I've motored west, getting my kicks and then some on Route 66. Truth be told, I've gotten the kicks, in the ass at least. But, if you'll hold my hand, we'll get through another scary part together. First, let's review: I've given you the dirt on the Mother Road for six states so far. In case you failed geography, the next state is good old Arizona. I say old because, well, it's snowbird country. And old people smell (just kidding, Mom).
Aside from snowbirds, who are tucked mostly down south in Phoenix, good ol' Arizona does not stink. Route 66 in Arizona runs 396 incredible miles filled with meteorites, mesas, ghost towns, pueblos, run-down roadside attractions and weathered folks to tell of its unique history. Quite a beauty, too, with fragrant stretches of ponderosa pine and awe-inspiring canyons, plateaus and mountains shaped by volcanoes. Who knew that when the earth upchucked itself, it could be so exquisite? I wish my own crusted-up puke were as scenic. I didn't ralph in Arizona, but with all the hairpin turns I encountered on Sitgreaves Pass, my stomach was certainly in my throat.
Arizona bikers are as gnarly as the terrain. I wanted to be like them. My original plan for the Deuce 6 was to do it the old-fashioned way: live the rough-and-tumble life of a hard-core adventurer. Leave my wallet, cell phone and laptop back in Chicago. With no money in hand, I would be forced to pick up odd jobs to afford the essentials: gas, food and beer. I imagined myself looking like a scruffy vagabond pulling up to a greasy diner and offering to clean out the grease trap or having to shovel cow crap for some cornbread and a slice of moldy cheese.
My dreams of hoboing across the U.S. changed as soon as I picked up my brand-new 105th Anniversary Road King Classic from Harley in Milwaukee. I realized that my luxurious and pristine steel horse would reveal my taste for the good life. I ended up wimping out. With wallet, phone and laptop, I promised myself not to shave for the entire trip to gain respect via my rugged looks.
Did I forget to tell you that I picked up a hot biker chick while in New Mexico? Well, I am telling you now. I saw this dreamy woman with an Easy Rider stars-and-stripes helmet in hand walk out of the airport in Santa Fe. It was love at first sight. She couldn't keep her eyes off of me. I knew my tough-guy half-beard look had mesmerized her.
Damn, I thought to myself after I pulled up to the curb, smiled and told her to hop on, and she actually did! We cruised toward the Petrified Forest National Park, which includes the Painted Desert. After checking out the colorful vistas, huge petrified logs, petroglyphs and an Anasazi ruin, I felt like a true road warrior; that is, until we hit Holbrook, Arizona.
After lunch at Joe & Aggie's Caf, we went to check out the huge Route 66 mural on the side of the eatery. Behind Joe & Aggie's is a small barbershop simply called Stan's. Stan's barbershop was the sort of place you see in old movies featuring a bunch of old dudes with flattops sitting around talking about the weather. I was certainly in need of a haircut, and my sexy passenger was excited to have some stubble removed from my facial fur.
I walked in, and Stan, a senile man who only uses clippers (no scissors), asked me to sit. He immediately started buzzing away without asking what kind of style I wanted. Five minutes and five dollars later, I left Stan's looking like a gay version of Forrest Gump. Luckily, I had a helmet to hide the damage.
My lie has gone far enough. The sexy passenger is actually my hot girlfriend. She flew out to ride through the Grand Canyon with me.
The great thing about ripping through the desert on a sweet bike is the desolation. Perfect solitude is a rare gift. Just make sure you bring a roll of TP. No one wants to wipe their ass with a cactus. I found that out the hard way. Burning up the asphalt about 20 miles west of Flagstaff, my large intestine decided to say hello. Fifty miles out, I was looking at a serious case of splatter butt. Fortunately, I found a place. Unfortunately, it was a dilapidated dive with a bunch of chopped-up bikes out front. I walked in with my new nonawesome haircut and was immediately sized up by everyone in the bar.
A burly, leather-clad Mexican sitting at a rickety old table covered with empty Pabst Blue Ribbon bottles sent me a harsh glare. The dude looked like a mean version of Ponch from CHiPs covered in tattoos with a handlebar mustache. Normally I'd hit the high road, but the lunch special from Joe & Aggie's was ready to make a reappearance. I beelined it to the commode. Sometimes I think God hates me. The toilet was squeezed only inches from the urinal. No gay guard. No door. No walls. No toilet paper. Only a prison-style crapper next to a stained urinal. I had no choice but to drop the deuce. When the job was about halfway done, the giant Mexican barged in and drowned some cacti. We were so close, I actually felt a little splatter.
I walked out of the john, and the burly Mexican looked at me and said, "I don't like you." I replied with some smart-ass remark, and the next thing I knew, all the beer bottles on his table crashed to the floor. He told me to get outside so he could kick my ass.
