Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Post Trip Review 2: Riding Gear

It's been a while since my last post, during which time I've been suffering Route 66 withdrawal symptoms. Not uncommon I hear.

But anyway, this post is about the riding gear I took with me and how it stood up to the task. Remember, I did the trip in April-May. Later in the year the weather would tend to be much hotter.
On my trip I rode though all sorts of weather, everything from snow, rain, hail and strong winds through to fine warm sunny days, and blistering dessert heat over 100F. Someone once said to me that there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad riding gear - I tend to agree!

Over the years my gear has been refined and purchased primarily for riding in British weather, so I know it would be OK for the cold and damp, but I wondered how it would fair in the varying types of climate I would encounter on Route 66?
The kit I took consisted of:

Jackets: I took two, both made by Hein Gerecke. The first was a heavy waterproof textile jacket, complete with shoulder elbow and back armour, although I had taken out the winter lining. On the coldest days I wore a base layer, t-shirt and micro-fleece under it, and was perfectly warm, especially behind the Harley's big protective screen and fairing. As it warmed up, I could remove layers to stay comfortable, and unzip vents in the jacket to let some air through.

The other jacket was lighter and has panels that are made of a mesh material. It is designed for those hot days when you need to get some ventilation going and is far from waterproof, for obvious reasons! It still offers plenty of protection though, with armour in all the vulnerable places. At home, this jacket only gets used about twice per year! On this trip it was the jacket of choice once the temperatures started to rise.

Boots: Altberg motorcycle boots, made to measure at their factory in Richmond, North Yorkshire. These are great boots, comfortable to walk in, have proven to be 100% waterproof to date, and should offer good protection in the case of an accident. Altberg will also repair and refurbish as required, so they should last for life. I wore these every day on the bike, with thermal socks underneath on the cold days!

Trousers: I only took one pair of motorcycle trousers, these are by Hein Gerecke and match the heavier jacket. They can be zipped together to keep the drafts down when riding (and hold the trousers up when walking!) The trousers also have vents which can be unzipped for some ventilation when the temperatures start to rise. Additional protection is provided by built in armour around the hips and knees.  I wore these everyday, with a base layer underneath on the colder days. I had no problem with the cold; the only time there was an issue was in-town riding in the warmer temperatures, when, combined with the heat from the engine, things became quite uncomfortable. I almost took a pair of Kevlar jeans with me (for example Draggin' Jeans), and if I had been travelling any later in the year, these probably would have been required due to the heat. As it was, it was bearable, and worth the occasional discomfort to know that I had good protection should the worst happen.

Gloves: I took some all-season gloves, again made by Hein Gerecke. They offer extra knuckle protection, and are made from kangaroo leather. These are the gloves that I use all year round in the UK. On this trip however I bought a lighter pair of leather gloves from Biker Shak, opposite the Round Barn, for when the temperature started to rise. From the same place I also bought some fingerless gloves. To be honest, these weren't really required on the grounds of the temperature, but turned out to be really good when riding through the National Parks. In these places you're jumping on and off the bike every few minutes to take pictures - having fingerless gloves meant that you could leave them on and still use the camera, and so save some time, but at the same time ensuring that the backs of my hands didn't get sun burnt!

Crash Helmet: Before the trip I agonised about what to do about the crash helmet. At home I always ride with a full face helmet, but didn't want one of those for the trip. I looked at buying an open face lid (three quarter helmet as the Americans call them), or a flip-front lid before I went, but in the end decided not to take one at all, as I believed that I would get something suitable from EagleRiders.
As it turned out all they had at the shop were half helmets (piss-pot lids, as we call them in the UK!) with no visors. And they were all huge and minging inside! They had nothing suitable for me. Luckily there is a Harley Davidson dealer right next door, so I went there and found a helmet that fitted, had a visor, and was more substantial that those they had in EagleRiders, so I bought that. Luckily I never had to find out how much protection it would provide! I brought the lid home with me as a souvenir - it would not be legal to use in this country though.

That was the main gear I used, and it all worked well, and layers were the key to managing body temperature. Later in the year I would have been too hot in all this gear, but for the spring it was fine.

