What’s it like to ride Route 66 by motorcycle?
What’s it like to ride Route 66 by motorcycle? Every motorcyclist gets something different from riding. Some crave the speed, the adrenaline hit that comes from pushing limits. Some enjoy the camaraderie of group riding, while others prefer a solitary adventure with just their bike for company. And of course, many people enjoy the simple pleasure of gliding through the world, feeling the change in air temperature, smelling the hay, the sea, or pine sap on a scorching summer day. We’ve actually enjoyed all of the above over the years, each ride has it’s own rewards.
And so it is with a ride down Route 66. We’ve ridden all over America and Europe, and can say that Route 66 was a ride unlike any other we’ve taken. Before we left Chicago, we knew we’d be seeing lots of historical sights, we knew the ride would be long, we had the song (get your kicks……) playing in our heads. What we didn’t realize is how disconnected we’d become from modern, urban life while we travelled the Mother Road.
When you ride Route 66, you really do go back in time. You ride in a landscape with the living remains of another time, of boundless optimism, of friendly strangers that helped you on your journey to a land of promise. Stop in a small town, at a diner, or a bar or an old motel, and those people, that feeling remains. Folks talk to you; not because they’re trying to sell you something, but because they truly want to share a moment with you. For anyone who lives in a large city, it’s disarming at first – “what does this person want from me?” but after a few days you realize what a treasure these moments are, you relish the wonderful stories these strangers have to tell you. You feel too embarrassed to stick your nose in a smartphone in these small town places, it feels rude. And more importantly, it feels like you’ll miss something simple and wonderful while you’re staring at that tiny little screen.
Route 66 is essentially a 2,500 mile long archaeological site, with many important buildings literally crumbling into dust. It’s easy to imagine people in pith helmets with brushes coming to these sites 200 years from now and recovering artifacts for a museum. Standing in a crumbling old Whiting Brothers petrol station, overgrown with weeds and trees pushing up through the collapsed roof, we closed our eyes and imagined what it was like 50 years ago – a Cadillac pulling up to the pumps late at night, the whitewall tires running over the air hose, ringing a bell that wakes the attendant. Fill her up, Sir? Yeah, premium please. The oil and air pressure is checked, the windscreen cleaned without the driver having to ask for it. While the tank is being filled, the driver gets out and stretches his legs, lights up a Chesterfield, pours coffee from a thermos on the front seat into a small cup, unwraps a sandwich from the wax paper and has a bite. The bell rings again and the attendant says that’ll be $4.75, Sir. So the driver gives him a fin, keep the change, attendant tips his hat, says thanks and drive safe. The big Caddy cranks, turns over, and pulls onto 66, under an Oklahoma moon, headed for California.
We felt like we too were in another, older America as we travelled west, always west. You’re always looking west when you ride 66, while you fill your fuel tank, when you open the door to the motor inn in the morning, when you throw a couple of bucks on the bar and walk out onto the main street of some small town. There is no other time in life we can remember being so focused on the direction we were traveling. But everyone who’s ever journeyed on Route 66 has had these same thoughts.
When we finally arrived in Los Angeles, it felt harsh. After riding 2,500 miles of essentially disused backroads, it was harrowing trying to dodge speeding SUV’s, the drivers texting as they swerved from lane to lane. Millions of people, so close together, none of them talking – the opposite of what we found on 66, handfuls of people, so far apart, striving to make a human connection.
Maybe the fact that we were riding motorcycles made us feel this even more; of course it did. Perhaps you, the reader, will come away with a different feeling when you ride Route 66. What will “your” ride down 66 be like?