Barstow to Danby
9/12, Sunday - I woke hours before dawn, admiring the stars and wondering if I could carry enough water to make the next 2 long stages across the desert - 50 miles to Ludlow, then 66 miles on to the next supply point where 66 crosses I-40 at Fenner. That one worried me - the old road veers south away from the freeway to hit abandoned ghost towns in a vast, isolated stretch of desert - buzzard country.
But I had no choice, so just decided to do my best, and quit worrying.
I was packed up and en route in the twilight 45 minutes before sunrise. Traffic was light, and almost all pros - truckers. I kept a taillight hung on behind, and used the headlight til well after sunrise.
Bikes are ordered off the slab at the first exit past Barstow - Nebo Road - where 66 is open again east of the military base. I got off, and enjoyed riding the quiet 2-lane across the desert before sunrise, but at Daggett the road was closed again - barricaded - "Bridge Out". I was able to get back on 40 without trouble, and made good time east in the cool morning air til I got off for coffee at Newberry Springs.
According to a route guide I picked up at the museum in Barstow, this little town provided water for the railroad sidings eastward down the line in a train of 20 tank cars. I count 15 sidings between here and Needles, 5 or 10 miles apart. Those old steam locomotives were a thirsty bunch.
Old 66 runs along south of the freeway for a few miles to the next exit ramp, and beyond, off into the vast distance. There's a sign on the ramp barring cyclists, but I wasn't sure if 66 went through to Ludlow or dead-ended in the desert somewhere. The maps and guide I had were inadequate, so I played it safe and took I-40 east for the next 29 miles. At times Old 66 ran along in sight - at other times it disappeared.
I found out later it is possible to continue through this stretch, off the freeway, between Ludlow and Newberry Springs. Here's the route, from the exit ramps in Ludlow heading west:
Pass under I-40 at the Ludlow exit.
Turn left (west) onto the northern frontage road.
After almost 2 miles, Route 66 is again under your wheels. (the slightest of turns to the right is where).
The 2 lane got under and to the south of I40 for a brief moment, but there's no way to follow it now.
Turn left at Lavic Rd. (after 8 miles).
Cross over I-40.
Turn right to stay with the National Old Trails Highway.
© Swa Frantzen at http://www.historic66.com/
Feel like betting your life on those directions on a hot day in the desert? There are a lot of dead ends out there.
I made Ludlow at noon with 50 miles logged since Barstow, and I was beat. I was looking forward to a long cold liquid lunch in the densest shade I could find - which was at a closed garage right across from the minimart.
Per wunderground.com, Ludlow only hit 99° on the 12th - very mild heat for these parts - but after spending all summer in the cool Northwest, I was unacclimated. I compensated by swilling all the cool beverages I could fit in my tank.
At 1700, when the sun got low, I rode out of Ludlow east on 66 with 10 quarts of water to see me through the 66 miles to Fenner.
I made another 5 or 10 miles, enjoying the silence and solitude on a deserted old highway in the wide open spaces. When the sun went down, I camped in a wash under a bridge, with freight trains going by a half mile north.
Yes, north. The old road's been re-aligned since 1915, probably more than once. Here's what it looked like near Amboy in 1913 -
9/13, Monday - As usual I was up in the morning dark and ready to ride by first light. After an initial climb, it was a gradual downhill for miles and miles, almost all the way to the next settlement - Amboy, 28 miles from Ludlow.
Amboy's a funny place. It has a post office, but I hear the population in town is about 4. Most times I've been there I've poked around without seeing a living soul - as if they all hid during the day and only came out at night. For a while it was owned - the whole town - by an LA photographer. It was put on the market for an absurd sum, and eventually was sold for four or five hundred thousand dollars to Albert Okura of Juan Pollo restaurants, who is planning to refurbish the place for the tourist trade.
I wasn't counting on anything here, but in fact Roy's Café was open and well-stocked with snacks and ice-cold beverages at quite reasonable prices. The pumps had gas, too. I re-fueled with a few cans of cold coffee and Coke®, mixed in a foam cup.
I chatted a while with the gent manning the counter. They're working on getting the kitchen and motel running. The traffic's good for it, they say. It seems Route 66 is especially hot with European tourists.
Outside, I saw a poster in the window -
A few dozen of these antique motorcycles started on the East Coast, would hit Old 66 in Albuquerque, and ride through Amboy on the 25th, ending their ride in Santa Monica on the 26th.
(BTW - I broke off writing this to catch the cannonball as it passed my winter camp in Fort Mojave on the 24th -
- and it was a terrific kick to see and hear these great old motorcycles roaring down the road! That's the serendipity on Route 66!)
I didn't linger at Amboy. There was still an hour or two before the heat and radiation peaked, and I had to make the best of it. On my way up the grade east of town I turned around for another look.
The black butte on the left is Amboy Crater, a volcanic cinder cone 2 miles west of town, reachable off 66. Geologists say it last erupted just 500 years ago - a nanosecond in geological time - so I guess you'd have to say it's still live.
I made another 12 miles before the heat got me, and came to rest in the shade of a derelict garage next to the abandoned "Road Runner's Retreat". Every business that depended on the travelling public on Route 66 went belly-up when I-40 went through a dozen miles north in 1973. The pickins suddenly got mighty slim.
Traffic's still pretty light, despite the old road's popularity with history buffs, roadies, and other tourists. Cars went by during my afternoon rest, but not many. Some people stopped for pix without even getting out of their air-conditioned cars, though it only hit 100 that day.
I saw 2 fully loaded cyclists spin by up the grade in the mid-day sun like they were on wings. How do they do that?
I barely had the energy to play my guitar. I was strumming the Midnight Special blues when a car pulled up and a young couple got out and strolled in to say hi. The guy was Czech - the girl from Bulgaria. They'd spent 3 months working over the summer, and had a month left on their visas for exploring. We had a fun little chat.
They offered me water - said they had plenty - but you never know when you'll need it, and I'd hate to think of them stranded somewhere out there without it. I did have a little pang of regret when I turned them down. You never know.
I got rolling when the sun got low. The next settlement is Chambless - maybe better named Shambles. There's some farmworker housing there, and a company aiming to mine and sell the valley's fossil water.
The next grade killed me - 5 miles uphill with a shadow breeze going my way at my speed. I took a break at the top - Cadiz Summit (pronounced Katy's here) - by the ruins of a business built in 1931.
I chatted briefly with another young European couple, again turning down offered water. I had 6 quarts left, and only about 20 miles to the next store - but I still had that pang of regret.
From the summit it's easy downhill riding, but I was fried by that last hill. I made another 5 miles, and camped off in the desert, out of sight, with about 40 miles logged for the day.