Club Members Lloyd & Gill Hall recently completed the famous Route 66 trip, this trip was planned to conencide with Lloyd's 60th Birthday. Another couple on this trip were Peter and Serda from New Zealand wrote a very comprehensive holiday review which has been included in its entiriety as it will be of interest to anyone else planning this famous trip in the future. The tour company were www.eaglerider.com
Saturday morning and we all boarded the bus to EagleRiders to collect our bikes - 17 Harleys - (Electraglides, Road Kings, Softails) with 2 BMWs and a Honda Goldwing trike. It took a little time but we had hot coffee and delicious donuts to keep us sustained and we were soon ready to go. We had already loaded our suitcases onto April's van so we donned our gear and trepidatiously prepared to hit the highway. We had to turn left and we soon saw the expertise with which Preacher and Lala managed the big group of bikes.
and Preacher pulled out to block the traffic and we surged out onto the road,
eager to ride Route 66. The first "stall" of the tour went to David
from Australia on his BM at the first traffic light! Interestingly, the Americans
do not use the term "pillion" - they have a driver and a rider whereas
we have a rider and a pillion. Our first stop was to be in Joliet Illinois at
one of the old gas stations on Route 66 and on arrival I was treated to a spectacular
display of riding by one of the Russians when he accelerated into the car park
and hit the curb at about 40mph. The bike leapt into the air bouncing both rider
and pillion into the air. However he did manage to keep the bike upright before
falling off as he brought it to a stop. We crossed the road to admire Dick's petrol
station with old cars and bits and pieces and a big "Route 66" sign
under which we were all proud to be photographed.
Further down the road we stopped in Wilmington to admire the "Gemini Giant" - a large fibreglass "muffler man" from the '60s when these colossal men could be found all over America, holding all manner of "tools" in their hands from mufflers, to hot dogs, to axes, and more. In this case, the Gemini Giant sports a rocket ship, a reminder of America's fascination with outer space. Most of these have now disappeared but here in Wilmington, the large green man hangs on, along with several other historic icons of the past. Onwards to lunch at an old style American diner - the Polk A Dot - with life size figures of James Dean, Marilyn Munroe and the Blues Brothers with which to pose and pose we did! Lunch was good old American hotdogs and burgers. Next stop was the Ambler-Becker Texaco Station in Dwight - this had been a petrol station in various guises from 1932 until 2004 when it was restored and became a museum - a giant map enabled us to put pins in our hometowns. Across the road was a 40 foot double height container clearly set up as a coffee shop - empty now but clearly demonstrating the desire to cash in on the mystic of Route 66.
The museum in Pontiac was an interesting interlude -there was an old school bus parked outside which hadbelonged to Bob Waldmire - an artist who travelled Route 66 for many years and drew the icons of the Mother Road, branching out into wildlife and getting deeply involved in the restoration of Route 66 - his old VW Kombi is inside the museum. Upstairs there was an old bloke looking after a really good collection of military memorabilia - I was very moved by the Americans' great respect for their military - it is no bad thing to hold your servicemen and women in high regard (mind you I may be biased as our eldest daughter is a lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Navy).
I felt the same way about the plethora of American flags outside homes and businesses - it was quite refreshing and uplifting to return home to see cars and trucks festooned with silver ferns and our own national flag for the rugby world cup. Our first night out from Chicago was in Springfield, Illinois - apparently the creators of the Simpsons chose Springfield as their home because there is a Springfield in every state in America. The hotel was a Hilton - very comfortable!
First stop on Day 2 was the "Cozy Dog" Drive In, which claims to be the first place to serve the corn dog - a deep fried, battered hot dog on a stick- we just call it a hotdog! Unfortunately it was Sunday and the place was closed. We then rode onto a hand-laid brick section of Route 66- it was originally completed in 1931 and curves through cornfields near Auburn. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We stopped for a break in some random town - I don't remember the name - it was a lovely day and we had a look around - it was still early and there were very few shops open or people around. Sirda and I walked down a sidestreet to find an impressive stone county court building and the historic jail - small and cramped but secure. We gathered at the rotunda and a bright green Peterbilt truck cruised around the square, blasting out its air horns - it has been lovingly restored and the driver was proud to show it off to us. Henry's Rabbit Ranch in Staunton was the next point of call - an eccentric place with VW Golfs (called Rabbits in the US) planted nose down in a parody of the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo Texas and a rabbit graveyard nearby with eulogies to the many bunnies that were clearly dear to Henry.
