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Pictures from Blue's Big Trip

Blue's Big Trip

Route 66 – Olympics Avoidance

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Thu
23
Aug '12

They’ve All Gone to Look For America

So then. I’m back and it’s a fortnight since the trip ended.

It took over a week for me to stop waking up in the early hours of the morning, not knowing where I was and thinking I needed to get up and hit the road.

The Big Trip wasn’t so much mind-blowing as mind-expanding. They say travel broadens the mind and mine’s been broadened to breaking point. I was awe-struck by the wide open plains of Middle America; Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and California. I could quite happily have stayed forever in Venice Beach: my sort of place and my sort of people. That’s the same sort of thing I was thinking when I was first in the States, back in 1979.

I encountered nothing but positivity and friendliness from Americans – in contrast perhaps with their perception in the rest of the world – and yes, having an RP accent is apparently a very attractive trait…

America, despite bringing us coffee shops chains, doesn’t really do decent coffee as far as I could see. It was plentiful with free top-ups, but not what I would call decent coffee! It does like super-sized portions though.

I’ve never been so photographed or videoed either: no doubt this was simply down to us being a bunch of 11 Harley Davidsons leaving rest and fuel stops at the same time.

I found members of the public wearing holstered handguns disconcerting when we were in Arizona at an ice-cream parlour: when I am out and about, it’s “keys, phone, wallet … good to go” rather than “keys, wallet, phone, .44 … good to go”. Does carrying a weapon clipped to your shorts mean better customer service at the café?

I had many hours in the saddle with my music and my companions for company but ample time to simply think and reflect on life in general and my own in particular and what is important to me. I thought about friends and enemies. I thought about forgiveness and thankfulness. I thought about families past and present. I thought.

I liked riding past signs for “Spunkey Creek” in Oklahoma, billboards saying simply “JESUS”, villages and small towns with more churches than houses and churches with massive car parks deep in the bible belt.

I loved riding through landscapes where you couldn’t tell where the land stopped and the sky started. I loved the big skies. I loved riding alongside massive freight trains blasting their horns to acknowledge us. I loved cowboy country – on a steel horse I ride – and those wide open spaces.

I made friends, good friends I look forward to seeing again. Different languages but a common bond.

As expected, I encountered decay and disuse. Route 66 was built for a purpose and when something ‘better’ came along, it was phased out and forgotten and the communities that had been built up along the way were allowed to decay and close down. My photos from the trip tell only part of the story. But the memories will last forever.

I didn’t go looking for America … but it found me anyway.

Fri
10
Aug '12

Venice Beach and Home

More tearful farewells from the new friends I’d made throughout the morning as the group dispersed, and a small group of us headed off to Venice Beach (and Muscle Beach) for a wander around and to take a few photos.

Walking back, we got a little lost so we saw more of Marina Del Rey than we’d expected.

Then off to LAX to board my flight back to London, arriving in the early afternoon of the Saturday.

I’ll try to sum up my overall thoughts later…

Thu
9
Aug '12

Barstow, CA to Santa Monica, California

Journey’s End!

It was with a degree of sadness that we set out for our last day in the saddle leaving Barstow and heading for Santa Monica.

On one section of Route 66 which, as was often the case, rang alongside a railway, we came upon one of those massive freight trains with 2 or 3 tractor units pulling many, many containers. There was a wonderful childlike joy when things like this happened as we’d wave at the train driver who’d wave back and give a long pull on the train’s horn. Boy’s Own Paper stuff!

We came into Los Angeles and went via Beverley Hills and roads with names from folklore and popular culture like the Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine, etc. We stopped briefly at the junction of Olympic Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard which was the endpoint of Route 66 to take photos before heading to the Harley dealership to drop the bikes off. They kindly drove us to our hotel in Marina Del Rey where we showered and changed before heading out for a lovely shrimp dinner and some final parting words on Santa Monica Pier and photos at the tourist marker for the end of Route 66.

Wed
8
Aug '12

Las Vegas, NV to Barstow, California

Our plans changed again in the morning: we decided that as both the more direct roads to Barstow and the Route 66 route would be equally hot, especially in the Mojave Desert, we would go the ‘proper’ way.

First stop was at Las Vegas Harley Davidson for more shopping. They have a bunch of amusing dummies dressed in Harley gear in the showroom which was fun. Then it was a case of wrapping up in long sleeves and SWAT-style face covering before heading off.

Our next stop was at a roadside café in Fenner, California which thoughtfully provided a sprinkler hose outside the entrance which meant a cooling shower; very refreshing as it was baking hot.

Then on into the Mojave stopping at Roy’s Motel and Café in Amboy, California for more photos. There was a weather station monitor there showing the temperature as 115.5°F/46.4°C.

As the sun began to set, we approached Barstow, stopping for Dinner at the Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs. Having closed for the night shortly before we arrived, they reopened especially for us and we enjoyed Buffalo Burgers and beers before heading off to our hotel on the outskirts of Barstow.

