Chicago to LA on RT66 for my first real road trip
Skip over this part if you just want to see the pretty pictures. A little background on the who, what, why and how of the trip.
My name is Ian. I'm 25 and single...I like long walks on the beach and....oh sorry, wrong profile. Anyway, I started riding about a year and a half ago with my 05 SV650 and I've been having a blast every day since.
Around March of 2012 I started browsing a web forum called ADVRider.com. I'd been aware of the site for a while, but it wasn't till I was bored at work one day that I decided to read through some of the ride reports. After reading a few tales of people's experiences traveling the world by bike, I was hooked. I knew that at some point this year I had to do a long trip. I didn't know where yet or how long, but I knew I just had to pack it up and leave home for a while. Part of it was a craving for the adventure, but honestly part of it was my feeling that I had something to prove.
I know the idea of riding and especially the spirit behind ADVRider is the simple fact that if you're having fun, then any ride, short or long qualifies as an adventure. Unfortunately, I still was always bothered talking to other biker friends and always having to sit silent while they recounted stories of riding the tail of the dragon, the pacific coast highway or some multi day trip to some far reach of the US. I honestly felt bad knowing that even 90% of the poser Harley riders still had taken longer trips than I had. My mind was made up. It was go big or go home.
The idea of where to go was still a blur. Due to a hectic work year I hadn't used any vacation and knew I wouldn't be able to until late August at the earliest. I figured I might as burn up most of the 2 weeks I still had available. Now the only question was, were should I go? If you've grown up in the US, then no doubt you've heard of the great American road trip on RT66. Before Eisenhower's Interstate system was really up and running, RT66 was "the road" you took if you wanted to head out west. Ask anyone over the age of 50 and you'll most likely get an hour’s worth of stories of a RT66 road trip.
The original plan was to run Chicago to LA on RT66, then head north on the Pacific Coast Highway to Seattle and then back across the country on I90. After the first day that plan already went out the window…but I guess that’s why they call this an adventure.
Thursday morning 9-13:
My plan was to leave on Wed. night, but between packing and finishing maintenance on the FJR, it would have been near 9:00 before I’d be on the road. I decided to get in a good sleep and leave at 5:00 AM so I could slip through Chicago before the morning rush got too bad. Well like I said, right from the start, my plan went bye-bye. My alarm didn’t go off at the right time and I didn’t wake up till 8AM. Crap… I loaded up and took off. Chicago traffic was rough, but I got through it quick and got on I55 to start the trip. I wasn’t too interested in taking pics in Illinois because I wanted to make up for lost time and let’s be honest. It’s flat and full of corn fields just like Indiana. Nothing new to see here.
I came into St Louis around 4 or 5 and jumped off the interstate to find the base of the Arch. It was easy to find, but parking not so much. I thought parking by the river was a good idea as it was cheap and close by. Well for those on bikes, a word of warning….its steep and very rocky. I barely managed to find a spot flat enough for the FJR.
The arch itself is awe inspiring. This was my first taste many of the massive landmarks that would come to define this trip for me. Standing at the base and looking up was just dizzying.
On the banks of the Mississippi there is a monument to Lewis and Clark. At the base there was this quote. I think it sums up quite nicely a lot of why we take the adventures that we do.
That night I pushed on and stopped in Fort Lenard Wood for dinner. I really enjoyed the hill country in Missouri. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pics. I ended up staying in Springfield, MO for the night.
Most of Friday was spent riding in 55 degrees and rain. In my infinite wisdom I hadn’t bought a rain suit as I stupidly trusted the weather report. Luckily after the rain stopped around Oklahoma city, I dried out pretty quick. I suddenly wasn’t minding all the heat issues the FJR has.
Took this in western OK. I came over a couple hills and this expanse just lay in front of me. It was the first moment I really got a sense of how extremely open the land in the Midwest is.
Finished the day early in Amarillo, TX. After some advice from friends I wound up grabbing dinner and a couple beers at The Golden Light. They had a pretty good live band that night and a decent crowd. I called it an early night because in the morning I was told I should go see Palo Duro Canyon.