Alongside the ranch were some old 18 wheelers emblazoned with an enigmatic "Humpin' to Please" - apparently the slogan of the main trucking company of the old days on Route 66. Before arriving in St Louis, we rode to the Chain of Rocks Bridge built in 1929 across the Mississippi as part of the original Route 66. It is now a pedestrian- and cycle-only bridge but the weird thing is that it has a bend in it - it does not go straight across the river.
The romantic version of the bend is that the builder was unable to buy land directly opposite on both sides of the river and had to bend the bridge to reach the land he could get further upstream - April spins a good story. The real reason is much less interesting - it allowed southbound riverboats to align with the current, slip between the Bridge's piers and avoid crashing into two water intake towers midstream just south of the Bridge The St Louis Arch (more properly known as the Gateway to the West) is a remarkable thing - a fine silver sliver of a structure that graces the St Louis skyline - looking so fragile that one wonders at how it stands. We had been finding it difficult to find suitable meals along the way as Sirda requires a special diet free of gluten and there are only so many salads she could eat! We had mentioned this to Lala and she had found a supermarket near our St Louis hotel where we could get some food to take along with us. We really appreciated the effort she made and this is an example of the trouble taken by our guides to make sure everyone was looked after. Once again the hotel was excellent.
By now, personalities had begun to emerge - clearly our "comics" were to be Dave and his mate, Martin - jumping into photos etc. The Italians - Micki and Tiziana were on their honeymoon and clearly deeply in love. Tiziana seemed to have an endless wardrobe for the evenings - clearly evidenced by the weight of their suitcases! The two Russian guys had already established their place in the crew as the masters of the slow speed topple - they would often tip their bikes over to the right as they came to a stop. And our Singaporean friend Lee had adopted a "speedway" approach to cornering - his foot would shoot out and skim the ground as he took his 1200 BMW into any corner, however slight (his bike back home is a Yamaha 250!). However the general level of riding skill was high and we were very comfortable with our riding companions.
This coupled with the expertise of our guides made me feel really safe on the road, especially considering we were riding on the "wrong" side. I was especially impressed with the way Lala and Preacher worked together and with Deejay and April to manage the big group of bikes and keep us together on the road. We had been told to ride in a staggered formation and most of the time that worked well. At traffic lights, intersections and sightseeing stops, Preacher would wave down the oncoming traffic and act himself and/or the van as a block to ensure we had a safe exit. On the freeway, he would pull into the right hand lane and slow up, allowing us to pull on safely. He would then ride hell for leather back to the front to ride alongside Lala. Where needed, April and Deejay would also use their vehicles in support. The other drivers seemed very relaxed about this and usually gave way with a smile and a wave.
We started early on Day 3 - hitting the road at 7.30 - every morning we would assemble at the time given by Lala, load the van up with our luggage, Lala would give a ride briefing for the day and we would set off. Today started with a 70 mile run on the freeway - this was marvellous - flying down the road at 70 mph - 22 bikes (and a trike) in perfect formation, generally holding the centre or right lane, moving out, passing cars, swinging back into line and always keeping an eye in the mirror for the huge American trucks - the 18 wheelers.
As Preacher advised Lee one day: "when an 18 wheeler starts tooting at you, you get out of the way fast!" We then turned off onto old Route 66 - although 66 no longer exists as a road, old sections of it are marked as "Historic route 66" and the tour took us onto these roads as much as possible. We were into the Ozarks and heading for Devil's Elbow - some really picturesque country and where the film "Deliverance" was filmed! The roads were fun - a bit twistier than usual - and we crossed the Big Piney River on an old steel truss bridge. Devil's Elbow was not named for the windy road but back in 1870, when lumberjacks would float logs down the river, they would seem to always jam at this place. There was a large boulder in the river that some lumberjacks swore was put there by the devil himself just to cause them grief.
that day was at a local diner that served BBQ ribs to die for - messy but delicious.
Once again I was grateful to our guides - I doubt we would have had this pleasure
without their road knowledge. Most of us managed to smear BBQ sauce all over our
faces but only David from Australia got his messy chin on Facebook. David's wife
Amanda, who became more commonly known as "Pinky' for her penchant for everything
pink, had adorned his BMW with a set of pink fluffy dice. True to her nickname,
Pinky wore a pink helmet, pink trousers and probably other pink things of which
we were (gratefully) unaware. We checked out the world's biggest rocking chair
in Cuba, Missouri before heading to what was a highlight of the trip to the Gay
Parita service station in Paris Springs, Missouri, run by Gary
Turner - fresh coffee and donuts plus cold drinks and iceblocks were provided
at no cost other than an honesty box clamped to a post. His T-shirts were $7 and
the other memorabilia was well priced.
