Day Seven: Flagstaff, Arizona to Kingman, AZ; 147 Miles; Snow, Sleet, Hail and Rain; Williams; French, German and Brazilian Visitors; Route 66; No Grandchild Yet; Monk.

Yesterday was a horrible ride. You know how some people say things like: Hey, a bad day fishing (or substitute an activity you enjoy – playing golf?) is better than a good day in the office? Well, I disagree. My ride was terrible. Besides, I like my office. I work with some great people. I would have far rather been in the office!

I had breakfast at a Route 66 favorite, the Galaxy Diner, then headed out toward Williams. Beautiful flakes of snow were falling, and I was freezing! Before, I reached Williams it started hailing. Williams is one of my favorite Route 66 towns. After coffee at a diner the weather decided to have fun keeping me guessing what it was going to throw at me. Regardless, it was underlined by the fact that it was freezing. I don’t have heated handlebar grips, and I had forgotten to recharge my batteries in my gloves, so I just took turns holding on to the bars with one hand, while I stuck the other one behind my knee to try and warm it up. I was wearing a tee shirt, two long sleeve shirts, a sweater, my leather jacket and a rain jacket on top of it. I had blue jeans on and over them my Joe Rocket Ballistic motorcycle trousers. Two pairs of socks. I cut my speed to 60-65 and I was still freezing.

More coffee at a restaurant in Seligman, which was where I saw the foreigners, mostly on Harleys. There was an attractive woman at the table next to mine. She wasn’t the gorgeous type, just a natural, wholesome beauty, with a cute smile. I wanted her to ditch the guy she was with and ride off with me. Why else did I bring another helmet? We could have bilingual children, enjoy bratwurst and grits, and go out often for kaffee and kuchen. You see what happens to you when you travel by yourself for a long time on a motorcycle.

The Route 66 road was in good shape. You can’t say that about everywhere along its path. I remember thumping along a few years back on a section that still had the 1920’s Portland concrete laid down. Every few feet you went air born. By the way, I have written about my previous journeys across country on this road where I actually did stop by minor things like the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. There’s a search box on this page where you can find links to all sorts of things – like the Lamed Vav and beer caves. I figure you don’t want me simply repeating a view of the sites. I don’t write that descriptive stuff well. Plenty of others have. I write about what I’m feeling and thinking.

I had hoped to go another 60 miles to Needles, California but when I stopped for coffee, I knew I could not force myself to get back on that bike and out on the highway. I just sat in the McDonalds, stunned, eyes unfocused, and waited until I had thawed out. I treated myself to a room at a Best Western.

No sign of any grandbaby yet. I’ve already bought his Harley onesie and bib. At least my daughter and I have compromised on my grandparent name. I wanted the baby to use my biker name: Monk. She said: “There is no way that I am going to let that baby call you Monk!” We agreed on Pappy. Now, don’t tell her, but when she’s not around, I might just  whisper the occasional Monk to the new whippersnapper.

Day Five: Tucumcari to Gallup, New Mexico- 319 miles; Miserable Ride That Gradually Got Better; Route 66; Impermanence; Love, Loss and Hope; Another Dog; Do Apaches not Like Navajos?

I was happy to leave that motel that I stayed at in Tucumcari. There were only two cars parked in the huge lot and I felt sorry for the owner. Clearly, he was trying to return a once busy motel back to its glory days; when Route 66 was the only road west near here.  You can search the internet and find out all sorts of things about Route 66, the Mother Road. I have written about it here in this blog years ago when I made another journey through here.  The road spawned a song, “Get your kicks on route 66,” and even a TV series. But mainly it spawned the imagination of folks- in desperate times, as in the book, The Grapes of Wrath, but, more significantly in that archetypal journey we all are beckoned to take. People come from all over the world to experience what’s left of this cross-country road. The writer Tolstoy said: All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. So too our lives.: hope, success, love,  loss, escape, and hope again. It’s a long journey, and if we take it – we should bring lots of snacks and stay well hydrated, and who knows how things will end. One of the essential doctrines of Buddhism is impermanence. They don’t have a lock on the concept, of course. We love people, places, jobs, objects, and we lose them. We grow attached to them and it hurts like the dickens when we lose them. I’ll tell you one thing – impermanence has a lot to answer for!

