Hi folks. Before I tell you about my day, let me give you a weather report. It was windy. Sunny and windy, cloudy and windy, dusty and windy. When you are reading all about my day, please keep in mind that no matter what I was doing, I was doing it in 20mph – 55mph winds. Sometimes the wind blew me off the road. Sometimes the wind blew the scooter over. Sometimes the wind did both. The wind created dust storms and gave me near zero visibility. And sometimes the wind wouldn’t allow me to go over 50mph. Actually, that was a lot of the time.
Today was a long day.
I woke up with my tent around me. Actually, I didn’t really wake up, because to wake up would imply sleep. I didn’t really sleep. I may have dozed in and out of semi-consciousness, but anything resembling sleep didn’t happen.
It was in one of these semi-conscious states, around 6am, that the tent finally collapsed. It held its own for a very long time, but in what were probably 30mph sustained winds, what can you expect?
I figured that the winds would die down to manageable levels soon enough, so I did some laundry and slowly packed up the scooter. Folding up the tent was no easy chore in wind such as this. I tried to let the wind aide me in the folding, but it wouldn’t play nice. Eventually, I just crumpled it up and stuffed it in the dry bag. Done and done.
Gallup, New Mexico is a pretty ok town, I guess. I wouldn’t want to live there or anything, but they do have a healthfood co-op. I visited it and it’s small, but pretty nice. I’d much rather have a small co-op than a Whole Foods or Trader Joes (evil). I bought a bunch of Clif Bars and some water and was on my way.
There are a bunch of old motels in Gallup and I remember last year I said that I’d like to see more of this town someday. And here’s my chance, I rolled down Coal Street (used to be Route 66) and it has a nice little downtown. Go Gallup!
One of my favorite stretches is next. I forgot how nice western New Mexico can be. That is, when there’s not 40mph of wind blowing in your face.
Devil’s Cliff is a pretty scary thing to conquer with winds such as these. The wind at this point, like I said, was probably around 40mph. Yes, that’s gusts, but that’s what counts.
And gusts out here aren’t like gusts back home. Back home, gusts are quick, over in 10 seconds, if that. Out there, gusts are basically sustained winds. The gusts will blow for maybe a minute or so and you’ll wonder how such a beautiful cloudless day could bring such violent weather.
There are signs warning the driver to watch for rocks. But if one were to roll down the cliff right now, what would I do besides watch it bounce down the mountain and knock me off the other side? If you are killed by a falling rock, you know it’s your time to go. So I didn’t really worry. Nothing I can do.
It was at the top of the cliff that the wind got so bad I had to stop. In reality, the wind wasn’t all that bad compared to what was to come. But it was bad enough to pull over. And when I did, the wind blew me and the scooter onto our sides. One second we were all rubber side down and the next, our arses were looking out for better weather.
I managed to get us both on two feet/wheels, parked and secured the scooter and went to sit down on a rock, hoping that an even bigger gust wouldn’t blow me over the cliff.
And upon thinking that, one nearly did. I almost lost balance, so I backed away from the edge. Good thing too, because the wind got worse and I had trouble standing.
I found a more secure place to plop down (sitting was much preferable than trying to stand) and took a few pictures of the trains that went by. I remember taking pictures of trains here before. I remember the day looked very much like today. Cloudless and that deep, southwestern blue. But today was different. Today, as it was shaping up, was a bit dangerous.
At this point, I was still thinking that the wind would die down before too long. In between gusts, I mounted up and made my way down the road.
The geography around here is amazing. It definitely steals the show from the Mother Road. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to take notice of the scenery.
When I would notice something, I’d have to stop and make very sure that I was pointed a little downhill. Normally, I would look for a perfectly flat spot. But with the wind, a perfectly flat spot would ensure that I would be blown backwards. A slight incline would equal things out.
Except for the weird gusts off the canyon walls. Those would nearly knock me over. Except that one time, when one of those gusts actually did knock me over. It was shaping up to be a very long and tiring day.
The scooter with full packs is not a light thing. I’m able to pick it up, but it takes nearly all my strength. Today I had to do it several times – all while battling the wind.
Just across the Arizona border, there was a welcome center. I took advantage, hoping that the winds would magically disappear while I milled about looking at various vague bits of information about the state of Arizona.
The lady at the desk said that it would get worse before it gets better.
Needless to say, I didn’t stick around long. Holbrook, my home for the night, was about 75 miles away. My roads from this point till Holbrook were either dirt or interstate. Neither of which you want to do in 40+mph winds.
Well, 40+ is what I thought they were. According to Accuweather, the gusts where I traveled through were 59mph. Glory be.
To start me off in Arizona, I was given a nice, paved two-lane black top. I’m pretty ok with these in the wind. Pretty much no traffic, which was good since I couldn’t go faster than 50 – 55mph. Now, I was really hoping the wind would die down. I have quite a bit of interstate to do today. But not to worry, I thought, this can’t last forever.
The road, which was probably not Route 66, wound along side the interstate as a frontage road. The reason I don’t believe it really ever was 66 is because farther south of the interstate, there’s a 1923 bridge that used to carry Route 66 traffic. And even though that was bypassed by Route 66 in 1931, I just don’t think that frontage road was 66.
But I did know where to find an old stretch of Route 66. It was post-1931 and it’s got a pretty cool bridge too!
This stretch crosses Querino Canyon and used to be paved. Used to be. Now, it’s dirt. And dust. Dust is pretty difficult to ride in when it’s on the ground. It’s even harder to ride in when it’s in the air. This stretch gave me a bit of both.
