If there’s one dream ride on every motorcyclists’ bucket lists it has to be heading out to the United States of America to ride Route 66.
Bike Social’s Marc Potter (who just turned 40) is taking a Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide from Chicago to Los Angeles over the next two weeks with Eagle Rider. He'll be writing blog updates as he goes. Check back here to read all about it.
VIDEO DIARY (PART 1 of 2)
"Where you guys heading?" basks the Vietnam War veteran as we eat Chili Cheese Hot Dogs in the Polka Dot diner somewhere between Chicago and Springfield, Illinois. Some scenes in the Blues Brothers were shot there.
I can tell he's a war vet because it says so on his baseball cap in BIG BLACK LETTERS.
"Los Angeles", I say. "That's about a three day ride", he says. But then I explain we're doing it over 14 days, taking in the sights, the sounds and the two-lane blacktop of Route 66. It's not about speed, it's about the experience. And he gets it. And so do the other 25 other motorcyclists and partners joining the Eagle Rider two week organised trip, with some 18 bikes between them. It's big money. But then this a big trip. The bucket list. The mid-life crisis. The ‘just because I want to’.
There's a mix of everything from the Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide Ultra I'm riding to Indian Chiefs, and a couple of Honda Goldwings. 99 per cent are big tourers to take across America. And there's everyone from an Italian couple on their honeymoon to a 65-year-old Scotsman on a Fat Boy, along with Spanish, South Africans, and a couple of fellas from Australia.
After checking in at Eagle Rider's depot in Chicago, signing our lives away and picking up bikes, we head out of Chicago and into the flat lands of East America. The roads are straight, the group starts to hang together and it's then I realise that we're doing this. We really are riding across America - fulfilling a childhood dream.
The bikes are good, the Electra-Glide is way quicker than I remember. It's smooth at speed, comfortable and full of gadgets on this latest 2015 version. It whiles away the time, flicking between rock stations, religious stations, country music stations, as we ride through any town America and back out in to farmland, through towns with the population of 800, and past school moms taking kids to baseball.
We stop at the oldest gas station on Route 66 where the petrol station roof was first invented. It stopped selling fuel in 1999 but opens now as a memory of Route 66. There's a museum in Pontiac which keeps the road alive some 89 years after the road first opened and sells every piece of Route 66 tat and souvenirs you could imagine. The coffee shop across from the museum has great coffee and muffins served by cheerleaders, it couldn't get any more American on a random October Friday.
Most of Route 66 (which began as a road to open up the other side of the USA to people from the East in 1929) is closed now. But the Eagle Rider trip, lead by our head man DJ - a Route 66 veteran and surf dude who says he can't remember how many times he's done the road - remains as faithful to the original 'Mother Road' route as possible. Brown tourist signs show the route, but doing it without a guide would lead to plenty of stops and confusion. DJ is the man who makes it all simple.
After a long, jet-lagged first day in the saddle we wrack up 200 miles on the nose. Just before we're due to pull up to the hotel a tired and weary rider drops his Electra-Glide at a standstill. We rush to help and it shows the cameraderie that has already built between 25 strangers over one day in the saddle. Only bikes can do that.
Read any review of Route 66 and they always say that when riding East to West Coast the first few days aren't the most interesting riding, and it's cold. But I disagree. With a big smile on my face, I'm riding across America, the weather is some 15 degrees, and as we head out it's only going to get warmer, and the sights even better. We're only one day in but already the real world seems a long way behind.
NOTE: I'm writing this live as I get out of my riding jeans and grab a Bud at my lap-top. And, it appears the hotel for tonight is near a restaurant called Hooters, whatever that is? So I better go and grab a beer, my mate Graham insists.
The oldest part of Route 66 is the red brick 2-mile section that runs near our start point in St Louis which kicked off our ride early this morning. It's incredible to think of cars driving to the West on the red brick road back in the 30s, and suppose it's the US equivalent of our cobbled streets. It certainly tested the suspension on my Electra Glide, a bike which I'm growing to love already.
A short ride across thousands of acres of corn fields of farmland saw us stop off at the Rabbit Ranch on Route 66 - a strange place full of giant rabbits and a load of old junk cars and a man called Rich Henry holding a giant rabbit. Most surreal.
