Day 17: Amarillo, TX to Shamrock, TX
Distance: 98 miles
Climbing: 1,400 feet
Successfully doing a PAC Tour, even a Route 66 PAC Tour, requires some time-management skills. I need to work on that. I’m just getting started with this and it’s already past when I should be going to bed.
Breakfast at the Big Texan restaurant and then out through Amarillo east toward Shamrock. This is our only full day of riding in Texas. Yesterday we started in New Mexico and tomorrow we will mostly be in Oklahoma.
While we were still on the Caprock, the terrain was pretty dull, and the wind was blowing steadily from the southwest. Just flat, flat brown stuff.
After 25 miles, we reached the town of Conway or at least the rest stop just outside the town of Conway. I was the only person who took the route card literally and detoured half a mile to the site of the Conway Café. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I got the Bug Ranch – a sort of miniature Cadillac Ranch done with Volkswagens. Well, it was worth the extra mile, but it meant I had to work a bit to catch back up to the main group, which for most of the day included Lon, Tim and Vicky Arnold, and John Welch.
Another 16 miles or so took us to the town of Groom, which seems to be famous for a giant cross “largest in the western hemisphere and a Spiritual Experience” according to the signage. It’s also where you’ll find the Blessed Mary Café, which is a pretty bare bones place that is more like a shrine to the Catholic Church than an actual eatery — lots of pictures of Popes and, especially, Mother Theresa. It’s probably the only Route 66 Café that doesn’t have pictures of Elvis and Marilyn, in fact. Lon loves that the menu has no prices – you just drop whatever you think you owe into a jar by the door. I had a couple of pieces of pie and an iced tea. The second piece wasn’t very good, but it didn’t cost me much.
Then it was past the famous leaning water tower of Groom, TX, and onto the infamous Jericho Gap.
When I first heard of the Jericho Gap I pictured some narrow rocky canyon kind of like New Mexico’s Big Notch. Actually, it was a gap in the paved portion of the original alignment of Route 66. Until a more modern alignment came along, the Gap was just a series of dirt farm roads strung together.
It still is to this day.
Lon told us how farmers used to make some extra money by pulling cars out of the notorious mud holes of the Jericho gap with their tractors. Then, at night, they would go freshen up the holes.
We started on gravel, and it wasn’t too bad at first. At one point, we did end up on some pavement, but that was short-lived. We also visited an impressive, modern rest stop on I-40 that had a Route 66 theme. In the town of Old Jericho, all that was left were a decaying motel in the middle of nowhere (well, in the middle of a farm field in the middle of nowhere), and a cemetery that I didn’t even notice, although a mile later there was a historical marker about it. We poked around the motel ruins and also admired a large, beautiful, dead rattlesnake. It looked as though someone had killed it with a rock.
The second portion of the Gap (after the brief paved section) was where we descended from the Caprock plateau, and where the trail became considerably sandier. At one point, we reached a fence with a crude gate where Lon believed that the old road paralleled some railroad tracks. I know that Lon had never ridden that section before, and I don’t think he intended that we should either. Susan Rosenblatt said, “Why don’t we try it?” though, and you could see Lon’s face light up.
It wasn’t a piece of cake, but there was plenty of pie – cow pies. It also was a bit sandy in spots, but not as sandy as the last few miles of the Gap, which saw me convinced on at least one occasion that I was going down for the count. Somehow, the bike righted itself at the last possible second. I had thought I was getting better at the sandy stuff, but this was the most challenging extended section like this so far on the trip, and I realized that I still have a long way to go. Plus, riding in that stuff is tiring!
Finally, we got back on pavement, much to my relief, and stopped for lunch at a cowboy steakhouse – the kind of place that has different animal heads mounted on the rafters in ascending order of size. After almost 25 miles of old road, dirt, gravel, and sand, I was ready for a cheeseburger. Some of the other riders, who had opted not to do Jericho Gap, were already finishing up when we entered the restaurant. “Well, that took about an hour and a half longer than I thought it would,” said Lon of our Jericho Gap expedition. That was partly, I think, because it was harder than expected and because we had to stop on a couple of occasions to fix flat tires.
As we came out the steakhouse, it was clear that the weather had changed dramatically. It was past 3:30 now, and the sky was dark as a bruise to the southwest. Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed. “Well, we have a four-mile head start,” said Lon, after counting the seconds between the two. Shamrock, our destination for the day, was still 20 miles away. I didn’t ask how fast a Texas thunderstorm travels. We jumped on our bikes and hightailed it.
Fortunately, I think the wind was helping us more than hurting us at this point, and Shamrock was also slightly downhill from where we were starting. Still, our speed seemed to vary between 15 and 20 mph. At one point, I decided in a selfless act of heroism to put on my rainjacket, thereby virtually guaranteeing that we would beat the rain in, but also forcing me to work hard for a few miles to catch back up to the pack (and getting me somewhat overheated in the process).
By the time we crossed the Shamrock city limits, the storm was spitting droplets, but the pavement was still dry. I felt like it might let loose at any minute, but in fact things didn’t really go crazy until a little less than an hour after we got in. I heard that the very last riders to make it in beat the deluge by just a matter of minutes.
I checked the forecast for tomorrow, and it isn’t very good, so I put fenders on my bike as well as changed my rear tire. It’s supposed to be a really pretty and interesting day of cycling – I don’t want to let the weather spoil it.