A Very Scary Night in Winslow… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

This cafe in Seligman, Arizona on Route 66 has a special significance for bicyclists whose view of road kill is often up close.

This cafe in Seligman, Arizona on Route 66 has a special significance for bicyclists whose view of road kill is often up close.

I recognized there were inherent risks when I decided to undertake my bike trip. I would be traveling for 10,000 miles on 1¼ inch tires through all types of terrain and weather conditions. The roads would range from smooth and modern, to filled with pot holes, to dirt. Some came with wide shoulders to ride on, others with none. Everything from 18-wheelers to drunk drivers would be passing me, and some frighteningly close. I would be traveling over some of the most remote roads in North America. And, I would be by myself. (I might also note here that it was the era before cell phones.)

I accepted these risks willingly; it is the nature of adventures. Besides, I was an experienced bicyclist and camper, carried appropriate clothing and equipment, and didn’t take unnecessary chances. I am not a thrill seeker. When I camped out beside the road, for example, I hid. When the weather was particularly severe, I headed for shelter. On steep downhills, I didn’t say, “Wow, let’s see how fast I can go!”  (Okay, there were a few times.) There was ample challenge in what I was doing; I didn’t need to wave my finger at fate.

Most days reminded me of my mortality in some way or the other. A truck would brush by me; I’d pick up a flat in a tight situation, a drenching rain would hit when I was miles from nowhere, a big dog would decide I’d make a nice dinner. But these went with the territory and didn’t particularly worry me. Anybody who does a bit of cycling has experienced them. Occasionally, however, something would get my heart beating like a rock drummer on steroids. One such event took place in Winslow, Arizona. But I wasn’t ‘standing on a corner,’ in Winslow as in the Eagle’s song “Taking It Easy”; I was happily zonked out in bed. The story is coming up at the end of this post. First, I had to get there.

As I rejoined Route 66 from my camp at the Grand Canyon Caverns, dark clouds threatened on the horizon. There were showers about, and I was hoping to dodge them. Although deserts don’t get a lot of rain (the definition is under 10 inches a year), when it rains, it can pour— so to speak, and there is nothing to absorb the water. This is a bad time to be camped out in a gully. Or be bicycling, as far as that goes. Thunder and lightning frequently accompany the storms and you and your metal lighting-rod bike may be the tallest thing around. Fortunately, the storms hit elsewhere and the most exciting thing I did on my morning ride into Seligman was watch the long freight trains of the Santa Fe Railroad cross the desert.

You have a lot more time to worry about storms in the desert! You can see them from a long ways off.

You have a lot more time to worry about storms in the desert! You can see them from a long ways off.

Trains provided me with a from of companionship on my journey, or at least a distraction. I usually climbed off my bike and watched them pass.

Trains provided me with a form of companionship on my journey, or at least a distraction. I usually climbed off my bike and watched them pass.

Breakfast provided an opportunity to look around the small town. I am pretty sure there is not another community on Route 66 that is so dedicated to making money off the fact. It was in 1989 and it still is today. Consider the photos that Peggy and I recently took when we drove through the town retracing my bike trip:

I don't think this store could have worked in more Route 66 signs. How many can you count?

I don’t think this store could have worked in more Route 66 signs. How many can you count?

Here's another example of Seligman merchants struggling to make a profit off of their Route 66 heritage.

Here’s another example of Seligman merchants struggling to make a profit off of their Route 66 heritage.

This bar featured what I can only assume were supposed to be ladies of the evening.

This bar featured what I can only assume were supposed to be ladies of the evening.

I understood the girls but what was with the Lord of the Rings type character staring out the window?

I understood the girls but what was with the Lord of the Rings type character staring out the window? And what did he have in mind doing with his hand?

Historic Route 66 travelled on for another 20 or so miles before dropping me on to Interstate 40. If you were around in 1989, you may have heard my sigh. I left one of America’s bluest highways to one of its busiest, chock full of big rigs travelling as fast as the speed limits allowed— and faster.  Fortunately, there was a decent shoulder. Five miles of freeway travel brought me to Ash Fork, another town that once served Route 66 travelers. Unlike, Seligman, Ash Fork has another claim to fame: The Flagstone Capital of the USA. If all of the rocks piled around the town are any indication, it is probably true. I spent the night. The next morning found me out on the freeway again. It was my only route to Winslow.