You made your selections and put the money in the box. Gary himself is a real character - an old style gentleman who has a million stories to tell and just lives for the travelers who seek him out. He signs and hands out his own Route 66 certificates and he wants travellers to "live the legend of the road, and enjoy the romance and adventure of the highway". He says: "You'll find happiness and adventure on historic Route 66, the Mother Road of America, where you'll get your kicks. It's the highway of dreams and freedom. Best trip you'll ever make. Goes from Chicago to L.A. You'll be surprised by the folks you meet along the way. Go in a Corvette, Mustang, ride a Harley or drive a Model A. Route 66 is the heartbeat of the USA. Route 66 will get you there in style" On to Redmons - a giant candy store -I resisted the temptation but others didn't. We photo-stopped at the Kansas border and we were into Indian Territory (the Quapaw) for a short time - Route 66 only covers 13 miles in Kansas and we soon crossed into Oklahoma where we stayed the night at the Buffalo Run Hotel, adjoining a casino in Miami. We were each given $10 to gamble away - which we all did except Tiziana who won about $40.
The next day was glorious - hot and dry and our first stop was the local bike shop in Miami - 'Route 66 Vintage Iron' with its own motorcycle museum - some great exhibits including one about Evel Knievel but my favorite had to be the mint '74 Norton Commando - beautiful in black with the gold pin-striping. The shop offered good gear and souvenirs at great prices - some taking the opportunity to stock up. We were then given an escort by some of the local bikers who are members of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) (as are Preacher and Lala) - based mostly in the States with some international branches, BACA works with local authorities to support children who are victims of abuse. They take a very hands-on approach in working with these children and do
not back away from whatever it takes to keep them safe. We rode out to a gas station to fuel up and while there, a local police officer turned up - he was very friendly and happily posed with some of the girls, whom he handcuffed for the photos. He then led us back through town, lights flashing and sirens going and waved us on our way. It was great fun to be part of the "parade". These special things would not have happened had we not decided to go with a tour - probably would have ended up with the real use of handcuffs and the inside of a county jail!
Lunch that day was at the Golden Corral Buffet - cheap but plentiful - there were all kinds of foods and the biggest chocolate fountain you ever saw - I had chocolate-covered marshmallows, strawberries, sweets and other stuff (I did have some healthy food as well) At the dessert bar, I helped an elderly lady add another piece of chocolate cake to her already overloaded plate. With a wink she said she was 92 and determined to enjoy herself. We bypassed the Will Rodgers Museum and headed back on the road. We rode through the quiet countryside and the broken down bypassed towns, some trying to reinvent the past and others who have just given in to the inevitable. We made a brief call into a buffalo ranch to see these majestic animals close up - unfortunately they hid on the far side of the paddock!
At Catoosa, there is a big blue whale - big enough to climb inside,with holes to stick your head out. A Mr Davis built it in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, who collected whale figurines. The Blue Whale and its pond became a favoured swimming hole for both locals and travelers along Route 66 alike. It was saved from demolition by neglect after the people of Catoosa and employees of the Hampton Inn launched a fund-raising and volunteer effort to rescue it. The Blue Whale was restored and repainted to its original brilliant blue. The day had become really hot and jackets etc were coming off and one of the Russian guys tried riding without his helmet until Lala saw him - the rule is that when you ride with Eagleriders, helmets are compulsory. There were some chances later on to "ride your own ride" independent of the guides and some took the opportunity then to feel the wind in their hair! It is strange to see riders on freeways and around town without helmets and usually wearing not a lot else. I suppose it is what you are used to but I found it contrary to my beliefs and mine and Sirda's helmets, riding jackets and gloves stayed on.
Our last stop was at a store, which sold every kind of fizzy drinks and then some - from all over the world. I never knew there were so many varieties of ginger beer. It had been a long day and we were glad to finally arrive at our hotel in Oklahoma City, which, by the way, had the biggest beds we had ever seen. A quick shower and we took the opportunity to walk over to Bricktown - a restored restaurant and bar quarter with a canal running through it. One bar had a band playing some great rock music very reminiscent of Cream. Over the way, a full-sized truck revolved on the roof of a storage building as an advertisement.