U.S. Route 66

(From August 2008)
The past twelve months work was about to pay of. I had spent an age at my computer screen plotting the entire 2479 miles route of Route 66 onto Microsoft’s ‘Street & Trips’ software. The old original alignment of Route 66 was by far the straightest of roads, snaking & weaving across America, jumping from town to town, enabling the early travellers of the 1930’s & 40’s to re-stock on supplies for themselves & their horses on there West bound destination. As towns & cities expanded the route was often moved to accommodate the new growth & as Henry Ford’s production lines became more efficient the horse & cart were being swapped for this new means of faster, affordable transport, travellers could go further without the need to stop, except for fuel, Route 66 as a result went under many ‘tweaks’ & realignments. The route could no longer cope with the increase in automobiles, as well as the drivers not being able to cope with the twisty alignment & their need to travel faster, as a result the Interstate I40 was born, which bypassed many of the smaller towns, of which many, due to the lack of income faded away, & died a death.

My intention was to follow the early, pre-1930 alignments where much of the charm & character of what was on offer could be found, albeit some of the towns would be ghost towns with nothing to offer apart from silence (& believe me, they were!). Many pieces of the old route are now gone, or simply gravel road, & even many of these peter-out into fields & dead ends (& they did!). For this reason I used the Streets & Trips software to zoom into the big towns such as St. Luis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo etc so I could print the exact sections & stay true to the old original alignment as best possible.

I had spent countless hours on Google-Earth zooming in & out of sections thinking “wow! I’m going there”, this helped me build a good mental picture of what lay ahead & also improve my preparation for those long, straight, straight, roads. I read the most recommended book on 66 ‘Route 66 - The Mother Road’ by Michael Wallis, a coincidence he had the same surname [& spelling]? Was I simply following the path of destiny? The book showed pictures, points of interest & tourist attractions that would give me the motivation to keep the pedals turning if I wanted to see them! I also read several other books as alternative sources of information & several maps had been bought, one of them being an 8 map set – one per state, I intended these to be my main reference to keep me on track. Several people had seemed surprised at my extensive research & planning just to ‘follow a road’ as someone once said, not themselves realising that 66 is no longer shown on the state maps, apart from on the Arizona one – the state I was looking forward to the most, or even registered as a road anymore by the highways dept.

My bicycle - Yellow 7 a custom frame bicycle had been born after the whole idea of deciding to ride 66, having done two previous tours across France & Spain on my faithful Raleigh bicycle I had decided there was a few ‘missing’ requirements on that bicycle, & for riding such a long way across the U.S. I wanted everything to be spot-on, hence the final decision to treat myself to a new one. This was an entire project in itself. The frame was made to my measurements, & then after meticulously researching & purchasing each & every component right down to the best suited spokes, I built the bicycle up (the wheels were put together by Phil Corley Cycles). Prior to this I had read several books & visited many websites of other people who had done big bicycle tours & was made aware of key points of failure that occur on a fully loaded touring bicycle, hence my scrutiny over every detail. On my first tour in 2006 I had experienced wheel problems, this was later found out to be due to spokes being over tightened from a pre-made wheel from a local bicycle shop, Evans. So once bitten, forever smitten, nothing was to be over-looked. 

I had also chose a 14 speed hub gear, as opposed to a standard derailleur as on most bicycles, this in itself increased the overall price to a small fortune, but the benefits seemed to out-weigh the price, (This would also prove beneficial for another continent I’d taken interest in, lurking in the back of my mind...) 

 Up until the time I booked the flight, the actual reality of what I was doing had not really hit home, but after pressing CONFRIM on the Virgin Airways website to purchase the plane ticket the reality came a lot closer, the element of doubt over achieving it in just 4 weeks cast a shadow, but as I had read “there’s no point in doing something you know you can achieve”. I wanted a sense of adventure & uncertainty, & this is where I’d find it. 

From April onwards I started riding a long route home from work for extra training. The normal route is 3 miles but the ‘long way’ was 25, I’d ride this on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday. On a typical week through-out the year I ride 75 -100 miles, so with this extra mileage it went up to ~175 miles, it seemed quite a bit further yet would be the mileage on Route 66 I’d be expecting to do in 1 3/4 days.

The manufacturers of the hub gear, Rohloff, recommend a 1000 mile run-in to get everything nice & smooth, so to ensure this was all done prior to starting on Route 66, & to make sure the new bicycle was set-up correctly, in May I repeated the first tour I’d done, across France & Spain, though this time with a friend, Eddie, who I'd met from the Cycle Chat website. I encountered no problems, apart from a nasty scratch on the frame!....still, I’d rather have a bicycle with scratches of ‘stories to tell’ than a pristine one that says nothing, at the end of the day it’s a workhorse.

With the month of August well & truly underway this was now a one-way ticket, if I backed out now I’d look the fool. I was concerned about leaving my cat Kleo for a month. Apart from the evening feed from neighbours, friends & family he’d miss the company. Fortunately lady-luck came to the rescue. Our company regularly has French students as part of a work experience programmes, we had one starting a week after I departed. A few emails back & forth & a deal was struck, he’d fuss my cat, & in return get 4 weeks free lodgings! 

The biggest element of doubt still lurking in the back of my mind over this piece of cake I was now chewing on was the ability to maintain the self proposed 100 miles per day, repeated, for 25 days. On previous tours I had easily managed 85 miles but this was out of choice & I could simply stop whenever I decided, whereas on Route 66, only having 4 weeks to complete it over would push my train of thought & ability to a new level. I wouldn’t be able to just ride & think, “ah, I’m tired, that’ll do for the day” repetition of this attitude would soon put me behind schedule. As a ‘treat’ for myself I had intended to take a days rest, after 1900 miles at Williams, Arizona & take the old train to the village of Grand Canyon to see….THE GRAND CANYON. Should I fall behind schedule then my treat wouldn’t surface, this would prove to be like waving a carrot in front of a donkey, eeeeehhh ooorrrr faster, faster, more miles, more miles…… 

 With just one week until my departure the seven day countdown was on, “what am I doing, what, am, I , doing!!??” I asked myself, it wasn’t the distance that daunted me but the time-frame I was doing it in. In the same week I’d heard the BBC1 were to televise a programme about Mark Beaumont, the guy who broke the world record for cycling around the world, 18000 miles in 184 days. I’d heard about him in 2007 when he started out & had visited his website several times. This series couldn’t have been shown at a better time! He was also doing 100 miles a day, so hearing him talk about it, & seeing video footage taken from when he was riding certainly gave me extra inspiration & boosted my self belief. As with Michael Wallis, the author of the book, there were also coincidental similarities between Mark Beaumont & myself, first, & most obvious, our name, secondly our bikes. He was using a custom bicycle fitted with the Rohloff hub gears as mine had (I guess to the average punter this doesn’t mean much but in the world of cycling these are very rare, mainly due to the price). And lastly, the daily mileage was the same, those belittling 100 miles. So maybe destiny is something we unknowingly follow as we go down the path of life, but for now, the only ‘path’ I’d be following was…

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