(Neil has very kindly offered this account of his holiday in the USA following Route 66, feeling that club members and others may be interested, or even inspired to try it themselves! Take it away Neil!)
Last year, a mate Nigel Waring and I decided we would fly to Chicago, pickup 2 Harley’s from Eagleriders and ride to LA using as much of the old R66 as we could find. We didn’t want the rigidity and certainty of a guided tour, nor the hassle and faff of being in a large group. We wanted to be just the two of us, able to go with the flow and do it our way, mistakes and all. Except for the first night, we wouldn’t book any hotels, so we had maximum freedom.
And that’s exactly what we did, we would decide where we would ride to the next day and book accordingly day by day, sometimes we would get to a place and search for hotels, Basically, we did little or no planning and made decisions on the fly.
DAY 0. 9th Aug.
Arrival in Chicago.
We kicked off with a Champagne breakfast in the lounge at Heathrow, had a trouble free flight to Chicago, and a long, but hassle free passage through immigration.
Stayed in Comfort Inn close to the airport and Eaglerider’s bike depot. Taxi driver from airport serenaded us (very tunefully) with Motown music and couldn’t get his head around the fact that we had come all the way from England and were going to ride motorbikes all the way to LA. Hotel shuttle bus, driven by the lovely Shirley who was addicted to soul music, took us to and from Gibson’s restaurant. It looked an upmarket place so I felt a bit underdressed in my T shirt, jeans and army boots but this was America after all so ‘no praablem’. Just walking through the restaurant to our table at least 8 people (staff) said ‘hello’. The waiter appeared with a tray loaded with huge sample steaks, Alaskan lobsters, etc and proceeded to explain, in detail, each item on the menu. He must have read our minds, as he recommended we shared a steak and had half portions of chips, vegetables etc. The steak was to die for and even on half portions, we still didn’t eat everything! We moved to the bar in order to finish the bottle of wine and observe the locals. One bloke consumed a huge main course and then the waiter served him the biggest slice of cake I’ve ever seen, it was ¼ of a cake, and a foot high, he polished it off in one go, I think we were staring! We met Rick, a trade union activist from Canada, with whom we had a lively and informative discussion. Rick was also a motorcyclist (Harley) and saluted our travel plans. Shirley picked us up and we had a nightcap, or two, at the bar at the Comfort Inn. Here we decided that Americans just cannot be trusted to make a half decent G&T and even Nigel decided to stick to beer only henceforth!
DAY 1. 10th Aug.
Collect bikes and ride Chicago – Springfield, Illinois.
Shuttle bus takes us to Eaglerider’s depot at 9.30.
The good news was my bike was a 2018 Softail Heritage which meant it had a USB socket providing a power source for the satnav. The bad news was this socket was broken, on a bike that had only done 1550 miles so we had to revert to plan B using battery packs. The 2nd bit of bad news was that despite Nigel paying to guarantee a Softail too, none were available and they tried to give him and upgrade to a bike he didn’t want. After some discussion, they eventually upgraded him to a more expensive, and brand new Road King which he was very happy with, although he didn’t realise at the time just how heavy it was!.
The so called ‘American customer service’ was lacking that day, meaning we were there about 4hours. This wasn’t helped by the fact that a large, noisy, excitable French group were also collecting bikes, they were on a guided tour and faffed incessantly, making us both smile, and remember why we wanted to do it alone.
Chicago was a nightmare to get out of so we had to jump onto the freeway to make up time and got to the hotel at 7 pm. Springfield is a large ish town, and it was Friday night, but was surprisingly quiet. Walking downtown, a woman stopped in her car and said “don’t think I’m weird boys (we did) but do you need any help”? We said we’re looking for somewhere to eat, she recommended some places and then said “jump in I’ll take you” so that saved some walking. We had another great steak and a few beers.
Today was Nigel’s wedding anniversary. He tried to get Brownie points by getting flowers sent to the wife at home, who had forgotten all about it!
Day 2. 11th August.
Springfield, Illinois – Rolla, Missouri.