The railroad tracks came closer to the road just outside of Seligman. This happens to be one of the busiest freight lines in America. When I traveled through it was the Santa Fe Railroad of Aitchison, Topeka and Santa Fe fame. Now it is part of the Burlington North Santa Fe Railroad one by Warren Buffet.

The railroad tracks came closer to the road just outside of Seligman. This happens to be one of the busiest freight lines in America. When I traveled through it was the Santa Fe Railroad of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe fame. Now it is part of the Burlington North Santa Fe Railroad owned by Warren Buffet.

Do you remember the days of the Burma Shave signs posted along the highways of America. This would have been five different signs stretched out over a mile or so. The chick he wed— Let out a whoop— Felt his chin— And Flew the coop— Burma Shave. New signs with similar humor are now posted along Route 66 in Arizona promoting humor.

Do you remember the days of the Burma Shave signs posted along the highways of America? This would have been five different signs stretched out over a mile or so. The chick he wed— Let out a whoop— Felt his chin— And Flew the coop— Burma Shave. New signs with similar humor are now posted along Route 66 in Arizona promoting safety.

So much for my peaceful road. Route 66 dumped me on to Interstate 40.

So much for my peaceful road. Route 66 dumped me on to Interstate 40.

Fortunately it wasn't far. I came to Ash Fork just up the road, which is quite proud of its association with flagstone.

Fortunately it wasn’t far. I came to Ash Fork just up the road, which is quite proud of its association with flagstone. The small campground where I stayed was located somewhere on the other side of the rocks. There was also my kind of motel off to the right.

Ash Fork is also an historic Route 66 town as indicated by this sign.

Ash Fork is also an historic Route 66 town as indicated by this sign.

Climbing was the order of the day, all the way to Flagstaff, one of my favorite Arizona towns. Nestled in the pines beneath the towering San Francisco Mountains, it features decent restaurants, coffee, bookstores, and campgrounds… everything I needed to keep me rolling down the road. I’ve stopped there many times, both on my way east and west and on my way north and south to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. I enjoyed myself so much that evening, I didn’t get out until two the next day. Fortunately, the 50 plus miles to Winslow on I-40 were mainly downhill or flat so I arrived before dark. My only disappointment was that I didn’t have time to stop off and see the huge meteor crater along the route. (Peggy and I stopped to check it out. It’s impressive.)

It was a steady climb out of Ash Fork to Flagstaff. But it had its rewards. I came on the first pine trees I had seen since I left Greenhorn Pass. I was so excited that I got off my bike and did a dance. Then I had to pee. You know how that goes...

It was a steady climb out of Ash Fork to Flagstaff. But it had its rewards. I came on the first pine trees I had seen since I left Greenhorn Pass. I was so excited that I got off my bike and did a dance. Then I had to pee. You know how that goes…

A storm rages over the San Francisco Mountains. Hopi legend has it that their Kachina gods wander the mountains during storms. Apparently they don't like to be disturbed. Nasty things can happen to the unweary human.

A storm rages over the San Francisco Mountains. Hopi legend has it that their Kachina gods wander the mountains during storms. Apparently they don’t like to be disturbed. Nasty things can happen to the unwary human. I camped up there once and was quite careful.

Another view of the San Francisco Mountains— this time from the east. Flagstaff nestles at their base.

Another view of the San Francisco Mountains— this time from the east. Flagstaff nestles at their base.

I missed seeing the Arizona meteor Crater on my bike trip so Peggy and I stopped by there a few weeks ago as I retrace my route. It is a very impressive hole in the ground.

I missed seeing the Arizona meteor Crater on my bike trip so Peggy and I stopped by there a few weeks ago as I retrace my route. It is a very impressive hole in the ground.

Because of its similarity to craters on the moon, the Arizona Crater was used of early astronaut traIning.

