Day 4: Ludlow, CA to Needles, CA
Distance: 108 miles
Climbing: 3,394 feet
At dinner tonight, Sandi Taylor from Route 66 magazine said that I looked wiped, and I’m sure I did. My eyes feel like I’ve been wearing contact lenses made of sandpaper. It was another day of “abundant sunshine” in the desert, although it was the wind that actually demanded our attention. Like the proverbial “close talker,” it had a way of getting in your face.
But, the day started well enough. Anurang and I had time the night before to go for a short walk to some of the ruined buildings of Ludlow and still get to bed early, so we had a good night’s sleep. Last night was our only night of rooming together on this trip – a result of there being a limited number of motel rooms in Ludlow.
Honestly, I don’t know how those of these towns that do survive manage to do so. Ludlow, I guess, is still on the interstate, and it seems to attract a lot of truckers. Close to a dozen of them were lined up across the street when we started this morning. So many of the other towns that used to flourish on this route, though, have withered away bit by bit – losing a school, a church, gas stations, motels, cafes. Because this is a desert, you can see the remains long after the people and the business have vanished. One (former) town that we passed by today, Goffs, used to have a thriving store and café; we ate there five years ago. The owner simply vanished one day about four years ago without telling anyone where he was going. We had a rest stop in the parking lot, and I looked through the window – there were still packages of food on the shelves.
Another iconic Route 66 spot on today’s ride, Roy’s Café, in the town of Amboy, is completely shut up, as are the motel and school. Anurang was able to buy more stamps at the post office, though.
Although it was cold when we went to breakfast in the morning, it had already warmed up a bit by our seven-ish start time (we had to fix a flat rear tire on my bike that Anurang noticed before we went to breakfast) I didn’t bring a jacket – just arm warmers, knee warmers, and a thin wool layer under my PBP jersey (we both wore those today). Within an hour, the arm and knee warmers went in the handlebar bag. Overall, though, the temps stayed fairly moderate until the afternoon.
Anyway, we started out with a short, easy climb and not much wind. The first 20 miles were both easy on the legs and extremely scenic. You can see a long way in the desert, and there are always interesting mountains and volcanos on the horizon. The trains – I heard today that something like 250 of them pass through here each day – are a constant presence. Sometimes they’re close by and sometimes they’re so far in the distance that you can see a mile-long train all at once. At one point in the afternoon, we watched as two trains 10 miles away looked like they were on a collision course; even though you knew they weren’t going to hit each other, you couldn’t take your eyes away as they seemed to rush right at one another.
As the morning progressed, the wind started to pick up a little, and our progress slowed just a bit. Lon caught up to us by this point. I asked him when he had first gotten interested in Route 66; was it during his Race Across America days? “Well, that’s when I first rode here,” he said, “but I actually started to get interested later, in the late 80s, when we were doing PAC Tours here.” In those days, it was hard to get information about the original Route 66 alignments, and Lon spent a lot of time piecing it all together before he did the first Route 66 Pac Tour. The one guidebook he had, he said, when he started, contained no specific directions at all, but things like “turn left at the old store and drive a ways before making a right turn.”
After we passed the Amboy crater (last erupted in 1945, it says on our route card; maybe better pedal a little faster) and Roy’s, a van pulled up in front of us and started filming and interviewing Lon. Anurang was a bit behind us at this point. After the van finally pulled ahead, we ran into Bob Moore and Sandi Taylor from Route 66 magazine waiting by the side of the road. Bob was also the ace support crewmember on our tour five years ago. We chatted with them for a few minutes and then continued on to the next rest stop, which was at the top of a hill.
Now the wind was starting to get serious, and our average speeds dropped accordingly. It was also considerably warmer; I really felt like I was riding in the desert now. It seemed to take a long time to get to the lunch stop, too. “This should be a milkshake stop,” I announced to Anurang. Alas, it was not to be. The truck stop/café in Essex was a really nothing more than a large convenience store. I was hungry enough that it didn’t really matter that much however.
We’d already noticed that my tire looked like it had lost some more air while we were getting to lunch, so we’d stopped to pump it up a bit. I pumped it up even more at lunch in the hope that it was a really slow leak. After a few miles, though, it was clear that I needed to change the tube again. This time we went over the tire minutely to try to determine if there was something stuck to the inside that caused both flats. Couldn’t find anything, though. I can see my bike from where I’m typing this now, in fact, but I’m too tired to get up and see if it still has air in it. I guess I’ll know whether we’ve fixed it by tomorrow.
We finally made it to Goffs (the town that formerly had a store), and things got decidedly easier after that. Almost all of our climbing was behind us, for one thing – Needles is at least 1,000 feet lower (on the Colorado River) than Goffs. Also, the wind would be slightly less onerous as we curved around to the south.
The pavement was, for the most part, quite ridable all day – the worst road we had to ride was I-40, which we had to take for the last 10 or so miles into Needles. Five years ago, this was a section that Lon and I had missed because Lon wanted to scout out a possible dirt road that he thought might at one time have been 66. I think he concluded that it was just a dirt road that more or less followed the train tracks.
Rollling into Needles, I insisted on a stop at DQ for a root beer float, still feeling a bit cheated about not getting my milkshake lunch I guess. “I’m not really hungry,” Anurang said, “but I’ll hang out with you while you eat one.”
We both enjoyed our floats before doing the last mile to the motel.