I also took with me a one piece rain suit. This was never used, took up a lot of precious space in my pannier, and if I were doing this again, I wouldn't bother taking it with me.

In my next post-trip update I'll be looking at the techie gear I took.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Post Trip Review 1: The Benifit of Hindsight.

It's been over a week since I completed my trip along Route 66 and the PCH, and I'm back home now, and back at work. It seems so long since I was riding into Santa Monica, and then on to San Francisco, but it was only a short time ago. It's  really hard to believe.

I thought that it would be a good idea, now that the trip is over, the dust has settled, and normality has resumed in my life (kinda), to look back and review what went well, and what I would do differently, if I were ever given the chance to do it all over again.

First of all, I've got so say that there was the potential for the trip to go badly wrong: bike breakdowns, or an accident; meeting the "wrong" kind of people; or meeting no people at all! etc. etc. Thankfully, nothing like that happened. I believe that was down to a mixture of good planning, having my wits about me most of the time, and of course, a bit of good luck too.

So this is the first of a few articles that I'll post to look at various aspects of the trip and how it worked out. Hopefully this might give an insight for others planning a similar trip. I'll cover things like riding gear, accommodation, how the planning worked, and the various bits of gadgetry that I took with me. For this post though, I'll concentrate on:

The Bike:
"Black Beauty", my brand spanking new Harley Davidson ElegctraGlide Classic, was perfect for the job of transporting me and 3 weeks worth of supplies over most of the 3600+ miles that we travelled together.

The panniers and tourpack fitted everything with ease, and the purpose made bags that fit inside really helped there. The seat was so comfy that I was never troubled with numb-bum syndrome nor back ache. If I were doing this trip two-up then I would recommend going for the ElectraGlide Ultra, which has a few extra amenities and home comforts for a pillion passenger, plus additional luggage capacity in the form of a rack on top of the tourpack, which would likely be needed. But as a single rider, the Classic was perfectly suitable.

The bike is big, long and heavy, with a big lazy engine - just right for highway riding, long fast sweeping curves, and OK for puttering about town. The only time that it struggled was when negotiating the more twisty roads, like the Oatman Highway. Then it's size and weight acted against it. Wrestling it around the bends became tiring, and the gear box, which has a decidedly agricultural feel to it, was very heavy to operate. One redeeming feature though is the 96 cubic inch (1584cc)  v-twin engine. This cannot be called a responsive motor by any stretch of the imagination, but has so much low-down torque that if you do find yourself mid-bend in too high a gear, it is very forgiving and will haul you round and out of trouble at very low revs.

That big, air-cooled engine also generates a lot of heat between your legs. This is most welcome when the weather is on the cooler side, but when sitting at lights when the temperature has climbed into the 90s or more, it can get very uncomfortable, until you get moving again!

I spent more on fuel than I had anticipated for a number of reasons: Firstly, I did more miles than I had planned. Secondly, due to riding into a strong headwind for much of the way, the Harley's fuel consumption was higher that I had thought it would be. And lastly, fuel prices (whilst still half what we pay here in the UK) had increased. Those three factors together meant that for the whole trip I got through about 91 US gallons (346 litres) of unleaded, costing $366. Remarkably, as the whole trip was 3661 miles, so this works out at exactly 10c per mile on gas!

In conclusion then, there is no such thing as a perfect bike for all occasions and conditions, but the Harley came close for most of the riding I did on this trip, and being classic American iron, I can think of no other bike that I'd rather have riden.

Would I rent one in America again? Yes.
Would I buy myself one? Probably not.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Safely Home

A long couple of days travelling and I have arrived back home safely, after an uneventful journey.

I decided to travel back to the UK from Seattle as the San Francisco flights were looking very busy. So first flight of the day was north to Washington State. I got to Seattle by 9am, and faced a long wait for the BA flight to London that evening. At least the airport had free Wi-Fi so that helped pass the time.

Compared to Heathrow's T5, many of the American airports (like Seattle) are very sparse, with little to help you pass the time. T5 is basically a shopping mall built on top of a baggage system, that happens to have some gates for the aircraft to pull up to. At least there's plenty to do to help you spend a few hours.