Because of its similarity to craters on the moon, the Arizona Crater was used of early astronaut traIning. And no, I wasn’t ‘on’ the boiler plate. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

But now to Winslow and my story. Since it was late, I didn’t have a lot of time to search for lodging and I did what I rarely do… stopped at a motel with a huge sign proclaiming it was “American Owned.” It’s not that an American owned the motel that bothered me; it’s the prejudice that it likely reflected. Anyway, a very, very old lady was behind the desk. She stared at me and demanded to know what I wanted. (My showing up on a bicycle made me very suspicious, I’m sure.) “A room?” I hazarded a guess. “It’s $20 up front.” The emphasis was on ‘up front.’ The price was right and I handed over the cash. She seemed surprised but checked me in, a process that went on and on. Finally, she showed me the key. “There is a five-dollar deposit,” she announced, holding onto the key. I was becoming a bit ouchy but turned over the money.

Twenty-dollars was too much for the room. It was small, poorly lit, and came with a television that may have worked when “I Love Lucy” was a hit. It smelled like 50-years of tobacco smoke. The bed seemed hardly made, if at all. I wondered what kind of vermin it might contain. I checked. I also decided that my bike would be much safer inside. Exhaustion alone drove me to bed and asleep.

It was around one a.m. when I awoke with a start as I heard a key being inserted into the door and the door knob begin to turn. I sat up so fast I left my brains behind. A dark form was looming in the doorway. It screamed. I screamed back, primeval.

“What in the fuck are you doing in my bed?” he yelled!

“What in the fuck are you doing in my room?” I yelled right back.

“I am getting the manager,” he shouted in parting. I breathed a sigh of relief— too soon, as it turned out. The manager must have heard the ruckus because he was there faster than I could put on my pants, foaming at the mouth.

“What are you doing in this room,” he demanded. “I am calling the police.”

“An old woman checked me in and gave me a key,” I jumped in to deflect a 911 call.

“Oh,” he responded, deflated. “Mother.” As if that explained it all. “Her sight is gone and her memory is worse. I left her here when I had to run to the grocery store.”

That was it for an apology, but I was allowed to stay in the room and the police weren’t called.  Small compensation, to say the least. No offer was made to return my money. It was a while before I fell back asleep and I was out early. New adventures were waiting.

The Winslow visitor center. Once again, the connection with Route 66 is emphasized. This was once a store that sold Navajo blankets and jewelry. Many such stores were located along historic Route 66 in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Winslow Visitor Center. Once again, the connection with Route 66 is emphasized. This was once a store that sold Navajo blankets and jewelry. Many such stores were located along historic Route 66 in Arizona and New Mexico.

Downtown Winslow as it looks today, pretty much as it looked in 1989 and 1949.

Downtown Winslow as it looks today, pretty much as it looked in 1989 and 1949.

NEXT BLOG: On to the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

27 comments on “A Very Scary Night in Winslow… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. That would have freaked me out having someone open the door in the middle of the night! So glad this story had a happy ending. I’m sure enjoying your photos. Having traveled pieces of this highway over the years, they bring back fond memories. And of course many Burma Shave signs dotted our way as well.

    • It would take a zombie not to have been a little freaked out! Burma Shave signs evoke another era in a way that few things do. It was fun to see the custom revived, even for safety messages. Thanks. –Curt

  2. I can’t begin to imagine a stranger appearing in my dark hotel doorway…isn’t that how the bad movies begin? But the adventure as a whole looks incredible. I’m still not sold on whether someone can use “I would be traveling for 10,000 miles on 1¼ inch tires” and “I didn’t need to wave my finger at fate.” in the same text 😉 I am envious of your courage and determination!!!

    • Lots of bad movies! (laughing) Definitely the thing that nightmares are made of. As for the tires, it’s kind of like learning to walk. Once you learn to automatically note and compensate for the hazards: sand, glass, bad roads, railroad crossings, dead animals, etc., it is ‘relatively’ safe. And thanks for your kind words. Glad you are enjoying the adventure. –Curt

  3. You must be so proud of having achieved that, Curt. I get saddle cramp just looking at those miles of highways disappearing into the horizon, and I come from a country where people are almost born on a bicycle.

  4. You are one brave soul, for sure. I would have been scared out of my wits if someone had stormed into my hotel room. Sheesh. Glad this had a reasonably happy ending. Thanks for the pics of the crater, the places along Route 66, and the Burma Shave sign. Yes, I’m old enough to remember and still see them every now and then. Corny humor is still an attraction — gotta look!

