Day 2: San Bernardino, CA to Barstow, CA
Distance: 80.50 miles
Total climbing: 4,500 feet
I don’t think that it really feels like you’re on a tour until you’ve done your second day; you’re probably more than a normal day’s ride from where you started, and you’re starting to settle into your routine. Well, I’m not quite settled, but I’m getting there.
Also, this second day of Route 66 really is the first one where you can begin to see abandoned remains of the old road. It also is the first day where you ride in the desert, which sets the tone for so much of what is to follow. I would guess that we’ll be in some kind of desert or other for most of the rest of the way to and through Texas.
But first, back to Rialto and the Wigwam Motel. Anurang and I walked to a nearby store for snacks and picked up some 66 schwag at the Wigwam office on the way back. He got some pins and I got a Route 66 sticker for the back of my ukulele.
A while later, a group of us walked a short way to the Grand Opening of a Mexican Seafood Restaurant. It was a pretty big place, but there were only two customers sitting at a booth watching a big-screen TV play some kind of dance program on a Spanish language station. Loudly. I probably would have turned around and left it was so loud, but instead we sat down and had a good cheap dinner. I had tamarindo and pozole, which was a giant bowl of soup (although I ordered the “small” size) with hominy (“hommy” in the menu’s description) and big chunks of pork. Lynette, sitting across from me, had the same thing, although as an apparently temporarily lapsed vegetarian she added a lot of cilantro and onion garnish.
After dinner, back at the hotel, I struggled with the supposed high-bandwidth connection and eventually uploaded some stuff using my brand new Apple modem. I can kind of understand why Apple no longer builds a modem into its notebooks, but is their add-on USB modem really only capable of 28Kb? Anyway, it was excruciatingly slow, and I ran out of time on my $5 phone card before I got all the photos uploaded that I wanted to, even at fairly low resolutions. Thank goodness Judith was around to send me the list of access numbers that I forgot to bring with me.
I finally finished all of that a little while after 9:00 and went to bed. I’d been up since 4:30, so I was ready for a good night’s sleep. And I did sleep pretty well, too, until my phone rang at about 4:00 AM. I stumbled across my Wigwam to answer it. The guy on the other end said something I didn’t understand so I asked him to repeat it. He did, and it was an unsavory proposition. I hung up and tried to go back to sleep. The phone rang again after a few minutes so I just ignored it. Later, I heard that several other people got phone calls as well.
I was about asleep at 4:30, when there was a knock on my door. Now this was starting to creep me out. This was not the wigwam experience I wanted. I looked through the peephole and there was a burly guy with a shaved head and moustache who looked like he’d come straight from the penitentiary to bang on my wigwam door. He was saying something urgent that I couldn’t understand but that might have been someone’s name. My first reaction was to shut the deadbolt. I looked at the wigwam windows. They were kind of small, but were they small enough? I waited a while and looked again. He appeared to have left.
So, I went back to bed and slept like a baby.
Of course not. Instead, I checked my e-mail (nice note from Judith about the typos in the previous day’s post), fixed some more typos, and discovered that the outlet I’d plugged my fancy GPS bike computer into was apparently not working. I switched the computer to a different outlet so that it could at least charge for a couple of hours.
Finally, at 6:30 we walked to a nearby donut shop for “breakfast.” Three old-fashioned donuts later, I was ready to get on my way.
Lots of traffic on Foothill Boulevard as we left the Wigwam motel behind – I guess we hit the rush hour. As we rode through what must have been northern San Bernardino, traffic stayed pretty heavy until we veered left onto 5th Avenue and started a very long, steady climb toward Cajon Pass. One way you could tell that this used to be Route 66 was by the numerous down-at-the-heels motels. This was also the first time we saw “Route 66” painted onto the asphalt.
Anurang and I came to a freeway underpass where they were doing some construction and there was a posted detour. We tentatively rode past the barrier and approached the flag man to ask whether it would be OK if we rode through. The guy said “No, you have to go around,” so I dutifully turned around and rode back to the barrier, where I saw Lon and a half dozen or so other riders approaching. “They say we have to go around,” I said and “it can’t hurt to ask.” I was all set to start down the detour when I heard Anurang whistle loudly and motion to us all to come through. After we rode through the small construction site, which saved us about a mile (based on what some other, less-fortunate riders told us), I asked Anurang how he got the man to change his mind. “I asked his supervisor,” he said. “You can’t waste your time talking to the flunky.”