 

Tue
7
Aug '12

Kingman, AZ to Las Vegas, Nevada

After a light breakfast {cough} at Mr D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman, Arizona we set off towards Las Vegas.

Due to the heat, I’d earlier developed heat rashes on my arms and chest and found it better when it was really hot to wear long sleeved T-shirts and to pull the buff up to cover my face – very SWAT-ish! More of this tomorrow…

First stop was Oatman, where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned. Wild mules, “burros”, roam the streets asking to be fed by visitors and the whole town has a real Wild West feel to it. Then on to Las Vegas, stopping for lunch in “the middle of F-ing nowhere” as my check-in on Facebook suggested; also known as Searchlight, Nevada.

Reaching Las Vegas, we headed to our stop for the night, the New York, New York which, included its own rollercoaster. Not just a hotel, but a resort with shops and themed restaurants throughout the main reception area.

American Excess.

Las Vegas I found to be incredibly tacky – like Blackpool but without the charm – and I can see why it’s popular for stag weekends and themed weddings. What was very sad was the number of people still playing the slot machines at 1am…

Dinner was at the impressive Harley Davidson Café: you really have to admire the branding/lifestyle efforts at Harley Davidson – you don’t just buy a motorbike, you buy a lifestyle.

Off to bed and the promise of a lie-in due to the expected heat of the Mojave Desert and a suggestion we might simply hit the Interstate to Barstow.

Mon
6
Aug '12

Grand Canyon to Kingman, Arizona

The day started off with a second visit to the Grand Canyon and a different viewpoint. The fact that you could – as I did – scramble down to the edge of the Canyon itself and look over the edge of a precariously balanced boulder added to the sense of wonder at the whole shebang. Photos followed!

Off we went towards Kingman, stopping off for a leisurely lunch in Williams before hitting the road via Hackberry and Seligman where I was introduced to Angel Delgadillo, the “Angel of Route 66” at his barber’s shop. Angel is a famous character and one of the leading lights in trying to have Route 66 recognised as a national historic byway and tourist attraction to try to reinvigorate local businesses that effectively died when the twons en route were bypassed.

Then on to Kingman and a fab little bar and restaurant where we were served by a really friendly waitress who looked like Sandra Bullock!

Sun
5
Aug '12

Holbrook, AZ to the Grand Canyon

The day started pretty badly: the Wigwam Motel doesn’t have a restaurant so it had been suggested we go to Joe & Aggie’s Café for breakfast instead as that was a real treat. Sadly, they were shut that Sunday morning, so I had to settle for a coffee and doughnut at the nearby Safeway!

Anyway, our destination was the Grand Canyon so off we went, stopping by in Winslow, Arizona to go and stand on a corner – as per the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy” – and Bellemont where there is a Harley Davidson dealership which features its own cafe where visitors cook their own burgers and sit around the pool tables. Out the back, there’s a garage specialising in doing up old muscle cars with some cracking cars for sale. What an excellent idea!

Then on to the Grand Canyon itself. Which was a bit of a disappointment from the vantage point we visited. I’m not sure what it was but I was underwhelmed by it. Maybe the visit planned for the next morning might be better?

 

Sat
4
Aug '12

Santa Fe to Holbrook, Arizona

More thunderstorms were forecast for the day, but we somehow managed to avoid them and spent the day basking in sunlight and heat as we travelled out of New Mexico via Madrid, used in the film “Wild Hogs”, and Albuquerque.

Into Arizona and a bit of a treat: the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona as sunset started to fall. Very impressive it was too.

As sunset fell, we got into Holbrook where we were staying at the Wigwam Motel, which was interesting!

 

Fri
3
Aug '12

Amarillo, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Our first stop of the day was the world-famous Cadillac Ranch which – if you don’t already know – is a patch of a field with a load of buried Cadillacs with their rear ends sticking out of the ground!

Visitors come along and are allowed to add graffiti to the cars; every so often the owner has them repainted to provide a blank canvas. Impressive as I thought it would be.

Then we stopped at the Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas: halfway along Route 66. An impromptu performance by a group of musicians saw us on our way towards New Mexico, with the Blue Swallow Motel and then onto Santa Fe where we had stopped before a thunderstorm and torrential rain found us sheltering in (expensive) shops and a Starbucks.

Thu
2
Aug '12

Oklahoma City to Amarillo, Texas

Leaving Oklahoma City a short while after a much bigger group of Norwegians and Swedes, we headed off towards Amarillo (as we knew the way…), stopping by the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum.

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum

Oklahoma Route 66 Museum

Then a stop for lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant, eating with some of my new friends, Angelo and Manuel with Davide and Loredana and a great fortune cookie message:

Fortune Cookie

Fortune Cookie

Arriving in Amarillo, we were collected by Cadillac limousines with bullhorns mounted on the bonnets – no worries with Health & Safety here, it seems – to be taken to the Big Texan Steak Ranch and its 72oz steak challenge (which I declined to take). Good steaks though, and possibly the biggest carrot cake I’ve ever seen!

Big Texan Steak Ranch

Big Texan Steak Ranch