    • It was one of those nightmare types of experiences, Rusha, much scarier than it turned out to be. Almost every day on the bike trip, I faced more dangerous situations, but they rarely had the same impact. “Corny humor is still and attraction.” It certainly is for me. 🙂 –Curt

  5. Another great instalment. Winslow always reminds me of one of my favourite films – ‘Starman’. I could probably cope with the trucks but definitely not the dogs!
    Do people steal Route 66 signs? I read once about highway 666 which had to be renamed because the signs kept going missing (maybe true, maybe not). Finally, that souvenir store/diner reminded me a lot of Wall Drug Store in South Dakota.
    Looking forward already to the next story!

    • Thanks, Andrew. Now I will have to go back and rematch ‘Starman.’ And yes, people are constantly on the lookout for souvenirs, regardless of the impact it has on history or the enjoyment of other people. The originals with 66 have long since disappeared. The Wall Drug Store signs were the same thing. I remember them well form my early travels. –Curt

  6. I think I might have had a cardiac arrest Curt! We spent 10 days in Winslow 10 years ago. We were rock climbing at Jack’s Canyon nearby. We always chuckled because several restaurants advertised ‘6 types of meat’. I’m not much of a meat eater so it didn’t exactly draw me in. 🙂

    • Let’s see… prairie dog, jack rabbit, skunk, rattle snake, unfortunate cat, and fried scorpion. Yummy!
      Fortunately, I had a strong heart after all of the bicycling, Sue. 🙂 –Curt

  7. The best part of the motel story is, “Oh. Mother.” I suspect every one of us who’s had the joy of living with the elderly knows the feeling, if not the specific experience.
    Winslow’s great, of course. I’m surprised you didn’t include a photo of the ‘standin’ on the corner’ statue. I did enjoy the Burma Shave signs. Those were so common when I was growing up in Iowa, and great fun to read.

    And I really, really like the train. It reminded me of this:

    The longest train I ever saw
    Run by Joe Brown’s coal mine
    The headlight passed at six o’clock
    The cab came by at nine

    • Had to feel for the guy, just a bit. An “I’m sorry about the mix up,” would have gone a long way. I’m with you on the Burma Shave signs. Definitely creates a moment of nostalgia. As for trains, they are as long as ever. Coal is becoming a little less common, however. I talk about coal-fired power plants in my next blog. A big one along I-40 is being decommissioned. –Curt

  8. Phew, Curt…glad all was okay in the end at Winslow. Scary though, and not one of the risks you factor in. I love the photographs and particularly the one of the crater – interesting to learn it was used train the astronauts. A great post…I’m enjoying my armchair version of your 10,000 mile bike adventure! 😀

    • Certainly had me going for a few minutes, Annika. I was scanning the room for something I could use as a weapon. Fortunately, the issue was clarified before I threw my lamp at the poor guy. Thanks! The adventure continues. 🙂 –Curt

  9. What a perfect story to illustrate the adventurous side of such a trip. I would totally freak out if someone entered my hotel room in the middle of the night. Now I wonder where did the other man sleep?
    I spent one night in a seedy Las Vegas hotel. It was a friend’s idea to save money. In the end we spent what we saved on coffee all day long to keep us awake, since none of us slept much, too afraid of the other people staying there.
    Your photos are gorgeous. I’m very familiar with Route 66 and have noticed how it follows the economy of our country, When things go well, more stores remain open. Many closed after the tough hit of 2008.
    Now I was reading that with the lower cost of gas many Americans are once again considering road trips. We’ll see what happens with Route 66 then and if it’ll help to keep some stores in business.
    Happy trails to you.

    • Thanks, Evelyne. I was really glad the situation was clarified quickly. Believe me. As for the seedy side of Las Vegas, I am not sure it gets more seedy. 🙂 I am surprised you weren’t drinking something a little more potent than coffee. Seligman was certainly busy. Of course it helps to be on I-40. I’ve no doubt that the gas prices will have an impact this summer. It has certainly made a difference in the cost of our trip. –Curt

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