Friday, October 18, 2013

Get your kicks on Route 66!

What is left of the legendary Route 66? Officially it doesn't exist anymore as it was decommissioned in 1985, but that hasn't stopped the 'Get your kicks on Route 66' feeling all that much. The original Route 66 was about 4000 km long, crossing 8 states and 3 timezones and once connected Chicago with the Pacific coast at Santa Monica. Despite not officially existing anymore, you can still ride a surprising amount of the old road these days. We rode a short patch of the 'mother road' in Arizona to get a feeling of what it was like.

As soon as we entered 'historic' Route 66, we were surprised by the amount of original billboards and advertising signs that were still around. Both alongside the road and on the buildings themselves. People living along the old Route 66 clearly embrace their heritage. The original Route 66 signs were removed when the road was decommissioned. You will find quite a few 'Historic Route 66' signs instead, although quite a few of them have been stolen as souvenirs too. Therefore finding the original road isn't always easy. The Arizona section is very well signposted though.

Riding this road with a modern motorcycle just wouldn't feel right to me. It wouldn't give me the same feeling or experience as it once was, which is after all, the most important thing about Route 66; the past. You'd need to be on an old bike to be in harmony with it's surroundings and get that 'back in time' feeling. Yet the Bonnevilles seem to fit perfectly in this picture, emphasising it's classic styling was done well.

Of course the Route 66 'experience' is also very much about tourism these days, but who can blame the residents for that? It's currently one of the only means of existence for people living along Route 66. But hey, if they do it well, I don't mind that at all. They have put in the effort to preserve a part of American history and should be applauded for it. Of course I wasn't around when Route 66 was built, nor was I walking around on this planet when it was in it's prime. In fact I wasn't even growing up on the same continent. We never had the big American cars with their extravagant styling, nor did we have a lot of big touring bikes (although I did have a Harley Davidson Electra Glide at some stage…) But we still got the feel of 'yesterday' riding along Historic Route 66. It inspires somehow.

Route 66 isn't about the scenery, it's about heritage. Heritage and souvenirs. For me there was another reason to go to Route 66 too. Early 2000, we were in the US doing a tour in our old VW campervan. We made a photo in front of a historic service station in Hackberry, with our blue VW Kombi parked next to a bright red Ford Thunderbird. I wondered if the servo was still there, and if so, if the Ford was still around too. Chances of either of them still being there were slim as it was more than 13 years ago. 

At our first stop, in Seligman, we found a big group of Harley Davidsons touring Route 66. That would be a great bike to do it on, I thought, until they started their engines and drowned the whole village in noise, shattering the relaxed atmosphere… One of them fell over trying to manoeuvre his monster around. He wasn't fazed by it at all and simply called his buddies over to pick it up for him(!). Yet doing this whole road, what's left of it, must be a great experience on a normal 'silenced' Harley Davidson. Perhaps even more so on the new Indian Chief…

We had lunch at the great Roadkill Cafe with lots of history inside, massive hamburgers and great service! The Roadkill Cafe is famous for its charbroiled burgers, arguably the best burgers along this stretch of Route 66. There won't be many places where I would be able to order: Splatter Platter, Swirl of Squirrel, Big Bagged Stag, Highway Hash or can drag in my own roadkill to be grilled.

Then, finally, we saw the perhaps most famous Route 66 service station. Well, famous to us anyway! It was still there! Not only that, the same Thunderbird was there as well… How lucky was that? If anything, the servo had accumulated more 'stuff' from that past. The same owner as 14 years ago, who I'm sure had come out to take a photo of our Kombi, as it was the first car there with Australian license plates… (although he couldn't remember making the photo anymore and told me that he met so many people over the years and from all over the world... plus 13 years ago is a long time!). We took a photo of the bikes next to the Thunderbird of course.

What a great day! All these history, glimpses of the motoring past and insight into what life was back then from a rider/driver's point of view. Was life better then? I don't know. All I know is that I felt lucky to be able to ride Route 66 on my motorbike and had a wonderful day. One day… I will start in Chicago and ride as much of the original Route 66 as I can all the way to Santa Monica… Hmmm. Another one for the bucket list!