Eventually, the time passed and the check in desk opened. The lovely lady who checked me in gave me a nice seat in Club (Business) Class, and I went air-side, to the bar to spend the last of my dollars.

The flight back to the UK passed quickly as I slept through most of it, and I was in Heathrow by lunchtime on Sunday, ready for my last flight of the day back to Newcastle. Once again, a quiet uneventful flight.

It was lovely to walk out of the arrivals hall, with all my luggage having safely made it as well, to see Gillian, Simon and Nathan waiting for me! A short drive later and I was home at last, in time for dinner.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Day 18: San Francsisco

And so it ends. Today, with a heavy heart, I returned the bike to its rightful owner, and my trip is complete. But not before I had one final ride around the San Francisco coast, and of course rode over the Golden Gate Bridge. But before all of that I managed to get hold of a bucket of soapy water and gave the bike a wash - something I would never dream of doing with a rental car. Nearly three weeks of riding through all kinds of weather meant that she was filthy. I wanted her looking her best on our last day together.

Breaking waves crash against the shore
The Golden Gate Bridge from the north end, just after I had ridden across
And then into down-town San Francisco.
One last stop for fuel to return her full, and then it was the last half mile to EadleRider's and to say goodbye to what had been my faithful ride over the past 18 days. I felt quite emotional handing over the keys. I know it's only metal and plastic in it's basic form, but I had developed an attachment to my "Black Beauty", who had never let me down across the 3600 miles we travelled together. I hope the next rider takes good care of her.
The last photo of "my" bike before she's taken back for the next lucky rider.
The last 3 weeks have been everything I'd hoped for, and more. There's a danger, when building your hopes and expectations so high, that they might not be met, and you're left disappointed. This was one of the rare cases when my high expectations have been exceeded. I have seen some wonderful sites, met many fantastic people along the way, and enjoyed 18 days of riding. During that time I've had time to think and get some things straight in my head too. I have confirmed what's important in my life, and tomorrow I start my journey back home to them.

Total trip mileage: 3661

Friday, 6 May 2011

Day 17: Morro Bay to San Francisco

I was hugely disappointed when I discovered, late last night, the the Pacific Coast Highway was closed south of Big Sur. The California DoT website confirmed the fact this morning, and that was backed up further by a Scots couple from Hamilton that I met at breakfast. They had driven down from San Francisco yesterday, and had to find an alternative route. It seems that a stretch of the roadway had collapsed into the ocean south of Big Sur. This happened some months ago, so I really should have know about it, my research was obviously lacking on this. Here's what happened

This is a blow, as the desire to ride along that 120 mile stretch of road was the main reason I added the PCH to the end of my Route 66 journey. I retreated to my room for some hasty re-planning. In the end I decided that I could ride some of it south of where the road is closed, bypass the closure using the 101 to Monterey, and then ride down to Big Sur from there. It would add a lot of miles and time on to the journey though, and involve a lot of back tracking. In the end though I had to make the best of it, as it's unlikely that I'll get another opportunity to do this any time soon. It also meant that I had to postpone my visit to Hearst Castle: that I can do next time I'm here with the family.

So I set off northwards from Morro Bay, and after a quick fuel stop, was heading up the coast, through Cambria, and San Simeon. I went as far as the seal colony, where there are hundreds of Elephant Seals basking in the sun on the beach. These creatures can weigh up to 5000 pounds, and migrate from Alaska each year to their breeding colony here.
Those are not rocks on the beach, but hundreds of Elephant Seals
Here's looking at ya!
This was about as far as I could go from the south, so I turned around and headed back south to pick up Highway 46, east. It seemed strange to be travelling in this direction as I'd spent the last 16 day heading west! This road takes you over the Black Mountains (they were very green today), rising from sea level to almost 2000ft very quickly. On the other side of the mountains I entered wine country. The hillsides were covered with vineyards, and wineries offering tours and tasting sessions. It must be harvest time because there were lots of workers in the vineyards, and lorries carrying the grapes.

The 46 eventually took me to the 101, which I took northbound to Monterey. The gas station half way along the 101 where I filled up had a Dennys next door, so for the sake of speed and convenience I had lunch there. I could not believe my eyes when I saw that they were promoting a new dessert, the  Maple Bacon Sundae. That's bacon on ice cream - whatever next?  I gave it a miss.

