My Route 66 World Record attempt actually started almost two years ago. I was walking in Santa Monica, with one of my best friends, discussing my life transformation. When I was at my lowest, I was admitted to mental hospital, an alcoholic and an addict. I had gone from being told by doctors that I wouldn’t be able to function as a member of society without mood stabilising medication to owning a business operating in 20 countries around the world and winning multiple awards both on and off the bike. Damen, my friend, was adamant that this story would inspire others as much as it did him. After a while I agreed and said that I would only share my story if I could tie it in with a way to raise money and awareness for mental health causes. At that moment we walked past the ‘End of Route 66’ sign on Santa Monica pier, and the idea was born…
Fast forward almost two years and again I find myself stood by that sign. This time it was 4:45am and I was wearing my cycling gear. I had Thomas & Chris, my now good friends, there with me as I was about to embark on a 2500-mile journey across the United States. A terrible night sleep in a dodgy motel wasn’t going to deter me, nor was the thought of battling out of Los Angeles traffic on Labor Day weekend. I was ready, excited and motivated.
Stage One was the longest stage with some of the hardest riding you can do on a road bike. At over 240 miles, a mix between concrete jungle and desert, I knew it was going to be a long day. The LA traffic was actually non-existent and we took scenic rides through Hollywood and Beverley Hills as we headed out of the greater Los Angeles area, which took us four hours, and into San Bernadino. As you can imagine, it was an interrupted ride. Stop signs, traffic lights and bike paths do not make for a fast ride. This left me already feeling disappointed that we would be behind my schedule. Each day I gave myself a two-hour cushion, which was to be used for stops, and in the event I fell behind, the stops could be shortened to bridge that gap. It meant the only way to keep on track was to be very efficient with time off the bike.
If you’ve followed my training journey, you’ll know that I don’t really like gravel. During the first stage of the Haute Route Rockies, I took a big fall on the first stretch of gravel. I needed stitches in my arm and many trips to the medical team to get my wounds cleaned. While I am open to conquering my off-road fear, I didn’t expect there to be a half mile stretch of road work that left Thomas & I riding gravel (more like sand), with me skidding and swearing, and Thomas laughing. Thankfully, I made it across!
Eventually, on the climb to Victorville, you have to leave the comfort of the frontage road and get on the interstate. If you’ve never ridden a road like this, imagine a five lane highway with traffic moving at over 60 mph. The shoulder of I-15 was also a bombsite; you could probably build a replica vehicle with the debris left at the side of the road. Thankfully, I had Chris & Thomas in the car behind us with flashing lights and signage to warn other road users and we made the long trip up the mountain unscathed.
Once you finish the climb, you have, what you’d assume is, a pleasant downhill. Sadly, this is where the great state of California lets us down; the frontage roads are very worn with large gaps, rough road and a ride akin to the pave in Belgium. Many of the riders involved in my research, that had ridden Route 66, had commented that they thought about, or did, jump the fence and ride I-15 for the better surface. I didn’t take this option, we have a route to follow and I had to follow that unless there was a significant reason to deviate from it.
Despite being provided with, arguably, the world’s most comfortable bike, a Trek Domane, courtesy of William Sawyer Cars. I still took damage to all the points where my body made contact with the bike. For the remainder of the event I would be riding with both sore feet, hands and bum (well, that general region!). Although, my feet did make a recovery after a few days. There simply is no preparation you can do for this, not that will allow you to break the record. You couldn’t ride a mountain bike or anything setup like that, you’d be too slow and there’s no swapping of bikes unless there’s a serious malfunction of the bike. I was already riding 32 wide tyres, it was brutal!
We had a solid finish to this ride as we made it into the desert, with the heat being not more manageable in the afternoon. We were eventually joined by Luis & Alan, who were delayed, firstly by Luis’ plane being cancelled and then by his bike going missing at the airport. They picked up ‘The Meg’, the RV loaned to us by Road Shark RV. ‘The Meg’ was fantastic to have somewhere to rest each night and the sight of her each day at stops really motivated me, I can’t thank Ed and Johnny enough. We all rode into Amboy, a ghost town in the desert together in the pitch black. Shake, shower, dinner, bed…
Up at 4:15am to be on the bike by 5am. I didn’t feel too bad. Again, sleep wasn’t the best, but, from there on out I’d sleep like a baby. The first obstacle of the day was the 10 or so bridges that were closed. We were faced with the choice of a long detour, and ride on the Interstate, or to try to force a way around them. I had no doubt that, given it was bone dry, I could walk around the bridges if I had to. We also knew that the car could double back and drive around if it came to that, so we pushed on.
