We left Las Vegas in the heat of a 100-degree day, hungover, bruised and battered but not beaten by an all-nighter at the blackjack table. Sin City had reeled us in for a bit, but it wasn’t going to keep us there for good. Not when we were this close to Route 66. The Mother Road isn’t what it used to be; now it’s more a state of mind than an interstate. But once it was the “Main Street of America,” steaming 2,400 miles west from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles carrying schemers, dreamers, migrants and nearly the entire state of Oklahoma when the Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties tore the heart out of America.
When homes and farms collapsed under the weight of a decade-long depression, California seemed the only place green and full of promise left to go.Route 66 was more than a long slab of paved road to California, it was the pipeline to a new tomorrow and a generation of movement made it an essential part of the American Myth. Today, its length is fractured by the shiny, high-speed Interstate Highway System, but parts of it still linger as True Americana.
It had been a dream, a full two years in the planning, to ride our motorcycles down old Route 66 through the heartland of America, and when we left Victoria in June there were three of us: (Canadian Biker Art Director) John Skipp on his 2006 Harley-Davidson Road King Custom, Michael Turgeon on his custom 1999 Fat Boy, and Mark Privé on his 2006 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. When we finally rolled into Kingman, Arizona nothing could have been more beautiful than the signpost that read: “Historic Route 66.” We had finally arrived! From this point on, we had no destinations in mind, no reservations to meet, just one goal—to see all we could and sleep when we’d seen enough.
After a stopover at a very friendly tavern for some much needed water and to soak our heads, we pushed on down the longest continuous stretch of daily traveled Route 66 to Seligman, where we bunked at the Historic Route 66 Motel. An old but still comfortable motel, it has the names of all the famous people who’d stayed there on every door. We were in the same room that Burl Ives had once slept and three doors down from where Bill Haley and the Comets had once hung their axes.
A great breakfast can be had at the Road Kill Cafe next door where everything on the menu is named after ... well you can probably guess. The house speciality is “Pulverized Possum,” AKA bacon and eggs. Hopefully it was bacon. Historic Seligman is said to be the town Radiator Springs was modeled after in the film, Cars. As we pulled out of town, the tow truck called “Mater” hoved into view—it’s from the same animated movie in an old abandoned gas station. The next week and a half was Americana at its best and now being acclimatized to the heat, every minute was an adventure.
The road to Flagstaff just a few hours east is steeped in history and easily navigated. Notably, you pass through Williams, the gateway to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Here we detoured off Route 66 and took Hwy. 64 to the canyon and grand it certainly was! Definitely not to be missed—just don’t pull your bike right up to the edge for pictures ... the rangers tend to frown on this. In fact I think the words “This is a big problem, we don’t even allow pedal bikes up here” were used. We just smiled, threw in a couple of “sorry eh’s” and played the “we are Canadians and don’t know any better” card. He left with a stern “don’t do it again” look. We then followed Hwy. 180 to Flagstaff to find accommodations in a town that was bustling with activity just two days before July 4. The streets were alive with parades and party-goers.
After a great dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were back on the road heading toward Winslow, where we followed The Eagles’ advice to “Take it Easy” by standing on THE corner. To the accompaniment of classic Eagles tunes drifting out of speakers hung from the light posts we watched all kinds of folks pull up to the corner for a photo-op with “the girl in the flatbed Ford” painted on a nearby brick wall. Being a drummer and lead singer for a rock band Michael found this to be an almost religious experience and was at one point almost overwhelmed by the legendary street corner. Songwriter Bobby Troup reminded listeners “don’t forget Winona,” when you “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” We didn’t forget Winona but, take it from us, there is nothing to see. Perhaps we missed something, we thought. But there was just nothing to miss.
