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