the tinny music drove the supervisor mad and she relented, accepting my photo bank card as ID, just so that she could re-set the machine! Needless to say we spent our winnings on two more tokens. This time we came away with consolation prizes: two T-shirts and a travel blanket. (Terrific. Have you ever tried to stuff an acrylic travel blanket into an already bursting backpack!?)

Brigid did her best to lose $20 in a slot machine, but the machine didn’t seem to want to let her. After about an hour, she admitted defeat, coming away with $41 (making a $1 profit on the evening). Having lost a respectable amount of money at the Blackjack table, John decided it would be a good idea to visit Hoover Dam.

Donning helmets and gloves, but otherwise lightly-dressed, we jumped on the bikes and headed towards Boulder City. It was still very warm, but Brigid found that wearing a flimsy buttoned blouse, was not necessarily a good idea. As we picked up speed, the buttons nearly beat her to death, and seemed to encourage some unwelcome attention from passing motorists!

The Hoover Dam was, indeed, an awesome sight. But if you are looking for a good photo, check elsewhere. It is simply too big for an amateur photographer to get a good shot (not without some serious abseiling equipment anyway). However, in making the trip to the Dam at night, we had achieved one other recommended view of Las Vegas. As we came back into town, the whole valley was stretched out before us like a neon carpet. Again, not something we could easily photograph, but another awesome sight, none the less.


Wednesday 13th June 2001, Gallup NM

Another 5.15am start for everyone else, but we elected to leave a little later at 6am. Brian, Jeff, Theo, Dirk, Roger and Rick had decided to follow the original trail of Route 66 into Santa Fe (where some of the guys were keen to visit the Harley Davidson dealership … what is they say about Harley owners always needing a friend with a trailer …), so we tagged along.

It was surprisingly cool on the way up to Santa Fe, so much so that when we stopped for photos, most of us took the opportunity to put on gloves and jackets.

John and I had been riding each other’s bikes since the previous day, but (probably due to last night’s beans) we both found each other’s bikes uncomfortable, and swapped back.

On the way back from Santa Fe, we took the road to the summit of Sandia Crest at 10,678ft, from where we had a bird’s eye view of Albuquerque, before rejoining the Turquoise Trail back to Route 66.

Albuquerque was (in Brigid’s words) “beastly” – full of traffic lights, and very hot! We didn’t hang around. While the main group took I-40, a few of us decided to take the original road, which ran alongside the Interstate. At the “Continental Divide” (a gas station and gift shop run by the local Navajo Indians), we noticed storm clouds gathering and the temperature changing. Suddenly, it was every man for himself! We hot-footed it back on to the Interstate, and hit the gas. Helpful road signs indicated that “Gusty winds may exist”, but they could hardly be any worse than those we had been experiencing for several hours.

John used his experience of the twisties on Sandia Crest to good advantage. At speeds exceeding 90mph (to the surprise of Dirk and Theo), we made the hotel (Red Roof Inn, Gallup, NM) in the nick of time. Brad and Gina were only a few minutes behind us, and got a soaking.

As had become habit, the party met up round the pool to share their day’s experience over a few beers. Fred was despatched to order some pizza, but by then we had all begun to notice the cold. After a few minutes discussion, we decided that the only available public room was the laundry … the pizzas arrived, and the Maytag Pizza Party was born.

Bemused guests found their washing thoughtfully moved from washer to dryer. Joe even put quarters in the machine! Everyone got to take away a slice of pizza and a beer …

Unluckier were Mark and Gina. Bob Hearn had offered to take their luggage on to Gallup in his motorhome. Unfortunately it had broken down on the way, and most of their clothes were now on the way back to Texas.


Tuesday 12th June 2001, Santa Rosa NM

Today was the first of the 5.15am starts! Because of the increasing wind, we swapped bikes today. The reasoning was that John (being taller in the body) would be better protected by the windshield on the BMW, as the seating position is lower. Brigid, on the other hand, is shorter in the body, and had no problem with the positioning of the windshield on the Triumph. Notable stops today included an old jail house in Texola, TX. Everyone was very keen to lock everyone else up in the tiny cell and take photos. Pat said that one of the riders last year looked so uncomfortable behind bars that it must have seemed “way too familiar”!

We stopped for a very quick coffee at the Art Deco U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, TX. Unfortunately, it was still so early in the morning that the Inn itself was closed, and the only coffee to be had was a polystyrene beaker from a café across the road.

We missed the Devil’s Rope Museum, McLean, TX, which was indicated on our itinerary (as it was closed – again due to the time), but stopped at the restored Phillips 66 gas station for photos.

