My workload and family responsibilities reduced, but health issues more pressing, I mused on the possibility of getting a bike again. Our daughter urged, ‘Don’t let him do it Mum, it will be young girls next’. Nevertheless, with daughter away at uni, I went to On Yer Triumph and bought a second hand ‘Bonnie’. It was blue and ivory like my old steed forty odd years ago. Ruth and I rode the local villages and countryside, as in our youth, enjoying the envious looks of others our age. The children were told of the deed about three months later.
The journey, and ‘Living the Dream’, had begun. After about a year, I saw an HC Travel advertisement to ride Route 66. I showed this to Ruth, saying, ’How about us doing that to celebrate my 60th birthday?’ To my amazement and discomfort she merely said ‘OK’. My bluff was called.
We arrived in Chicago the day before the trip started, our first mistake, no time to acclimatise or explore. We got mixed up in the hotel with another larger tour group also doing 66. Next morning we joined our tour, led by Garry ‘Bear’ Fleshman, and went to collect our bikes from the Harley Dealership at Glenview. How could you ride the ‘Mother road’ on anything other than a Harley? The sight of 400kg of bling, our Road King, was daunting. I had never ridden a Harley, let alone with a pillion. I gingerly rode solo round the car park without falling over. Fantastic! Ruth climbed on and we joined the rear third of the group riding across downtown Chicago, the start of Route 66.
Three quarters of the group were experienced HOG’s (Harley Owners Group). My preparation had been watching John Travolta’s Wild Hogs as a training film. I had told our children that we had chosen our Chapter and Clan tattoos to be initiated, and ensure a safe ride across the USA. Stunned silence, then my son said, ’If you get plastered in tattoos, maybe you should stay there!’
I watched our HOG’s flow through the traffic as a beautifully disciplined team. So, ‘Like monkey see, monkey do’, I was learning to ride with others. The adventure had begun, we headed off down the Mother road, the Main Street of America, it was sink or swim. Our guide, ‘Bear’, was superb. Initially he detoured onto a few minor roads so we could recognise who our group were, as he assessed the rider’s skill level. ‘Bear’ in his spare time can ride 1000 miles a day, storm chasing!
The old 66 Route to Springfield led us through many sights of interest. Old truck stops, townships, gas stations and tourist novelties. This set the backdrop for our 2666 mile adventure. The group quickly bonded, and within days we styled ourselves, ‘The 66 9ers’, the 9 being September, the date. The 66 9ers still have an annual reunion.
‘Living the Dream’ swept through a time warp up to the 1940s that is the historic Route 66. The locals were friendly and amusing, being eccentric seemed almost a must. They were nothing like the image we had from American films and TV. The best blueberry and peach pie was in Atlanta, and pumpkin pie in Barstow. ‘Bear’ taught us to say AAAAWSUM, MISSOURA, and MISSISSIPPI. Onward we rode into prairieland, the Ozarks, and along ‘Chiropractor’ road, with numb bums. In silence, we cruised the Joplin suburb devastated by a tornado the previous May. It looked like a nuclear bomb had dropped.
At Bison we imagined the heartbreak of ‘The trail of tears’ Indians. Across the panhandle, and on a disused section of Route 66 we raced up and down in t-shirts, helmetless with bandanas on our heads, for photos. I climbed the quirky Cadillac Ranch spectacle, where we left our names as graffiti. But declined the huge 4 1/2lb Big Steak Ranch challenge. In the ghost town of Glen Rio we stood, one foot in NM, the other in TX. We were alive, second time round teenagers, just Ruth and her bit of ‘rough’ on a motorbike again.
Five States done, there were three to go to complete our trip through the three time zones. It was Comanche country and on into the high plains. A fuel stop at Santa Rosa led to a visit to the owner’s vintage car museum. Outside a tornado threatened so we hid inside, prepared to bed down between the ‘caddies’ and buicks if necessary. The danger passed but we had to ride through torrential rain and the dark to Santa Fe.
The thrill of the tour continued as we were let loose to ride across the Petrified Forest park on our own, as we were on the ride to the Grand Canyon. By now I rode the Harley with confidence at speed and in twisties. The HOGs taught me about balance and how to stop, landing at a chosen point on two feet like a bird, and not topple over.
To recount the sights, the jokes, and the wonderful people that we met would take a book and travel log program like Billy Connolly’s. He had apparently been six weeks ahead of us, but on a TRIKE! I learnt that it is the people you ride with and those met on the way that makes motorcycling so enjoyable.
A final group lunch at the Tom Hanks Bubba Gump Fish Restaurant ended the ride at Santa Monica pier. The ride was ‘one of those things to do before you die’ experiences. I felt that I could ride anywhere and any machine after that. After lunch I would have started the way back to Chicago had it been possible.
Late midlife crisis? I call it ‘Living the dream’.
Originally posted 2017-02-27 11:18:38.