After the previous day’s timing debacle, we were on duty for a 7.30am departure. So, in a chilly hotel carpark (sorry, parking lot!), there we were, ready for the off. Tom Browne (my roommate) and I decided after discussion that we wouldn’t rob a towel from the hotel room to dry our bikes – we’d make do instead with the one that Sean Tynan, a teammate, had robbed the previous morning!

Sean polishing his bike - with THAT towel!

Sean polishing his bike - with THAT towel!

Our run of 340 miles took us first through more grain country, with farms big enough to have their own rail spur! A great harvest this year, according to locals we met in a gas station – so good that apparently much of it will be left to spoil in the fields to protect prices.

The cold quickly gave way to heat – off with the windstopper and silk inner gloves, and open some of the vents – and on with the sunscreen. We’re lucky Nivea sponsors all the bikers with sunscreen – we’re using so much already and we haven’t yet got to the really hot parts.

Great roads today – long stretches of Route 66 cutting through flat countryside – a 27-mile straight stretch once!

From Missouri farmland across the state line into Kansas, for a dog-leg 20 miles or so. Not the Kansas of popular legend, a lush and fruitful land, but impoverished and abandoned mining towns instead. In Galena, where we stopped to have our photos taken sitting on a bike (Sean’s, as it happens), we met Melba, who, with her three female partners, had started 4 Women on Route 66, a gas station cum general store, with plans for a flea market and other attractions across the road. We wished her well and set off for Oklahoma.

On Route 66 in Kansas

On Route 66 in Kansas

4 Women on Route 66, Galena TX - the photographer is Paul Redmond

4 Women on Route 66, Galena KS - the photographer is Paul Redmond

Once prairie, that fact is still evident in the state – broad, gently rolling countryside, grassed and wooded – you can almost see the buffalo moving across the plain. Great road on Route 66, because it is here that the idea for Route 66 began, with the aim of bringing the bourgeoning tourist traffic to Oklahoma. So, although Route 66 begins in Chicago, it’s heart is in Oklahoma.

Mindful of the previous day, we made good time and had covered 200 miles by 2pm – so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the restaurant attached to the Harley-Davidson shop in Tulsa.

(from left) Declan (back), Gerry (middle), Sean (front), Nobby, myself and tom
Lunch at the 5 & Diner, Tulsa OK: (from left) Declan (back), Gerry (middle), Sean (front), Nobby, myself and Tom

Great meal, lots of photos from obliging waitresses, some shopping but more mooching – and now it was 4pm with still 120+ miles to go. This time, we stuck to Route 66 proper, since the roads were so good but we still found ourselves killing time over coffee about 40 miles out of Oklahoma City at 6pm, waiting for the sun to set sufficiently to allow us to ride in without being blinded.

Waiting for the sun to go down, outside Oklahoma City, with some of the support team

Waiting for the sun to go down, outside Oklahoma City, with some of the support team

Good intentions, but due to roadworks that upset road captain Gerry Barry’s GPS navigation, it was gone 8pm before we found our hotel.

Absolutely bushed, a quick meal – not even bothering to shower – and to bed (or, in my case, to blog).
Tomorow’s another (300 mile) day – to Amarillo, Texas, singing all way!!

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Springfield, Illinois to Springfield, Missouri. The odometer on my RoadGlide had read 2176 miles on pick-up in Berwyn, Chicago – at the start of Day 2, it read 2406. By the end of the day, it would read 2736 miles – so Day 2 covered 330 miles.

It was a LONG day – our planned 8.30 am start was brought forward to 8 am (at 7.55!). Illinois is mainly flat, grain country, with the grain growing to within a few feet of the road. Only when we came close to the state boundary with Missouri, north of St Louis, and still on the east side of the river, did we encounter any ups and downs. We rode through Madison County, famous for its covered bridges, though we didn’t cross any, and then across the Mississipi – where we took a break to look at the Chain of Rocks bridge, the first road bridge across the Mississipi on Route 66.

The Chain of Rocks bridge, crossing the Mississipi above St Louis

The Chain of Rocks bridge, crossing the Mississipi above St Louis

(from left) myself, Joe McCaul, Sean Tynan (kneeling), Declan Young and Tom Browne

At the Chain of Rocks bridge: (from left) myself, Joe McCaul, Sean Tynan (kneeling), Declan Young and Tom Browne

We had passed a large group of Dutch people – easily identified by their orange jackets – pedalling furiously on Solexes! For those don’t know, Solexes are those funny black bicycles with a tiny engine mounted over the front wheel that one sees in deepest rural France – obviously, they have a following in Holland too. According to their support team, whom we met at the Chain of Rocks bridge, it will take them a month to get to Santa Monica!

