I got a properly early start this morning. As in, up by 0530 and on the road less than an hour later. I love early starts on road trips because the light’s pretty, the traffic is minimal and you get to see the places you’re going through as they wake up. I had a long way ahead of me, too – and lots to try and fit in on the way. Kingman isn’t particularly pretty, but it *is* on Route 66 and as far as I care, that’s better than pretty.Leaving town, I made straight for the Mother Road which takes a long, slop loop north of the I-40 and passes through Hackberry, Valentine and Peach Springs. Valentine is allegedly where Billy and The Captain had a meal with a family on their small holding, but I had to make do with a cobbled together breakfast of side orders at the Roadkill Cafe in Seligman – not somewhere that you’d immediately associate with a plant-based motorcyclist, but it looks fun and promised free WiFi.
I wanted some speedy internet to get online and feed my incipient Instagram habit, as I’d stopped several times en route to take a series of achingly cool selfies. Despite having worked as a commercial photographer, I’ve never been one for photographing myself, but I’m touring solo so there’s no other bugger to do it. Also, I’m rather enjoying documenting my trip like this and armed only with an iPhone and a cheapy Chinese mini-tripod, I can spend as much time as I like, faffing about and getting the right shot.
Seligman is almost the last bit of Route 66 before you get shunted back on the freeway, but there was a last bit of glorious old road to be had and I took it, cheesy tunes blaring in my ears and a fat grin on my face. I got overtaken at some speed by a trio of blokes on big Harley Baggers, but I was in my own little zone, cruising along at fifty-five.
Bit of luck I wasn’t hammering it, I suppose – I’d not want to be the motorcyclist who ran into this chap:
The thought did cross my mind to strap him to my forks and nip back to the Roadkill cafe, but he’d clearly been an ex-pig for some while because he was missing his eyeballs and starting to pong quite noticeably.
I did my time on the freeway, but got off at Bellemont, another Route 66 town, now home to a Harley dealership and a roadhouse bar. I popped into the Harley dealer to look at cooling jackets (none for sale) and ask about getting my oil changed. The XSs were supposed to have fresh oil every 2000 miles, but in the modern era of synthetic lubricants, this isn’t quite as necessary. Nonetheless, I’d done over 2500 at that point and I want to look after my lovely bike. Steph had thrown in an oil filter and short of doing it myself in the car park at Walmart (they sell both 20W40 oil and 27mm spanners) I thought it would be simpler to pay someone to sort it for me.
The Harley mechanic threw his arms up (literally – he really did) when I told him what bike it was for. Apparently, as God rides a Harley Davidson, all other brands are graven images of the one true motorcycle and must be cast into outer darkness, never to share a workshop with Milwaukee’s finest. Or something. Anyway, he gave me the number of Mike’s Bikes, up the road in Flagstaff and seeing as I was passing that way, I called up Mike and asked if I could bring it in for some of the slippery stuff and a once-over. Mike said sure, why not – not a problem.
Before I left, I stopped off at the road house opposite because legend has it, they now have the sign from the famous Pine Breeze Motel that featured in Easy Rider. Billy and Wyatt ride up to the motel late at night and as they arrive, the owner flips on the neon sign to go from reading ‘vacancy’ to ‘no vacancy’.
The motel itself is another two miles down the road, so naturally, off I went, tripod strapped to the back of my bike. Insta-tart that I am:
After I’d shot a little video and spun my back wheel in the dirt as I rode off, I headed up the freeway to Flagstaff to Mike’s Bikes. Pulling into his frontage, I saw him working on a bright pink Harley – definitely not a factory colour. Maybe the owner was turned away from the dealership for that sin, too?
It was three when I arrived and I had to wait nearly and hour and a half for Mike and his assistant to finish up with the bubblegum hog as it had a recalcitrant front brake calliper that he needed to strip. Once it was my turn, the sump plugs came out and the oil was dropped in a pan within minutes. Unfortunately, Steph had managed to send me off with the wrong filter size, but no matter – the oil was dark and devoid of sparkly bits, so everything was working well and I could change the filter when I got it back home. While the bike was up on the bench, I got a closer look at the rear tyre. Although it may have been legal in the state of Arizona, the tread was arguably illegal in the UK and I thought it prudent to ask Mike if he could whack some fresh rubber on for me whilst I waited.
