Part 11. A Side Order of Ham and the End of the Trail

The next morning we woke up at an un-Godly hour of 06:00 in order to be on the road as early as possible.  Still remembering our desert heat adventures during the West Coast trip of 2 years ago, we weren’t in the mood to repeat the heat exhaustion experience.  Even though the previous 9 days of this trip weren’t suggestive of any excessive heat, we were in sunny California, and we weren’t taking any chances!

At 06:30 in the morning, when we rolled the bikes out of the hotel parking lot, the weather was very comfortable – not too hot, not too cold, just right.  No sign of rain, gale-force winds, or ice on the fuel tank – this was positively a good sign.

By the 10th day of our adventure we were a bit overdosed on sights, so opted for a straight Interstate line into LA.  The 91 miles between Needles and Ludlow, our next planned stop, included an almost 70-mile stretch of road with no services or gas.  Following the unwritten rule of any road trip of “Tank when you can, eat when you can, and pee when you can”, we filled our gas tanks before leaving Needles.  A quick calculation confirmed that this should be enough to bring us to Ludlow before we start panicking about running out in the middle of the California desert.

Welcome to the Ludlow Cafe!

The biggest surprise of the day was of culinary nature, and awaited us in the nondescript Ludlow Café on the other side of the “gas-less” stretch of the Interstate.  By the time we reached Ludlow, we were more than ready for breakfast.  Knowing full well that for an average European a standard American breakfast was a free ticket to the emergency room due to its size and nutritional value, I decided to be smart.  I would not order any of the mouth-watering set breakfasts, so temptingly outlined on the menu, but will go for the sides instead – one fried egg, a side of hash browns and maybe some additional protein thrown into the mix.  “A side of ham” for $5.20 looked like a really good idea, so I added it to my order.

While waiting for the breakfast to be cooked, we browsed through the café’s impressive collection of “books about life”, ranging from “How to Confuse the Idiots in Your Life” (I desperately need this one!) to “The Disgusted Driver’s Handbook” (might come in handy as well…) by one Ben Goode (probably not his real name).  The books alone make a stop at the Ludlow Café worth your while, and you could browse through the random selection of table copies strategically positioned on each table together with cutlery and napkins, or buy your own personal copy in the gift shop.

The food arrived promptly, and I was in for the culinary surprise of my life.  “The side of ham” thrown into the mix at the last moment, turned out to be a humongous slice of a whole pig’s buttock, the size of my head.  I was hungry, but much as I tried, I barely made a dent in it after fighting with the thing for almost an hour.  I had to apologize profusely to the scary-looking cook covered with tattoos, but the waitress came to my rescue, adding that I was not the first customer not to have managed the task.

The Side Order of Ham…
I gave it a good shot

We rolled onto our bikes, and continued direction LA.  This was out 10th day on the road, and we were all overdosed on sights – we were looking forward to putting the kickstands down for longer than one night, and were anxious to reunite with Nika and Andy in the film studio, pretending to be a city, pretending to be a film studio.  We farsightedly booked a hotel next door to their digs in Little Korea, and the Shelter Hotel became our home for the next 5 days, and a welcome pit stop for our mighty steeds at only $20/night for a spacious parking spot in their underground garage.

Korean barbecue

The rest of the day unfolded in a whirlwind with drinks in a nearby corner bar waiting for our room to be ready, a trip to a laundromat to get some clean clothes (after 10 straight nomadic days on the road we started running out), and a hearty meal at Jjukku Jjukku BBQ with Nika next door.  We left sated (somehow, the humongous “side of ham” have mysteriously disappeared from my stomach by the evening, having undoubtedly positioned itself comfortably in my butt) and smelling of barbecue and invaded one of the famous local watering holes – the HMS Bounty Bar at the Gaylord hotel.  The place was perfect to continue with our alcohol-infused program: it combined history with easy-going atmosphere and superb selection of drinks.  We celebrated the reunion with LA in style!

The following several days blurred into one endless party – old friends and new friends, bottomless Mimosa Saturday brunch at the Saddle Ranch, followed by un-identified bright blue shots, crashing a random rooftop pool party on Hollywood Boulevard (there were no witnesses or photographic evidence!), more alcohol, reunion with more old friends in a rock-N-roll bar (the name of which completely escapes me), carrying one of the new friends to the taxi for home delivery – all in all a perfect Los Angeles weekend!

Un-identified blue shots

5 days later, we had to go back home – time does fly when you are having fun!… We packed our shit back into the bags, strapped the bags back to our bikes, and delivered our trusty steeds back to the Eagle Rider. All in all – it was a great trip! We covered
2,539 miles (4,086 km) in 10 days, rode through pouring rains, gale-force winds, snow and sun, partied in Los Angeles, crashed parties in Hollywood, and had the best times we won’t remember with the friends we can’t forget. What a ride!

