Three days down, eight to go… My Route 66 record attempt was well under way and almost a quarter of the way through.
After losing over an hour the day before to the park being closed, we lost a further hour to the park opening the on Stage Four. Rather than our usual 5am start, we jumped the gate at 6am and headed off, knowing that the car would be able to come through with us at 7am. This already put us around 50 miles down on our target, something that was hard to comprehend given we had only really just started.
Petrified National Forest Park might be the most beautiful area I’ve ever cycled in, made more so by the sun coming up at dawn. I was lucky to share the ride with Alan, who I had met at Haute Route Asheville. Eventually we made it back to I-40, which we followed for around 70 miles, some on the shoulder and some on frontage roads. We even made a small navigational error upon approaching New Mexico and had to run across the interstate to get back on track. Like I said before, I’m just glad I-40 isn’t the busiest of roads!
New Mexico was a place I was excited to see. I’ve never been to this state and the thought of seeing some of the extra-terrestrial heritage along the route was a nice reward! Gallup was our stop for lunch, a nice little city, where I was glad to see ‘The Meg’ for a brief break.
I prepared a lot of my food beforehand. I mass cooked my favourite bars; a mixture of oats, seeds, dried fruit & dark chocolate (100% dark), there is nothing but goodness in them. I then vacuum seal them for freshness and I ate about 5 squares a day. On top of that, we had bananas and other fruit, jerky, sweets, sandwiches and gluten/dairy free treats, as I’m intolerant. I wanted to prove you could do a ride like this without ‘sports food’, it’s not necessary at all. My hydration was provided by Precision Hydration, the only ‘sports nutrition’ product I would use. PH have tailored electrolyte strength for my level of sweating, that is volume of sodium lost. I used to suffer badly with cramp, I didn’t get one episode during this trip.
After lunch I was delighted to be heading away from the interstate. But, my delight was short lived when the heavens opened and I got drenched. Now riding solo, I had no option but to push harder as, even wearing multiple layers, there was a real risk of hypothermia if I rode too slow. My power meter, a Stages model, had been intermittently working for a few days. The readings were well off and I think I set a new 60-minute power PB during Stage Three. I’m more than capable of riding to feel, but, having the meter to hold me back is beneficial, not that it was optional in this weather! Stages have since been very kind in replacing my power meter, even though it is outside of warranty.
Thankfully, the thunderstorm didn’t last forever and as soon as it dried up I was joined by good friend, and client, Luis for a stunning ride through the El Malpais Wilderness Area. Our finish, in Grants, was again behind schedule and we were unable to make up the distance lost the day before due to the hour late start in the morning plus an hour lost to time zones. Arizona doesn’t have daylight saving, so it meant we actually lost that time entering New Mexico. Being behind and having to get Chris to rebook RV parking was frustrating, given we were only on Stage Four. Not only that but this was a day where I rode slightly under a double century, two days in a row now and I hadn’t planned for even one day less than 200. With us entering Texas tomorrow, we would lose yet another hour to time zone changes.
By this time, I had figured out that if I didn’t flex my ankle I was able to stop it hurting too much. With the help of some k-tape and pain killers I was able to keep pedalling, even if this might be somewhat reckless.
Today was an incredible stage, I look back at this as one of my favourites. Although Albuquerque, somewhere I really wanted to see due to my love of the television show ‘Breaking Bad’, was massively underwhelming. There was nothing bad about the city, it just seemed to lack character and anything of great interest. Thomas even asked me when we would be heading through the downtown area, I replied a few miles ago. It was an understandable question; I only knew because of the street signs.
The ride north to Santa Fe was incredible. Passing through the small town of Madrid, where the movie ‘Wild Hogs’ was filmed was amazing. You can almost feel the out-of-this-world energy. Probably in part down to the warning signs with little flying saucers above cows. Luis had joined Thomas and I. It was perfect weather, the climbing was stunning and it was mixed with fun, fast descending.
Thomas and I found great amusement in appreciating the smaller things. Whether that is trying to get one of the many freight trains (many, many freight trains) to honk their horn, pretending to be motorbikes riding downhill or even the occasion where Thomas comes out of nowhere and scares the crap out of me on the interstate. All these factors added to the camaraderie the ride was creating between us all, I’m truly blessed to call the guys who made up the support team my friends.