The bridges were certainly closed to cars. But, after some manoeuvring, and thought, we realised we could simply drive the car around too. Simple, so we thought, but, one of the final bridges wasn’t even there, it had gone, with no way to ride it. So, like I had planned, I walked around. The loose, rocky surface was not easy to walk on and about half way around I twisted my ankle. I didn’t feel any immediate pain, but, I was quietly curious as to whether this would come back to haunt me.
After a stint back on the Interstate, now I-40 which we would follow in some form for most of the trip, we crossed the Colorado River. That was a sight to behold; amazing beauty in what had been such a barren landscape. We then headed deep into the Arizona desert where the temperature would be at its brutal highs in the 40’s (with my Wahoo topping out at 50c). This day I was thankful for my Spruzzamost, a small mister unit that sprays water into your face, this tool is a life saver! With barely any appetite, I was drinking nearly 1.5 litres of fluids every hour and still suffering. I wasn’t able to enjoy the small town of Oatman as much as I’d have liked. This tourist trap with its stray donkeys might be the only place on Route 66 where tourism is affluent enough to keep businesses going.
Thankfully, as we headed back towards the Interstate, the heavens opened and I got drenched. This was a welcome gift to cool me down, bringing me back to somewhat normality. We stopped in Kingman for some food, before Thomas & I headed back out to finish the last 75 miles. Another, almost 240 miles in the bag today. Another late night, but, still feeling very good!
We started and finished in Arizona today. After yesterday’s predominantly desert day, it was nice to experience some of what the state has to offer at altitude. The first challenge today was major road work as we approached Flagstaff. Interstate 40 is not the busiest of roads, certainly nothing compared to Stage One’s Interstate 15! It is mainly a route for long distance truckers, many of whom gave a supportive honk of their horns as they passed. We imagined that in the time we were following I-40, we probably saw the same trucker many times. Anyway, everyone seemed nice and content to give me as much room as they could.
However, and unfortunately, the road work reduced I-40’s normal three lanes to one, meaning the truckers had no option but to pass by me close. Again, I have nothing but massive respect for the guys and girls who drive long distances. In the vast majority they all were courteous and moved lanes to give me room on the interstate shoulder. In this instance they just couldn’t do that. To make matters worse, for short periods, the wide shoulder was reduced to no more than a foot. Having semi-articulated trucks pass you, well within the three-feet law (no fault of the drivers’ mind), was terrifying and I mentioned to Chris, who could no longer drive directly behind me, that if it got bad I’d bin the record attempt for my own safety.
Thankfully, it didn’t last forever and, after Thomas joined me, we even managed to ride down to closed section, having the whole one side of the interstate to ourselves. With the wind with us, we were making good time and we even got to stop at an American Diner, much to Thomas’ delight! After that, and a quick mechanical stop to bleed my front brake, we left Flagstaff and headed towards the New Mexico border. With the wind with us we were flying, but, the shoulder of I-40 was another bombsite. Thomas had three punctures, which shortly followed by me blowing a tubeless tyre wide open too. I was riding a set of the ridiculously good Zed Bike Wheels, they glide well and you can tell a lot of care goes into the hand building of each set.
After spending 160 miles on the interstate, I was glad when we turned off and headed towards Petrified National Forest Park. The area after leaving I-40 was what I was hoping to see, old single track bridges and more remanence of what Route 66 was like before the interstate programme was brought in. You can really feel the soul of the road here. All the pictures I had seen researching the trip, everything that filled me with joy and excitement was now right here in front of me. You really are able to retrace the steps of pioneers who made the journey between both coasts.
As darkness approached we were heading into the National Park. Here we encountered one of the failings in my planning. I hadn’t thought about park closure times and when we got to the gate it was shut. We could’ve jumped it and ridden on, but, we would need to clear the park, nearly 30 miles, unsupported. This left us wondering if that was a risk too far. At worst, if we suffered a fatal mechanical, we would have to walk 15 miles in freezing conditions in the depths of the forest (It’s worth a mention that it’s no longer a forest and actually closer resemblance to the Grand Canyon).
With that in mind, we called it a night and parked up. It was during this stage my ankle had started to give me some issues, and when Thomas, our sports therapist, treated it I could tell he thought it was bad news. In the latter stages I asked him whether he thought I’d be able to continue on it, he said he was certain it was game over.