Day 3: Barstow, CA to Ludlow, CA
Distance: 52 miles
Climbing: 1,700 feet
A short day today, but it was not necessarily an easy day. Breakfast was on Pac Tour at the Carrow’s across the street (OK, not every restaurant can be an authentic Route 66 diner), but Anurang and I just had oatmeal and toast because we planned to eat again 22 miles down the road at the Bagdad Café.
Leaving Barstow, we followed a frontage road next to I-40 for nearly three miles before hopping onto the interstate itself for a couple of miles. Then it was back onto the frontage road, which was Route 66.
The terrain was high desert – very reminiscent of the area southwest of Mono Lake that we ride on the Eastern Sierra double century. Low scrub and sand. We stopped briefly at Daggett because there was a post office, but it wasn’t open yet. Daggett also has a “Pioneer Cemetery,” which looked like it was located down a sandy road about midway between Old 66 and I-40 – too far for a detour, anyway, although I was curious what such a place would be like out here in the desert where things take so long to decay.
We were riding with Leon from South Africa. Traffic was light, the wind (coming from the northeast) was light, and the road was fairly good at this point, so we made pretty good time as we passed the mirror solar plant to our north. I kept stopping to try to take pictures and then having to try to catch up again.
Eventually, they waited for me and we all rode together toward Newberry Springs, which is the site of the Bagdad Café. Lon had shown the movie Bagdad Café at the motel in Barstow the night before, but we missed that while we were looking for dinner. The wind steadily got stronger as we went, and I realized that the oatmeal wasn’t cutting it so I ate my “emergency” Powerbar. Finally, we saw Newberry Springs (making a quick stop at another post office about a mile from the café).
As we pulled into the parking lot for the café, Jim Hlavka, one of the tour’s crew members, told us that the proprietors had somehow gotten the idea that we were going to all be eating breakfast there, when in fact almost everyone had stuffed themselves silly at Pac Tour’s expense 22 miles earlier. “They even had another cook come in,” he said, “so I ordered another breakfast, even though I needed it like another hole in the head,” he said.
Anurang and Jim (and Leon) to the rescue. “I’m starving,” I told the waitress, and she looked like she wanted to hug me. Instead, she put the theme from Bagdad Café on the jukebox for me. We all ordered the Pan San (basically a 2 x 2 x 2). Leon got a milkshake and Anurang and I had lemonades and then decided that splitting a milkshake might not be a bad idea.
Anurang found a copy of the Desert Dispatch, the Barstow paper, which apparently has some of the same stories as the Victorville paper. Sure enough, we found an article about our ride written by Tatiana Prophet (great name). I looked at the large photo and then looked at Leon sitting across from me and then looked at the photo.
“Leon, is that you?” I showed him the paper.
“Anurang, doesn’t that look like Leon?”
“Dude, are you sure that’s not you?”
“Uh…” Leon looked again more closely. “I’m famous!” This meant that we had to give him the newspaper. Although I’m not recognizable, I’m in the photo as well, with my back to the camera as I get ready to park my bike in front of the Route 66 Museum.
After a long, leisurely lunch at the Bagdad, we three left with Lon to tackle the toughest section of the day’s riding: more wind (although more from the northwest than the northeast now) and truly dreadful pavement that lasts for most of the next 20 miles. Traffic was next to non-existent – everyone was racing along on the interstate to the right of us – so we meandered all over the road looking for the smoothest parts, with me keeping a close eye on my mirror to try to spot any cars that might be approaching from behind. Generally, I could see them while they were still more than a mile away. The farther we went, the fewer they were.
The scenery was gorgeous, I thought, with not a cloud in the sky and hills and mountains surrounding us, with one snow-capped peak poking up from the south that might have been San Jacinto. We passed a few utterly ruined gas stations and motels – some looking as though the proprietors had just walked away from them one day to let the desert do its slow work.
We’ve been paralleling the rail lines since we entered Cajon Pass, so there have been lots of trains. One was coming from the other direction not too far to our left, so we all waved and pulled on imaginary whistles. The engineer tooted his horn for us to the meter of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.”
A couple of times we passed lava beds, which, from a distance, looked almost like abandoned asphalt themselves. I wondered where the volcano that disgorged all the lava might be and got a partial answer when we passed Pisgah Crater, which clearly was a volcano. It looked just like the one I made in elementary school, in fact.
Did I mention that the road was rough here? Boy, if anything weren’t fastened down properly on your bike, this road would be the way to discover it. It also apparently was enough to make my bike computer’s display freeze. (I got a tip from another rider, Gary Bass of Tennessee: Put the bike computer in your pocket during the rough stuff). So, I really had no idea how far I’d gone after an hour. I looked at the route sheet and it said there was a rest stop after 20 miles. That was a good thing, because I had left the Bagdad Café without thinking to put any food in my pockets and, of course, I’d already eaten my emergency Powerbar during the morning. Fortunately, I did not bonk, and the rest stop showed up on schedule.
Somehow, I managed to get my bike computer to unfreeze. For you less-technical types, I’ll just say that I used a special technique involving pushing all the buttons as quickly as possible until something happens. Turns out the computer was recording all along, so I didn’t lose any miles. I didn’t realize that the timer needed to be re-started, too, though, so I lost 2.6 miles that way. I hate that timer.
Anurang announced that the next, and last, 10 miles would be the roughest of the whole day, based on his memory from five years ago. Lon agreed and said that it was like riding across 2 x 4’s. I couldn’t tell whether Lon was kidding or not. He’d be a hell of a poker player.
He was kidding. The last 10 miles were actually on much better road, by and large, with a downhill and slightly better wind. We stopped at one point to mess around with the video feature on my camera with so-so results.
And now we’re in Ludlow, which would truly be a one-horse town if they could find a horse. There are only eight motel rooms here, so for this one night Anurang and I are sharing a room. The alternative would be to get driven back to Barstow for the night and then ferried back here in the morning (which in fact is what I did five years ago).
Tomorrow promises to be our most challenging yet as we try to ride 105 miles to Needles (right on the border with Arizona) with what is supposed to be significant wind and a fair bit of climbing. Five years ago, we had a strong tail wind, and Anurang tells me that we did it in less than six and a half hours. I don’t think that will happen this time…