After some more flowing roads it was then a run over the metal bridge near St Louis and a walk over the Chain of Rocks Bridge which links Missouri to Illinois and spans the Mississippi River since 1936 when the bridge was built.
It's closed to traffic in 1972, but is still an incredible site across one of the most famous rivers in the world.
It may have not bee the the most interesting day's riding, but it makes you realise just how much further we've still got to go in the next 12 days - 2148 miles to go in fact. The group is gelling too with plenty of good riders beginning to trust each other. Well, almost all, except for one guy on a Goldwing who can't seem to ride in two abreast in a staggered formation and nearly rams people every time we hit traffic lights. We'll have a word in the bar tonight.
Tomorrow we ride 335 miles to Joplin in Missouri.
The Route so far:
"Don't go into the woods for a pee alone, you're in deliverance country remember,” says our Eagle Rider guide DJ as we set off on the longest day of the whole trip.
In fact Deliverance was filmed in some of the woods we pass on the old Route 66. But today we're not planning to squeal like a piggy, boy, just hit the highway, dipping in and out of what's left still of the Old Route 66 in Missouri.
We hit the freeway hard, 18 bikes in unison rolling down the motorway at high speed. 2500rpm on my Electra-Glide is 70mph. We're doing a bit more than that. Let's say 3500rpm instead of exactly what speed.
At each fuel stop the area gets more and more red neck, more camo, more high-lift pick-up trucks. But everyone is friendly and wants to know where we're headed. When we say California you can see the look into the red neck's eyes. I'd bet most of them haven't left the state, but they're impressed.
We head to the world's largest rocking chair. I don't know why either, but it's impressive. It's on blocks so it doesn't rock but apparently gets rocked once a year. It must need a crane to move it as it weighs 27,500lb, is 42ft tall and 20 feet wide.
After yet more high speed freeway work it gets cold. DJ says a month ago he was riding in a long sleeved t-shirt in 80 degree Fahrenheit heat. Today it's thermals and gore-tex gloves. But it's all good.
At around 140 miles we hit the Devil's Elbow. A twisting two lane blacktop with a yellow double line in the middle, and 25 grinning riders and passengers taking in the best part of Route 66 yet.
The road takes us to a bridge where we stop and watch fishermen in the river in waders fly fishing for trout. The road is more winding, the hills. There are hills. The countryside has changed and there's an air of defiance in the air of all the riders. This is a big day and we're not going to be beaten. Past logging trucks, gas stations, eateries. More camouflage.
After some of the best ribs I've ever eaten at Sweetwater Bar-B-Que we hit more fast freeway. Piling in the miles. Piling in the comfortable, plush seat, and amusing myself as Graham on the Indian is stressing about how much fuel he has left. Our guide DJ says the Electra-Glides do roughly 250 miles to a tank, the Indians have a smaller tank and do around 200 miles. It's hilarious to see the three Indian riders, Graham, Gary from Milton Keynes and Peter from Melbourne sweating over fuel range.
I'm not saying he's tired, but my man Graham, who's helping me with pictures and video says: "Is it wrong that the cows round here look attractive?" He needs a rest.
We fuel up and it's a short stop to a village called Red Oak. It's a regenerated settlement by a noted artist - Lovell Davis - who picked up his home town after everyone left and it became a ghost town and moved it into a corn field he owned. It's a real slice of old America, full of abandoned cars, a wooden bridge where the planks move as the group ride over it, and even the Marshall's house. There's a new Sheriff in town. And he rides a Harley-Davidson.
16 miles later we're riding in to a sunset. It's been an 11 hour day in the saddle, and my trip says 319 miles. When we get to the hotel, DJ's son and back-up van driver Vance has a crate of cold beers to hand out. It's the best day so far, and from here it's on to Oklahoma, a similar day in terms of miles but spent much more on Route 66 and a couple of motorcycle museums to take in.
See you tomorrow.
Deputy Sheriff A. Brown of Lincoln County piles out of his four wheel drive, finger itching on his Colt 44. Blue lights flashing, sirens screaming, a second truck pulls up and blocks the 18 riders in on Route 66. He's keen, and way more aggressive than any cop I've ever met.
"The front two riders were going like hell off the lights back there." Our lead guy and main man DJ who had been leading us through town under the speed limit turns to me (the second rider) and says: "Marc, were we going like hell?"
