I've written a lot of stories in my time; everything from movie scripts, TV screenplays to song lyrics. As a Moto-Journalist, I've traveled Hong Kong to Hollywood filling pages with photos and prose. Usually struggling with traditional writing conventions, I have no plot, no theme, no storyline; just an endless ribbon of road that unfolds before me. This trip though is more of a rewrite. Yeah, we're gonna follow the basic route Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper did in the classic 1969 biker-flick, Easy Rider. Sure, we're meeting up with actress/motorcyclists Katee Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer on their charity ride from Los Angeles to Louisiana in support of the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), but Easy Rider wasn't scripted; they made it up as they went along and this story too will write itself. Two thousand two hundred miles, five days, two guys, and two girls with one agenda: to ride long and hard. To quote Captain America, "Yeah, I'm hip about time, but I just gotta go."
Get Your Motor Running
In Easy Rider Phil Spector is the "Connection," but he is unavailable on an extended holiday as we depart L.A. with our tanks full of cash, I mean gas. We're anxious with anticipation for the approaching adventure (alliteration; sorry, just can't help myself) and ride east to the high desert. We journey through a very different nation than Captain America and Billy traversed in 1969. American flag's painted on gas tanks, helmets, and even sewn onto jackets is applauded and boldly displaying the international symbol of freedom signifies your allegiance. Not so for longhaired hippies of their era; donning the red, white, and blue was often seen as an act of defiance. My riding compadre is Heath Cofran, Lucky 13 marketing director, daredevil, and all around scoundrel. The red, white, and blue paintjob on his Triumph Bonneville pays homage to his American hero, Evel Knievel.
Cast of Characters
We shed our city skins as the landscape yawned wide open to big sky and barren desert. Catching Highway 62 north towards Joshua Tree, we see giant wind farms churn air into electricity, iconic symbols of America's pursuit for self-reliance from foreign oil. The first town we encounter is Yucca Valley, home of the Route 62 Diner. With a '50s décor, each booth has a Seeburg 100 jukebox and breakfast is served all day. We had the "Road Kill" and the "Panhead" for breakfast. Behind the diner is Hutchins Vintage Motorcycle Museum. To Heath's astonishment, there sat one of the bikes Evel Knievel actually rode in his movie Viva Knievel. What a great start to our story.
Back on Highway 62 we stopped at the Joshua Tree Inn. It's where Gram Parson (The Byrds music group) died in 1973. Room 8 is supposedly haunted and touted as "Home of Gram Parsons' Spirit." It was a really bizarre true story made into a movie called Grand Theft Parsons starring Johnny Knoxville that's well worth the watch. The site of Parsons' desert cremation was marked by a small concrete slab, which has since been removed by the National Park Service and relocated to the Joshua Tree Inn.
Amboy Road to historic Roy's Motel Café is a must-stop on every Easy Rider's road trip. Built in 1938, it served as a desert oasis to travelers on this desolate section of Route 66. Roy's vision of a travelers' Mecca was dashed when the I-15 freeway was built, virtually bypassing old Route 66. Over the years this gas station, motel, and cafe served many thousands and still offers food and gas today (albeit at almost $4 a gallon). This definitely would have been a gas stop for Fonda and Hopper since their Harley Sportster peanut tanks only held 2.5 gallons of gas. Heath can sympathize; his Triumph Bonneville only holds 4.3 gallons as opposed to my Victory Cross Road's 5.8-gallon capacity, which allows me an easy 200 miles between fill-ups.
Looking For Adventure In Whatever Comes Our Way
This has been a fun-filled 120 miles, but the ride has just begun. It's another 375 miles to our first night's stay: the Americana Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona. We connected to Interstate 40 (Route 66 until 1974) and crossed the Colorado River at state line where we see the bridges in the beginning credits of the movie, and I hit play on my iPod cued to "Born to be Wild" by Steppenwolf. I'm officially reliving my favorite biker movie. Riding I-40 to Kingman, we get off the freeway and followed the signs to the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 that still remains today.
Empty rooms at Roy's
Williams, Arizona, was the last town bypassed by Interstate 40 and has a very retro vibe. Stop in and party like it's 1969. Captain America and Billy only put 30 miles on the hardtail choppers they were riding in Easy Rider. My '11 Victory Cross Roads is at ease traveling hundreds of miles through this arid terrain. The sheer multitude of possible leg positions of cleverly designed engine guards and floorboards make this motorcycle a joy to ride. Its user-friendly cruise control, air adjustable suspension, plush seating, and acres of cargo capacity make the Cross Roads a solid touring motorcycle...did I mention its stunning styling?
After 500 miles of riding, we finally arrived at the Americana Inn on Route 66 in Flagstaff. This is where the actors and film crew stayed while shooting here, and true to our mission, we booked a room for the night. Refraining from slanderous remarks or expletives, I will instead reprint a few reviews posted on Trip Advisor by prior patrons.
"Sleeping in your car is a better idea."
"The absolute worst hotel experience one could have."
"The America Inn should be shut down."
