And the journey begins where PJ left off.
After waking up at 3am local time I realise the force is very strong in my Irish body clock. Just over two hours later I am up for breakfast, ready to hit the road for 6.30am sharp. It was a very dark angry looking sky that greeted me this morning in Gallup, New Mexico. Panic set in as I realised that there would be rain and I didn’t have any waterproof trousers.
Off to Wal-Mart I go in a panic. Wal-Mart has several postal codes it’s that big. I was engulfed by a monsoon as I legged it from the car and into the giant humongous superstore. This was proper nasty Irish type weather. I asked one of the staff if she could direct me to where I might get some waterproof trousers and she looked at me as if I had asked her to sacrifice her first-born to the god of carpets, Des Kelly. I used my initiative and found them eventually in the outdoor section. Beside the guns. Beside all the guns. Beside all the guns and machine guns. It still strikes me as very bizarre that you can walk into their equivalent of Tesco and get your shopping and oh yeah, an assault rifle too.
Back to the hotel with my trusty waterproofs and I am assigned to a group led by Denis. As there are over 60 motorcyclists on this trip we all ride in groups led by trusty road captains. Mine was Denis. This was his 7th Route 66 Challenge. He knows this route like the back of his hand. I felt safe in the treacherous conditions with Denis. He had an authority about him and I did not feel the need to act the maggot or mess as I felt he might put me in my place rather sharply. He’s a lovely man though and off we set.
I’ll be honest I wasn’t expecting this type of weather. The rain and wind lashed down and I applauded myself in my own head to be the owner of an open face helmet with no protection whatsoever. We pulled in a few miles up the road at a few Native American stores that sold arrows, rocks, necklaces and Indian head-dresses. The stores stood in front of some amazing looking rocky mountains; deep orange, almost fake looking mountains that were an incredible sight.
We hit the road and left New Mexico and entered Arizona as I was reliably informed that we had a lot to see today. Next stop would be the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. At this point, I thought the jet-lag was kicking back in with a vengeance and that I was hallucinating again, but no, these were actual places that we were going to visit on our next stop.
The sun started to make a comeback as we got closer to these attractions. The rain stopped and the clouds parted we were in the Petrified Forest National Park. I kept wondering who in their right mind would paint a desert and what was scaring the forest so much.
We all strode into the cafe first like a load of bikers because, we were a load of bikers who had just strode in. We ordered coffee and cakes and sambos and some of us used the jacks, or as the Americans like to call it, the rest rooms. Why are they called that? Who goes to the jacks for a rest? The jacks would be the last place I’d have a rest in. American people, write to your senators and get them to change this abomination once and for all.
We got back on the bikes and headed straight to the Painted Desert. I’ll be honest here folks, it was breath-taking. Vast acres of land as far as the eye could see. All different colours of rock and sand and all given their different shades from the beaming sun. It was like looking at a different planet, almost as if you were on Mars. We took our snaps and hit the road again. Bearing in mind, we were still in this big massive park, the place where both the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest were.
We drove a few miles and I couldn’t get over the landscape that surrounded us, it was almost Jurassic like. Every so the scenery was punctuated by those rivers that you see in cowboy movies, the brown water rivers, like the chocolate river in Willy Wonka, but this time without Augustus Gloop lustfully drinking it and ultimately almost drowning in it. After a few miles we reached the Petrified Forest. Apparently petrified rock is rock that was formed over millions of years from fallen trees. Again this was a magnificently surreal sight as we walked around all these huge tree like rocks.
We hit the road again and after 28 miles of driving through that park, we exited. Now, that’s a big park. Next stop was a place in Arizona called Winslow, another iconic landmark on the famous route. It provided the inspiration for that song ‘Taken it Easy’ by The Eagles and Jackson Browne and featured the actual corner where they sang the lyric, ‘..standing on the corner..’ There was a life-sized statue of Jackson Browne and we all gathered around it and belted out the tune much to the amusement of all the tourists and locals there who started recording it on their iPhones and camcorders.
There was no time to dilly dally as Denis told me we were now off to Meteor Crater which is a crater which was hit by a meteor; stands to reason really. You pay in and walk up loads of steps into an exhibition which features actual meteor rocks. There’s even a little cinema which shows you what happened almost 50,000 years ago when a meteor less than the size of a football pitch hit the Arizona soil at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour and caused this massive crater measuring 700 feet deep and over 4000 feet wide. We were then led outside and up to this vantage point where we could look into the crater and it was enormous. Just a rather frightening reminder of the power of nature and how insignificant we are. We then left all rather stunned and overwhelmed and got back on our bikes to ride to our destination for the evening, Flagstaff in Arizona.
One thing which has struck me about seeing America like this is just how vast and enormous it is. There is a lot that is magnificent about this country and a lot that is wrong with it, but there is simply no ignoring it. America is big and so is its sky. I know that sounds strange, but the American sky is the biggest I have ever seen. This was an incredible day and I saw things today that will live with me forever and I am honoured and deeply humbled to have witnessed them. The Route 66 Challenge for Temple Street is nothing other than mind-blowing. There is simply no better way to see this magnificent mad country than by motorbike. I’m off to the jacks for a rest. So long for now…….
Eric Lalor – Irish Route 66’er