We stopped at Groom, TX, to take in ‘largest cross in the Western Hemisphere’ (well what would you expect in Texas!). To be fair, at 180ft and surrounded by the stations of the cross depicted in life-size bronze, it really was quite awe-inspiring. Alas, one of the many photos that would be impossible to take – other than from a light aircraft.

On then, for a late breakfast (brunch) at the Big Texan, Amarillo, TX. This restaurant boasts a FREE 72oz steak dinner … to anyone who can consume it within 60 minutes! In order to qualify for the free dinner, you pay a $54 deposit. You are then seated on a small stage, and presented with a full meal including the 72oz steak (cooked to your liking), salad, baked potato, coleslaw, shrimp cocktail, and bread roll. Only if you can plough your way through the whole meal, do you get your money back.

Sam Borland, a man who clearly enjoys his food, took the challenge, but failed – having consumed some 57.5oz of steak, and all of the accompaniments. A brave effort, but he didn’t touch another steak for the rest of the trip! We had a modest 5oz steak with cowboy beans, and a chocolate malt.

By the time we left the Big Texan, a number of the other riders had already gone ahead. The next scheduled stop was ‘The Cadillac Ranch’.

We were not particularly interested in looking at 7 or 8 heavily graffitied Cadillacs planted nose-down in the ground, so were pleased to see Dirk, Theo, Joe, Hugh, Roger, Rick, and Ed and Karen, just leaving. We did a quick U-turn in the road, and managed to catch them up as they joined the Interstate.

At the Mid-Point Café in Adrian, TX (the mid-point of Route 66, equi-distant between Chicago and LA) we caught up with another breakaway group of riders, and took some more photos.

Having re-joined the Interstate, the wind really caught up with us. Gusting side winds of 40-50mph hit the party quite unexpectedly, and for several miles we all battled to stay on the road.

The only (brief) respites coming from passing trucks, which provided a welcome windbreak every now and again. John, in particular, now regretted his choice of the lighter bike, as he was blown time and time again onto the hard shoulder of the Interstate. The truckers, seeing our difficulties, slowed down as they approached so that they didn’t aggravate the problem.

At Tucumcari, NM, we left the Interstate to visit the Route 66 monument. (A seriously weird work of art, apparently modelled on a vast Studebaker wing.) As we left the parking lot, there was a misunderstanding. Whilst most of the group turned left, Joe and Theo turned right to rejoin the Interstate where we had left it … and that was the last we saw of them until we reached the motel.

After our hair-raising experience on the Interstate, we decided it was time to equip ourselves with proper CB radios instead of the two-way FRS radios that we had used up until now.

 

We ate dinner in Joseph’s, a local Mexican diner (Oh God, more beans!), where Brigid discovered frozen Margarita’s (Thanks, Theo).


Monday 11th June 2001, Clinton OK

By now, a growing number of riders had decided that we were seeing a little too much of the Interstates, and not enough of Route 66, although much of the original road still existed, and was often a quieter and more enjoyable ride.The two Canadians, Theo Meester and Dirk De Jong, persuaded us that it would be worthwhile leaving at 7am to ride some of the older roads. (This must be a first … John persuaded to leave earlier than he has to in the morning!)

On the plane, Brigid had noticed that a lot of Route 66 landmarks seemed to be dedicated to a certain ‘Will Rogers’. Neither of us had any idea who Will Rogers was. Now was our chance to find out. We stopped at Claremont, OK, at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

Will Rogers, a quarter-blood Cherokee, turned out to be a big film star from the silent era, and also a celebrated home-spun philosopher, satirist, writer, and pioneer aviator. When he died in 1935 in an experimental aircraft, moments after takeoff, the world
mourned.

In Catoosa, OK, we stopped briefly to see the Blue Whale.This strange fibreglass creation was once a successful water park in the early days of Route 66.The attraction was rather lost on us, as it has been neglected for many years, and the ‘water’ is now just a stagnating pond.

We ate lunch in the Rock Café (in existence years before the Hard Rock Café), in Stroud, OK. Like many of the traders along Route 66, the Café has seen some lean times in recent years. But now, thanks to a resurgence of interest in Route 66, business is booming again.The Café is quite small, so when Pat and the rest of the Rally caught up with us, we moved on.

Because we were keen to stick to the old Route, we missed the Cowboy Hall of Fame, but we did stop at the Round Barn in Arcadia, OK, the significance of which (we are ashamed to say) was lost on us, as it was closed. We by-passed Oklahoma City, as there were demonstrations surrounding the execution of Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber).

We stopped at the Best Western motel in Clinton, OK, for the night. One of the other attractions we accidentally missed, was the Route 66 museum across the street from the motel.The literature indicated that the museum closed at 6pm. As we arrived at 5.55pm, we decided it was already too late to visit. It was only later that we discovered that it had been open until 7pm!