"No", I say. "We were under the speed limit." But deputy dawg handlebar moustache, bored local cop, is having none of it. He shuts me down "I'm not stupid, don't jack with me. I've been doing this job a long time. Give me your licence." He nods to DJ and takes him off muttering about a Florida registered Harley and DJ's licence. DJ manages it beautifully and we get away with out 'any citations.' Because we weren't speeding.
The Deputy Sheriff leaves us with the words: "You can go as fast as you like in California, or Arizona, but don't do it in my county." He also admits that he doesn't know which two bikes it was hitting it hard from the lights. The man is clearly a fool.
With 15 miles to the county line, we head out, under the speed limit, as DJ has been doing all day. We've been escorted out of the county for a crime we didn't commit. How cool.
Later it transpires that two Spanish riders had 'gone like hell' off the traffic lights in town, they hold their hands up and apologise to DJ.
The rest of the day wasn't so dramatic, but again we do decent miles. Graham and I switch bikes for most of the day. After the Electra Glide, the Indian Chief feels long, the riding position is more roomy, and it has way more guts, especially low down from around 2500rpm. The Indian has 1818cc, the Harley has a mere 1687cc.
86 per cent of today's riding is spent on Route 66 and it's cool. The road is flowing, once out of Kansas past hillbilly country and past Indian reservations, churches including Church of the Cowboy. Towns full of cops parked on the entrance to town in hard-looking black police cars with crash bars on the front.
We pass the Blue Whale, a massive Whale made from concrete sitting in a Lake full of wild Turtles. The Whale was bought as a gift for a wedding anniversary. Graham says she probably would have preferred a diamond, but anyway...
It was used as a water park from 1972 to 1998 and now just stands as a Route 66 icon.
After we gas up and the locals of Oklahoma and the South West can't wait to chat. "Welcome to Oklahoma" says one man. They're keen to chat, welcome motorcyclists and can't believe that we're made up of guys from Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and the U.K. But they want to chat about 500bhp muscle cars and find out about where we're headed. "Thanks for visiting us", says one man in his pick-up.
We cruise past cool trucks, wooden houses. We drop into two museums. One full of cool old bikes including a 1974 Triumph still in a crate, and another museum called Vintage with Evel Knievel's truck used for his failed Snake River Canyon jump. There's a couple of dirt bikes for sale - a Yamaha TT500 and a Yamaha DT250 for sale. The TT is 1600 dollars, the DT is 1200 dollars. We scratch chins and think about how we can get the across the USA to a port and ship them home. But we're dreamers, so fire up and head out of town.
This is as real as America gets. From the Mid-West to the Mid-South, we're making our way across America. Everyone wants to wave, speak to us, welcome us to town. Except Deputy Cleetus, sucking through a piece of straw in his ten gallon hat. What a baffoon.
But we can't have it all ways. From what I've seen so far, America loves bikes. Route 66 and the route it takes brings everyone to parts of the USA you have probably never seen. And we're not even halfway there yet.
Tomorrow we ride to Amarillo. I can't wait, but I'm getting the keys to the Harley back.
1050 miles in to Route 66 and we're all going yee ha with Cowboy hats in Texas!
We hit the Texas border and newlywed Camilla from Italy is excited. "I don't know why, but I am excited that we are in Texas", she says to me and her new husband Nicola (or Nicholas in the UK).
The guys are taking their honeymoon on Route 66 on a Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide with a sticker saying Live, Laugh, Love.
Nicola is just as fired up, he says: "I said to Camilla that we should go to the Gas Monkey Garage (from TV show Fast 'n Loud), it's only 150 miles from here. Let's get Colt 45s for one night only and go into Texas!"
They've got a right to be giddy. The sun is out after four days of mostly cloud, and even a bit of drizzle, and after heading through El Reno, across some native Indian land, taking some old parts of Route 66, and a Cherokee Indian gift shop at a gas station, it gets hot.
We're finally we're taking jackets off, applying sun tan cream and heading for the plains of Texas. Old Route 66 beckons. We're on it, the crisp sound of 400,000 dollars worth of motorcycles the only engines of the rough and crumble sections of Route 66 today.
The colour of the dirt has changed to red. The trucks now have even bigger engines. 7.3 litre Hemi anyone? And the landscape has got even bigger. But the plains of Texas are so big that the windmills by the side of the road disappear off into the distance as far as the eye can see. Literally as far as the eye can see. That's how vast this place is.