The 120 miles on the 101 was a drag, but once at Monterey I headed south along the PCH to Big Sur. The views are breathtaking, as good as I remembered them from many years ago, and the road twists and turns, clinging (and apparently letting go occasionally) to the side of the cliffs over the ocean. Needless to say, there are many photo ops which I made the most of. Here are a few that I took today:

The road sign that every biker likes to see!
Once past Big Sur it was again time to turn around and come back - not too arduous, given the road and the views. Back at Monterey I took the direct route to my hotel just south of San Francisco, as it was getting late.

So today was not quite as I had planned or hoped, but, given the circumstances I think I made the best of it. Tomorrow is my last day on the bike. I will spend it exploring the coast a bit further north, and of course, ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, before I go to EagleRiders to reluctantly give her back.

More photos and the route I took today are here:

Today's Mileage:373
Total Trip Mileage: 3598

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Day 16: Santa Monica to Morro Bay

OK, so the Route 66 part of this road trip may have been successfully completed, but that's not the end of the journey for me, as I'm heading up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco.

On arriving at Santa Monica yesterday I went in search of a hotel room, but it soon became apparent that there would be nothing that fitted my meagre budget. The Holiday Inn wanted $300 for the night, plus $27 for the privilege of parking my bike in their car park! I politely declined.

So I headed north to see if I could find something a bit more in my price range. After 20 minutes I realised that, if anything, things were getting more pricey, as I passed through Palisades and Malibu, so I asked the SatNav to take me to the nearest, reasonably priced hotel. Immediately I was heading inland, over the Malibu hills and into the canyons beyond. Once more, twisty intricate roads, and obviously a playground for the rich, as I saw more Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Masaratis on that stretch of road, than I had seen since the Exotic Car Show. Haha - the spell checker didn't recognised Masaratis, and suggested I might have meant Masterbation. Interesting, maybe it was thinking of the people who drive them?

Anyway, a Harley Davidson ElectraGlide is a great bike for long rides, but when it comes to these types of roads, it's not in its element. It's big and cumbersome, and does not change direction quickly. Ground clearance is also an issue, it's easy to start scraping the foot boards if you're not careful. So whenever one of these pieces of exotica came screaming up behind me I pulled over and let it pass.
From the top of the hills behind Malibu, towards the ocean...

...and looking the other way, over the canyons beyon
Twenty miles inland I got to the suggested hotel and thankfully they had a room at a price I was prepared to pay. The closest (in fact, only) restaurant was a sushi bar right next door. I've never had sushi before, the thought of raw fish grosses me out a bit, but I thought this was the time to try something new, so I went in and found a seat at the bar. Two guys sitting next to me were obviously sushi connoisseurs, and took pity on my total lack of knowing what to order. They pointed me in the direction of the California Rolls, and after that spicy shrimp. I must say that it was rather tasty, especially washed down with a couple of bottles of Asahi. Thanks Andrew and Oren, for initiating me in the ways of Sushi. Two more helpful and friendly people I've met on this trip.

This morning I headed back to the coast by a slightly less twisty route, and continued my journey north. The views as the road hugs the side of the cliffs alongside the ocean are fantastic. If I had stopped to take pictures everytime I saw a breathtaking scene in front of me, I wouldn't have got very far.

The road winds along the shoreline, next to the Pacific.
My stop for lunch was at Santa Barbara, a lovely town, with a nice pier and plenty of restaurants along the front to choose from.

A spot of lunch?
Santa Barbara  pier
If I was a surfer dude, I'd have to have one of these.
Having eaten, it was time to continue up the coast a bit further. After a while the road deviates inland, and you loose sight of the ocean for a bit, as you skirt around Santa Maria, and through San Louis Obispo, but eventually you are back at the coast as the road reaches Morro Bay, my stop for the night.

Morro Bay is a small town, and one of the few that still has a commercial fishing fleet operating out of it. It is dominated by a huge volcanic rock emerging from the ocean just offshore, called Morro Rock, strangely enough. There are plenty of bars and restaurants along the harbour, and all within walking distance of my hotel, so I think cooked meat will be on the cards for dinner tonight.

