March 12, 2016
By meriwether, Mar 13 2016 06:06AM
John Steinbeck called it “The Mother Road” in his classic novel The Grapes Of Wrath. It was our National Artery . . . our Main Street of America linking the two great cities of Chicago and Los Angeles. For decades it carried Dust Bowl emigrants seeking a better life, soldiers preparing for battle in a war torn world, post-war veterans moving their families and fortunes westward, the commerce of the land . . . and those 20th century adventurers in an auto crazed nation looking to get their kicks. Just as Nat King Cole sang in his famous song, “Get Your Kicks On Route 66!”
Route 66 opened in 1926 as part of the nation’s efforts to establish a national highway system, and for the middle decades of the 20th century it was one of the main east-west arteries of the country. But unlike some of the other national thoroughfares, Route 66 traced a diagonal route for almost 2500 miles across the country from Chicago to LA linking rural and urban communities and providing increased access to markets for farmers and manufacturers alike. Though opened in 1926, it was not fully paved until 1938.
But more than that, it became a road of adventure drawing intrepid wayfarers into the vast, wide open and unpopulated spaces of the American West just as the Oregon Trail had done a century before. This new migration was fueled by a newly motorized public wanting to flex its automotive muscles, and a whole travel industry and subculture grew up along its paved 2500 mile length. Service stations, cafes, restaurants, motor camps and cabins catered to this nation on the move. These motor camps and cabins developed into roadside motor courts . . . or motels - a place for the weary travelers to lay their heads at the end of a long day of adventuring along Route 66.
The death knell of Route 66 was between the lines of the congressional legislation of the mid 1950’s that established and funded the new Interstate Highway System of four lane freeways. As this network of super highways extended to every corner of the country, it bypassed the small towns and communities that had been the offspring of the famous highway. Abandoned and forlorn, many of these relics of the Rt. 66 subculture are still out there, ghostly reminders of an era when motoring across the country was more than just a trip - it was a journey of adventure.
...and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads, 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.
John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath
Greetings Folks from Barstow, CA, on the western end of the Mohave Desert -
I finished my ride across 150 miles of the Mohave yesterday - some of the toughest and most grueling days of cycling I’ve had on this journey. It took me three days, whereas 30 years ago I did it all in one 95 mile shot from 29 Palms to Parker, AZ, where I was hit a couple of weeks ago. But if you look at the map you’ll see this northern Needles to Barstow stretch that I traversed is about 60 miles longer than the dangerous 29 Palms Highway.
And for a good part of the way, I followed The Mother Road . . . Rt 66 . . . on the most desolate remaining segments of this iconic highway. I was also on stretches of I-40 which is legal on limited parts of the Interstate in California - very limited.
From Needles I rode about 40 miles to Fenner - basically just a gas stop with a store and tables, and there I broke out my tent which I had not done for a couple of weeks. I camped in the back corner of their property near a series of fountains that played a nice melody of falling water in this parched land.
From Fenner I followed The Mother Road out into the heart of the Mohave - 70 miles of desert peddling into a land of stark and harsh beauty. It’s easy to see how this road drew people westward - the ribbon of pavement stretches endlessly and seems to beckon you to explore to see what new grand sight is just beyond the horizon. But the sense of being alone out there - especially on a bicycle - was overwhelming. The morning was spectacular since I rode a little after dawn and the mountains were catching the sunlight, and the downhill allowed me to sit and watch it all pass by, and a gentle breeze was behind.
In the middle of my morning ride I came across Kaydon, another solo wayfarer like myself, but he was on foot, walking across the Mohave and all the U.S. for Education and for Knowledge. We chatted for about 15 minutes before time and the need to make distance by foot and by wheel impelled us both in our opposite directions.
Mile 40 brought me to Roy’s Cafe and Motel in Amboy which has served travelers since the inception of Rt 66 back in 1926. The motel no longer operates, but the cafe/store is a much needed way station on this desert road. Although the temperature was only in the low 80’s, this Mohave sun is different - it beats down and saps you . . . literally just sucks the moisture out of your body. You seemingly can’t drink enough . . . and I still had 30 miles to go.
You think of the desert as flat, but there are few flat spots out there - you are either gliding downward or grinding up a long gradual rise that goes on for miles, and the miles go so slowly.
The finicky winds also changed their minds, and were now in my face. With 10 miles to go, I didn’t think I would make it - my body froze, legs and arms stiffened up, and I had trouble getting my breath - no one around for miles. Luckily I came out of that, and a blessed downhill the last 5 miles deposited me in tiny Ludlow and the Ludlow Motel.
This day was followed by one that beat me up even more. It was less distance - 52 miles - but my God - the wind - worst of my 7 months of riding. It started out fine with legally riding I-40 out of Ludlow to Newberry Springs with long downhills and a following wind that allowed me to cruise at 16, 17, 18 mph. But after Newberry Springs, the winds came at me directly with ferocity at 20 to 30 mph and gusts up to 35 and 40. My 17 mph morning cruise was now down to 6, 5, and even 4. It dropped to 3 when I had to get off my bike and walk for a time. Buffeted back and forth and grinding and grinding away, it was not an enjoyable ride by any means. At long last, I got back on the I-40 - this time illegally - and finished this ride into Barstow.
So it was quite a ride across the Mohave Desert. One takeaway from this experience is more anger at the California Department of Transportation who I blame in part for my accident. Route 66 in many segments of its route across California is in a horrible state of preservation. You may not notice it so much in your car, but a cyclist notices every crack and crevice, and they are aplenty on California’s portion of this historic road. Shame on them for not maintaining this piece of Americana!
P.S. Would like to acknowledge Kappy Paulson who has made a donation to Habitat For Humanity in support of my ride. Thank you so much!
Great bumping into you on the road... you are amazing.... Kaydon