A man in a Ten gallon hat, that we meet later, says you can drive across Texas for three and a half days before you get to the other side. It's vast.
Our guide DJ said earlier that if you lost your dog in this place it's so flat you could still see it running two weeks later. He's not wrong.
The bugs are bigger too. They're hitting screens and making themselves known on teeth as suspension gets worked on rough concert sections of Route 66.
Past American oil pumps, and acres, and acres of blues skies and fields we hit good speed of the freeway. My face is slightly sun burnt, I have a t-shirt on and Rush are playing some old school rock on the radio as Graham tucks in to the Indian's screen. The Harley is so hot that only hot air blows on my face. The air temperature gauge is reading 82 degrees and we're heading to Amarillo?
If this isn't freedom, I don't know what is.
Do you know the way to Amarillo? We do.
With bikes parked, some laughs between me and my new mate Diego about our sun burn, we drink up a cold beer and head to the cow girls in the Big Texan, picked up by a limo with Cow Horns on.
Texas may smell of cow shit, but it's steaks a plenty. Though none of us is man enough to try the 72oz steak which if you eat within an hour you get for free.
Tomorrow we ride to New Mexico.
One of the most spectacular roads and landscapes any of us has ever ridden, but it's raining prairie dogs and Chihuahuas
Waterproofs on. It's wet. Yesterday was sunburn. Today is one-piece rain suits and steamed-up goggles. One thing you can't predict on Route 66 in October is the weather.
Emile from Corby, who's two-up with his wife Claire on an Electra-Glide, tucks in behind me on the first wet part of the route. "I was thinking, I hope Marc knows where he's going ‘cause if not I'm screwed." His mate Gary, from Milton Keynes is tucked in behind him. It's a game of trust. You can't see a bike length in front. I'm sat behind Diego, hoping he knows share he's going.
So just tuck in and follow the big LED lights of the Electra-Glides. And after a week of riding together, there's a lot of trust in each other's riding abilities. You know who you can ride close to. And who you can't. There's one bloke you can't, but we won't go into that.
At the abandoned town of Glenrio, a town that basically shut down and became a ghost town once the I-40 freeway replaced Route 66 as the main route, we take snaps of a desolate Motel. It's sad to see parts of Route 66 desolate. But further up the road at the mid-point of Route 66, where it's 1139 miles to Chicago, or 1139 miles West to Los Angeles, the Midpoint Cafe is very much open for business and welcoming of 25 soaking motorcyclists. It's hard to think we've been on the road for 5.5 days and are only half way! But man, their coffee tastes good.
We hit New Mexico and a new time zone, back one hour, and it dries out, but not for long.
Interstate 104 is a new route that DJ has found and it's incredible.
It's the archetypal Route 66 tour dream road. The road disappears into the distance, undulating between the horizon. There are Mesa's each side of us, perfect quality road surfaces and the most stunning John Wayne cowboy movie backdrops.
We ride for 40 miles and see no other signs of humanity other than the road and one school bus. In 50 miles there's a stop at 6000feet up. The road twists and turns up the side of a canyon, Graham is mastering the Indian, Nicola and Diego taking perfect curves on Electra-Glides.
In the distance are breaks of lighting bolts straight from the movies. And cloud so low you can taste it. Black, black cloud that we ride into. It's torrential and the road is awash. A stop in a petrol station helps us take cover and DJ (our guide) makes use of the hand dryer to dry his crotch out!
And then it hits harder. There's much frivolity and good spirits, but this is bad.
The old intersection is awash, it's river like, but we troll on towards the sun through some of the worst rain I've ever ridden in. Goggles are steamed up, nobody can see but we ride towards the sun, eventually, an hour after the deluge the road dries, we ride into Santa Fe with an exhaust salute to tell the town we've arrived. There are road trips and then there's Route 66. If you like sunbathing, don't do this trip. If you like riding motorcycles then sign-up.
With wet feet, wet balls, wet hair we arrive at Santa Fe like heroes. We're not, of course, but we've ridden the equivalent of Peterborough to Edinburgh, in the rain, and can't wait to hit the bath and the bar because tomorrow is a day off the road.
VIDEO DIARY (PART 2 of 2)
After something in the region of 1600 miles, yesterday was a day off riding to chill, relax and get your pants washed.
