Tuesday September 16, 2014 - From Barstow to San Bernadino, California
Thankfully, the ordeal of crossing the vast Mohave Desert was now behind us. (Jen and I had it pretty easy since we were riding in an air conditioned car, but the riders really suffered). They told us there had been hotter days in previous rides, but 120 degrees felt brutally hot to me, especially when all you could see in any direction was desert and spots of sage brush with craggy brown mountains way off in the distance.
We all gathered for our second-to-the-last morning meeting and discovered that today was going to be an easy ride with only 70 miles to San Bernadino. This would be our last stop before making the final leap to the Santa Monica Pier. I decided that today was THE DAY and now was THE TIME to finally take Gary up on his offer to ride on the back of his motorcycle!!! I couldn't get my courage up until now, but heck - it's the last day and if not now when?
Gary has one of the coolest bikes and trailers in the group and told me that everywhere he goes people stop and take pictures. It's not so much the bike itself (a Honda Goldwing) but his trailer - it looks like a mini Corvette! Rodger (the group leader) also has a cool mini-car trailer and the two of them often parked their bikes together near the front doors of the hotels. (I imagine this was to ward off potential vandals or pranksters).
So away I went for my first motorcycle ride in probably 40 years! It wasn't as hot as yesterday, but it must have been pushing 100. It felt great cutting through that warm air and being fully exposed in the 360 degree reality show - riding a motorcycle - wow! The first leg was relatively short as we stopped at a Route 66 train museum in Barstow which gave me a chance to ease into the whole thing.
We picked up a lot more speed leaving Barstow, which was a total rush. Whoopie! You can bet I was holding on tight to my camera, which I had nestled between his back and my chest. What a great way to take pictures - no roof, windshield, or windows to roll down.
Our next stop was The Bottle Tree Ranch, a fascinating roadside attraction three miles west of Helendale. The proprietor/artist, Elmer Long is an eccentric old hippie who has spent 30 years on this piece of property, raised his family here and created close to two acres of amazing bottle tree folk art with objects he's found on the road! He has a special affinity for The Ride for The Relay and saves much of the money that people donate and gives it to Rodger Fox as a donation to The American Cancer Society when the group rolls through. In a touching little ceremony, he handed over a baggie of money to Rodger and we all of course took lots of pictures!
I decided to stay on the bike with Gary to our lunch stop, The Summit Inn (a famous Route 66 diner/restaurant that according to legend was Elvis' favorite spot to dine when he drove from LA to Vegas). We were honored that Rodger invited us to sit with him at Elvis' special booth! Our group packed the place and the waitress had quite a time handling all of us, but who cared? We were soaking up the ambience and what was now beginning to feel like nostalgia for the road that we had almost reached the end of.
After lunch I decided to get back in the car and ride with Jen, but I have to admit that on the last day of the ride I was really happy to have had the experience of knowing what these folks have been doing the last 11 days. Riding on the back of that motorcycle was really cool!
The hotel manager in San Bernadino hosted a lovely reception for all of us and it was great hanging out with these kind people on our last night together. Judy Royse, the official photographer, had put together a slide show from last year's journey and people cheered as they saw places and friends from the past. I stayed a long time and really enjoyed schmoozing with folks I hadn't had a chance to connect with before. We were all one big family now. Jen and I had been affectionately named "Mary Anne and Ginger" or "the blondes" and although we originally looked very different than all of them (easterners, driving a car, always typing away on our phones) we had now become ONE with them - this Route 66-lovin' family. It is truly heartwarming to have been a part of this group of lovers of the "open road". And I have a new appreciation for the motorcycle culture. So thank you Gary Gallo for your persistence in inviting me to ride on your fine machine!
We will arrive at the Santa Monica Pier (the end of the road) with a bang around noon tomorrow. I'm sure there will be festivities and of course the long-awaited raffle drawing. I sold a lot of raffle tickets back home and we will wait with baited breath to see who wins the $1,000 prize.
Once again, thank you for coming along with me on the ride. It's been a glorious experience!
Mary Anne Erickson is an artist who has been documenting the demise of our roadside culture for over 30 years in paintings and photography. Her work can be seen at www.vanishingroadside.com and you can follow her Route 66 adventures at www.facebook.com/Rtesixtysix.