In The Making of Easy Rider, Peter Fonda talks of hitting the bar after a long hot day of shooting. He ordered a cold beer but his arms were so stiff from wrestling ape hangers on a hardtail all day that he couldn't even lift the beer to his mouth. He also revealed that he missed out on frolicking around the pool one day because he'd soaked his new leathers in the bathtub to give them a more weathered look and to his embarrassment, his legs turned purple from the dye.
We double back and head east on I-40 towards Flagstaff, then north on Highway 89. I swear to God there was a hitchhiker on the road, and if I didn't have luggage, I would have picked his ass up. You will see Sacred Mountain on your left and this is the point in the movie Captain America and Billy gas up and their hitchhiker pays the tab.
This former gas station is now someone's historic abode
Continue north and you will see the sign for Wupatki National Monument. This is where they camped on day one of the film. Unfortunately, camping at Wupatki National Monument, starting a fire, or climbing on ruins today is completely out of the question unless you actually do want to spend the night in jail.
Heavy Metal Thunder
Long, open expanses allow me to ponder the Cross Roads' robust Freedom 106 engine. This 106ci/1,731cc 50-degree powerplant is truly exceptional. It's a smooth operator with a user-friendly cruise control, yet with a flick of the wrist, unleashes 97 horses and 113 lb-ft of torque charging past big rigs with ease. We catch up with Katee and Tricia on Highway 160, then take Hwy 64 into New Mexico. Ship Rock comes into view and it's one of the most awe-inspiring, surreal visions of our journey. Unfortunately, the awe of Mother Nature unleashes another ferocious downpour and this time she tosses in hail. The girls have bike-to-bike communication, and in the midst of the chaos, Tricia wonders if they should stop. "Stop where?" Katee barks, "We're in the middle of frakin' nowhere...just keep moving." I'm very impressed at Katee and Tricia's fortitude in the face of nature's fury. We all hit Farmington, New Mexico, and had a stiff drink. At this point in the storyline, we're all fully committed to our missions.
Wupatki National Monument
The next morning, we leave for Santa Fe and 40 miles out of Cuba, New Mexico, Heath's Triumph dies and he sputters to the side of the road. The bike won't start; this might be the end of our road trip and the end of the story. Katee and Tricia are 100 miles ahead of us and we're in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday. No cell service, no traffic, no AAA. Pulling every wire, cleaning every contact, plug, and connection his mumbling sounds suspiciously like prayer. The Bonnie roars to life, we genuflect, shout a few Hail Marys, and depart. Strangely enough, this really isn't that far from where Captain America and Billy broke down in the film. It's a great scene where they pull into a farm to fix their bike and two farmers are shoeing a horse. Hopper, who directed the film, wanted a shot of men from completely different eras juxtaposed. One shoes his horse while another changes his tire. The men are generations apart yet both are caring for their beloved symbol of freedom, exemplifying man's common bond.
I-40 takes us past Santa Fe into Las Vegas, New Mexico. Las Vegas harkens back to the '20s and on a Sunday, it's a ghost town and feels like a Hollywood movie set. This is where Captain America and Billy were arrested for parading without a license and where the exterior jail scene was shot. Now Tito's Gallery, this is also the spot where Jack Nicholson (George) took his first drink of the day as well. Nicholson's comedic "Nik Nik Nik Fuf Fuf Fuf" routine came from the film crewmember who maintained the motorcycles. The crewmember would imitate the sound of the bikes as he kicked started them. Kick, Kick, Kick-Fire!
The looming darkness ahead hides nature's fury
No cars, no AAA, no cell service...just prayers to the motorcycling gods