I fucking love Barstow. I last visited about four years when Julian and I were expecting our daughter. Somewhere in between the evil morning sickness and the so-preggers-everything-aches phases, there were a handful of blissful weeks when we were able to get away for a last hurrah before settling down to a life of nappies, night feeds and never going out.
We flew into LA, hired a car and drove out to Vegas via this cool little town. I am colossally shallow and my main motivation for doing this was wanting to tweet that we were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert and the drugs had began to take hold. I say drugs; I mean two aspirin. Like I said, we were expecting. Little did I know that the place was a treasure trove of awesome fifties kitsch and Route 66 cool. I remember being really taken by all the amazing signage and retro looking buildings and random cool junk lying around.
I got up nice and early so I could spend an hour riding up and down Main Street, stopping to take photos and generally drink in the atmosphere. I might have snapped a selfie or two – did I mention that apart from being colossally shallow, I am also terrifically vain?
When I got on my way, it was heading east on Route 66, so naturally, I put the Easy Rider soundtrack on, kicked back with my feet up on the highway pegs and headed on down the highway. Some things are a terrible cliche, but they still have to be done.
My first stop, an hour and a half later was Amboy. There’s not much in Amboy, other than Roy’s because it’s in the absolute arse-end of bloody nowhere. If you’ve seen Cars, you might be familiar with the story of what happened to a lot of the old motels and attractions on Route 66. When they built the I-40, nobody other than tourists used the 66 any more and all these little places withered and died.
Roy’s used to be a massive Motel and restaurant complex, right out on the desert, miles from anywhere. Now, it’s a timewarp, with the only functional part left being a gas station and a small shop, where you can buy a t-shirt and sit sipping a soda, cooling off and listening to fifties tunes on the outdoors sound system. Fairly recently, someone bought up the whole town of Amboy and is trying to resurrect it as a destination, but their main problem is that there’s no running water any more. The only local water source is five times saltier than seawater and beyond the point where a desalination plant would be viable. So until someone can figure out a way to build forty miles of water piping, Roy’s is going to stay mainly closed.
Whilst I was there, sipping on my soda (I chose Pepsi because I was ridiculously thirsty and a bit light headed) an air-conditioned tourist coach rocked up and disgorged an assortment of unhealthy looking Americans. They puffed and panted their way across the forecourt to the famous sign for a photo op, but I’d already beaten them to it.
My plans for the ride into Needles was horribly scuppered because six miles down the road from Roy’s there were a couple of bridges down and Route 66 was impassable. This happens quite a lot with the smaller roads in this neck of the woods and there’s not a lot you can do, but take the diversion and go do your miles on the interstate. On my way to the I-40, I crossed paths with a convoy of a dozen or more Harley riders, complete with a chase car and a luggage van. I gave them the biker salute, of course – two wheels good and all that. But I couldn’t help feel a tiny little bit superior to the sort of people who need a van chasing them so that whenever they stop, they can be passed a bottle of cold water and a clean towel…
Seeing as I’ve mentioned it, now’s as good a time as any to tell you about the biker salute here. Once I started my journey up in Seattle, I noticed a kind of biker acknowledgement that we don’t do in the UK. For those who don’t ride, le me explain. Mostly, in Britain, we do the biker’s nod. You see another bike coming, you nod, they nod – job done.
Here in the US, something else is going on. Riding on the right, means that you have your left hand (i.e. the one that’s not on the throttle) to gesture with. You can do a full-on five finger wave if you want, but that’s kind of over-enthusiastic and dorky. What most riders do, is the two-fingers-pointing-down, arm hanging at about 45 degrees, palm to the front salute. It’s not too stressful in the wind, looks casual and allegedly, the two fingers represent the concept of keeping both your wheels firmly in contact with the road. I rather like it.
Needles is a bit of a tip. I was hoping to find a Safeway or other big supermarket to get a coffee and something vaguely salady for lunch, along with an hour’s air-con and some fast WiFi. Needles doesn’t really do big supermarkets (unlike every other bloody town in the USA) so it was looking like I might end up in a Denny’s or some other horror when I passed an Indian restaurant. They didn’t have WiFi, but they did have a kickass aloo gobi, which the proprietor informed me was not made with ghee, so I settled in for some lunch and a spot of 3G instagramming. If I could be bothered, I’d do a joke about lunch and wagon wheels, but you’ll have to fill in the gaps on that one because it’s late and I’m pooped.
The last leg of the day, to Kingman was a fucking hot slog, I won’t lie. I did get some more of Route 66, but I also got another great dollop more of I-40 and the heat was pretty bad. Crossing over the state line to Arizona, I started to wonder how on earth the mighty Colorado river can even stay liquid in this sort of heat, but judging by the number of boats and jet skis on trailers that I was passing, I’d say that the good people of Arizona are confident that the molecules in their river will remain in the liquid phase for the foreseeable future.
I could already tell I was in Arizona because the roadside geology was starting to show that particular kind of stratification that makes you think of the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.
Blatting out the last handful of miles, I noticed signs at the side of the road for a huge Humpty-Dumptyson dealership in Kingman and I decided that I’d ride straight there to check out their clothing department and see about getting a lighter weight riding top. My armoured Triumph denim jacket is lovely, but despite not being too heavy, it’s trapping the heat like a Thermos and I’m slowly melting inside.
There were some lovely bits and pieces in the dealership, but I wasn’t about to pay $250 for an armoured mesh jacket with HFD written all over it. Besides, the women’s kit (at least, the proportion of it designed for wear whilst actually riding motorcycles) was largely pink, purple and flowery in design and really not me. Your correspondent made her excuses and left. I’ll stay sweaty a bit longer, I think.
Riding into the inevitable Motel 6 (they’re clean, they’re cheap!) I noticed an Indian with UK plates in the car park. Seeing its owner unloading it, I rode over to say hi. Paul was over from the UK doing the New York to San Francisco jag and he’d shipped his bike here for the ride. Coals to Newcastle maybe, but I actually see more Indians in Britain than I’ve seen out here.
After the traditional twenty minute cool shower and scrubbing the half inch of old sun lotion and desert aggregate off my face, I pulled on my casual jeans and jumped back on the bike for the mile down to Walmart in search of hummus and Avocado for dinner. I don’t know what it is about Walmart, but I also came back with an iPhone screen protector (I’d cracked mine in Barstow, when my tripod blew over) some new sunglasses, a couple of micro fibre cloths, some bungees, a little roll of duck tape, some AF hex wrenches and a hydration bladder. That was the one thing I did pick up at the hogshop – the sales assistant recommended I fill a camelbak up with ice as I leave the motel and sip on the meltwater as I ride.
I ate my motel room supper, watching Lost In Space. You might not think that’s very glamorous and you’d be right. But I have avocado and that trumps everything. Thank you and goodnight.