Cajon Pass is big, long, scenic and, on this day, full of dark clouds. People driving old cars, especially the dustbowl migrants, must have dreaded getting over it. Now, it has a freeway (I-15), several rail lines, and a frontage road that includes what used to be Route 66. In some places, I think, the old road has just completely disappeared beneath the freeway. We started the pass by riding a detour past one of these sections where the road was completely gone.
We then got on the left side of what was once the first divided highway in America. I think this was built in 1930. The other side is “out of service” and blocked off with barriers, although I did ride on a short stretch of it. Eventually, though, that ran out, and we were all forced to get onto I-15 at about mile 22 shortly after a nice rest stop on the disused side of the old road.
Riding on the Interstate can never be described as fun, but it doesn’t seem particularly dangerous if there’s a big enough shoulder and if you are careful about things like off ramps. The noise is awful, though, and on a pass like this one the trucks are all in the rightmost lane where it’s pretty hard to not notice as they go by. Fortunately, as we started climbing, the trucks passing us were going more and more slowly. Anurang and I had left the rest stop with Lon and another rider, Leon from South Africa. As we climbed, with Lon out of the saddle on his one-speed Quickbeam, Anurang dropped off the back and I decided to see if I could hang with the other two all the way to the summit at 4,400 feet.
At one point, Lon stopped to pick up a rubber tie-down strap and drop it in his rear bag. I’d forgotten how he likes to collect stuff. After he picked that up, I started noticing lots of similar straps, but Lon’s was the only one I saw that had the hooks still attached to both ends.
Lon told me a story about a RAAM (Race Across America) in the early 80’s where Michael Secrest was 3 minutes behind him as they climbed this same pass on the interstate. The race rules stipulated that you get off at the Summit Inn and get on the frontage road. Lon did this, but Secrest stayed on the interstate. When he saw Lon riding on the frontage road, he realized his mistake, but there was no way he and his crew could turn around on I-15, so they had to go miles to the next exit before his crew could ferry him back up the hill to the Summit Inn to get back on the course. In all, he lost an hour, and he didn’t catch back up to Lon until somewhere in Utah.
I was keeping a close eye on my bike computer at this point to see how much farther before we reached 4,400 feet, but I wasn’t keeping a close-enough eye, because 3 miles went by after the rest stop before I remembered that I had stopped the timer there in an effort (futile, for all I know) to conserve battery time. I guess I have to accept that I’m just too absent-minded to ever reliably remember to start the damn thing up again, so I’d better not ever stop it.
However, it turned out that Lon’s route card was wrong – the summit was actually at 4,190 feet. If I’d looked closely at the picture I took of the summit five years ago, I would have known this. Still, I wasn’t disappointed to finish climbing 210 feet early. The sky had been very cloudy all morning, but it seemed to clear almost instantaneously as we crested the grade. It would stay sunny the rest of the day.
The Summit Inn is a coffeeshop, basically, with a jukebox, lots of junk on the walls (including, of course, Route 66 junk) and great waitresses. I hear it has great milkshakes, too. They serve ostrich burgers, buffalo burgers, ostrich-egg omelettes, and all the usual coffeeshop fare as well. Anurang was still a ways back, so Lon and I sat at the lunch counter and ordered. Anurang finally showed up and complained again about having accidentally changed all of the menus on his camera to Chinese (or maybe Japanese?). So, I fixed that for him and he had to buy me lunch.
I ordered potato salad with my burger, which I realized was probably a bad choice when Lon and Anurang got their french fries. The waitress overheard me bemoaning my decision, though, and brought me a small plate of fries on the side for free. Another reason I liked the Summit Inn is that they let me plug in my bike computer so that I could charge it up enough to last all the way to Barstow.
When we finally left the Summit Inn, it was COLD. I suddenly remembered how hot the inside of the Inn seemed when we entered. Now I was shivering in the parking lot while waiting for Anurang to pay our bills.