Morro Rock, the last of a chain of seven volcanic rocks along this shoreline. Apparently it hosts over 250 different bird species.
And here's one of them waiting for some scraps.
Looking into the bay area. Plenty of choice for eating tonight.

Today's route and some more photos are here:

Today's Mileage: 229
Total Trip Mileage: 3225

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Days 14 & 15: Las Vegas to Santa Monica

Yesterday was a day off - the first and only one I'd had in two weeks of biking, and what better place to spend it than Las Vegas?

I'd never played Poker in Vegas before, so that was high on my list of priorities. The first night I played in my hotel (The Tropicana), and it was a dead loss. With only 7 players registered for the tournament there was not much money in the prize pot, and the blind structure was too fast. I didn't do very well, finishing in 4th. I did  a bit more research today and decided that the 7pm tournament at the Mirage looked good, so I registered for that. This was more like it, plenty of players entered and a slower structure meant I did OK in the early parts and made the final table. After that I was card dead and saw my stack dwindle as the blinds kicked in and antes came into play. I hung on, but eventually it was too much and I crashed out in 6th, just outside the money. Still that's one more thing ticked off my "to do" list!

I spent most of the day wandering around and taking in the sights, here's a few pics:

Las Vegas Blvd skyline

On top of the Stratosphere
Now, I love Vegas. But it's not a good place to be on your own. It's a place for partying, and a party of one can be a bit depressing. If I were to do this trip again on my own, I would probably miss out Vegas. If I were with some others, I definitely would come back! I think Gillian and I should plan another trip here together soon.

The casinos these days seem to have quietened down since the time I first came here - and I mean that literally. A few years ago, as you walked in, the noise was incredible, as the slot machine spewed out quarters to the lucky winners, and every one walked about with tubs full of coins to feed into the machines. Now that doesn't happen. The machines only take payments in the form of 1, 5 10 or 20 dollar bills, and if you win, the machine prints you out a ticket which you can take to the cashier, or feed into another machine (the management's preferred option!) I think that has reduced the air of excitement in these places as they seem so quiet now.

So today I leave the city of Lost Wages, Nevada, and head back to California and Route 66, by way of the I-15 south to Barstow:
The El Rancho Motel in Barstow - I didn't stay in this one though
It was warming up as I headed across the Mojave Desert, the temperature gauge on my bike said that it was touching 100F as I reached Victorville. In my schedule I had planned to stop here for the night, however it was only 1:30, and far too early to stop for the day. Besides, Victorville didn't look too inviting a place to stay, so I decided to continue for a bit. It does have a nice little Route 66 museum though.

In San Bernadino there's the WigWam motel, where the rooms are styled as Indian tents. They're proper rooms of course, with air conditioning and everything, so that was my second option the the night. However, when I got there it was still to early to stop for the day, and according to the Zumo, I could be in Santa Monica in an hour. I thought that might be a bit optimistic, but even if it was 3 hours it would still only be 6, so I carried on.

The traffic now was getting much heavier. I'd been used to having the road pretty much to myself over the past 2 weeks, so I could tell I was getting close to LA. However the traffic didn't slow me down too much, and I was soon riding down the Santa Monica Blvd towards the Pacific Ocean. There was one song I had in mind to listen to as I completed this journey, that was "All I Want To Do" by Sheryl Crow, so I put it on the MP3 player and blasted it out of the bike's speakers as I drove the last mile:

"All I wanna do is have some fun,
I've got a feeling I'm not the only one,
All I wanna do is have some fun,
As the sun goes down over Santa Monica Boulevard"

Cheesy, but great!