We had bought some wire and connectors yesterday so set about wiring the bikes for our satnav’s. It was interesting to note how we both quietly enjoyed the excuse for a bit of tinkering! Nigel has a new satnav so was getting to grips with the settings etc. We decided to try and follow the old R66 as much as we could, which took us on some very back road locations, including a stretch of block brick road, which was very quaint, and also very nice, but only be a short stretch! Lots of nice houses on this stretch, many on big plots with several big cars and boats in the driveway, clearly an area with money. It was also clear that a lot of that money went into the many different brands of Churches that we past, most of which were large, relatively new, and rather expensive looking. There’s money in this religious business it seems! We were getting hungry and challenged by the fact there were more Churches than eateries, but we eventually found an old fashioned eating place where the glasses of milk, and the cheese omelettes were huge, and great. We also learned here that Americans serve hash browns in kit form, ie you get a (large) pile of fried grated potato! We spent the next few hours going through some interesting countryside but not seeming to make a lot of progress. We later learned that Nigel had his sat nav set so it was taking us on the most back of the back roads! On one of these back roads we had to do a U-turn, This is where Nigel learnt how heavy the Road King was, he lost his footing and couldn’t hold up the bike, so it rested on its (rather well designed) crash bars. He could not pick it up, in fact the two of us only just managed it!
All these back roads took time, so we jump onto the highway to knock off the last 90 miles or so. We stayed in a simple motel, not possible to walk into town, so it was some beer from the filling station next door and across the road to the Steak and Shake for a burger and chips. It was a very hot all day so early to bed.
DAY 3. 12th August.
Rolla, Missouri – Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Made an ‘early’ start, just after 9 by the time we’d breakfasted etc though. The old R66 is fragmented and difficult to follow at this point so we jumped onto Interstate 44 and went for it. The speed limit is 70 here and a comfortable cruising speed is just below that (because of the buffeting from the screen). Despite this we were constantly being overtaken by mammoth trucks. We stopped in a small town, Claremore, about 25 miles short of Tulsa, found a motel type place with bar and restaurant nearby, perfect. Shortly after we stopped a tremendous thunderstorm started and the rain was unbelievable for 40 mins or so, glad we weren’t still riding. Suitably fed and watered we had another early night.
DAY 4. 13th August.
Tulsa – Clinton, Oklahoma.
The old R66 becomes more defined from now on (so we are told) so with an even earlier start we planned to follow the old road all day. We were able to follow the R66 route for a long way but the rain became persistent. We were starting to see more Indian influence, which wasn’t really as we’d expected. A lot of the towns are tiny, houses tiny too, and very rundown with rusting old cars, trucks, and all sorts littering their yards, The Indian land is utterly under-utilised and there’s lots of rather new, rather vulgar, casinos dotted around in the middle of nowhere. Such vast expanses of utterly unused land are hard for us to comprehend, especially coming from England. The rain was still persistent and the old R66 becoming very fragmented and difficult to navigate again, so we jumped onto the I40 to do the last few miles. We hadn’t booked a hotel, we were expecting Clinton to be a ‘happening’ kind of place, and we were wrong, it was very small, and the motels all were very rundown, some looked practically derelict. Some, even though looking derelict, clearly had people actually living in them. They weren’t so inviting looking, so we decided to go a bit upmarket and stayed in a Hampton Inn. It had no bar or restaurant but next door was a steakhouse with all we needed. We met Mike, a freelancer working in the oil business as a drilling and completion consultant. He was interested in world politics and we had lively discussions on Brexit, Trump etc. Then he got religious and started telling us that only those who believed in the son of God would go to heaven, and he wanted us to believe so he could “talk to Neil and Nigel in heaven”. We parted on good terms. Both of us were pretty tired so another early night.
DAY 5.14th August.
Clinton, Oklahoma – Amarillo, Texas.