The trip this day didn’t start well. It was 45 degrees, my back was hurting, and my trigeminal neuralgia was being triggered by the strong, gusting winds. Not much you can do on a motorcycle when you’re feeling poorly, other than not ride, or ride through it. I kept my visor down, put my legs up, then down, leaned forward, back – you name it. I could only manage about 20 miles at a time to start with. Then I ‘d have to take a break, have coffee and stretch. Over the course of the morning things gradually got better, except for the 20mph head wind, which was to be with me all day. After 319 miles I stumbled into Gallup, New Mexico and found a nice room at the Sleep Inn.

The hot water felt so good I nearly cried in the hot shower. I gave thanks to God. Then, I wanted a beer. Remember the song I wrote about a few blog entries ago? I’ll wait while you look back at it.

I found a sports bar where I could watch some basketball and baseball. But mainly a place I could have a cold, calming, draft beer and forget about things.

A Navajo woman about my age was siting at the table beside me with her grandson and her service dog. She told me about her life: husband died two years ago; it had been a huge loss for her which was why she needed the dog. Her husband had been a veteran and was one of those people who never thought he’d die, so it came as a shock to everyone. She lived alone and traveled and worked on three Apache reservations. Did I know that some Apache don’t like Navajo? No, I didn’t, I replied. She said that when she first started to work on the reservations the women thought she was going to try to steal their husbands. She reassured them. She’d like to retire but what would she do? Besides, families need her help.  We both took a sip of our beers and stared at the baseball game; Arizona, her team, was losing. Love, loss, hope.

Day 4: Gallup, New Mexico to Williams, Arizona; Fierce winds; Free Chiropractic adjustments; Watch out for elk! Ghosts of El Jefe; Grand Canyon Brewery.

I had only planned to go 220 miles yesterday, which would bring me to Williams, a nice Route 66 town I had stopped at twice before. It was a good thing. New Mexico interstates are not bad in the general scheme of highways in the universe (easily beat Illinois!) but why do they have to add those bumps when you’re going over the overpasses? The bounces caused me to shout out small oaths but also provided me with free Chiropractic manipulations that I didn’t really need.
Then there are signs for Indian jewelry, moccasins, art, knives, hats… and frequent places you could buy them.
It was the signs announcing watch out for elk: next 30 miles, that bothered me most. I know that most elk can read English and so choose these very areas to cross, knowing you are more likely to be watching out for your welfare and theirs. I suppose it’s a bit of a win-win situation. Deer can’t read and are visually allergic to the signs so they cross anywhere, except where they’re supposed to.
Then it’s started getting windy. I thought at first that it wasn’t as bad as when I rode through Hurricane Point on the Pacific Coast Highway with El Jefe a few years back, but then I felt the wind speed increasing. (Later, when I reached Flagstaff I read the weather report that said there was a wind advisory with winds 25-35 mph and gusts to 45). Being on a bike in heavy winds is no fun, especially if there are gusts and cross winds. You feel like you’re facing a welterweight boxer with a good right hook. The wind tries to yank your helmet off. Slaps you around a bit. Makes you think of sins you have committed. So after about 100 miles of this I pulled off in Flagstaff to search for real coffee. I got stuck in a traffic jam caused by some yellow Herzog train track vehicles riding back and forth on the tracks like they were part of a circus parade. The name Herzog reminded me of a book of the same name written by Saul Bellow. There was a line in it that went something like: “Herzog learned from Madeline (his wife) that when a woman was done with a man she was done with him utterly.” It was ironic seeing that sign because that theme is part of this journey too – dealing with women who have been done with me utterly. But that will be revealed as time and the road unfold. Anyway, as I rode into the historic part of Flagstaff I quickly changed my mind about the coffee when I saw the Flagstaff Brewing Company. I found a spot to park out front, a nice cute bartender named Savanna and an incredibly smooth and tasty Kolsch beer.
Back on the road I had only 30 more miles of wind and wonder to Williams. I stayed at the Highlander Motel. My kind of place, except they didn’t have a sign out front advertising Color TV’s, nor a bottle opener on the wall in the bathroom – normal luxuries you find only in the finest establishments.
I changed clothes, lit up my first Acid Kuba Kuba cigar, walked around the town and enjoyed looking into the eclectic shops. And then I saw a shop, Tattoos by Jefe and it reminded me of my good buddy and our trip across country 3 years ago.
I walked over to the Grand Canyon Brewery had some pizza and a nice American Pilsner.
Later, I walked back to the motel. The no vacancy sign was lit. I phoned my daughter and fell down on the bed feeling all beat up from the winds.
Safe travels today.