This is another one of my favorite treks on 66. It was almost enjoyable. Oh, I just kidding. It was indeed enjoyable. But difficult and oddly busy.
Each passing truck was a local, so they took the road much faster than I could, creating a dust cloud that mixed with the wind. Normally, on a side trip like this, I’d have my face shield open. But today that was out of the question. Even with it down, my face was filthy and there was dirt caking in my eyes, ears and nose.
After crossing the bridge and heading up the other side of the next hill, I saw before me a cloud on the horizon. And when this dirt road finally ended, I got a clear view of what was before me.
Maybe locals know better, but to me, this was a full blown dust storm.
The horizon couldn’t be seen. Even the next hill couldn’t be seen. The wind was howling towards me and here came the dust. When it’s upon you, you realize that it’s not as thick as you thought it was, but it was still way too think to ride. I waited it out and thankfully it passed.
It cleared long enough for me to hop on the interstate for a handful of miles. The dust was gone, but the wind was stronger than ever. My top speed on an interstate is around 80mph (as indicated on my slightly optimistic odometer). My top speed today was 50. Sometimes I could hit 55. The traffic on this stretch was light.
I exited to check out another old bridge just south of Sanders. I snapped a shot of it, steadying myself on a little slope, and turned around to see… well… to not see where I was just a minute ago.
Everything was captured in this thick brown haze of dirt and wind.
A train went by. And even in the dust storm, I took its picture. I’m incorrigible.
The bit of road between Sanders and Chambers is two-lane black top. I believe this is actually old Route 66.
This is also my last bit of this sort of road for awhile. And in celebration of such an event, the dust stayed away.
Until I reached the interstate.
From Chambers through Navajo and the Painted Desert to Holbrook, all I had was interstate. 44 miles of unrelenting super slab.
There are eight exits that exist along those 44 miles. I took advantage of most of them.
In Navajo, the second exit, I stopped for gas and to check out an old alignment that I wish I could have taken. The dust was pretty killer at this point and I wasn’t exactly sure of the way.
The next exit is the one before the Painted Desert. It is a dirt road that takes you a mile to old 66. Thankfully, the dust had settled. The wind was even a little less. Taking Old 66 west for several miles along once-paved gravel you eventually come to the Painted Desert Trading Post.
This building will not be standing in a couple of years. It’s already buckling and about to fall.
As is the bridge that is about a mile west of the old trading post. Its sides are caving out, reading to fall into the dry bed of Dead Wash which it crosses.
If I would have taken this old road farther west, I would have come to a fence that marks the boundary of the National Park Service. Because of this, if you come back here, you have to turn around and ride out.
And interesting thing happened on the way out, heading east with the wind at my back. I was doing about 15mph and decided to slow down a bit. I let off the throttle and continued traveling at 15mph. I was giving the bike no gas, yet she was still cruising along. This is how strong the wind was. The road was gravel and I was even going up a slight incline. Freaky. I’ve never seen wind like this before.
Oh, but back to the interstate.
Back to the wind hitting me head on and the gusts hitting me on my left, pushing me onto the shoulder of the road. Back to the vacuum of slipstreams left by trucks, sucking me to the left, nearly into the other lane. It was crazy, I would be doing 50mph and a truck would pass me. As it did, my speed would shoot up to 65mph. Real quick. I’d have to adjust the throttle and slow down because I knew once their slipstream was gone, the wall of wind would hit me again, knocking me back to 50.
I passed the Painted Desert exit. Originally I had planned on stopping there, but I was simply too tired. Fighting to stay upright takes a lot out of you. The wind and the dust, the trucks and the road did me in. I just wanted a motel room.
As I was fighting for my life in the shoulder of I-40, I noticed a plethora of signs for Stewarts Rock Shop and other tourist traps. I decided to take Stewart up on the offer for a bit of a rest.
I made my way up the hill and thought I’d just pull over on a little rock clearing. I turned left and the scooter and I both went down. What looked like packed dirt was very loose and very deep sand. And we were both stuck in it.
It seems like this was dust just brought here by one of the storms. Thanks.
When lying face down in the dirt you realize that maybe you should have stayed in Albuquerque. Or stayed anywhere that’s not here, at the foot of a tourist trap, face down in the dirt.
I pick myself up and the wind nearly knocks me over. This should be fun, I thought. I dig in and get Ruby upright. Somehow I manage to slip again and we both go down. Again.
Second try worked. We were both up, but how do I get unstuck? This sand is like mud. May as well be. I pushed and pulled, balancing myself on the scooter and with the wind. Nothing. She wasn’t moving.
What I had to do was fully dismount, losing the extra weight of me, rev the throttle and eventually we worked our way out.
This was not nearly as fun as it sounds. No way.
After catching my breath and getting my wits about me, I took a few pictures of the weird crap Stewart has around his Rock Shop.
But it was back to the interstate. I made one or two quick stops after that, visiting a bridge and an old curio shop. And then it was a straight shot into Holbrook.
I rode the town, visiting the WigWam motel (which didn’t open till later, so no deal for me), and getting some pretty horrible Chinese food (silken tofu?? come on!).
After managing to keep that down, I checked into the Super 8.
The wind picked up even more. The weather said it was 55mph. I believe it.
Today was a great Route 66 day. But probably the most challenging day of the trip so far. It definitely ranks up there with the monsoon that stopped me in Rolla, Missouri.
I’m glad I got to experience this feature of The West. I hope it goes away tomorrow. It pretty well sucked.
Here are my pics from today.
Miles today: 125
Miles total: 3713