I misread my watch and overslept. It was very misty, foggy and quite chilly. However we still made the earliest start yet. We started following the old R66 route for several miles heading for Amarillo. It often runs alongside the Interstate Highway but goes through towns which can be more interesting. Inevitably we lost the route again, but took a road going west. This took us right out into country away from the Interstate Highways through more small towns, so was more interesting. The weather improved the further west we went and we could see very dark ominous clouds in our mirrors that we were glad to be leaving behind. We were approaching Texas and the terrain was opening up… a lot. We started seeing oil derricks, oil refineries, huge cattle ranches and even a buffalo ranch. At one point we were riding through a wind farm, and we could see windmills as far as the eye could see, in all directions! It started getting really hot as we got to Amarillo, but as it was early, we decided to go to the ‘Cadillac Ranch’. This is where some genius had planted a number of 50’s Cadillacs end on in the ground and people come along and paint graffiti on them, only in America! At one of our fuel stops, an old black fella came up to talk to us about the bikes, telling us how he used to go to Sturgis (so many people said this). We shook hands as he left, he wasn’t watching where he was going, missed his footing and fell over with quite a ‘thud’. He was a pretty big chap (Nigel reckoned 20+ stone) and he couldn’t get up, being a gent, I was happy to help him up. Where was Nigel I thought, 20ft away, his back turned to us, trying hard to hide the fact he was laughing so much he was no use to anyone! We had a terrible time finding our hotel. Amarillo is huge and the traffic was a nightmare and the satnavs got confused and were basically useless as they kept sending us around in circles! By the time we did find it, with some local help, I was soaking with sweat. A shower and change of clothing plus some cold beer sorted that. Our hotel and restaurant was ‘The Big Texan’ and had been exalted somewhat by the Eagle rider blurb. It was very ‘themed’ and it was OK… for one night. Their speciality was a 72oz steak dinner that was free if you ate in within an hour, they had a huge slab of meat on show, which, of course, was the 72oz steak. Seeing that was more than enough for us to decline the challenge! It’s still hot, and dry. Nigel’s nose has burnt and peeled already.
We’ve now done 1100 miles.
DAY 6. 15th August.
Amarillo, Texas – Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Got away at 8. Started off on the I40 highway for 100 miles and at Tucumcari we took the minor highway 104 to Las Vegas (not that Las Vegas) for another 100 miles. Along the way we realised we had gone thru a time zone and had gained an hour. The road was a very quiet road, almost no traffic, no towns and few buildings. The earth is red and the terrain was flat with scrubby vegetation but gradually flat topped hills appeared and eventually a small mountain range appeared. It looked like a western film set, you could almost see Indians on the top. We past a strange car ‘junk yard’ packed with rusting old cars and trucks from the 1930’s onwards. Once at Las Vegas the sun started to get hot so we took the Interstate Highway to Santa Fe where we found a great hotel. Up until now, other road users have been unbelievably courteous even when we were stopped where we shouldn’t be, or doing U turns, etc. That stopped in Santa Fe where normal ‘dog eat dog’ traffic rules seem to apply. As we were early we couldn’t get into the rooms so headed for a recommended bar which was inside a supermarket (obviously). We got talking to an English man who lived locally and he recommended a restaurant called Fire and Hops. It was good, and they brewed their own beer and cider which seems to be the thing over here. Hot and tired, we had another reasonably early night. We’ve now done 1500 miles.
DAY 7. 16th August.
Santa Fe – Gallup, New Mexico.
Suitably breakfasted, we left at 8.30 and picked up a stretch of the old R66. It’s difficult to follow as after a while the signs disappear, and often the road too. So we ended up back on the Interstate Highway. We picked up R66 again into Albuquerque, NM largest city. After much difficulty we managed to get through the city and pick up a good stretch of old R66 through very dramatic and desert like terrain with great big sand stone buttes and mountains in the distance. We saw a few really, really, long trains. It was so hot I decided to change into jeans and Nigel took his jacket off. He put it back on when we reached to Interstate Highway where we blasted off the next 100 miles or so. The rain started 30 miles or so from our destination and yes I still had jeans on so got wet. We found rooms in El Rancho hotel, a characterful place (even if the staff were far from it) whose claim to fame was all the film stars who’d stayed there. I was in the Claude Akins room. No, nor me either. A few other bikes started to arrive in the evening. We’ve done 1700 miles and are well over halfway.
DAY 8. 17th August.
Santa Fe, New Mexico – Flagstaff, Arizona.
Loading up the bikes in the morning we saw that a lot of other bikes had arrived overnight. We had a brief chat with a Belgian lady who was with a large French group. She had a Softail Heritage at home, and was only of a small build, so resect to her!
We followed old Route 66 for a while and then took the Interstate Highway. We crossed the state border into Arizona and after a while noticed we’d crossed into another time one and had gained an hour. The terrain was similar to yesterday but becoming even more desert like. The earth was very sandy, scrubby vegetation but no sign of any form of farming, buildings, telephone wires, signs, or in fact any evidence of human existence at all, apart from the road we were on, as far as the eye could see in all directions, and it was like this for miles and miles of riding. Mountains started to appear in the distance and gradually fir trees appeared. We did the last few miles on old R66 just as rain started. Along the way there were poems on signposts at the side the road Eg “If daisies are your favourite flower, keep pushing up those miles per hour”. Quaint!