Got up early and headed south about 30 min outside of Amarillo to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This place really caught me off guard because the surrounding countryside is so flat and open, you don’t see any sign of the canyon until you’re about a 1/4 mile from the ridge. I had planned on spending an hour max, but after only the first mile into the canyon I’d stopped 4 times to take pics. I knew I was going to be there a while. I ended up riding around for 3 hours. I guess it is one of Amarillo’s best kept secrets.
I told myself I needed to see an armadillo and a long horn while I was in Texas. I finally saw a long horn steer. I was kind of annoyed I hadn’t been able to find one all the way to Amarillo. I only found road kill armadillos though. While I was taking this pic I met a guy who was from southern France who also owned an FJR. He was in America touring all of Texas for a week.
I got back on the road and almost missed the Cadillac Ranch. They really don’t mark it or anything
(well they kinda try...see pic), but then again seeing a bunch of cars buried nose down kind of grabs your attention on its own.
Yes, I signed one.
Headed thru New Mexico. I stopped several places along the way for pics.
Ended up staying in Holbrook, AZ for the night.
First thing I had to go see was Winslow, AZ. Fellow inmate SeriousRacer tipped me off to this place. I’ve grown up listening to the Eagles, but never realized a “corner in Winslow Arizona” was a real place.
Pushed on because I wanted to make LA by that night. Stopped in Lake Havasu for some food and to see the bridge. Between the 105 degree temps and the unrelenting sun, I wasn’t having a good time. I really should have stopped for the night, but I kept on.
Made it into San Bernadino around 9 that night and was already sick of California. For anyone that knows me, I already have a bit of distaste for the Golden state. The hot weather, the packed freeways and the assholes made me seriously consider grabbing a pic of LA just to say I was there and then getting the hell out of CA that night. Luckily, my better judgment told me to grab a hotel in Camarillo and at least do a bit of the PCH and Mulholland highway in the morning.
Got up early and headed thru Oxnard to Highway 1 and headed south. Took a ton of pics and learned a couple things about salt water. First off, it stings like a bitch when it gets in your eyes and already dried out contacts. Second, it doesn’t clean off a helmet visor very easily once it dries. O well. Standing on the coast made the torture of the previous day well worth it.
The PCH was pretty busy, so I jumped off on Mulholland to hunt down “the snake”. I’ve ridden the FJR pretty spirted back in the Midwest, but even our most twisty roads don’t compare to the canyon roads around Mulholland. I ran the snake a few times and stopped at the rock store for a bit to rest. I was really surprised at how empty the roads were. I only saw a handful of bikes and cars the entire time I was there. Reading about it online gave me the impression the place was going to be packed 24/7. So if you want it all to yourself, Monday around noon is a great time. Sorry, no pics of the road as I was too focused on the ride. I sure wish I had a gopro or something. That would have made some good video. Next I back tracked to Latigo Canyon Road. All I can say is wow. I’ve never had a road that has actually kicked my ass. It was constant switchbacks with either a 6% uphill or downhill grade and only very short straight/flat sections to grab a breather before throwing the pig of an FJR into the next corner. It was a lot of fun and really let me find the limits of the FJR and my ability. Roads like that “almost” make me want to move to California…..almost.
Now with all the fun riding done, I needed to get back on the road. Somewhere along the line, I miscalculated the number of miles I’d need to ride each day to make it back to Indiana by the 23 rd. Going north to Seattle was out of the question at the 500-600 mile/day pace I’d been going at. I decided to backtrack out thru Barstow and head up I15 to Las Vegas. I rolled thru Vegas pretty late and couldn’t find a good deal on a decent hotel, so I kept going to a little city on the NV/AZ border, called Mesquite.
I decided to check a few things on the bike that morning and well replacing my grips, something caught my eye.
Yeah….its just a bus, right? Well it just happens to be a bus my company built. I knew we sold many of them throughout the southwest, but I never expected to see one in a little town like Mesquite. Go figure 2500 miles from home and work is still trying to haunt me on my vacation.