There was no way that I was going to walk outside so some dude could kick my ass. I summoned my incredible speedy wit and challenged him to an arm-wrestling match. He laughed but still wanted to kick my ass. Contrary to what you might think, I am not a rippling-muscle man. This dude outweighed me by at least 1,000 pounds. No joke. I tested my luck and asked him if he was chicken, saying it loud enough so that the whole bar could hear. He had no choice. I sat at the table, relieved that I had temporarily saved myself from an ass-whooping.
He grabbed my hand and crushed it. As I said before, I am a wussy, but I am good friends with the state arm-wrestling champion of Indiana and wasted no time getting into position. I locked my arm in, tested the dude's strength, waited a bit till he started getting tired and then slammed him to the table.
He got up and knocked over the table. He was out for blood. But instead of killing me, he bolted out of the bar in a fit of rage. Except for my haircut, I am truly awesome. If I learned anything in Arizona, it's that you haven't been truly thirsty until you've choked on desert sand in 110-degree heat and you haven't been truly uncomfortable until you've been misted by the overspray of a giant Mexican biker.
Riding in 110-plus heat is like sitting in front of a gargantuan blow-dryer. Your best bet is to wear full riding gear; not only will it prevent sunburn, you can fill up every pocket full of ice. The melting ice acts as a natural air conditioner. I was completely comfy in 108-degree riding. Most Harley dealers sell a neck cooler. If you can't find one, tie a wet bandana around your neck. Evaporative cooling in low-humidity environments is your best bet.
Ignore the stare of other bikers and drivers. Wearing full gear makes a huge difference in comfort and survival.
Don't put your life in my hands. Do your own research before heading out into the extremes. I can't be held responsible for my own actions, how can I be responsible for your safety?
When crossing the border from New Mexico to Arizona on Route 66, you're just south of the Four Corners area. It's where Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico meet up to have a neat little orgy. There's a monument that marks the exact borders, and for a small fee you can straddle all four states like a cheap whore. Even though you may be tempted to cross four states off your [insert strange list here] list at once, please be respectful, as the monument is located in the Navajo Nation on Ute Mountain Tribal Lands.
If you've never seen the Grand Canyon, you must go (NPS.gov/grca). Summer month crowds will be very aggravating.
A mere 100 miles from Kingman is the city of lights. I suggest you leave your wallet at home.
West of Ash Fork to Topock is the longest unbroken and original stretch of Route 66. This 165-mile section has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Arizona 66 gets well away from the interstate for many miles; there are no working gas stations left on this stretch, so fill up before you head out.
Live to Ride:
Cruising through the desert of the Southwest can be a great experience or it can be fatal. With a few tips, you can prevent your body from turning into a dried-up strip of vulture food. The Mother Road is less traveled in these parts, and it could be a long wait until you are rescued.Water is your friend. A good rule is to carry a gallon of water per person per day. At highway speeds, your sweat glands can't keep up with the evaporation, and your body shuts down. Make sure you fill up before you leave Williams. Cantinas get a bit sparse from here. If your urine is dark in color, drink more water (a pint an hour); if it burns when you pee, see a doctor. I use a CamelBak waist pack filled with a 50/50 mix of water and Gatorade.
If you do break down, don't leave your bike. Conserve your sweat until someone picks you up. Even if you see signs of life, stay put. The horizon line can be over 15 miles in the desert.
Take a nice loop through Petrified Forest National Park (NPS.gov/pefo). See a bunch of old logs and bones and stuff--stuff way older than Arizona's snowbirds. In all of my travel, I have learned only a few things: one, don't win when arm-wrestling fat bikers, and two, America doesn't go callin' a place a National Park for nothing.
Home of the most well-known teepee on Route 66. The Wigwam Village Motel (Galerie-Kokopelli.com/wigwam) is one of the last few villages left on 66.
I remembered a postcard depicting a billboard in Joseph City at the Jackrabbit Trading Post that says, "Here it is." Curiosity pulled me along the road to find out just what it was. I'm still not quite sure but took a photo anyhow.
The song "Take It Easy" by the Eagles is memorialized in Winslow. Stop by if you like to see tourists Standin' on a Corner (Park) in Winslow, Arizona (StandinontheCorner.com).
Twenty miles west of Winslow is Meteor Crater Enterprises (Meteor-Crater.com), a huge hole in the ground--surprisingly not owned by the government--that's 570 feet deep and a mile across. A small rock crashed-landed there 49,000 years ago.
Bobby Troup sings, "don't forget Winona." Don't listen to him and keep going.
Flagstaff is proud of their Route 66 heritage. They renamed their main street in town back to its original name, Route 66.
Original Route 66 watering hole, The Museum Club (MuseumClub.com), is known as Arizona's premiere roadhouse.
Starting at Williams is the largest stretch of predecommissioned Route 66 in the world.
Williams is also the exit to the Grand Canyon.
Powerhouse Visitors Center and headquarters for the Arizona Route 66 Association (KingmanTourism.org).
This is a great Old Western town with burros walking in the streets. The Ghost Riders Gunfighters perform Wild West Shootouts every day. Bring your own carrots or buy them in town to hand-feed the burros (OatmanGoldRoad.com).