Missouri seemed to be more cattle land – at least, the part we saw.

Due to lots of stops for petrol, coffee, toilets, coffee, more toilets, petrol for those who hadn’t filled earlier, we found ourselves still searching for lunch at 2pm. A Dairy Queen appeared to offer succour, but all they had were burgers -perhaps we should have known – though we did wonder how lunch might have gone if we had taken up the server’s offer of take-out – it’s quite hard enough to control the Harley with two hands and full concentration!

We were joined at lunch by an Illinois State Police officer, Gayle, who rode with us for the day on her Honda Goldwing – with her dog, which sat in a special basket on the pillion seat!

Travelling in style! Illinois State Police officer with her Goldwing and dog

Travelling in style! Gayle, her Goldwing and her dog

So we found ourselves with nearly 200 miles to do before reaching our hotel and it was already 3pm! There followed a high-speed dash, part of it on the Interstate to make up time, on which yours truly bravely overtook semis (artics to you and me) at 80mph, and then had to bow to fate when one of the semis decided he didn’t want to be overtaken – at 85mph, I’d used up whatever confidence I had gained during the day and gracefully gave in!

We got to Springfield MO about 7pm, having ridden the last 30 miles or so with the sun directly in our eyes – something we would learn to avoid.

A long day but a good day – no mishaps and more confidence on the bike!

A good night’s sleep, an early alarm call, quick breakfast, bags in the truck, and off at 8am – again with a Sheriff’s escort – to EagleRider Berwyn to pick up our bikes.

Bedlam at Berwyn! The scene as the Irish 66ers claim their bikes - Sean Tynan entering on left

Bedlam at Berwyn! The scene as the Irish 66ers claim their bikes - Sean Tynan entering on left

Wow! Mine is a beauty – shiny, glossy black, a RoadGlide! Great Harley noise! Cruise control and a radio / CD!

On your bike, Brian O'Kane!

On your bike, Brian O'Kane!

Despite forecasts, the weather held up – until we were about a mile from EagleRider and then the rain came. Quick stop to put on rain suits – that’s why Tony insisted we bring them. And back on the road – where, after a near mishap on my part with a red light, Declan and I got separated from the rest of our group – NO, we were NOT lost! We followed the rules and pulled into the next gas station to wait for rescue. It came in the form of one of the support vehicles, with Mick and Jackie at the helm. They said “Follow us”, so we did. Two stops and several phone calls, we were reunited! Everyone safe, and some lessons learnt.


Out of Chicago on Route 66, with a brief lunch stop / photo opportunity at The Launching Pad.

With the Joly Green Giant at The Launching Pad, our lunch stop

With the Jolly Green Giant at The Launching Pad, our lunch stop

Then on again, into rural Illinois – flat doesn’t begin to describe it!
Another stop for coffee and then a quick run on the Interstate to Springfield, where the Route 66 Hotel, showers and dinner awaited. Most welcome!

Route 66 is the narrow road on the right, with the newer InterState highway running alongside

Route 66 is the narrow road on the right, with the newer InterState highway running alongside

But, as road captain Gerry Barry reminded us, we have only covered 200 miles – there are 2,200 more to go still! So it’s up on the bikes again in the morning and off to Springfield, this time in Missouri – 300+ miles away. The best is yet to come!

Up early, on the road to Dublin airport to join the Route 66 crew.

Tom Browne (my roommate) and I at Dublin airport

Waiting patiently: Tom Browne (my roommate) and I at Dublin airport

Quick check-in, uneventful flight, then Sheriff’s escort to our hotel.

Tom Browne, myself and Nobby Usher at Chicago airport, in front of the Sheriff's bus that would take us to our hotel
Tom Browne, myself and Nobby Usher at Chicago airport, in front of the Sheriff

Admin for bikes got out of the way, to save time in the morning – and then we found the bar, which we made our own until dinner – and then to bed.

A long day – but tomorrow we get our bikes and start on the road!

Our roadtrip along the length of Route 66 begins on Monday, 29 September, when we collect our bikes – Harley-Davidsons, what else! – from Eaglerider’s Berwyn, Chicago depot. Allowing time for the paperwork, we have an easy start – just under 200 miles to Springfield, Illinois, where we overnight.