Day 3: Amarillo to Gallup, New Mexico. 423 miles: Trip Total 1533 miles; Crossing the Continental Divide; Beautiful day inside a huge miniature model train set.

I’m hunkering down in Holbrook, Arizona having a cup of coffee, catching up on yesterday.
I headed out in the morning determined not to book a place for the night, considering last night’s disaster. Interstate 40 parallels, and sometimes replaces, the legendary road Route 66. Four years ago my buddy El Jefe and I rode across country and took Route 66 frequently. You can’t take it the whole ways anymore, as much of it was decommissioned but there are still some nice sections, small towns with rustic looking cafes and old fashioned, western style motels.
Leaving Amarillo, I quickly came upon the Cadillac Ranch where, as an art statement, 10 cadillacs are half buried in the Texas dirt.
I only saw one small one armed oil pump as I road through Texas. However, there were miles of wind farms, the huge blades moving like arms of synchronized swimmers or Olympic backstrokers.
Gentle rolling hills, and agricultural fields with those long arm irrigation units, gave rise to flat lands, dotted with scrub brush and small, hardy evergreens. Coming into New Mexico the wind, out of the south, picked up quite a bit and I had to lean into it. I lowered my visor as I rode through a veil of dust blowing across the road. A dead buck lay by the center meridian and caused me to perk up. Later, a crowd was gathered in the median where a tractor trailer had overturned. Omens? I rode on.
About 30 miles out of Albuquerque I began to see pale, gray blue hills in the distance. I rode this beautiful view all the way into the city. The interstate was decorated with beautiful, colorful, Native American art forms.
Leaving, long, tall, flat mesas of different heights began to appear on the horizon. As the sun shone upon them I struggled to come up with a few words to describe their colors: pumpkin, Georgia red clay, magnolia, limestone? Near the road rose grassy, chocolate brown outcrops of rocks.
And then there were trains. Long trains transporting containers seemed all over the place, transporting goods east and west. I raced a few but they couldn’t keep up with Big Red, my Harley. With the beautiful, unfolding landscape I felt like I was a small motorcycle rider in some huge miniature model train set. That was fun.
I decided to stop in Gallup, New Mexico for the night and saw signs for a motel I knew I couldn’t miss. But I saw a sign for the El Ranchero Hotel and something compelled me to cut off the interstate. It was an old rustic hotel built in 1937 for a base for movie productions in the area. I loved it, checked in and spent a few hours in the rustic, western, 49er bar. Who can resist a bar that the actor Errol Flynn once rode a horse into? I couldn’t and didn’t.
Whatever you ride, ride it safely.

Day Four: El Reno Oklahoma to Tucumcari New Mexico. Namaste!

Back in Georgia the time is now 8:50 pm Monday, in Ireland it’s 1:50 am Tuesday and here in Tucumcari, New Mexico I’d say it’s about 1950. That’s because the town still holds onto much of the grandeur of the 1930’s and 50’s when Route 66 was the only road in town; almost literally.  Once the interstate was built much of old Route 66 was abandoned. But some old diners and motels persist! Beautiful relics to a time long ago.

Today was a long biking day. Over 400 miles. Right now I’m sitting in the Desert Inn motel drinking a Tecate beer with the air conditioner on and feeling like I’m in somewhat of a stupor. Despite a couple of rounds of factor 50 sunscreen I’m toasted.  I hope I can write more intelligibly later but for now just a brief update.