We’d not booked anything so had to look for a hotel in Flagstaff. We found a decent motel with pool, laundry facilities and breakfast, which was only a short walk into downtown. We decided to stay 2 nights so we can explore the Grand Canyon tomorrow. The coffee on offer so far has been pretty dire, so Nigel was rather pleased to find a Starbucks. Went downtown that evening, had a couple of beers and a lovely big steak. Moved on to a very lively Irish bar where we met 2 couples, Dave (kinda retired and wouldn’t really say what he did) and Cathy (nurse), Rick (helicopter pilot) and Desiree (nurse). Needless to say we had a few more beers and a lively evening with quite a bit of banter before walking back to the hotel.
Now covered 1900 miles.
DAY 9. 18th August.
Off to the Grand Canyon today.
Did the 90 miles or so to the Grand Canyon. Roads more mountainous and at least had some bends. A cop car came flying past (a reminder to stick to speed limits).Further up the road a woman had managed to drive her car into a deep ditch, she was unhurt and the car undamaged, but I’ve no idea how she was getting that car out of there. More strange Indian ‘towns’ as we approached the Canyon area; newly built wooden houses in open fields… not roads or streets, just houses in fields.
At the Canyon, it was extremely busy and difficult to park. We found another parked Harley and squeezed in to share its space, not so easy with these big bikes! It also was very hot so we divested ourselves of as much motorcycling gear as we could. The spectacle of the Canyon is truly breath taking and it’s difficult to get it into perspective it’s so huge. As it was a Saturday in August it was just heaving with people, so we decided to move on. As we were leaving, the other Harley riders were too, Kevin and Cath from Swindon of all places! We got back on the bikes and continued riding round the rim, stopping at various viewing places. We saw the Belgian / French contingent again, having huge row about (of all things) where to have their lunchtime picnic… yet more evidence that doing it our way was best! Sat looking across the Canyon we could clearly see a dark rainstorm, and it was coming our way. We passed through some minor thunderstorms as we returned to Flagstaff for cold beers and to do some laundry. Went downtown for eats and some beers and back for an early night. Both are very tired particularly yours truly. Now done 2100 miles.
DAY 10. 19th August.
Flagstaff – Kingman, Arizona.
Today and are expecting to be able to ride a more significant part of old R66 route. After the initial 50 miles or so on the Interstate Highway we turned off onto, for once, a clearly marked old R66 stretch and managed to follow this for the rest of the day. It was getting very hot again, but for once the grass was green and there were lots of wild flowers growing by the roadside. There were also cattle and horses grazing. This didn’t last however, and we gradually entered what was obviously a desert. The small towns were all a shrine to old R66, with all sorts of memorabilia, old cars and tourists taking photos, all very American. We stopped at one building, miles from anywhere, with an old hot rod, furniture etc and chatted to an Italian couple who were also travelling from Chicago to LA. Just before we left, the French group with ‘Belgian Lady’ arrived en mass. Arrived at our rather R66 themed hotel in Kingman shortly after midday and were lucky to be able to check in immediately. Nigel wanted to do a trip to a desert town called Lake Havusa City to see London Bridge (someone had bought it thinking it was Tower Bridge, shipped it out and re-erected it. Wonder what he thought when he realised his mistake?!). Anyway, it was now at least 40 degrees so I opted out and left Nigel to it, it was 45 degrees on Nigel’s route, so I was happy to explore the hotel, and bar. I got chatting (or rather listening) to the only one other customer, a 32 year old Harley owning truck driver. He was very impressed with our trip going all the way from east to west on Harley’s. He did not own a passport so had never been out of the States, not even to Canada. He had never heard of the EU and thought Britain was overrun with Syrian refugees. Putting him right was difficult. He then got religious, saying how everything going wrong in the world was predicted in the bible, and that it would tell you how it was all going to end. At this point I took my leave and went and had a sleep as it was too hot even to take a swim. In general, the R66 West of Flagstaff to LA proved to be the best portion of the route.
Now done 2300 miles.
DAY 11. 20th August.
Kingman, Arizona – Barstow, California.