Bye-bye, Los Angeles!…
The last stretch of our Route 66 trip – from Needles, CA to LA

Part 10. California-bound

We woke up the next day to clear blue skies, sun and piercing cold.  The bikes had a thin layer of frost on them.  What the hell?….  It was the middle of May, for fuck’s sake!  Whatever…  After all the cataclysms we’ve been through on this trip, a little bit of frost would not scare us away, especially so close to the end point of our trip – the warm California!  We stoically scraped the unwanted ice off the bikes, and took a quick 40-minute dash on the Interstate to Seligman, AZ.

Angel & Wilma Delgadillo’s Shop

Although initially we only had one place in Seligman marked on our route planner, Angel & Wilma Delgadillo’s Shop, the town turned out to be an absolute Route 66 goldmine, full to the brim with quirky memorabilia.  But all in its turn. 

Angel & Wilma Delgadillo’s Shop, the first ever gift shop on Route 66 started out of the owners’ barber shop and pool hall, which in itself would have been enough to make it stand out.  However, the gift shop part was just a side effect of a much more colorful, interesting and proud story of Angel Delgadillo – a native of Seligman, who has lived there ever since 1927, and to whom, in all honesty, Route 66 probably owes the fact that it still exists in people’s memories and is going strong as one of America’s main landmarks.  Seeing the devastation and distress that the opening of Interstate 40 brought to his previously thriving town in 1978, Angel brought together small business owners of Seligman and other Arizona towns along the former historic Route, and in 1987 founded the Historic Route 66 Association, becoming its president.  Through campaigning and lobbying, by November 1987 the Association managed to have the State of Arizona officially christen the stretch of US-66 between Seligman and Kingman as “Historic Route 66”.  By making this stretch historic, Arizona preserved 159 miles of the route, which remains the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 in the country.  And that was just the beginning!…

The freshly-awakened public nostalgia for The Neon Highway helped Angel and the Historic Route 66 Association in their efforts.  They organized car rallies and events, invited celebrities and promoted the Mother Road every way they could.  Eventually, seeing the rising interest in Route 66 memorabilia, Angel converted his barber shop and pool hall into the gift shop.  His father’s 1926 barber chair he had been using for work ever since graduating from the American Barber College in Pasadena, CA still occupied an honorary place in the corner.  Seligman has since become known as “The Birthplace of Route 66”, and Angel acquired the respectable nicknames of “The Mayor of the Mother Road” and “The Guardian Angel of Route 66”.

Even with all the fame and attention (the gift shop is listed at the top of the must-visit places in every history- and guidebook about Route 66), at the age of 91 Angel remains a happy-go-lucky down-to-earth man, genuinely delighted with every visitor to his home-town.  He even occasionally gives shaves and haircuts in his father’s barber chair in the corner of the gift shop!

We weren’t as lucky as to see Angel in person, but were definitely glad to visit the place and honor the man, whose efforts to save his family’s and town’s livelihood turned into a rocket fuel for national and world-wide interest and revival of America’s most famous road.  The place was magic.  It looked like a time-capsule of the carefully preserved years, when the Neon Road was at the peak of its glory.  A life-size cardboard figure of Angel by the barber chair could not replace the original, but added to the general surrealism of the moment.

The Roadkill Cafe

Much as we enjoyed the shop, we were more than ready for breakfast.  And we had just the place in mind – the Roadkill Café down the main road from Angel & Wilma’s shop. It was found on Google Maps last night by pure accident, and was just the place our empty stomachs and adventurous souls called for.  With a motto of “You kill it, we grill it!” how could it not?!… 

Roadkill Cafe

Open from 7 in the morning till 9 in the evening, and featuring such amazing dishes as “Flat Cats”, “Smear of Deer”, “Splatter Platter” and “Rigor Mortis Tortoise”, it was all we could dream of on a cold morning.  We opted for the “Awesome Possum” (for me) and “Guess that Mess” (for Nic), and in addition to smart-ass names, the food that showed up on the table without any delays was incredibly delicious.  For the squeamish ones out there – the ingredients did not really contain any possums or tortoises, but were a clever marketing call to everyone’s wild side.  We embraced ours and dug in. 

The awesome menu of the Roadkill Cafe

After an hour in this oasis, sated and thawed out, we raided the Roadkill Café’s gift shop, and became proud owners of the hungry vulture T-shirt with the cafe’s motto, a bottle of Tabasco sauce with a simple and clear name of “Death” printed on it, and a couple more nondescript, but equally craved for souvenirs.  It was time to move on…

Horsing around in the Roadkill Cafe

John Osterman’s Service Station

No Route 66 road trip is complete without visiting numerous abandoned places, businesses and towns that fell victim to civilization moving in in the shape of the Interstate Road system.  We missed quite a few of those due to inclement weather in the first half our trip, and were fully intent on catching up by the end of it.  John Osterman’s Service Station in Peach Springs was next on our list. 