But that was dull. So we went riding. Riding from Santa Fe some 30 minutes up to the ski lodge at the top of the NM-475. With hail rim bends after hairpin bend and amazing views, it was one of the best roads we'd done so far. And I'm the Autumn, the yellow leaves and setting sun made for a stunning picture, and much scraped footboards on the way down.
The bad-ass dude with the Stars and Stripes bandana and Hog chop, fills his bike up at the gas station. Cigarette alight and a Smith and Weston hanging off his belt.
I'm not about to tell him not to fill up while smoking, and neither is anyone else.
Our guide's son and back-up Van driver, Vance (not Lance) says: "Don't talk to guys like that, they may not be friendly." He's not joking.
Jus put because you're on a Harley doesn't mean you can speak to other guys on Harley's. But everyone else wants to know what we're doing, cars film us as they overtake, old ladies take pictures when we rock up in towns. It's a rolling show across America.
We roll out of Santa Fe and Eaves Movie Ranch, a living, breathing purpose built cowboy movie set that's not open to the public. Our guide, DJ is mates with the bloke who runs it. He's the most Cowboy looking grey-haired dude you could ever meet, and full of stories.
The ranch has just filmed a Netflix series with Adam Sandler due out in December, a film with Natlie Portman and Ewan McGregor and is used to 500 production people and actors on set. Today it's just us, a handful of Harley's and a few pretending we're locked in the town jail it's such a cool place, and we're delighted to get access.
We head deeper into New Mexico, stop at Madrid for coffee, the place where the Wild Hogs film with John Travolta was shot, and onto some of the best roads yet. It's apt that a film about blokes riding Harley's and having mid-life crisis sees a load of blokes having a mid-life crisis rolling in to town.
The landscape changes, the red rocks become sandy yellow and we roll on fast curves, perfect road surfaces, all in line, all working as a team.
On the freeway, a mountain range in the distance has cloud over the top following the line of the peaks. We peel off, head to a gas station and then to Acoma - a staggering vista that looks out over Sky City, a town on top of a flattened mountain. It's truly awe inspiring. And what we need after is a flat-out 30 mile 'free ride' on our own.
Everyone sets off of their own. Myself, Graham, Nicola and Camilla, Diego and Sara stick together and it results in a flat-out race to the next stop.
It's hilarious on the Electra-Glide TT and all just above 100mph. Gallup is the next stop. Tomorrow we roll to the Grand Canyon.
In 1903, USA President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon and said: The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison, beyond description, absolutely unparalleled throughout the entire world..."
I couldn't put it better myself, and as we arrived at one of the seven wonders of the world, catching a glimpse of it through the trees. The word 'Wow' came out of my mouth as I parked my Harley and took in the view. What a view, what a place.
It's my Harley now you see, we've bonded over 2000 miles. And for all its faults - clunky gearbox, engine cooking your huevos in the 80 degree heat of today, and relative lack of power, the Electra Glide is perfect for this trip. It's the real deal. At The Grand Canyon the assembled Hogs attracted as much attention as the hole in the ground.
At sunset, surrounded by hundreds of people at the 5000ft deep Canyon, sun making the red rocks turn we sat and watched the sun go down reflecting on the last 2000 miles of our trip. From cold Chicago to the dry, sun bleached her desert of Arizona. And yet there's more to come until we get to Vegas in two days, then on to Los Angeles.
It's an incredible ride.
Route 66 may be the headline that keeps the whole tour together, but actually, some of the most interesting parts are away from The Mother Road. But it's the glue that brings every motorcycle on this trip together. Signs of the road are everywhere, from faded motels to the Wigwam Motel that was the inspiration for Cars the movie. After more stops, more water, more fuel we made it to one of the mist sensational destinations of the whole tour.
Today we arrived at the Grand Canyon, a big milestone in the ride. But it was a day of twisting roads in the Kaibab national park, 18 bikes in a line of unison taking in the perfectly smooth Tarmac, and a lucky squirrel who just missed Gary's wheel on his Indian. And that's just some of it.
The law states that you don't have to wear a helmet in Arizona. So for about 30 miles in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, we didn't. But in a setting that looks like Mars, full of petrified trees that are some 225 million years old, riding without a helmet seemed as alien as the landscape.