We got on the road early to try and cover some distance before the worst of the heat. Our route took us through the Mojave Desert and we expect to see a lot more of the old R66. Our plan to first of all do a loop of the old R66 worked very well. The roads quite suddenly become very twisty, steep, mountain passes with really dramatic scenery all around. We saw one rusty old car that had clearly overshot a bend at some point and rolled downhill and just been left. Then we came into Oatman which is all old buildings and memorabilia, wild donkeys left over from the mining period and is very characterful with lots of souvenir shops etc. Again we briefly came across the argumentative French / Belgian contingent. Oatman looks like a Disney cowboy film set, but it’s real. Parts of it were actually used for the film ‘How the West Was Won’. After some more thoroughly enjoyable mountain roads we hit the Interstate for a while. We tried 3 times to get off it and onto the old R66 only to find the road closed. We went past the ‘road closed’ signs at one point and ended up in Essex, a virtually derelict, yet still inhabited ‘one horse town’ in the middle of nowhere. We were fascinated to think who lives here? And even more so, why?? We had to return to the Highway however and eventually got onto the old R66, which basically just headed off into the desert… and yours truly was running very low on fuel. It later transpired that we were both running ‘what if’ scenarios in our heads in the event of me running dry. So we were both rather chuffed to come across Roys Motel, café and gas station in the middle of the desert. It was being overrun by a rather excitable French family, who were also taking pictures of the place, and our bikes, and even us! We had been riding thru’ the desert nearly all day and the heat just radiates up from the road and it’s like someone is holding a hot hair dryer in front of your face. It was therefore absolutely delightful to sit in the air conditioned little shop and have some cold drinks for a while. We started to hit some mountains once back on the Interstate Highway and got to our hotel shortly after 3. Have now done 2500 miles.
DAY 12. 21st August.
Barstow – Santa Monica, California.
Now have just over 100 miles to Santa Monica Pier (the supposed ‘End of Route 66’). LA is a bit of a nightmare with traffic, and the old R66 has long since been swallowed up by the city, so we planned a route to take us around LA and avoid the worst of the traffic. We’d booked a hotel in Woodland Hills, just north of Santa Monica and Malibu, for 2 nights. It was pretty much an ‘all freeway’ journey, through hilly terrain and increasingly habited. The density, speed and aggression of the traffic increased very quickly but it was a straightforward journey and we were at the hotel by late morning. Luckily we could get into the rooms immediately. We decided to go down to Santa Monica Pier to ‘formally’ complete the route, register our arrival and get our R66 completion certificate (well, you have to, don’t you) and this was easily done. After some time mooching about the pier we headed back to the hotel and found a twisty, hilly Canyon road and it was fun to be able to throw the old Harley around a bit. And quite surprising too to be honest as they were really quite impressive. Cold beers awaited us at the hotel followed by dinner and an early night. 2700 miles done.
DAY 13. 22nd August.
Pacific Highway run.
Plan to do a run up Highway 1 today the Pacific Highway road. It turns out Highway 1 is similar to old R66 in that it turns onto the new freeway 101 in many places and it’s difficult to find the old highway after that. We did 40 odd miles before being routed onto the freeway and it was at that point I realised I had developed a pathological hatred of them when on a bike and can only tolerate them if there’s no option. We turned around and just about managed to find our way back onto Highway 1. We found a seafood restaurant (not as easy as you might think considering we were on the Pacific Highway) and had a fabulous slap up lunch, overlooking the beach and beautiful blue sea, to celebrate our achievement. We were also joined by large group of vey exotic super cars that had turned up for some reason or another too. We got chatting to two Scottish ladies, one of which was just dying to steer the conversation around to telling us that her husband was in the band ‘The Marmalades’ back in the ‘70s. Oh the Glamour of LA! Back to the hotel to repack in preparation of handing bikes back tomorrow. Time to open the cold beers, although before having his, Nigel went of another ride to explore the Malibu Canyon road. My speedo now showing I’d done 2900 miles and Nigel over 3000.
DAY 14. 23rd August.
Returning our trusty steeds.
Did the 25 miles or so to Eagleriders depot near LA airport fairly easily. We were going to do a complex ‘shuttling’ operation to get each of us where we needed to be, but we decided to keep it simple and return the bikes and take taxis! Nigel is staying in Santa Monica with his family for another 10 days or so, and I’m meeting up with 2 nephews, one with his wife, from Vancouver and also staying in Santa Monica for the next 3 days before flying home on Sunday 26th.
We’ve had a fantastic trip, no major problems and we’ve worked well together as a team.
Neil Kerr and Nigel Waring.