Fleeing California

Monday, 01 November 2010 01:01 PM Written by 

METEOR CRATER, ARIZ. -- I-40/Historic US 66

 Driving 830 miles is easier than writing.  I've got to catch up with myself.

This is quick rundown of the last 44 hours. Later I'll provide the griping details of my lone assault on Fremont Peak, one of the most rewarding mountain tops you'll ever climb, and my amazing encounter with 55 Frenchmen (and women) in the California desert on a lonely stretch of old US Route 66.

I left I Steinbeck Country weeks ago -- actually Saturday afternoon -- after genuflecting at Steinbeck's grave in Salinas and climbing Fremont Peak for an aerial view of Steinbeck Country.DSC_0274

After driving 295 miles, I made it past Fresno and Tulare to a $62 motel in Bakersfield Saturday night.

Yesterday -- Sunday, Oct. 31, right? -- I drove across flat, dry, irrigated California, past a huge wind farm, through the Mojave Desert, to Barstow.

I flew down the same roads John Steinbeck took 50 years on his way east to a Thanksgiving feast at a ranch near Amarrillo, Texas -- California 156 and 99.

But they were smoother, wider, faster, safer.DSC_0455_copy_copy

At Barstow I picked up I-40, which has replaced, bypassed or paved over most of US 66 that doesn't go through the rosary of towns from the Bobby Troup song "Route 66" -- Barstow, Kingman, Winslow, don't forget Winona, etc. The historic/globally beloved "Mother Road" used to be the main highway from St. Louis to LA until Ike brought us the interstate highway system.

West of Needles, Ca., on Sunday afternoon, I saw the first major wreck of my 8,000-plus-mile road trip -- a big trailer truck that had rolled over minutes earlier. The driver was OK but his cab was badly crushed.DSC_0469

Shortly after that excitement, I took an exit off I-40 that pointed to a lonely two-lane stretch of old US 66 that closely paralleled the interstate as it arrowed through the desert valley.

There are no Route 66 road signs because they've all been swiped by souvenir hunters years ago, but every four or five miles or so there are fading "Route 66" logos painted on the crumbling pavement.

I rode the preserved but unmaintained old highway that Steinbeck and Charley also traveled for about 25 miles. Sometimes at 75 mph, sometimes at 40, because the asphalt was so bumpy, eroded and worn.DSC_0544

It was so bad it made Western Pa. roads look good.) The 15-mph 90-degree turns were an occasional treat. After 30 minutes, the hunk of road ended at a Dairy Queen/76 gas station/truck stop next to I-40 where gas was $3.69 a gallon. On my private joy ride back in time I had encountered no other car.

By 10 p.m., I was so sleepy I gave up trying to reach my goal -- a Walmart Sunspot Inn in Flagstaff.

I pulled off I-40 at Crookton Road, aka Historic Route 66, about 17 miles east of Seligman, Ariz., which was such a boring or un-rhymable town it wasn't included in the Route 66 song. DSC_0573

I slept in my trusty/comfy RAV4 at the side of old US 66 in dusty truck turnaround.

It was the anti-Walmart parking lot -- pitch black except for the flickering lights of trucks hurtling down I-40 and the gentle glow of a few billion stars.DSC_0570

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