On a long, desert highway, cool wind in my hair

My day started at 5am, up early in an effort to beat the heat in the desert. No time for breakfast, I just wanted to get on the road. I had a choice of just hacking along the interstate to LA, or at least out of the desert, or trying to follow the old Route 66. Despite being beaten by the heat yesterday, I choose old Route 66. Heat be damned. There’s much more chance to see things by keeping off the freeways.

Crossing into California, the temperatures stayed bearable. The early start was proving to be the right thing to do. I even stopped a number of times just to photograph the road and scenery without undue concern for racing across the desert.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

Seems folks around here like to leave their mark on the desert, and 6 Canucks had passed through not so long ago.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

There’s not a great deal on the highway, until you reach Amboy, originally a watering stop for the railway. Now a stopping point for Route 66 travellers and one with the most expensive fuel I’ve seen in the US.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

I’m pleased to say I beat the heat and was well on my way out of the desert before the temperature began to rise, and by then I was gaining height and getting up into the mountains, so it was cooler.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

As I approached Los Angeles, the traffic began to build. I’d plotted and tried to memorize my route in – Sunset Boulevard then onto Santa Monica Boulevard. Well somehow I missed the turn off for both. The first time because of a no left turn onto Sunset, which required a loop back. The second because I just didn’t see the Santa Monica turn off at all. I only realised I’d gone too far when I spotted recognisable names on Sunset Strip. I carried on a while to see what Beverley Hills looked like – big houses as you might expect – and then cut south to try to re-join Santa Monica. Traffic was heavy and it took what seemed ages before I saw the sea and knew I had reached my destination, at least for this leg of the trip. I stopped off at the pier for a few photos.

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

I had ridden Route 66 – at least most of what I could find of the bits that still exist. The skepticism I had when I started out had well and truly evaporated many days earlier. It isn’t easy finding all the bits of it, nor is it always easy to stick to them once you have found them, but that just adds to the fun in a weird way. Travelling off the freeways is definitely the way to do it, if you want to see small town America or if you just want to be able to stop to take photos of the fantastic scenery, which really starts to kick off on the western half of the route. I’d even overcome my cynicism of the tourist kitsch all along the route. Riding the route and reading it’s history had made me realise the devastating blow that the interstates had done when they bypassed the many small towns along the route and the businesses that had grown up to support the needs of the travellers on the Mother Road. Some of those businesses where now seeing a resurgence through the nostalgia traffic, but many more had closed their doors for good. I could not begrudge them making a living any way they could and there must certainly be a demand for their wares. It also made me think about all the other small towns in other parts of the country that had also been bypassed by interstates, but which didn’t have the good fortune of being along such an iconic road as Route 66.

But enough of dwelling on the past, it was time to think about the next part of my trip, and just as I was returning to the Trooper, I saw the sign for the next road I would take – California Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway.

From California, July 2013

But that was tomorrow’s adventure. Before then there was something I felt I needed to do in LA. Matt, the English guy I had met in Santa Rosa, NM, had given me some suggestions on where to stay in LA, he’d also said to look him up when I arrived, but he would only have been getting into town on the same day as me, and I doubted that he would really want to entertain a stranger when he had just got back from such a long road trip, and I didn’t want to put him in a position where he felt obliged. Besides there was something I really did want to see, however touristy – Sunset Strip at night. If I’d have been staying longer than a night I may well have taken Matt’s suggestions and his kind invitation.

However, I was mildly tempted to check-in to the Hotel California in Santa Monica, but the $200+ rate was off putting, besides they had no vacancies and I certainly needed to leave in the morning. Instead I got back on Santa Monica Boulevard and headed for West Hollywood. Traffic by now was almost at a stand-still, and the Trooper was complaining about his air-cooled engine being kept stationary in the late afternoon heat. I did something that comes naturally back home in the UK, but something I had rarely done in the US. I decided that the only way to appease the Trooper was to filter through the traffic, or lane split as the Americans call it. As far as I am aware, California is the only state in the US that allows filtering – some of the bikers that I spoke to in Oklahoma – bikers that have no qualms of riding without helmets – told me that they thought lane splitting was too dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed – perhaps that is because they don’t wear protective gear. Well, I survived but filtering down Santa Monica Boulevard in rush hour traffic was an interesting experience, although I’m glad to say that roughly the same proportion of drivers pull over to give you extra space in LA as they do in the UK, but by the same token, about the same proportion also pull into your path to try to stop you going through as in the UK. Dumbwits.

Having navigated my way to my low rent motel only a few blocks from the Strip, I ventured out to visit the two places I felt I really ought to see – the Viper Room (previously owned by Johnny Depp and the place outside where River Phoenix died) and Whiskey-A-Go-Go (launching pad for the likes of Motley Crue. The Doors were even the house band for a time).

From California, July 2013
From California, July 2013

Both venues had bands on that night, but I paid the cover charge for both – $15 at the Viper Room and $25 at Whiskey-A-Go-Go – so that I could see inside both. The Viper Room was a lot smaller, darker and run-down than I had imagined. I stopped long enough for a beer and to hear a couple of numbers from the first band of the evening, but felt that Whiskey-A-Go-Go may be more to may taste, since it is still renowned for metal bands.

From California, July 2013

I stayed long enough to catch two of the bands – Cannibal Corpse and Decrepit Birth – both hardcore death metal bands which aren’t really my glass of beer, I prefer more old school rock and metal. By 10pm my early start was catching up with me and I decided to leave before the headline act, Six Feet Under.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s