Tuesday’s more demanding – 300+ miles from Springfield, Illinois to Springfield, Missouri, via St Louis, where we cross the Mississippi River. Then another 300-mile day from Springfield, MO, passing briefly through Kansas en route to Tulsa and on to Oklahoma City. Already, on our third day, we will have ridden through four states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. On Thursday, we press 250 miles further south – into Texas, through the appropriately-named (for us!) Shamrock, to our overnight in Amarillo – show me the way!!

At this point, we begin to travel almost due west, passing the mid-point of Route 66 somewhere between the towns of Vega and Adrian. We have a 300-mile ride on Friday from Amarillo, via Tucumcari (formerly Six-Shooter Siding! we’re in Injun territory!) to Albuquerque in New Mexico, where we will overnight in the Route 66 Casino Hotel. Saturday takes us another 300+ miles west, via Winslow (yes, the Winslow with the corner!) to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we will spend both Saturday and Sunday night. Sunday’s nominally a rest-day, but I understand that we’ll be back on the bikes again – off to see the Grand Canyon, less than 100 miles away – a mere nothing to us, with nearly 1,700 miles behind us now, two-thirds of the journey.

Monday sees us add another state to our roll – one more than previous years, as we cross into Nevada to overnight in Laughlin – in another casino hotel, in case we have any money left after Albuquerque! On Tuesday, we ride through Williams, Seligman, Hackberry, Kingman and Oatman and cross the Rockies into California, our last state, and within sight of the end – we overnight in Victorville.

And the end of our journey comes on Wednesday, 8 October, when we complete the last 100 or so miles across California, from Victorville to Santa Monica, where we will make a grand entrance – all 70+ bikes descending en masse on the Pier, complete with police escorts! What an occasion that will be!

I have made this roadtrip dozens of times already in my imagination, helped by maps and guidebooks – strange to think that, in less than three weeks, I’ll actually have done it for real!

The Route 66 team at EagleRider Berwyn, Chicago, with Angi mcNulty, Temple Street CUH, before heading off on Route 66

The Route 66 team at EagleRider Berwyn, Chicago, before heading off on Route 66

On Route 66, we’ll be travelling in teams of 8 or so bikes, plus pillion passengers – otherwise, our group of 70+ bikes would make for unwieldly travelling! My team consists of: (from left, standing) Paul Redmond, Tom Browne, Sean Tynan, Joe McCaul, myself, Gerry Barry (our road captain), (kneeling) Declan Gorman and Nobby Usher,  plus Angela McNulty from temple Street CUH, the organiser and driving force behind the Route 66 Challenge.

 

Two weeks on Sunday! That’s when we leave Dublin en route for Chicago and Route 66! It still seems so far away – as it has all year – but it also seems impossibly soon.

 

My Route 66 adventure started in early 2007, when I read a magazine article about the 2006 Temple Street CUH Route 66 Challenge. I showed it to my wife, Rita, who promptly said, “You should do it”. Taken aback, since Rita has been a vehement opponent of motorcycles all the years I have known her (we’re married 28 years!), I managed to splutter “Pardon” (politeness even in moments of surprise!). “You should do it. You always wanted to go across America. Go find out about it”, came the reply. So I did.

 

I emailed Temple Street’s Fundraising Office and, in May 2007, I met Angela McNulty. Somehow, Angela saw past my 30-year absence from biking and allowed me to join the Irish 66ers. One condition: I had to be biking regularly and to take part in the training sessions – for that, I needed a bike. I didn’t think that was part of Rita’s plan but Angi had spoken!

 

Over the next few weeks, I did two days’ training with Eddy O’Shea of Bikecraft in Cork, who recommended a Honda Deauville, which I bought at the beginning of June from the Lee Honda Centre. Since then, I have done over 4,000 miles, to Route 66 training sessions in Portlaoise and Rathdowney, to business meetings in Tralee, Waterford and Drogheda, and just for fun. I have developed my own biking capabilities (a long way still to go!), met interesting people, and found a new hobby.

 

But the most important part of Route 66 – its raison d’être – is the fundraising for the Temple Street Children’s University Hospital and the children who have need of it. That’s been amazing: €8,300 seemed like a huge amount to raise, but people have been so generous – and still the money is coming in! Thank you everyone, most sincerely.

 

And in two weeks, we set off on the adventure! I’m like a child again – I can hardly wait – the excitement is killing me! Best of all, Rita’s coming around to the notion of being a pillion-passenger in 2010!!

 

Go Irish Route 66ers!