Through the Desert on Route 66 Million Potholes

Greetings from Needles, CA! We are finally able to update after traveling roughly 200 miles along the National Trails Highway, more commonly known as Route 66 or as we not-so-affectionately renamed it Route 66 Million Potholes.

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The road from Barstow to Ludlow was hardly a road at all but rather a churned mess of rubble that left our hands numb and muscles sore from jarring. It was slow going once we left Barstow, reducing our average speed to only about 7 miles per hour.

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After being in the sun and riding over such grueling surfaces we both experienced what can best be described as a near psychedelic undulation of vision. We paused on a bridge after riding 58 miles and both described seeing something akin to a crawling of the landscape which we attributed to being in the sun too long so we promptly made camp.

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The next morning we made for the Ludlow Cafe, one of only about five buildings in the town, and enjoyed a big breakfast. Given our experience with the heat the previous day, we took it easy on the road from Ludlow to Amboy, which luckily was better paved and only moderately pockmarked.

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We rode about 5 miles and found shelter under a bridge to wait out the heat of the day. There we read, snacked on Cliff Bars and peanut butter, a new staple in our diets, and napped before pressing on to another Route 66 landmark, Roy’s Cafe in Amboy.

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This town is home to a dormant volcanic crater that last erupted 10,000 years ago, miles of black basaltic lava called pahoehoe which has a ropey texture (facts thanks to Mi’s almost minor in earth sciences and geology nerdiness), and a little dilapidated cafe and motel called Roy’s.

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Amboy is considered a ghost town now that most car traffic has been diverted away from route 66 by the parallel I-40, leaving towns along the 66 in the desert dust. Roy’s was a pleasant respite and much-needed water stop for us just as it was in its hay day, only now its services are limited to gas and area snacks. However, the company was delightful. Deborah and her son Mike told us the story of Amboy and generously provided our water as a contribution to our cause.

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The town was recently bought by a man who has made it his mission to raise Amboy back out of the dust and restore Roy’s back to its former glory. The motel will reopen sometime later this year.

We learned our lesson not to ride in the middle of the day so after a break in Amboy we rode a out another 15 miles as the sun set. It was a nice evening ride with a clear sky and moon bright enough to see by (we did still wear our lights though!). We set up camp and slept relatively soundly from 9 until about 1, when we were roused by the thunderous flapping of our tent. The wind storm continued for hours, broke a tent pole in two places and kept us awake with the noise and constant pounding wind. We’d had enough of trying to sleep and decided to pack up just after 5. It was cold and windy but at least the wind was at our back as we climbed the grade out of the canyon. It was a beautiful ride that morning with the sun creeping up behind us like a spotlight following our travels across a dark stage.

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The mountains around us glowed pink and along the roadside were countless declarations of love written with rocks. Knowing that dawn is generally a good time to see animals, we had hoped to catch a glimpse of something cool, like a coyote whose den we discovered that morning just outside where we had moved our tent in the middle of the night in an attempt to get out of the wind, but was disappointed. Gary the couch surfer is probably right, the animals can smell us coming and stay out of sight. The only evidence of animals I saw were footprints and yellow brown grease smears on the highway.

For the first 40 miles of Sunday’s ride we went steadily uphill. Thankfully the weather was not so hot or windy and the road condition had improved. Our biggest concern at that point was making sure we had enough water, which google had told us would be scarce.

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Many of the phone numbers we tried in search of stores on the road between nothing and nowhere were disconnected. So we were happy when huge brightly painted letters loomed around a bend, spelling out GAS. This was Fenner, a place with mermaid fountains and falafel. We met an interesting couple from Goffs, the next town we passed through that boasts a population of 23.

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We took a break in Fenner for about an hour and decided that another night in the windy desert was not appealing, so we gunned it for Needles. After making it through Goffs and over the railroad tracks the terrain started to change and gravity worked more on our favor.

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We pedaled more easily over flat ground for miles with the busy train tracks on our right side and a broad plain bordered in the distance by mountains on the left. Dirt devils spun lazily up into the pale blue sky and occasionally it black crows would amass around the train tracks in search of carrion. Around four o’clock the inclination changed again and we picked up speed. By five we had reached the junction between Goff’s road and the I-95. We were making good time so we decided to continue the 30 miles to Needles.

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We sailed down the 95 so we even made time to stop for some honey at Gus’s honey farm. We were another mile on the 95 before hooking a left to the home stretch down the I-40. The hill was so steep that we cruised the last miles into town at an exhilarating speed. By the time we made it to our hotel we had traveled around 80 miles, breaking both our distance records. Plus, our specialized diets require that we carry more food with us than the typical traveler, adding to our burden but also helping us to regain our post-p90x muscles in record time. Once in our room we could admire how the roughly 400 miles we have traveled has already transformed our bodies.

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Needless to say, we were wiped out after such a long day running on very little sleep. As we wheeled our bikes to our room a rowdy gang of guys congratulated us on our dedication and offered us a beer. We swapped stories for a while and then headed to our room for Chinese food, showers and much needed sleep. We spent a rest day in Needles, exploring and recovering.

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Tomorrow we start again bright and early toward Kingman where we will stock up on supplies and head to a bike shop for some repairs.

Thanks for following and for contributing to Action Against Hunger; your generosity is much appreciated!

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