The main issue with us following ‘Bicycle Route 66’, designed by Adventure Cycling Association, is that it does take you on all the tourist areas, even off the main route itself. I had opted to use this route for continuity, so the next person had a route that wasn’t designed by me, something which could lead to bias. But it did mean taking odd trips to historic landmarks, just for the tourist value in it.
Catching up today was going to be hard. The planned stage was already nearly 230 miles, and we had now fallen around 50 down. Finding new places to park the RV overnight was hard. Sure, we can dry camp at the side of the road or at a truck stop, but, then you have five people trying to use one bathroom. You also need to empty tanks and top up water/propane. You can get away with one night on the side of the road, but, too many and you need to stop the next day as well.
But, it was a stunning ride to camp tonight, once you stray away from the busy roads there are so many smaller places full of character and history. Into Las Vegas, the New Mexico version, for the night. New Mexico didn’t pull any punches in showing us how beautiful the scenery can be. Viva Las Vegas.
One of the least hiller days, this should’ve been where I started to catch up. After 45 miles of tailwind through the countryside we got back on the I-40, which we would follow for the rest of the day (almost 200 miles further).
If you want evidence of just how damaging to Route 66 the interstate programme was, visit some of the towns along this section. They are baron, almost wastelands. Every town is hopeful of one thing, tourists. But they all offer the same experience, so who is benefiting? In the years before I-40, these towns would have been prosperous places where weary travellers could rest their heads and find some food. Now they are desolate, devoid of any money and barely surviving.
Once you come down from the Rockies, you normally have a tail wind, of some form, from there all the way to Chicago. Named ‘The Westerly’s’ it’s only about one in every five or so that it blows in the opposite direction. Thanks to the hurricanes about the make land on the east coast, this year would be one that bucked that trend and I was faced with 200 miles of headwind today with the prospect of over 1000 miles of headwind to come in the following stages.
That was sole destroying. I hate wind. But, it was never going to be enough to make me quit. When we were on the frontage roads, the grippy surface and lack of vehicles made me wish I could get on the interstate where there was an abundance of draft from passing vehicles. When I was on the interstate, I was unable to switch off for even a second, with the danger of hitting debris or the rumble strip meaning that I had to be mentally focused at all times. I wish I had the option of filtering between mental or physical exhaustion, but, following the ACA route, I was at their mercy.
The road surface was almost as bad today as it was on Stage One. Some of the roads during this trip went on as far as the eye could see. Sometimes this was ok, others, like today where you could simply see the hard packed chip surface, were not. I was delighted to turn off one of these roads at one point, only to be thoroughly disappointed to find a gravel section lasting around five miles to follow. Again, Thomas behind in the car laughing, I crept my way to the frontage road by I-40.
New Mexico has a high clay content in its river beds, that turns a lot of its rivers red. While pretty and nice to look at, when faced with riding through it I had my concerns. One flooded section of the road, I sent the chase car ahead, to test the water and find a safe line. I could see by the movement of the car it was bad. I opted to run around the edge. While I didn’t fall in, it did take a good five minutes to clear the clay from my cleats and that was the death of the Stages power meter.
It was during this stage that we had a call from Mathew, one of the support team we were due to meet in Oklahoma City. Mathew suffers with Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease and the reason I sometimes wear a purple version of my jersey. Mathew had been struck down with another episode and was hospital bound. He wouldn’t be able to make it. I know he feels terrible about this, like he let me down, but, all I wanted to know was that he was and would be ok.
I was very much looking forward to visiting Texas though, another state I’d never been in. The border town of Glenrio would be a welcome stop for the afternoon. I enjoyed a late afternoon break before the final push. However, taken in by entering a new state, I missed the off ramp. No matter I thought, unlike the dual carriageways in the UK, where you can be on them for many miles before getting off, US roads typically have exits much more frequently. Ten miles later we pulled off at a rest stop…
We finished the day just outside Amarillo, one of the larger cities on the route, now 70 miles behind schedule we were facing the prospect of needing to use an extra day to finish the attempt. That was ok, no one has ever followed Route 66 like I did on this ride. The closest before was a woman who did it in 23 days, but even then I had a few people message me wishing me luck as this person had been falsely claiming the ‘record’ for many years. There was a Route 66 bike race one year, cancelled after multiple riders were hit by cars in Chicago. Many of the unaffected riders continued, but, they were in groups. The only limit on our time was the support team needing to get back to their day jobs. It wasn’t what I wanted, but, having to ride an extra day was looking more likely with every stage.