Osterman’s Service Station in Peach Springs

From Seligman, we avoided the Interstate and followed the Historical Route 66 through county-side.  It was still chilly, but the thoughts of the Golden State, awaiting us ahead, warmed us up.  That, and the hearty Roadkill Café breakfast, of course!  The Osterman Gas Station was, as expected, still closed, and in all honesty was not much to look at.  It obviously was not the architectural value that made it famous, but something else entirely.  Opened by a Swedish immigrant John Osterman in 1925 as a trading post and rebuilt in 1993 when the realignment of Route 66 called for a larger station with garage, the place remained in operation till 2007. 

Unlike Seligman, Peach Springs did not have much to offer.  Even though according to online sources Peach Springs remains the tribal quarters of the Hualapai Indian Reservation, only two businesses keep running – a grocery store and a post office.  We looked around, took a couple of photos, and followed the country roads to the next sight.  It was quite ironic, actually, how THE main highway of the US back in the day could only be considered a minor country track less than a century later.

Osterman’s Service Station in Peach Springs

Hackberry General Store

Hackberry General Store

An easy 20-min cruise brought us to Hackberry General Store still in Arizona, but closing in on California border.  The place was marked as a must-see in all Route 66 guidebooks, and was right on our way anyway. 

By the Hackberry General Store

With the derelict car shells strategically positioned up front with picturesque cacti in-between, old gas pumps, and an astonishing mix of shit cramping the insides of the store, the place was hard to miss. Creepy mannequins were mixed in with old photos, rusty lamps, and mountains of miscellaneous chachka of varied levels of uselessness.  The shop was a dusty twilight labyrinth of narrow aisles and passages, leading from one cramped room to the other.  We were glad to get out, and spent most time taking photos of the exterior.

By the Hackberry General Store

Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner

Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner

Still full of the amazing Roadkill Café breakfast fare, we did not really think about lunch.  A pit stop for drinks and a bathroom (we did not have the heart to brave the facilities at the Hackberry General Store), however, seemed like a good idea.  30 minutes down the road we found just what was needed – a bright- and welcoming-looking turquoise & pink Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner with a mint-condition old truck parked in the front.  The food looked amazing, but we could not fit any more in, and opted for 2 big teas with a slice of cake to share.  We sipped our teas, and basked in the bright and kitschy atmosphere of the quintessential Route 66 diner, in operation since 1938.  The menus were made in the style of vinyl records, the walls were peppered with colorful framed photos of old cars, pink seats were bright-colored plastic, and happy faces of Elvis and Marilyn greeted the patrons at the gents and the ladies.

Ladies & gents at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman, AZ

Kingman seemed much more alive and happening than even Seligman – it was also full of Route 66 memorabilia, but other business seemed to be thriving as well.  Gas stations, post offices, diners, even banks were right there, and in full operation.  The trick to Kingman’s prosperity was probably the fact that not only was it both, on the Interstate and Route 66, but also had a railroad going through the town, even having its own train station.  The place was, in fact, named after a railroad engineer, Lewis Kingman, and laying only 50 miles away from the border with sunny California remained an important connecting point between Arizona and California.  The climate was also definitely better than in the heart of Arizona.

Pie and teas in, we move on direction California.  The remaining 58 miles to Needles, CA we opted out of the Interstate, following instead the Oatman Highway, going through the beautiful Golden Valley, and then snaking down at a steady 6% angle, with each mile adding to the warmth of the surrounding environment.  By the time we crossed into California, we had to stop and take off our leathers.  It was suddenly hot.

Needles, CA

Needles, CA was busy with road construction, which our ancient built-in Harley GPS refused to recognize, nearly leading us under the roller of a huge construction vehicle at some point, and causing just fury on the part of its operator and a couple of his nearby mates.  We persisted in search of accommodation.  We came prepared – we had 4 relatively central motels and hotels with addresses marked on our road map, and we were intent on finding decent digs for our stay.  Turned out, it was not so easy. 

Welcome to Needles, CA

The first place on our list, America’s Best Value Inn, represented a pile of burned out rubble that looked like an insurance claim job (successful or not, it was not our place to judge)… 
The 2nd one, a Route 66 Motel, looked more like an undercover brothel snd a drug den, than a motel per se, so we decided to give it a miss. 
The 3rd place we called upon, an Imperial 400 Motor Inn was closed down.  We started doubting ourselves. 
Luckily for us, though, #4 on the list turned out to be the charm – the Best Western Colorado River Inn hotel not only was open and looked decent, but also had a room for us, and parking for our bikes.  As a bonus, there was a diner next door, where we dragged our tired and hungry asses after a quick shower, and enjoyed a couple of drinks accompanied by a humongous salad with fried chicken.  As a healthy sign, avocado was present on the plate.  We were finally in California!

Our route from Williams, AZ to Needles, CA on Day 9 of the trip