Sunday 10th June 2001, Miama OK

Appropriately enough for a Sunday, we got a little lie-in this morning.We left St. Louis at about 8am, bound for Miami, OK. first stop of the morning was in Rolla, MO, where, curiously, the town had erected a half-size ‘replica’ of Stonehenge … ‘as it would have looked, complete’.The whole thing was a bit surreal.It wasn’t entirely clear why it was there at all.The text on the plaque appeared to be an explanation of ancient Egyptian water-sculpting techniques!

We followed a lot of the original Route 66 road through Missouri, including Devils Elbow, a unusually twisty section of road: fun for modern day motorcycles, but hell for your average Model T. In its day, this part of the road claimed many lives.

We crossed a corner of Kansas, where we stopped at Rainbow Bridge, Riverton (another historic Route 66 river-crossing), for ‘a Kodak moment’, before entering Oklahoma.

We stopped for the night at a Super 8 motel in Miami, OK: heart of America’s ‘Bible Belt’.Thanks to Brian Husbands (who thoughtfully provided a couple of cases of chilled beer on our arrival), the significance of this was lost on most of the riders until dinner time.

We dined at the Best Western restaurant across the road from our motel. There was no alcohol on sale, due to it being Sunday, and the arrival of the Rally had, by all accounts, caught the restaurant rather on the hop. An embarrassed waiter was reduced to listing the menu items that were still available, rather than those that were ‘off’!

As it was Brigid’s first visit to the States, Theo Meester suggested the oddly-named Chicken-Fried Steak (which was exactly what it claimed to be – beef steak in breadcrumbs, with white sauce), and iced-tea. (Curiously, Chicken-Fried Steak usually appears under the ‘chicken and fish’ section of restaurant menus.) The ‘steak’ was edible, if not very exciting, but the iced-tea got the thumbs-down from both of us (again, exactly what it claims to be, cold tea) – a shame, since it seems very popular everywhere here. (Cold tea in itself seems a bad enough idea. What makes iced-tea even less appealing is that it often appears to have been ‘stewing’ for some considerable time in a ribbed plastic jug reminiscent of school dinners.) Thanks, but we’ll stick with the root beer.


Saturday 9th June 2001, St. Louis MO

In fact, the only sports bikes on the Rally were ours. We left the Fairfield Inn at about 5.15am – just before dawn – make for the start of Route 66 on Michigan Avenue, Chicago “…
before rush hour”. We soon discovered one of the first truths that would endure for much of
our trip. Sometimes the best photos are the ones that you just can’t take.

It is very difficult to put across in words the feelings generated by the sight of 50 or so motorcycles (chrome gleaming), riding in near perfect formation, as far as the eye could see, silhouetted against the Chicago skyline in the pink and orange hues of the early morning sunrise.

Once in Chicago, we were all allowed a few minutes to get our pictures before getting on the road. All the riders took turns offering to take photos with other people’s camera so that everyone ended up with a photo posed beneath the historic ‘Start Route 66’ road sign.Then Pat Evans, the ‘Rallymaster’, donned his yellow helmet and the Rally was officially on the way.

This brings me to the second truth of the trip (at least where the Rally was concerned). Never take your eyes off Pat. Woe betide anyone who is not ready to move once that yellow helmet goes on!

The scheduled stops at the Launching Pad Drive Inn (home of the ‘Gemini Giant’), Wilmington, IL (for fuel), and Funks Grove (for maple ‘sirup’?!) gave us all an opportunity to chat to the other riders. We tried corn dogs for lunch at the Cosy Dog Drive Inn (Springfield, IL), and Brigid developed a taste for root beer.

Outside St. Louis, the Rally took a side trip off I-270 to look at the old ‘Chain of Rocks’ bridge, which used to carry Route 66 across the Mississippi River.The bridge is now maintained in part by private donors whose names appear on small plaques on the central span of the bridge. (Brigid cynically suggested that the plaques bore the names of those who had jumped …)

To us northern Europeans, the weather was already becoming uncomfortably warm, so once installed at the Red Roof Inn (St. Louis, MO), we set off in search of a couple of lighter jackets. Seeing the general American disregard for ‘safety clothing’, John was worryingly keen to shed his crash helmet. Along with the two denim jackets, we bought a few bandanas (large handkerchiefs to fellow Brits – only unlike the cartoon British holidaymaker, the American version is tied at the back of the head – not knotted at each corner!). We refrained from going totally native, however, choosing to wear our jackets and helmets during the long daytime rides, shedding them only for short evening trips.The bandanas soon proved their worth, as they could be soaked in iced water (thanks to Ed and Karen York whose trailer was equipped with an icebox) to provide much needed relief from the heat of the midday sun.