Plus, a load of pasty Europeans and Brits don't do well in Arizona sunshine so we all soon switched back to open face lids.
We may not have had the best weather on this trip so far (until today at least), but now it's hot. So hot that the Tarmac was melting at a petrol station where we dined on $2 dollar hot dogs on the grass taking in the locals and the sun burn. But it's way removed from some of the Route 66 rides our guide DJ has done where it was so hot it melted the graphics on his helmet. We helped him patch it up with a Bike Social sticker!
In truth, some parts of the Route 66 ride in the early part of the last nine days have edged on dull, some are awe inspiring, some a right up their in the best ever rides. Today was one of those. But all together it's an experience that none of us will ever forget. And it's not over yet.
When a Sunday morning ride out starts with a clear blue sky and a ride in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, you know it's going to be a good day. A great day in fact.
Nothing can prepare you for the sheer drama and scale of the Grand Canyon. And from a helicopter it's absolutely one of the most breathtaking things I've ever seen. The rocks, the canyon, the muddy-looking Colorado river wearing it's way through the Canyon which is up to 8000ft deep at some points. If you've never done it, get out here and experience it. I wish I hadn't waited this long. Live life to the full and all that.
The good news is that Eagle Rider are advertising next year's Route 66 tours with a helicopter ride included. We had to pay nearly $200 dollars for the pleasure.
After the Grand Canyon we roll out of town on to a place called Williams, a Route 66 town complete with an old zip wire of a Chevrolet car, and tons of Route 66 memorabilia.
It was bypassed by the i40 freeway in 1984, but still hangs on to its Route 66 roots. It's full of cool memorabilia. We've bought so much already that the Harleys must weigh double!
We roll onto the freeway for a while before picking up the town of Seligman on the old Route 66. The Roadrunner cafe and shop is one of the best stops we've done so far. There's another Eagle Rider group in town who are doing the Wild West Tour, and we catch up on stories over lunch. They can't believe the weather we've been through, but warn us it's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the way to Vegas.
Seligman was once a ghost town when the interstate took traffic away from Route 66, but thanks to tourism it's now thriving again. There are more Harleys in town than a quiet day in Sturgis, and it has a great vibe about the place.
Afterwards we roll out on to a 'free ride’ section of the day. Basically, we're unescorted for the next 60 miles, and meet our guide, DJ, at a pre-arranged stop at Hackberry. It's surrounded by old cars. The lady running it says it opened in 1930s, but the diner attached closed in 1974. It's a great stop in the middle of nowhere.
When I say in the middle of nowhere, it's hotter than a Harley exhaust pipe, and so remote that for 60 miles I never once went off cruise control, except to slow down for the village of Peaches.
At the start of the free ride, the British guys - Emiel and his wife Claire, Gary on the Indian, Graham, and my Italian friends are taking snaps of each other riding. Then we experiment with riding on the pillion seat with cruise control, standing up on the rear pegs, you name it. All of it would get us arrested even though we don't break the speed limit.
The pack cruises on.
I pull in for some pictures and some video of the other guys behind and wave as they pass.
And then I'm on my own, in the desert, just me and my Harley Ultra.
The next 40 miles are serene. There's a whole load of nothing, empty plains, mountains, heat, and a perfectly surfaced Route 66. It goes on forever and ever to the point where I've not seen another vehicle for 30 minutes, and start thinking that if I've missed my turn a small bottle of water won't keep me alive for too long.
If there was ever a Zen moment on a motorcycle, a time for reflection on all things considered this is it. The road is fantastic. The view is mesmerising. The bike is chugging along, I play games, drinking water with no hands on the handlebars, at 65mph on cruise control. It's weirdly peaceful.
I turn the radio off and just listen to the 2500rpm thrum. Pull in and take my helmet off and ride in just sunglasses, no goggles, no lid. It feels weird, but oh so liberating.
It's motorcycling heaven. I've found my inner peace and it's on a Harley in the Mojave desert on Route 66.
Tomorrow we ride to Las Vegas and it's forecast to be 103 degrees and we're advised to ride in long-sleeved white t-shirts. Anything else just cooks the rider.
Dodging tumbleweeds is one thing. A road covered in sand from a recent sandstorm is another. But a road covered in gravel with Donkeys running down it is a new one on me. Find that in the Highway Code.