Jeff took his bike to the Harley shop first thing and they managed to sort the problem out. By 10am we were on the road. Due to our different styles of riding with Jeff being a man with a mission, and me being a bit of a dawdler (“Hey, let’s see what’s down here!) we decided to again meet up somewhere later and ride at our own paces. We kept in touch a few times by texts during the day but otherwise we just met up an hour ago. He took off on Interstate 40 where the speed limit soars to 75mph. His story, which he can tell better than I, is that once we split up his handlebars starting going a bit wonky; too loose. He got to Amarillo, visited another Harley shop then drove on to Tucumcari.

He later admitted that the problem had been his own fault. Last night I had given him a small Route 66 gremlin bell and he had failed to attach it to his bike.  Motorcycle gremlins love to hitch rides on motorcycles. They are mischievous rascals who cause all sorts of mayhem. A minivan cuts in front of you; your battery goes dead, road gators charge after you, or as in some reported cases, your handlebars come loose. Apparently, if you get a bell on your bike (it has to be given to you-you can’t buy it yourself) the gremlins get trapped in the bell, the ringing drives them nuts and they lose their grip and fall onto the road. Jeff has promised me he will put the bell on tomorrow.

I decided to go Route 66 for awhile, back through Bethany and Yukon and El Reno where legal speeds can gust up to 55mph. I managed to take the wrong roads twice (not the same road-two different ones) but I also stopped and took pictures of an old bridge, of the great bar Jeff and I went to last night and then tried to go a bit further on Route 66  but I ended up on a section of pre-1937 route which was built with poured Portland concrete. I began to realize why they don’t drive much of the old-old route anymore: bounce, smooth, bounce, smooth-every 10 yards!

So I went back onto I-40 and settled into the 75 mph mantra. I crossed the rest of Oklahoma, then went across the top of Texas and slithered into New Mexico. I had to stop every hour or so to gas up,  rehydrate and to administer to myself a mental status exam to ensure I could still ride safely. I know there is a population crisis and that we should take this very seriously but really, has anybody been to the top of Texas and ridden across I-40? Miles and miles of deserted land. I know I went more than once about 40 miles without seeing a gas station. Consequently, I almost ran out of gas.

Amarillo was a bit dicey when I came upon a rolled up carpet and small pieces of wood blocking my lane. I braked, down shifted, looked left to change lanes but a car was there, to the right was another car so I somehow managed to slalom the bike and thread my way around the debris. I also dodged a metal bar in the road and avoided attacks by those pesky road gators, bits of tires lying in wait to pounce.

I decided not to take a chance on running out of gas again and so stopped about 20 miles east of Tucumcari. The filling station it turned out was run by Indians-no, not native Americans but real Indians. I stopped at the pump and it said: sold out. So I rolled the bike back to a pump that didn’t have a notice. Engine off, kickstand down, glasses off, helmet off, fingerless gloves off and I start filling. Turns out this one is out of gas too. I roll the bike over to another pump and try again and I get 20 cents worth. I stop and go inside and explain my problem to the Indian cashier. He says that they are out of premium gas. I ask whether I can have $5 of regular gas and give him $10. For some reason the cash register jams and I hear him discussing and arguing in some Indian language with a man standing by. This takes about 5 minutes.  I’m exhausted, frustrated and I’m thinking: I need to show love and compassion for all beings! Finally, the man says “You can do it now”. I ask for my $5 back from the $10 I gave him and he says: “Oh I thought you wanted $10 dollars on pump 5!”

I say: “That’s fine.” and “Namaste” which essentially means: “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you”. I go back to the pump and the tank will only hold $9 worth. “Namaste” and I ride off.

Later I make it to our motel  and the receptionist is another Indian man (not native American) who is delightful, charming and helpful. I kind of mutter but he is patient and suggests places to eat and drink.

And drink I do! I’m on my second can of Tecate right now and ready for bed.

Nameste to you and good night!