Just to the east of Winona, a few short miles off the route, is the Giant Meteor Crater, and side excursions such as the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Further east, we pulled into Holbrook in hope of spending the night in a tepee at the famous Wig Wam Motel. Arriving around six p.m. made us too late apparently; they book up very early. But at our motel that night we were introduced to Tore and Henrik from Denmark with whom we had a great night swapping stories about our homelands. Along the road, we discovered that many Europeans flock to Route 66 in search of Americana. Leaving Arizona, we entered New Mexico on July 4, passing the Continental Divide where all rivers to the west flow to the Pacific, while those to the east run to the Atlantic. This is all high desert, with elevations soaring to 7,500 feet above sea level. We were buzzing with anticipation over what the evening of Independence Day might bring. For us, it nearly brought disaster. We were celebrating with fireworks and booze, when one of our Screamers, Rockets, or Whizzers veered into the brush near our motel, setting it ablaze. We moved fast to extinguish the flames, hauling water to the hottest burning spots unaware, until later, that with every pass we were nearly stepping on a nest of rattlesnakes hidden in the bush. WITH JULY 4 BEHIND US, AND A new lease on life, we set out on the road again. Because of its now broken nature, Route 66 can start to get a little confusing and, at this point, it should have been just an hour or so to Albuquerque. But a wrong turn and a big southern swing took us to a small town by the name of Los Lunas. By the time we reached Albuquerque, we had been on the road for six hours. A good map is a must, and check it often.
We used a great Route 66 book called EZ 66, but even it can be confusing as a lot of the route has been renamed and decommissioned. The further east we traveled the more interesting the route got, with the added bonus being this part of the road is not in regular use. Quite often we were the only vehicles on it for mile after mile, making for some very laid-back riding. A drastic comparison from having to hop on Interstate 40 that parallels or even overlays Route 66 when it breaks up and becomes unridable on a cruiser.At Tucumcari we found another of the many small towns that are mostly now forgotten with the addition of I-40, but with a fantastic stretch of old weathered and worn closed-up motels, gas stations and curious shops. The town’s slogan since the 1950s “Tucumcari Tonight” still litters light posts and billboards along the route.
We forged on toward the Texas Panhandle, stopping at Adrian, Texas, which is the midpoint of Route 66. Here, it is 1,139 miles to either LA or Chicago and Home to the Midpoint Café, one of the friendliest diners we visited along the route. It has awesome food and one of the best gift shops to load up on Route 66 memorabilia. Don’t leave without trying a slice of one of their varieties of ugly crust pie. With a full belly, the road would next bring us to the Cadillac Ranch, which seems to be in the middle of nowhere but is a “must” stop. It seems the tradition is to bring your can of spray paint and leave your mark on one of ten 1950s-era Caddies buried halfway in the ground, dead square in the middle of a farmer’s field.
We spent that night in Shamrock, which incidentally resides in a county that had been dry for the past 74 years. That all changed two weeks before we arrived, although quite a few establishments still had no alcohol to serve as they were awaiting the permits to do so. Very likely, by the time this issue goes to press all that will have changed. Shamrock is also home to the most beautifully restored building on Route 66: the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café, where the old-style pumps make scenic props for shooting your bike. We decided to stay the night and take in the incredible lightning and rain storm that passed through, but only after supper at Big Vern’s, who makes the best steak on Route 66. Don’t forget to tell him we said hi.
Another hot day was in store for us as we passed into Oklahoma. Breakfast came in the town of Erick where Harley and Annabelle are the self-proclaimed “world’s biggest rednecks.” The sign outside their old meat market building invites you to “come and see rednecks work and play in their own environment.” Leaving Harley and Annabelle, we moved 150 miles east to our last stop on Route 66, Oklahoma City. The road there offers some quiet stretches and amazing scenery but as we neared Oklahoma City, we got back on I-40 and immediately regretted doing so. For an interstate, it’s in deplorable condition. Hold onto your handlebars and get ready for a wild ride if you choose this option. Staying on old 66 is strongly recommended.
The only place to go in Oklahoma City is Bricktown. Superbly restored brick buildings abound in this area, with a giant canal running through the middle, plied by sight-seeing tourist boat rides. Restaurants, bars, shops of all types and even a ballpark anchor this locale. Since this was our last stop on the Mother Road it was time to formalize the occasion with tattoos at a local parlour and a visit to the area Harley dealer who was called upon to render brake service to one of our bikes.
Overall, we had been lucky. Between the three of us, we had experienced only minor mechanical issues, never enough to sideline us for more than a few hours. From here we sadly said goodbye to Route 66, where we had logged some 1,100 miles. We had only a week of holidays left and were still more than 2,200 miles from home. The trip of a lifetime? Yeah, we got our kicks.