Heath in a state of awe
Gonna Make It Happen; Take the World In a Love Embrace
The next morning it was breakfast with Katee Sackhoff (24, Battlestar Gallactica) and Tricia Helfer (Dark Blue, Burn Notice, Battlestar Gallactica). They met on set and found a common bond: motorcycling. Katee, from Seattle, and Tricia, born and raised on a farm in Canada, are both wild spirits; strong-willed and adventurous women. Both own Harleys back home and truly love to ride. They formed the Acting Outlaws (actingoutlaws.org) and their 2,500-mile trek is in support of the Gulf Restoration Network. GRN is the only environmental advocacy group exclusively focused on the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Their ride into Flagstaff was fraught with fierce wind and rain. The weather hasn't been kind to these women. I know because I was there. Katee and Tricia's mission is to raise awareness and support for the future of the Gulf, ensuring coastal communities have the resources they need and making sure we learn the lessons of the BP drilling disaster to keep this from happening again. Their motto is "Do Something."
Katee and Tricia
Our mission is not quite as noble. Heath and I are here to find some film locations used in the Easy Rider movie. As we rode, I reflected on the spirit of an American road trip. A nation of immigrants, we all have different histories and different destinations but our desire is the same: freedom. And as riders, whether be it on Japanese sportbikes, American V-twins, British, or German motorcycles, we're all spinning in the same direction full throttle together on this cosmic blue ball.
Only 10 miles out of Flagstaff is Bellemont. We pulled into Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson for some free coffee and across the parking lot is the Roadhouse Bar and Grille. Hanging in the entry is the original "No Vacancy" sign used in the first location shot. Only a quarter-mile up the road is the Pine Breeze Inn where Billy and Wyatt were denied a room their first night.
"Hey man, ya got a room?"
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
One hundred miles north is Taos, New Mexico, where the swimming scenes at the hippie commune locations were filmed. Stagecoach (Manby) Hot Springs north of Taos has three shallow sand-bottomed rock pools on the east bank of the Rio Grande with temperatures usually about 97 degrees. Dennis Hopper ended up living in Taos for 15 years and it's the burial place of D. H. Lawrence. It's a must for the hardcore easy riders, but after three days of inclement weather and bad motels, a nice room awaited in Santa Fe. The Best Western Sante Fe has an indoor pool, Jacuzzi, great rooms, and a killer complimentary breakfast. The Best Western Hotel chain offers every Captain America a 10 percent discount just by joining its free Rider Rewards Program and are very biker friendly. Most of us are regular workin' stiffs, and our adventures are well prepped and planned and that's OK because Captain America and Billy were chasing the American dream...we get to live it.
The jail from the Easy Rider movie in Las Vegas, New Mexico, today
Fire All of the Guns At Once and Explode Into Space
It's our last day riding with Katee and Tricia, and we all face 40- to 50-mph wind gusts. Quite honestly, my windscreen is flexing as if rubber, and the girls look like biker bobble heads. The big rigs are devouring three-foot tumbleweeds in Pac-Man-like pursuit, leaving us in a wake of shards. After several hours of this brutal beating, the girls remove the motorcycle trunks, reduce their footprint, and keep forging on. Believe me, the last four days have been no picnic looking at the pretty flowers, we've all been getting our asses kicked, and I truly commend these two women riders. Heath and I head toward the mountains for relief while the girls point south; they have another five days of riding through Texas to New Orleans. We easy riders have to get back to Los Angeles, and besides, everyone knows how this story ended for Captain America and Billy. Katee and Tricia went on to raise thousands of dollars for the Gulf Coast Restoration Project. "We are on a quest to do our part to protect the earth and all its inhabitants. We sought a way to marry our love of the open road with our love of humanity. Welcome to the Acting Outlaws," reads an excerpt from the Acting Outlaws website.
Welcome relief...a Corona, lime, and nachos please
The song remains the same, the plot's unchanged, and we're all players in the game. Whether it's Hollywood actors like Fonda and Hopper with roles in Easy Rider, Acting Outlaws Katee and Tricia actually riding 2,500 miles for a charity, or just average Americans spending their hard-earned money touring this wondrous country, Easy Rider captured a spirit, one that still inspires us today. Ultimately we're each writers of our own script defining the story of our lives, and as motorcycle riders it's not our nature to watch the passing parade. We live the adventure, demand a starring role, and yes, we actually do ride off in to the sunset.
Preparing for another day of wrestling Mother Nature
Special Thanks to MrZip66.com, the Acting Outlaws, Best Western Hotel Santa Fe, Daytona Helmets, Lucky 13, Badd Ass Chaps, Scorpion Sports, Dowco Luggage, Sonnet Technologies, Illusion Motorsports, Ron Sinoy.
Easy Rider is available at Netfix. Be sure to watch the bonus material.
Analogy A Similarity Between Like Features of Two Things, On Which a Comparison May Be Based
Metaphor A Figure of Speech In Which an Implied Comparison Is Made Between Two Unlike Things That Actually Have Something Important In Common
Onomatopoeia The Formation or Use of Words That Imitate the Sounds Associated With the Objects or Actions They Refer To