I was expecting some kind of a big downhill after all that (admittedly easy) climbing from San Bernardino, but instead we had a very gradual descent that, with the addition of a lot of wind from the west, didn’t seem like descending at all. After just a few miles, we got stopped behind a long line of cars waiting for some roadwork, where we also caught up with several more of our riders.
The rest of the ride into Victorville was fairly ordinary, although I did note some Joshua trees early on in the descent and, when I looked back, gorgeous views of the snowcapped San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains.
Victorville was clearly a “Route 66 Town” – lots of signs and so on. It’s also the home of a Route 66 Museum, which I missed five years ago because we started that trip on a Saturday and the museum is closed on Sundays. They sold a lot of stuff to Pac Tour riders on this Monday, though, and there were also a photographer and reporter from the local Victorville paper taking pictures and interviewing people about the trip. I discovered that I don’t like people pointing big cameras at me and taking pictures when they think I’m not looking.
The museum was nice, although I admit that I sometimes have trouble getting excited about the stuff that passes for authentic Route 66 memorabilia. I did like the Route 66 aloha shirt, but they only had it in size small. The folks at Kaleo Café would have dug it.
From Victorville, it really starts to feel like a ride through the desert. I noticed that my camera battery was running low in the museum (probably too many flash photos), so I didn’t take many pictures from this point on. Also, we had a stiff crosswind from the west as we traveled mostly north, and I didn’t want to stop and get left behind by the other folks in my group. I saw quite a few abandoned motels and former gas stations, though, as well as some businesses that seemed to be hanging on just barely.
Mostly, I was riding with Lon, Leon, and Anurang, and all of us took fairly long turns at the front at one point or another. I stopped about half a mile before the last rest stop to walk a few yards into the desert to “shift fluids” and noticed half of a green Coke bottle poking out of the sand. I mentioned this to Lon at the rest stop and he pointed to a pile of tin cans a few yards from where we were parked. “Go see if any of them have holes punched in them,” he said. That’s a sign that they are older than 1965. Things thrown away in the desert last a long time, you know. I did walk over to the cans, and the first one I picked was a pre-1965 specimen. It was thoroughly oxidized (an antiques expert would say that it had developed a lovely patina) but you could almost make out the lettering. I couldn’t tell what it was though, really, and not even whether it was a soda or a beer or a can of juice.
This desert riding brought back all kinds of PAC Tour memories; every tour I’ve been on with them has crossed a desert, and it’s always been one of the most memorable and unique parts of the trip. I noticed how dry it was, of course, and my eyes started to feel a little scratchy, but it wasn’t really a hot day. I left my knee and arms warmers on all afternoon (in the morning I actually wore wool tights and a wind breaker as well).
Very gradually, we shifted our direction from due north to a more northeasterly heading toward Barstow and the cross wind became more of a tail wind. I couldn’t see the downhill, but I was riding in a big gear, so it must have been there. Lon got in front at one point when there were about half a dozen of us. He hit a short little uphill stretch without slowing down, and Anurang and a couple of other guys dropped off the back. The other two eventually caught back up, I think, but I didn’t see Anurang again until we reached the hotel in Barstow – another “Route 66 Town,” at least on Main Street.
I figured that the desert would be a good place to do laundry, so I washed some jerseys, shorts and underwear. Tomorrow will probably be an even better place to do laundry since it’s such a short ride into Ludlow (just 50 miles).
I discovered the motel has wireless access, but once again I couldn’t get it to work (neither could Anurang). I jumped on with the modem just long enough to send Judith an e-mail with my whereabouts (some of our motels have changed from the previously published list).
Then I started writing this until Anurang came over to see if I wanted to get dinner. We walked down Main Street and found a Dollar Store where I could get some clips for hanging clothes, a Sharpie for putting notes on my route card, and some twine for hanging up clothes. Then we went to a Radio Shack where Anurang bought a camera cable so he doesn’t have to keep borrowing mine, and I got a new phone card (used up the old one trying to upload pictures to Flickr this morning).
Dinner was Italian food at that atmospheric place behind the Shell Station. Bruschetta will forever be a punchline for Anurang and me after that meal.