Luckily we'd been warned that the old mining town of Oatman was full of left over donkeys from the mining days. They amble up the street, put their heads into the side cases when you reach for a bottle of water in the 100 degree dessert heat, and generally hang around waiting to be fed. The town is a classic old tourist town in the black mountains outside of Kingman, Arizona. But it's cool. The signs may be fake, but the wooden shack houses and stores that line the street are the genuine deal. I half expect to see a man with a gold pan wondering down the street. Instead, it's an assembled bunch of Eagle Riders trying to take shade and stoop the donkeys walking in to the stores.
The road up to Oatman is twisting, challenging. There's 20mph switchbacks on the edge of cliffs which open up on to jaggedy landscapes and more sharp corners to test the footboards of my Ultra-Glide. Just watch out for the sand.
After Oatman, we head to the Hoover Dam. A few of the group are suffering from heat stroke. It's 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the engines are cooking us. If you're ill, it must be a nightmare. Either that or their scared where I might take them in Vegas later on.
We roll on to the Hoover Dam past arid landscapes and a Mars Lunar landscape of mountains. The Hoover Dam is like a lot of America, it's a tourist trap, but impressive all the same. It feeds most of the water to California and Arizona (California is currently suffering a drought) and standing at some 700 feet deep and 600 feet wide it's impressive, even if the water level is a bit low today.
From the dam we move on to the world's biggest Harley-Davidson store in Las Vegas. As you might imagine, it's huge and there's every part, t-shirt and bike with a Harley badge on it you could imagine, and hundred of brand new gleaming bikes for sale.
We carry on to the Las Vegas strip. 18 bikes rolling like thunder, living the dream in the party town of the world. Drift cameras at the ready.
The engines are so hot I have to sit on the back seat at traffic lights just to get away from the heat. But we’re in Vegas. Some 2400+ miles after we left Chicago 11 days ago, we're in the Las Vegas, on a Harley-Davidson in baking heat. It's not your average Monday, that's for sure.
And the rest? Well you know the score, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
See you tomorrow, maybe…
The Mojave Desert. 25,000 square miles of nothing but sand, mountains, extreme temperatures and Joshua trees. And the noise of 14 Harleys, a Goldwing (the lock went funny on the other one at the Grand Canyon), and three Indians all on the pipe.
It's spectacular. I rode here about twenty years ago and have been in loves with deserts and their extreme nature ever since.
It's a desert, so I don't have to explain how hot it is. But I will. The bikes are showing 104 degrees, though some of that will be coming from the engine, and it's so hot we're getting hosed down with water by assistant guide Vance (not Lance). There's an ice bucket to dip neck scarves in, and it's bliss. Ice cold water runs down my chest as we pull out of Roy's Motel - a famous Route 66 stop since 1938. The town of Amboy has a population of 11. Today it's 36 with us in town.
It's too hot for jackets. You'd fry. Sun cream on, water handed out at every stop. Powerade, Gatorade, salt, protein. Anything to stop us frying under the watchful eye of our guide, DJ. A ride out doesn't get much more extreme than this, and we're pushing on to 300 miles in this heat today. Some bikes are faltering; some of the riders are too.
John from Scotland is on the Fat Boy and it's struggling in the heat, not idling, and coughing and banging. The radio, communication system and sat nav on my bike has crashed and frozen. In a computer sense, you understand. It's no bad thing because I can only get God radio, and it's bullshit. God must have a decent way into radio frequency because it's the only one that reaches out here. Break down and you die. Unless you're very lucky.
We see a man broken down in a car, walking for help. But we all ride past and on to Roy's. He's carrying a bottle of water and a petrol can. But it's a good ten miles to the diner.
At Roy's I'm just about to grab another lid and turn round and get him, when he rocks up in a kind car driver's Subaru. "Good. You're not dead then", I say to the stranger, and shake his hand. "No, but thanks for riding past", he says!
The great thing about the Eagle Rider tours is that the guys have a spare bike in the trailer that follows us across the country. So anything goes wrong, just whip out another bike and carry on and sort out the broken bike in the next town. It happens to Emiel as the gear lever is loose on his Glide, but we just whip another bike out and carry on.
The sections of Route 66 we're on today are untouched, as it was back in the heyday. We've got engines, petrol supply, a back-up van, mobile phones, and drinks to replenish electrolytes. Imagine when the original travellers crossed the desert on horseback, or in early cars, not knowing where the next stop was.