And so here I was, at the end of Route 66 by the pier in Santa Monica, CA. I felt quite emotional. I had taken the photo of the "Route 66 begins here" sign on a freezing cold Chicago morning only 2 weeks ago. It seems like an age. I had achieved a dream that I've had since I was a kid hearing the Rolling Stones urging me to get my kicks on Route 66. Now, at the age of 50 years and 3 weeks, I'd done it. On a Harley Davidson. On my own. I was ecstatic! I was also a bit sad that this part of the dream had come to an end, but all good things do. So it was with mixed feelings that I walked onto the pier to take some photos.
The end of the road - beyond, only the Ocean.
The less attractive side of the sign, but this road leads to Chicago
A toast, having achieved the dream. Shouldn't I be looking happier?
One thing that I am upset about though: my flag didn't make it. That thing has followed me faithfully since Chicago, fluttering along behind me, proclaiming my English-ness. Many people have asked about it, thinking I was from Sweden or Finland or some other Scandinavian country for some reason. So it has helped me educate some Americans about the Cross of St George, and how the Union Jack is not the flag of England, but of Great Britain. It had become tatty, and dirty and frayed around the edges, but I had intended to take it home with me as it had been my constant companion throughout the trip. It finally gave up just a few miles from the end, and has probably been picked up by someone who thinks that a Norwegian has lost his flag. I do have a spare, but I won't put it on. It would feel like trying to replace the family pet.

Today's route is here, including a bit beyond Santa Monica, as all the local hotels were a tad above my price range!

Today's Mileage: 358
Total Trip Mileage: 2995

Monday, 2 May 2011

Day 13: Needles - Las Vegas NV

The Needles hotel I stayed in last night was good but not near anything, so I decided that a take away pizza and an early night were called for, as I was starting to feel the effects of too many late nights.
The view from my hotel - nothing for miles!
A leisurley start today and my second detour off Route 66. I wanted to go to Laughlin (a small casino town in Nevada) to see what was left of the River Run. This is a huge Harley Davidson bike rally that's held every year. I've been to a few Rallies in the UK and in Europe, but I wanted to see how the Americans do it on a big scale.

This rally has some grisly  history. Back in 2002 there was a fracas when two rival motorcycle clubs clashed in Harrah's casino. At the end of what became known as the Laughlin Riot, 2 people had been shot dead and another stabbed to death. It's a good job the Aussies weren't there or something might have kicked off!

As I was riding the 30 or so miles to Laughlin there was a constant stream of bikes going the other way. I was beginning to wonder if there'd be anything left when I got there? For the non bikers reading this, let me explain something. There's a thing that happens when two bikers pass each other on the road: they wave or nod or in some other way acknowledge each other. In the UK it is usually a cheery wave or a nod. Here they put their left hand out in a laid back manner. In Europe they stick their left leg out (very strange at first, but you soon get used to it!). It's a way of expressing brotherhood and solidarity with other two wheeled road users (but not scooter riders, oh no). Without a single exception, every one I've passed on a bike has waved, or returned my wave. If there's a passenger on the back I normally get two waves in return. Until yesterday that is. Since then, the wave ratio has dropped to about 1 in 3 people. Waving to fellow bikers must not be very cool in western Arizona.

But going back to what I was saying, there were so many bikes coming the other way that my left arm was getting very tired from waving to them all, and with only a 1 in 3 return rate I was starting to wonder if it was worth it, but I persisted.

On arriving in Laughlin I could see that there was still loads of bikes and things to see and do, and hundreds of t-shirt and biker apparel stalls selling their wares. I was sorely tempted to buy some leather chaps - but managed to resist. It must have been amazing on Saturday night when it would have been at its peak.
I'm glad I've got my flag, there's so many black Harleys here it makes it easier to find mine.

If Gillian comes with me next time we'll be needing one of these for her shoes and handbags.
After a long time looking around I set of for Las Vegas. The highway twists and turns its way through the mountainous desert to get to Vegas, with stunning views along the way.
The road into Laughlin. I probably shouldn't have stopped to take this.
Coming in from the south, the road crests a hill, and all of a sudden there it is, Las Vegas laid out on front of you, with the distinctive Stratosphere at one end rising above everything else.

I'm staying for 2 nights at the Riviera hotel - one of the older ones - but the room is good, and the front doors of the casino open right onto the sidewalk of the Strip. Lots of the newer hotels are set back so far  that you have to take a hike before you even get to the Strip! I was a little worried about what it would be like, as the room rate I got was so cheap (booked through British Airways Holidays, plug, plug), but it's fine, with a pool view.

