September 8, 2015
By Sam Allen
A week or so ago I was in Kingman, Arizona headed to Rialto, California. It was going to be a hot ride across the Mojave Desert, so I left at 6:00 a.m. to get in as many miles as possible during the cool morning weather.
Kingman is the entrance to the Oatman Highway, which is my favorite stretch of Route 66. It's about 50 miles over the magnificent Siltgreaves Pass. There are several old mining towns along the way, including Oatman, which is where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard went after they eloped.
On the weekends Oatman is a busy tourist town. Visitors feed the wild donkeys who are the ancestors of the pack animals that miners used over a century ago.
On this trip I zipped through Oatman before eight o'clock on a Monday morning. There were no tourists and none of the businesses were open. Even the donkeys had fled town to forage for their food in the absence of humans to feed them. At the far edge of town, a lone coyote trotted across the road in front of me with his tongue hanging out and panting as he returned home from his evening's hunt.
As I expected, once I got out of the mountains and entered the Mojave Desert, it got very hot very quickly. The temperature there routinely exceeds 110Â°, and with the heat generated from the road surface, I suspect it gets to over 130Â° while on a motorcycle. The air feels thick and burns your nose and throat, like in a sauna.
This day was no different. I did whatever I could to keep myself hydrated and cool. I stopped at every opportunity to drink cold water. Before leaving each oasis, I filled the pockets of my motorcycle club vest with ice, which would melt well before I reached the next stop. I even made one stop for an hour to let the engine on my motorcycle cool off. Overheating in the middle of the desert literally could be fatal.
All of these stops made the ride more tolerable, but it added a couple of hours to the trip. So I didn't roll into Rialto until late in the afternoon. I had a reservation at the Wigwam Motel. This is the nicer of the two motels on Route 66 where each room is its own individual tee pee (the other is in Holbrook, Arizona). When I entered the office the owner told me to take a free bottle of water. I had just had some water so I thanked the owner but declined the offer.
He said "I'm a Route 66 professional and I can tell when a biker needs water." I replied that I was a Route 66 professional too and I just didn't need any water at that moment.
I met some interesting folks at the Wigwam. The first was Kumar Patel, who owns the place. Kumar is an animated guy who clearly enjoys meeting Route 66 travelers. He knows all the other nearby Route 66 business owners and is up to date on all the Route 66 current events. He told me he loves the bikers because they always arrive early and have a fun time relaxing by the Wigwam's pool.
Kumar introduced me to Bob Cutter from Canada. Bob and his wife were visiting the Wigwam as part of a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. In 2014, Bob and his son rode Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. They spent two years planning their trip and spent six weeks on their ride. I asked Jim what his favorite attraction was, and although he could come up with a few, it was clear he was like me. It wasn't the roadside oddities that made Route 66 special to him; it was the road itself. He told me that he felt that Route 66 had gotten into his soul. He has kept up with many people he met along the way, and through those relationships, he feels he is part of Route 66.
Kumar also introduced me to a journalism student from China named Ling. She had flown from Shanghai to Los Angeles, rented a car, and spent 45 days driving to Chicago and back to gather information for a book she is writing about Route 66. I asked her why she decided on a Route 66 project as opposed to some other famous road, such as the Pacific Coast Highway. It was clear that she hadn't really heard of other significant U.S. highways. For Ling, Route 66 was the most famous road in the United States with lots of history about the American heartland.
A week after I met Ling I received a wonderful e-mail from her. She said, in part:
"I finally finished the solo tour on Route 66...The sights, sounds and experiences of the 'Road' were great and will remain a lifetime in memory, but the best aspect, by far, of my trip was the people I met along the way."
Clearly, she gets it.
Sam Allen wrote The Motorcycle Party Guide to Route 66. He also created and operates www.route66mc.com, which is the most complete single source of information about Route 66 available on the web.