One of the guys who's spent some time on Route 66 is Elmer Long, who runs the bottle tree ranch. He used to visit Route 66 as a kid and now runs one of the wackiest sites on the route. It's a small ranch filled with art that involves thousands of bottles on metal stands. In the desert heat the colours glinting off the bottles are mesmerising. He comes out and says hello and waves us on our way.
We ride on to Victorville. Everyone is flagging a bit. It's a part of California that's fine for a bed, but not much else. We signal our arrival by riding in to the car park a gear too low, engines blazing, before cracking open a well-deserved ice cold beer.
Tomorrow we ride to Santa Monica and the end of Route 66. There may be tears.
The emotion a rider feels when making a journey from one point to another is something that's hard to describe. It's why we ride motorcycles, not drive cars.
It's the feeling of freedom, the smells, the connection to the surroundings that makes motorcyclists, bikers, riders, call them what you will, different to anyone else on the road.
Riding from Chicago to Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles over 13 days changes a person.
Through eight states, three time zones, torrential rain, unbearable heat, 300 mile days, blistered feet from new boots, aching neck muscles from long runs on freeways at high-speed. Near misses, scrapes, and breakdowns. The person you were at the beginning isn't the same rider at the end.
Motorcycles may not have any emotions. It's a large chunk of metal, after all. But it is possible to bond and form an irrational emotional attachment with them. Ride one and you instantly get it. You're either a motorcyclist, or you're not.
Ride one with riders and passengers from Australia, Brazil, the UK, Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, the USA, and Italy and motorcycles become something more.
13 days ago in a windy Chicago city street surrounded by tramps and vagrants, 25 strangers, on 18 different motorcycles met on a piece of road called Route 66.
13 days later, with bold stories, shared experiences, and a head full of brain food and a mind full of images of some of the most extreme landscapes in the USA, 25 friends rock up on to the wobbly wooden boards of Santa Monica pier. It's emotional. I've been sat in this bike for 2842.6 miles and the seat is now Potter shaped.
There's high-fives, hugs, photos and a feeling that we have conquered one of the great roads of history. These are friends for life. Only this group have shared every minute of the last 13 days together.
Ride Route 66 and you instantly form an attachment with a piece of Tarmac too, as well as the black and chrome chunk of metal that is my Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide.
Route 66 may not be the road it once was back in its heyday, but tours like the Eagle Rider Route 66 tour we are on, travel through the heartland of America of the iconic road, go some way to keeping the dream of Route 66 alive.
Keeping the road and the tourism industry around it alive too. And it is still a dream.
It's the beating heart of America. It takes you to places, states and towns that you would never ordinarily dream of travelling to. You meet people, hear stories, and create memories that you can't get anywhere else. It's why we ride, not just for the thrill.
I'm already thinking what trip I can do next. It's opened my horizons, made me a better rider, maybe even a better person, and blown my mind in places.
But don't take my word for it. Life's short, go and see it for yourself and make your own stories and adventures.
Oh, and if you've been complaining for two weeks that your Indian motorcycle doesn't have an iPod connection, don't wait until you've given the bike back to find a secret iPod connection under the screen, eh Gary!
Do I need travel insurance for a trip like this?
Just like any holiday, a trip on a motorcycle – be it in the UK, Europe or beyond – can be ruined by delays, lost documents, illness and more. There are plenty of travel insurance options, but you need to make sure you get a policy that includes riding motorcycles, and if it does, that it's for bikes of the engine size you'll be riding (many only cover up to 250cc). At its most basic, you should look for insurance that provides cover for the following:
In addition though, if you’re taking a motorcycle (or you're renting one while you’re away) be sure that your insurer will cover you for any medical expenses, should you have an accident. You must also think about where you’re riding – some policies won’t cover you if you’re trail or enduro riding, or if you’re on a race track. Remember – this isn’t about your bike being covered, it’s about your medical expenses, should the worst happen.
If you're only going away once, a single-trip policy will likely be all you need, but also consider an annual policy, which could extend to cover your family holidays too (a good insurer should also be able to offer cover for your whole family).
BikeSocial’s parent company, Bennetts, has a motorcycle-specific travel insurance policy – find out if it suits your needs by clicking here.