Jim Bradbury

Writer, Cycler, Strummer

Archive for May 2006

Day 18: Shamrock, TX to Clinton, OK

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Distance: 82 miles
Climbing: 1,600 feet

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For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.

What’s the first thing Anurang does when he gets back to San Francisco? He sends me an e-mail with a copy of the weather forecast for today. Hazardous weather, that is. He knows how I love to panic about stuff like that.

However, I already knew that the forecast was bad, and I had already prepared by getting my fenders out of the storage for spare tires and spending half an hour putting them on my bike (I also changed my rear tire, just to be extra safe). Now, if putting a rain jacket on can forestall the rain for a couple of hours, putting fenders on the bike is enough to guarantee at least one really nice (if somewhat humid) day.

And that’s what we got.

Don’t worry, though – I’m still panicked, because the forecast for tomorrow is even worse than today’s was. And I don’t think the fender voodoo is good for more than one day.

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Still, let’s focus on the positive: Today was great. The wind was pretty strong right from the start, but as it was coming from the southwest, and we were heading mostly east, it gave us a good push. I had a quick ride with a group that included the Arnolds, John Welch, Jim Meyers, and Lon almost to the Oklahoma border (Lon dropped back to fix something with his wheel, possibly a leaky tube). After stopping for a quick picture at the border (I’ve never entered Oklahoma on a bike before), we rolled into the town of Erick, where we were greeted by Harley and Annabelle Russell of the Sand Hill Curiosity Shop.

This was quite a treat. Harley used to play guitar for Charley Pride and others but has retired to his hometown where he and Annabelle peform for Route 66 tourists in their shop, which has almost nothing for sale but is crammed with memorabilia and cool guitars. I asked about his Roy Smeck signature Gibson (only 52 made) and he also pointed out a rare Martin signed by Mike Longworth among others. Harley didn’t know that Mike had died, though. No ukuleles in the “shop,” either.

He can really play, too. I took a Quicktime movie with my camera and, if I’m feeling ambitious may try to upload some of it. They gave us coffecake, juice, maracas, and tambourines and performed part of their “Mediocre Music” show, which mainly consisted of “The Wabash Cannonball” and “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”.

After this, I rode with Franz for quite a bit. He’s a strong rider and I had to work a bit to keep up with him (or at least not slow him down too much). We chatted about how beautiful Oklahoma is and how cool the road itself is.

Very soon, we were on one of Lon’s favorite sections of the historic concrete pavement. This part is closed to cars and quite overgrown with trees. Unlike the parts of Texas we’ve been through, this part of Oklahoma has lots of trees. Also, many wildflowers, horses, and whimsical mailboxes. Best of all, it’s very green. Hard to imagine what it must have been like during the Dust Bowl era.

The trees section was interesting (though I had to walk a few parts because it was just too overgrown), but what I really admired were the sections that have been keep just as they were in the 30’s (beautifully done concrete with gently rounded curbs) that now function as frontage to I-40 (which we never had to ride on at all today). I can’t decided whether it reminds me more of a nicely shaped French pastry crust or like a Hot Wheels track. And the red Oklahoma dirt gives it a slight reddish tinge. I asked Franz, and he said it was kind of… taupe. I’ll have to take his word for it.

As we crested one hill today, both Franz and I were struck by how damned beautiful the landscape was. Who knew Oklahoma was so pretty?

I visited two different Route 66 museums today, too. One was in Elk City, and is a sort of commercial venture. I didn’t care for it too much. The other is here in Clinton and is run by the state of Oklahoma. It was a lot more interesting for me, with a lot of information on how the road was constructed, among other things.

Thanks to the helpful winds, Franz and I actually beat the van/trailer to the motel today, which is a first for me in 9,000 miles of PAC tour riding. So we went and checked out the Clinton Route 66 museum rather than wait around. I figured I’d better go to both museums because I knew what the first thing Lon would ask me would be when I saw him at the motel:

“Did you go the museum?”

I had the right answer.