So this afternoon I took a stroll down Las Vegas Blvd, sussing out the best places for a game of poker tonight. I think I'll stay local and enter a tournament here in this hotel. Hopefully it'll pay for the trip.

As you'll notice from the title of this post, today has been my 13th day, in the saddle, pretty much all day, every day. I didn't think I'd say this, but tomorrow I can have a day off the bike, and I'm quite looking forward to it! There's a good chance I won't post anything tomorrow either, so dear readers, please don't worry about me, and I'll post an update the day after, when I'll have resumed my Route 66 journey.

The route taken today, and more pictures are here:

Today's Mileage: 158
Total Trip Mileage: 2637

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Day 12: Williams to Needles

I was awoken early this morning by the bloody crows nesting in the eaves of the building I was in. Not good after the night before. I wanted to be away early-ish this morning, but not that early!. Knowing I would not get back to sleep, I got up and went for a walk around Williams, to see what it was like in daylight.

Williams was the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed by the Interstate. In 1984 the I-40 Williams section was finally opened. A year later Route 66 was finally decommissioned.

It was cold. Very cold. But the sun was out and it would warm up soon. At around 7000ft it does get very cold at night. It was close to freezing when I went out. Still it was quiet, and I took some photos while no one else was around:

My hotel, with my bike parked outside my room.

One of the many gift shops

An old Gas Station, now a Route 66 museum.
The Fun Run to Kingman was leaving this morning, but I have been given conflicting reports when that would be. One said 6 o'clock, the other 10. They both turned out to be partially right. I figured that 9 was the best time to leave, as if they had left at 6 they'd be 3 hours ahead, so unlikely that I'd catch them up before Kingman. If they were leaving at 10, then I'd be an hour ahead. What I really didn't want was to be stuck behind a convoy of 800 cars, no doubt moving slowly.

So I packed up and set off for Seligman, which I'd heard was a very biker friendly place. When I arrived I found 800 American cars forming up to begin the fun run - doh! It turned out the the run stated in Seligman, not Williams, at 10. The cars that were coming from Williams met at 6 and drove to Seligman for the 10 o'clock start.
American cars (mostly), for as far as the eye could see.

The Snow Cap Inn in Seligman is a wacky place. The door has two handles, one each side, just to confuse. The neon sign in the window says "Sorry, We're Open".Quirky in a good way though.
The Snow cap Inn's front door - note, two handles
After they'd gone it was all back to normal again.
I was now faced with a dilemma: I could follow the old Route 66 to Kingman, and spend probably a couple of hours behind the cars; or I could hop on the Interstate to Kingman, and helpfully beat them there. Reluctantly I chose the latter, as I wanted to spend some time in Oatman later today.

I arrived in Kingman as the fist of the Fun Run cars was coming into town - timed to perfection.

The road up to Oatman from the east is classed by many as one of the Top 5 biking roads in the USA. Basically it twists and turns up the side of a mountain with plenty of tight bends and switch backs. On my left was a wall of rock, and on the right, a sheer drop, with nothing stopping you going over it. Needless to say, you need to get this right, so utmost concentration is required. Which was a shame because the views are stunning, but I didn't have much time to take them in.

Oatman is just mad. It's a ghost town; no one lives there. Except for the mules - yes that's right, mules. These animals wander loose about town, and rule the road. They always have right of way so if one wanders across the road in front of you, you have to give way.
Regular visitors bring a bag of carrots with them. The mules like it.
You're not allowed to feed the baby mules though, as their mothers are still feeding them. The babies have a sticker on their forehead letting you know.
Today however it was also full of bikes and their big fat hairy bikers. Must have been a tie in with the Laughlin River Run which is just half an hour away.

I wish I'd bought my leather waistcoat and chaps!

After a good few hours looking at the bikes and the shops, and having a bit of banter with the other bikers (well, the ones that didn't look too mean), I headed out of town towards Topock and then Needles. The road out this way is different from the one I took going in - it is much faster with not so many tight bends but long sweeping curves. Both enjoyable in their own ways.

And so I enter the last state that Route 66 passes through. As far as I know, California is the only state that has border control: All vehicles have to pass though inspection points where the Interstates cross the state line. They just waived me through though - it must have been obvious that I wasn't hiding many illegals in my panniers.