Day 3: Mother’s Day, the Mother Road-Route 66, Mechanical Problems and Gilmore’s Pub and Barefoot Bar

Very long and eventful day. I’m pretty knackered so I’m not sure how much I can record. Jeff and I are just back from Gilmore’s Pub, an amazing bar in El Reno Oklahoma. The food was delicious, the service excellent and the hospitality heart warming.

Things started innocently enough this morning. We had breakfast at an amazing place called Susan’s in Springdale.  Sausage and cheese omelet, grits, biscuit and gravy and coffee. Waitresses happy, flirtatious (Bless their hearts!) and considerate. After a great meal we were ready for the road.

Before leaving, we asked for a few directions and unfortunately the fatal words were uttered: “You can’t miss it”. As far as I am concerned that’s the kiss of death when it comes to getting directions. I have a decent chance of finding anywhere until those words are uttered. Even a blind hog can find an acorn every once in a while. Remembering these curse words though I double checked our map: Highway 412 to Tulsa and then left when we got to 193, then right on 11th Street. Can’t miss it. We headed out. Decent enough road to start with but then we had to pay a toll for the privilege of driving on a bumpy, line riddled turnpike. Mostly flat countryside, but there were occasional green fields full of peach colored flowers that made me think of the concept of grace.

“Left on 193” I repeated it like a mantra as I took the lead. Okay, maybe I went into one of these fugue states Jeff accuses me of but I never saw 193. We were probably 10 miles past Tulsa before Jeff signaled to me and we exited. We had decided to ride this trip without using GPS and so we are left with memorizing routes or checking our maps when we stop. It’s a little awkward unfolding a map while you’re riding. We figured that if we went back an exit turned right, headed south, we would pick up the road we were looking forward, America’s Mother’s Day road, Route 66, an incredibly historical and important early route across North America. Amazingly ,we found the road and stopped at a gas station. Jeff traveled Route 66 as a child so it was one of those trips down memory lane for him.  Enjoyable as it was he was starting to worry about time and the distance we needed to travel. I was instead in one of these Zen frames of mind where I was happy with whatever was happening; just enjoying the moment. After we filled up at a gas station we agreed that if we got separated we’d just meet at the junction of Highway 81 and Route 66 in El Reno. That way if I wanted to ride 66 and he wanted to stick more with the interstate then we’d be free to chose our routes. I took off.

I did well for quite a few miles and I need to write at some point about the fascinating things I saw on this stretch of Route 66. But when I got into Oklahoma City I got lost, but not badly. Long story, but what I liked about it was that I didn’t stress out or worry but instead just enjoyed the ride. Maybe the wrong places you get to are the right places and you don’t know it. By the time I reached our rendezvous point Jeff was already there having taken the interstate instead of the blue highways. Can’t fault him for that though because somehow his rear shock absorber had blown and every time his bike hit a bump he bounced up and down like a fiddler’s elbow.

We had to quickly reconnoiter. Jeff couldn’t drive far without bouncing like a yo yo. A Super 8 motel was within sight and a Harley Dealership was about 13 miles back towards Oklahoma City.  Looks like we were going to spend the night in El Reno. We got a room, a really nice one, and Jeff took a nap. Meanwhile, I Skyped with my daughter Hannah in LA. (Only 6 days til I see her and Saturday Bill!)

I found a pub/ restaurant called Gilmore’s and it had the logo of a leprechaun and boasted about making the best steaks in town. We headed out there. I knew it was our kind of place when Jeff and I parked neatly on the road out in front while another Harley rode up onto the sidewalk and parked outside the pub.

Our experience there was amazing, the steaks great and the friendliness of  Tex and Harley Rose (Photo coming!) was unparallelled in my experience. I’ll try and write about it tomorrow. Should have some downtime as Jeff’s bike is getting fixed.

I know Jeff’s worried about the bike. I would be too. Worried it’ll hold us up; make it harder to rendezvous with our buddy Kevin in Sedona in a few days. I’m sure I must be an exasperating travel companion because I just see everything happening for a reason. I trust it all. No sense worrying about the past or the future. Be here now. Just go with the flow. Don’t push the river; it flows by itself. We’re all exactly where we need to be right now.

Bless his heart; and his bike.