Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Looking For A Purpose Among The Ghosts Of The Old Road

The last two days I've been somewhat out of sorts.  I've been very listless, and not really enjoying the road as much as I usually do.  It's hard to get going in the morning and hard for me to figure out exactly where I want to head.  I think it has to do with the fact that this trip, unlike all my previous long road trips, is pretty much lacking in a purpose or reason.  But first, we need to back track two days to Monday when I woke up in Barstow, CA.  (As an aside, I took lots of pictures along this stretch -- you can see them on an album I've created at )
Barstow sits on two major rail lines, two freeways, and the ghost of old Route 66.  For a guy who loves travel and things that move, trucks, trains, roads, rails, and history it's a pretty cool town.  To the rest of the world its probably a place to get gas and pee between LA and Las Vegas.  Back in the day though I'm sure it was something.  Now it seems even the roadies traveling 66 for the nostalgia kick have abandoned it.  One of the 66 landmarks -- the El Rancho motel and restaurant are closed and "for lease".  Another victim of the downturn in the economy.

I headed East out of Barstow, sticking to the old road and avoiding I-40, which starts in Barstow with a milepost that reads 2,000 something miles to Wilmington NC.  The old road is quiet, peaceful, and to me haunting.  A few miles away you can see the Interstate, buzzing with trucks and traffic.  I have this road to myself.  Just me and the quaint small ghost towns -- Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy.  All along the road are the remnants of what was.  The ghosts of abandoned motels, gas stations, farms, and towns.  The places where people rested from their drive, fixed their flat tires, and got fuel for themselves and their motors.  It was down this stretch of road that the Joad family in John Stienbeck's Grapes of Wrath traveled along with thousands of their fellow Okies heading towards the Central Valley of California in hopes of a better life.  Route 66 is where the actor/singer Bobby Troup and his wife Julie London rode when he penned the famous lines "Get your kicks, on Route 66".  It's the road most everyone took from the midwest to the Golden State of California looking for a new day in the sun.   For most of the day I got to pretend I was there with them, riding the road, picturing it in its heyday, and enjoying the freedom one gets when on a road trip.

I can only imagine what a beacon Roy's must have been to the weary traveler -- somewhere about half way between Needles and Barstow, out in the middle of the God-forsaken desert.  It's giant neon sign must have been visible for 20 miles across the barren flats as it welcomed folks to the small town of Amboy.  In my head I can just see it at dusk, glowing warm and welcoming and beckoning drivers with a "just a little further and you can rest." This is all that's left of Amboy and of Roy's now.  
At one time Roy's was also a little tribute to Route 66 and the roadies who travel it today looking to find the past, but like the El Rancho in Barstow, it too has become a victim to the economy.  The rooms are still there -- vacant, empty, abandoned.  Here an endless parade of weary travelers rested their heads, fought, cried, laughed, and made love.  Now the only sound is the occasional car, a passing train on the BNSF Transcon, and the desert wind blowing through the dirty broken panes of glass.
Past Amboy the road climbs into the hills, dips into a few washes where small rickety bridges are rotting in the desert heat, and works its way towards Needles, CA where the road merges with I-40 and crosses into Arizona.  I stopped for a bite to eat and to ponder the map on Monday.  I really had no place to go, and the only options were freeway east or semi-freeway south.  I've yet to cross  New Mexico and Texas off my map of states I've ridden the bike in, so I thought, "what the hell, dip down into Arizona and new Mexico and drop into Texas at El Paso."  I could cross Texas and NM off the list, even though I wasn't going to make it to Austin, and I'd be able to circle back north and ride sections of the old road in New Mexico, before heading back towards home.  I'd felt like I belonged out on the road today -- exploring the ghosts of the old highway.  Maybe that would be the purpose of the rest of this trip.  It got me through the long day of riding across the nothingness of Arizona outside of the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas.  I rode hard and fast to make Tucson by nightfall -- over 500 miles that day, the longest of this trip.  My hands were so stiff from gripping the handlebars that I couldn't open a bottle of water after I checked into my hotel in Tucson, and I was too tired to even write here.

I woke up Tuesday morning late -- despite the bright sunshine streaming into my window.  I was stiff and achy and with a sore throat from sleeping with a stuffy nose. I couldn't get motivated again.  I'd looked at the map the night before and realized that my little detour to get to El Paso was not going to work out -- it was still over 300 miles and ALL of it on I-10.  What would be the point -- it wasn't worth it.  Once again I was feeling purposeless -- stuck alone in a hotel in a town I didn't really want to be in, some five days ride from home.  I really couldn't find a place I wanted to go.  Getting out on the bike was once again a chore.  It was confusing me -- I take great pride in being a road warrior -- of living out on the highway, going where I wanted to when I wanted to. But what happens when you don't want to go anywhere in particular?  I called some friends who all said "just come home" or "I don't know what to say", and what I really wanted them to tell me was why was I feeling this way.  Finally about 11am I had the bike loaded and had decided on a direction -- but at the time I wasn't really all that happy with it.  I headed out of Tucson on I-10 with the lyrics from John Denver's "Sweet Surrender" in my head:

"Lost and alone on some forgotten highway, traveled by many remembered by few.
Looking for something that I can believe in, looking for something that I'd like to do with my life."

The Harley Road Atlas had another suggested ride in Arizona that was South and East of Tucson, and that would turn Northeast and take me back up into New Mexico and the ghost of Route 66.  I had mapped it out to get to Albuquerque tonite and then explore the Mother road across New Mexico.  However, I should have read the description of the suggested ride rather than just follow the yellow highlighted map. 
As you can see there isn't a straight section on this road.  It's US-191 North, between Clifton, AZ and Springerville, AZ.  The distance is 130 miles -- and it took three hours.  Quoting the atlas: "narrow, no shoulders or guard rails, severe drop-offs.  The switchback-riddled ride descends 6,000 feet.  There are no services for 70 miles of curving road."  I neglected to read that part.  And while this road was a motorcycle rider's dream -- very fun, very scenic, curves galore, and no traffic.  And for me it was doubly cool with a couple of semi-ghost towns and a huge open pit copper mine, it was not a road to take to gain distance in a reasonable amount of time.

I finally topped out at Springerville and headed into New Mexico as the sun began to set.  I've always thought that this is the prettiest time to ride for the colors, and when you get the combination of the deep reds and oranges of the Southwest with the green trees, blue skies and a rising moon, well one has to stop and take a few pictures -- even if they aren't professional grade.  I did my best to capture the moonrise as Ansel Adams would have over the mesa and small reservation town of Zuni, NM.
It was now so late I knew I wasn't going to make Albuquerque either, so I turned North at Zuni and headed for Gallup, NM.  At least it sits on the Mother road, although it's 80 miles short of where I'd like to be.  I also realized that road trips -- indeed life itself -- is no fun without a purpose or a reason.  Wandering for the sake of wandering sometimes has an appeal, just like short stretches of aimlessness in life do -- but long term and for the long-haul, it doesn't.  Maybe that was the purpose of this trip -- for me to discover that.  I don't know.  But once again, I have to do some recalculating and remapping, and on Wednesday, figure out where I'll be heading and -- why.

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