Tomorrow I head back out of California and into Nevada, to Las Vegas. I will pass through Laughlin on my way, so I expect more of the same - wall to wall bikes.

My route today, and more photos are here:

Today's Mileage: 190
Total Trip Mileage: 2479

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Day 11: Flagstaff to Williams via Grand Canyon

Last night I went into downtown Flagstaff for dinner and a drink. It's a pretty cool place with plenty of restaurants and bars, and pretty lively. First I went to the Flagstaff brewery. I had a nice beer in there, but it was a bit quiet, so I ended up sitting at the bar in a neighbouring Irish bar. I got chatting to Bob, sitting next to me; and it turned out that he to was doing a bike tour around America; except he had quit his job and was taking 2 years out to do it. Nice! He was pretty knowledgeable about the places I had been to and where I was going, and recommended Rods Steak House when I got to Williams.

There's a big event at home today: Yes, it's Simon's birthday. I hear they had a street party in his honour. I hope you had a good one! There was also a wedding on I believe, so William and Kate, I hope it works out for you. Talking of Simon and birthdays, he had a t-shirt made especially for me for my birthday to wear on this trip. Unfortunately it was left at home, I'm such an idiot. Anyway Gillian thoughtfully sent me a photograph to post here. This way lots more people will get to see it:
...and the back,
Today is a day off Route 66, as I head north towards the Grand Canyon, but on the way is Sunset Crater, a volcano that erupted only about 1000 years ago. You can go up the volcanoo and see the crater if you have the time and are up for a long hike. I didn't, so I bought some postcards instead!

The snow capped San Francisco Moutains, from Sunset Crater National Park

A guy said to me today: "There are only two types of bike; those that have been dropped, and those that are going to be dropped". That was after he helped me pick my bike up. In my haste to hop off and take a few more pictures, I hadn't put the stand down properly and over she went! Luckily, as I was still astride her at the time, I was able to slow her descent to the ground although there was no way I could stop it altogether. After this kind sole helped me pick her up again I was relieved to see that there was no damage - not even a scratch.

The lava flow from the volcano, in the background.

After a good 30-odd mile ride around the Sunset crater National Park, it was time to head off to the Grand Canyon. Entering the park from the eastern end of the Southern Rim, the views were spectacular, and the was a 40 mile ride along the rim, with countless photo ops. Here's just a few that I took today:

The roads around here are great for motorcycling: well maintained smooth tarmac, which twists and turns, rises and falls, it's fantastic! The weather has been sunny and dry for the last few days, although pleasantly cool (in the 70s). In fact it's so dry that I had to buy some ChapStick as my lips were starting to dry out. I now have one more thing to add to my morning routine: put on lipstick, and re-apply regularly!

After a number of hours at the Canyon, it was getting on and time to head back south for Williams, and rejoin Route 66. The road to Williams is dead straight from the Canyon for about 50 miles, so a bit dull after the riding I'd done earlier.

Williams is a small two street cowboy town, and has a really nice feel. I didn't have a room booked, but soon checked into the Route 66 Inn, an old Mom & Pop Motor Lodge right in the middle of town. The room's big enough but could do with refurbishment as it's a bit tatty. Then again, for $39, I don't expect much. It has a bed and bathroom, has Wi-Fi and is clean, so that's good enough for me.

As I was sitting in my room, I heard some familiar voices passing by outside - yes it was Dale, Anthony, Daniel and some of the other Aussies! "We're going to Rods Steak House for dinner" they said, " Come with us". So I did. And then on to the Canyon bar which had Country karaoke going on. It got a bit messy, and I even took to the mic for a number. Hopefully, no one videoed it. What good company they are, we had a blast. Oh, and the steak was to die for - Bob, you were right!
Anthony and Daniel have a bonding session, having narrowly missed getting into a fight

Dale lets rip singing Peggy Sue!
As always, all the photos, and today's route are here:

Time for bed now, as there's the Route 66 Fun Run leaving here tomorrow, heading the same way as me - about 800 cars and bikes - and I want to get away before they do. Overtaking them would be a nightmare!

Today's Mileage: 196
Total Trip Mileage: 2289