I spent the rest of the day traveling north up I70 thru Utah. Got a lot of good pics.
Made it to Grand Junction, CO for the night.
Woke up and ran into a fellow rider named Vic. He was from Atlanta on a V-Strom 650 and about 5000 miles into an 8000 mile trip. He was coming from California like me and heading back to Atlanta. We chatted about our bikes and some of the experiences we’d run into so far on our trips. He was a pretty cool guy, but I unfortunately forgot to ask if he was a member of ADVRider.
Due to popular demand on my facebook, my trip was rerouted to check out Pike’s Peak. I got off I70 at 24 to head south towards Colorado Springs. I took tons of pics. Here’s some of my better ones.
I ended up missing the turn off to Pike’s Peak Highway and didn’t catch it until I was in Manitou Springs. I got turned around and got to the toll gate right as they were closing it. The ranger informed me I missed the closing by a couple minutes as it was 5:05PM. I told him if he let me by I’d treat it like a practice run for next year’s hill climb. He wasn’t amused.
No big deal, I planned on staying near by for the night anyway. I ended up grabbing a hotel room in Manitou Springs and headed to a bar called the Keg Lounge. Nothing like spending an evening eating some good food, drinking some good beer and chatting with some locals about the hill climb.
Got up at 6 am to gear up and be at the gate of Pike’s Peak by 7:30 when they opened. Being first on the road has its perks. Myself and another rider on a R1200GS made a pretty spirited run to the summit. I was amazed at how fast the temp drops after you cross the timber line. The summit was amazing. Just purely amazing. Oh its also really hard to breath. I know I’m not in the greatest shape, but shit I was breathing pretty heavy just wandering the summit taking pics. I think I read somewhere at 14110 ft, there is only 60% of the oxygen as there is at 8000ft at the mountain base. Which made it even crazier when I passed guys riding their bicycles to the summit. Ok pic time….
Pikes Peak highway was also a rush of a ride. The canyons in CA were spooky know that there was a good 50 ft drop off a lot of the roads. Well Pike’s Peak has then beat when you realize that its about a 2 foot shoulder and then a 1000ft cliff. Even as scary as it was, I’ve got a hard on to try racing in the hill climb next year. I can’t think of a bigger adrenaline rush than that.
Well by this point I was pretty exhausted from a week of riding and I was honestly a little homesick. I decided to put the camera away for the trip and haul ass back to Indiana. After leaving Pikes Peak, I headed north outside of Denver/Aurora to catch I80 in Nebraska. I pushed 750 miles that day to stay in Des Moines, IA that night. Friday was the last short leg home back to Elkhart, IN. I made it back and pulled into my driveway with 4974 miles on the odometer. Nearly 5000miles without a single real incident….and I dropped the FJR in my driveway. HAHA….yep….didn’t have a good footing and couldn’t catch it when it tipped over in the gravel. O well….at least the trip ended with a little excitement.
I just linked to your report through one of your responses in 'jeeps'.
Nice report with some fine narration and pics!
Good looking bike. :thumb
As cliched as it sounds, this trip really was a life changing experience for me. It has helped me view my life in a much broader perspective than I had before.
Unfortunately, the FJR is now gone. I wrecked it on a ride on Thanksgiving day due to some jackass in a pickup who cut me off. Hopefully next spring, I'll replace it with a 2013 model and break it in with another trip across the US.
Very quick but neat trip you did. When someone tells me they hate California, I always ask then where have they been in California. Big state with many different people , lands and climates. What got my attention when I was at Mt Evans this last summer was when I was coming back down and cross a woman jogging uphill at about the 12000 foot level. I saluted her from the bandit.
Thanks for sharing yur report.
Pikes Peak is amazing. We rode the cog train up to the top several years ago while there for a MX school. 4th of July and there was snow up top. Nice area. Always wanted to return on a bike trip.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the report, i really enjoyed it.
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