Fortunately, he had one to fit and graciously agreed to fit it for me – despite it being late Saturday afternoon. Had he known what a bugger of a job it was going to be to get the back wheel out, I suspect he’d have told me to sling my hook and he’d have escaped a serious pain in the neck in doing so.
As they worked, we chatted about bikes and a load of other things. Halfway though the conversation, as we were talking about the local area (apparently Flagstaff is not unique in playing host to a large meth-using community) I noticed that Mike was packing a semi-auto in his back jeans pocket. Having little in the way of filter between mind and gob, I mentioned that he was the first person I’d seen open-carrying a Glock like that. I was immediately corrected that this was, in fact, a Springfield pistol and that in Arizona you need no permit to carry any damned way you chose. ‘Murca, fuckyeah.
The wheel came out eventually, but it involved disassembling the fender and rack to provide enough clearance to get the chain loose. By the time it was all back together again, it was getting on for six. Mike had been amazing and they’d fixed the kick start so it didn’t rattle, as well as lubing up my chain and checking over the brakes and bearings for me. He even sent me away with a piece of cake from his local church. If you’re ever passing by Flagstaff Arizona and need your motorcycle working on, give Mike a call and tell him that the crazy Englishwoman on a chopper sent you, okay?
My planned overnight for this evening was in Kayenta, about 150 miles away. I knew it would get dark at about eight and that meant my first proper night riding of the trip. Going between towns on a motorcycle in Arizona at night is not without its risks. The main one that concerned me was that there is a non-zero chance of getting up close and personal with one of the many animals roaming the desert at night and on a fast-moving two-wheeler, this could get pretty sticky, pretty quickly. Nonetheless, I wasn’t keen on the idea of having to make up the mileage tomorrow, so I thanked Mike, paid my bill and got underway.
Riding through the landscape famous for Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon at dusk is a bit special. Epic doesn’t really come close to describing it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see half of the journey because the light gave out an hour away from my destination and I had to stop at Tuba City to swap out the lens in my goggles an put on a jumper. Yes, for the first time in days, I was cold!
I’d been riding through Navajo lands for the last hour and it was apparent that if Flagstaff was a bit rough round the edges, Tuba City was at a severe economic disadvantage over a great deal of the rest of America. There were a lot of ramshackle dwellings around the outskirts of the town and once I got to a fast-food place to grab a coffee and sort out my riding kit, I realised just how bad it was. The restaurant was mainly a drive-in, but the sit down section looked like it had more in common with the department of corrections than any burger joint I’d ever been in. Each plastic booth had it’s own vandal-proof phone and keypad console, with a little credit card slot, to prevent you from having to physically interact with the staff, who were in a kitchen area that was separated from diners by what looked like a banking-grade security screen. I ordered a coffee, which was handed to me though a hatch.
Gulping it down, I went back to my bike, worried that the collection of people outside might be taking more than a friendly interest in it. One of them wanted to come and shake my hand, but I told him that couldn’t make out what he was saying because I already had my earplugs in. He smelled heavily of booze and looked a horrible state.
The last hour of riding was accompanied by George Thorogood at an elevated volume, along with a mouthful of chewing gum to keep me perky and awake. Riding the chop along the unilluminated roads of Arizona was interesting. The speedo is unlit, so I had no idea how fast I was going. But my iPhone gave me a mileage countdown and the engine vibes let me know when I was up to cruising speed.
I got to the Wetherill Inn at about nine, to discover that I’d mislaid an hour somewhere due to a change in time zones (hello mountains, hello GMT-6!). It was actually ten and all the restaurants were shut. So after a shower, I’ve been sitting here banging away at my Bluetooth travel keyboard for your entertainment, nibbling at some pistachios I had in my seat pack. Breakfast is complimentary and I’m hoping for more than DIY waffles because I’ll be properly hungry at whatever-o-clock it is when the breakfast room opens. Night-night!