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Written by Jim Bradbury

May 3, 2006 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Day 17: Amarillo, TX to Shamrock, TX

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Distance: 98 miles
Climbing: 1,400 feet

Checking Out a Rusted Beauty

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.

Written by Jim Bradbury

May 3, 2006 at 4:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Day 16: Tucumcari, NM to Amarillo, TX

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Distance: 124 miles
Climbing: 3,500 feet


Halfway There

For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.

The best laid plans of mice, men and bicyclists…

Things started out pretty well this morning, with Lon and Anurang on the tandem and light wind as we left Tucumcari. Almost all the day’s riding was on frontage roads to I-40 and, for about 18 miles, I-40 itself. Some of those frontage roads used to be 66, but it’s hard to tell unless you ask Lon.

By the time we reached the first rest stop, though, just across the Texas border, the wind was picking up. As we left that rest stop, it was the tandem followed by Jim Meyers, Jim Hlavka, and me. All the Jims. I noticed many wildflowers along the side of the road where it had been mown. I don’t know whether that was because they like the mowed terrain or someone seeded them — but they didn’t start showng up until we were in Texas.

Texas, this part of it, is flat, brown, and flat. Well, it actually wasn’t quite flat enough — we either seemed to be going uphill just enough to slow us down or downhill not enough to speed us up. And it especially wasn’t flat when we reached the Caprock Climb, which takes you up onto the plateau that we’ll be on top of until sometime tomorrow.

It was pretty obvious that Lon and Anurang were struggling in the wind and with the hills, however slight. Anurang was very uncomfortable on the bike, for some reason – I guess it just didn’t fit him right. This must be the kind of thing that doesn’t show up on a forty-mile spin with a raging tailwind. Today, the wind was from the north/northeast, and it was slowing everyone down. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen Lon work that hard. Possilby it was on Wide World of Sports more than 20 years ago. Afterward he said he felt like he’d done a 25-mile time trial.

As we started the climb up Caprock, I decided to go ahead, since we also were passing through an interstate construction zone. It just felt good to go at my own pace rather than wait behind the tandem, which was climbing slower than Lon would normally, but perhaps a bit faster than Anurang would normally. On the way, I passed Gavin and Rhona (the Scottish world travelers), who had started that morning from somewhere east of Tucumcari. I imagine they had a very long day trying to get to Amarillo.

It wasn’t very far from the summit of the Caprock climb to the Midpoint Café, which, supposedly, is halfway between L.A. and Chicago on Route 66. The other two Jims and the tandem pulled in just a few minutes after I did, and we all ate cheeseburgers. No milkshakes available, but they had pie.

To Lon’s relief, Anurang decided that he’d had enough, so Lon got his single bike back out to ride the remaining miles to Amarillo. Anurang got a ride in the van (well, he did ride exactly half of the complete Route 66 route). Jim Hlavka left ahead of us because he felt like it would be a good idea for him to ride a little harder at his own speed for awhile (we never caught him). Lon, Jim Meyers, and I all left more or less together (I had to catch up after waiting to take a quick picture at the midpoint marker), and started taking turns pedaling into the wind.

We maintained this three-man pacellne all the way to a Love’s Truck Stop, where we got some drinks and snacks to see us into Amarillo.

Getting through town took a long time, and I felt like I was having sensory overload after riding the first 100 miles through the plains. I lost count of the Route 66 signs. The west side of town seemed to be the funky side, but we had no time to stop and admire. Lon was on a mission to get to the Big Texan.

We finally rolled in to the finish at a few minutes past five o’clock, which means the whole ride took a bit more than 10 hours, including the hour for lunch.

Getting in to the Big Texan was a relief, but it’s not my favorite motel. It’s the ultimate in western/Texas kitsch, and the food is great if you like lukewarm meat. After getting cleaned up and checking e-mail, I went for dinner with the whole group and had some lukewarm ribs and a free beer.

Now, I’m bushed. In theory, tomorrow should be quite a bit easier, though, as the wind is supposed to be better and the distance is just under 100 miles.

Written by Jim Bradbury

May 1, 2006 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized