Yesterday’s winds were gone, the air was clear and cool, and I was looking forward to a nice day of riding. Traffic was light and I could spend time looking for landmarks that I could remember. There were not many of them as the whole area has built up over the years.
I was in awe as I followed I-10 to I-5. I had never seen such roads! At Claremont there was a triple flyover; four levels of road in one place! I had never seen such sights!
I had also never seen grooved pavement and the wiggles gave me a bit of worry as I tried to get used to it.
On the way to the exit that I needed I passed one for “Olive St.” Later that trip I would encounter the sign for “Roscoe St.,” exits with the names of my paternal grandparents.
The low fuel light had come on sometime back and, as it didn’t look like I was going to make it to the Sunland Blvd exit, I pulled off the freeway and promptly got lost. I refueled and figured my way back to the freeway.
In an apparent effort to discourage gasoline use, California has a new type of nozzle on gas pumps and they do not work well with motorcycles, shutting off too early and not allowing any further fill. The entire time I was in the state I was always about a gallon short of a full tank after gas stops.
At last! Sunland Boulevard, and many memories of the area came rushing back, such the gas station on the corner at the exit. As I made my way up the road I could see many familiar sights. Often the only difference was that the area has grown up over the years. The Viennese-styled restaurant is still there and the Von’s supermarket is in the same place, even though it’s now called “Ralph’s”.
The intersection at Mt. Gleason St. was unchanged, right down to the convenience store on the corner and the restaurant across the street. Hill was a couple of 4-way stops away and there I was at 7743. I’d made it.
Lynn had given me directions to get there and I followed them right to the house. 7743, that was the address. I pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. I’d made it.
* * *
I parked across the street from the former von Groff house and rested while I took some pictures and lit a mini-cigar in celebration. Sadly, no one was home and I had to be content with photos of the outside.
When I knocked on the door Lynn’s mom, Mona, answered. “Lynn’s still is school,” she informed me, “She’s got one week left.”
I was flabbergasted. In my worldview, school had already gotten out. All schools had already gotten out. I had not considered the possibility that hers had not.
While Mona went back to her vacuuming, I tried to decide what to do.
I was now officially halfway through my trip and had made my primary goal. I had a nice ride up Big Tujunga Canyon ahead of me but first I wanted to get some lunch. I had passed the Jack-In-The-Box where Lynn and I shared our first kiss so I decided to eat there.
I didn’t know what to do. I had planned on spending only a few days with Lynn, then on to Frisco. I had arrived on Monday so I decided to spend the week there and play the trip back by ear. Again, I had planned to camp out, but the von Groffs graciously allowed me to sleep on their couch.
While Lynn finished her semester I spent the next few days riding around the Los Angeles area, taking in the sights. One day I took the Universal Studios tour, another I worked with Lynn’s dad, Jim, at his mechanic’s shop.
Afternoons and evenings there was Lynn, adorable, lovable, Lynn. One of the first days I helped her practice for her track meet on the upcoming Saturday. We’d ride the San Fernando Valley, stopping in at Jack or Shakey’s Pizza for something to eat, with kisses in the parking lot.
That weekend the family attended the track meet where both of the daughters were participating. Here was taken the only photograph of the entire trip, with me, Lynn, Mona, and Lynn’s sister Cheryl. Lynn was quite the runner. While in high school she set the state record for the 440 yard run for high school girls.
The von Groffs had a bathtub instead of a shower and I was so shy that I declined to bathe the entire time that I was there. I must have had some pretty good BO by the time the weekend rolled around!
Saturday evening there came a phone call. Jim’s old friend, Al, was calling to see if there was an extra boy hanging around. Jim handed the phone to me and Dad explained that Mom was worried about me and, wasn’t it about time that I came home? I meekly protested that I hadn’t gone to Frisco yet but Dad convinced me to head back. I started back the next day, returning over the same route.
The last time that I had ridden a motorcycle up Big Tujunga Canyon I managed to run out of gas and Mona had to rescue me. This time I fueled up before the ride but had a different worry. Severe forest fires had devastated the national forest the year before and many roads in the area were closed. Checking the web I could find no specifics and, starting up the canyon, I didn’t know if the road went through to Palmdale or not.
Much of the ride was familiar as the road climbs from the canyon bottom. The road quickly climbs up the steep sides, several times crossing impressive bridges spanning deep ravines. Lots of curves and very light traffic enhanced the pleasure of the ride.
Evidence of the fire was everywhere. I had recalled a pine/juniper forest but most of the landscape was barren, testimony of the intensity of the conflagration. To me, though, the scenery was reminiscent of the desert and held a stark beauty of its own.
And the road was mine. I only saw a few cars on the entire trip. I felt a bit of sadness when the curves came to an end and I encountered the traffic of the Antelope Valley. After a bit of traffic I entered I-15 to Barstow and my hotel for the night.
When traveling I like to eat well and avoid the “greasy spoon” type of places. Criss-crossing the west as I have over the years, I have started a running joke; someone will mention some out-of-the-way place and I’ll pipe up, “Dell, Montana? I know a good place to eat, there!” Well, Barstow has one of the best steakhouses in the west.
I returned to the motel and once again sat outside sipping a drink and smoking a cigar. No one came by so I turned in for the evening.
Another disappointing breakfast at the Days Inn, but I had read about a place in Amboy that was semi-famous so I figured I could grab an early lunch there. No such luck. The grille was shut down, as I guess it was past tourist season. I had my choice of candy bars and soda. I chose a bottle of water and went on my way.
As I mentioned, I prefer to take loop trips, this year, however, I wanted to ride the original routes. I-40 ended at Newberry Springs in 1970 and picked back up at the mountain pass above Needles. After topping off fuel I exited the freeway onto Historic Route 66.
Of the four trips that I made between New Mexico and California in 1972-73 only the last was over the newly-completed freeway from Barstow to Seligman. One was over the 89A/I-10 route and the other two were over old 66 in California and Arizona. The biggest frustration was the traffic behind trucks on the two-lane and traveling at night was iffy because of the lack of 24-hour gas stations at the time. When crossing the newly-completed I-40 in the early summer of 1973 the traffic was so light that I was able to stop on the middle of the road in the middle of the night to take a leak.
Almost immediately I ran into trouble. The macadam of the road had deteriorated and was badly in need of repair. Many tire-sized cracks were in the road and I continuously had to watch for gaps that could break a sidewall or bend a rim. I decided that if the road was this bad past Ludlow then I would have to abandon this portion of the trip by necessity and return to the freeway. To my great relief, the road conditions improved greatly at Ludlow.
In the ghost town of Bagdad I found another Whiting Brothers station surrounded by a fence and junkyard dogs. It was in pretty poor shape and the demise of Bagdad was one more example of a small town vanishing.
Back in 1970 I had first noticed the displays beside the road. The white sand of the flat desert of the dry lakes along the road had messages laid out in the black volcanic rock from elsewhere. In later years I’d seen the same thing in the salt flats along US-50. Most were of the “John loves Mary” variety although there were a few political messages (“End war now”) and even an enigmatic “RP fuck it”. I thought of leaving my own statement but I didn’t collect any rocks from elsewhere and I didn’t want to disturb any of the other messages. Some were obviously old, some were shrines with cairns and crosses but most were made of local rock. Surprisingly many were obviously made of stones from elsewhere, brought a large distance to make a statement.
It was on this stretch of road that I realized that I was in the perfection of enjoyment. I could see the road before me, going over the hill twenty miles hence. I was stopped in the middle of the highway and not a single soul was coming or going. “I like this,” I decided. I want to do more.
The road connected back with Interstate 40 at the top of the hill above Needles. I was low on gas and had planned on fueling there but as I approached I decided that I could make Arizona handily and could avoid one final encounter with the worthless California gasoline nozzles.
I had to backtrack slightly to get to the turnoff to old 66. The road from the freeway was a winding track, over hilltops and across arroyos towards Oatman.
Another great ride! Turns and dips through the arroyos and no traffic! Oatman is known for the wild burros that inhabit the town and there were several burros (and considerable burro-droppings) in the center of town. I had looked forward to a cold beer in the local version of Los Ojos but the intense density of tourists dampened my thirst. I pushed on.
Tight turns around ridges and ravines, with spectacular vistas all the way. When researching the road I learned that travelers in the 1930s would often hire a local to drive their car down the road, as the hard turns and drop-offs were too intimidating. Today, even on a motorcycle, one has to be totally aware of the road as the turns are frequent and the drop-offs are steep.
Too soon I reached the end of the mountains and crossed the valley towards Kingman. Taking the back way into Kingman I was reminded that I-40 bypassed one of the prettiest little canyons in the area. Old 66 wound through the valley next to the train tracks and into the original downtown. A few of the buildings looked familiar as I turned onto Andy Devine Blvd, following the original route.
The traffic was light heading up the valley and I could take time to enjoy the view. The area was growing and it was easy to see why; clean air, mild climate and glorious vistas.
Every time that I had driven the US-66 loop I passed by the Grand Canyon Caverns and each time I told myself, “I’m going to stop one of these days.” Well, this trip was the excuse that I needed and I booked a night at the local motel. The ads on the Internet looked promising, the motel featuring a bar and cable TV, and the local restaurant advertised buffets for dinner and breakfast along with a full menu to choose from.
I pulled into the motel parking lot under a banner that proclaimed “Bar Open.” At the front desk I told the girl, “You’ve got my two favorite words on your sign outside!” She looked uncomfortable and replied, “Well, the bar is only open on Fridays and Saturdays.” Disappointing, but she did have some package beers available so I could wash the down the dirt from the road.
Got into the room and discovered surprise #2. Not only did they not have cable TV, the local channels were barely viewable. Not a big problem, I had plenty of music on my computer to listen to for the evening’s entertainment.
By now it was dinnertime and I was ready for some good grub. The restaurant was at the top of the entrance to the caverns a mile or so from the motel. On the road there were signs proclaiming, “Steaks!” I was looking forward to a large piece of dead animal flesh.
I knew that things were not as I had been led to believe when I entered the dining room and saw their advertised buffet totally empty. In fact, the whole place was mostly empty except for the bored guy behind the counter.
“What’ll ya have?”
“A steak and a beer?”
“Well, the only steak that we’ve got is a chicken-fried steak.”
“I’ll take a burger. You got the beer, right?”
“Yeah, that we’ve got.”
While waiting for dinner I looked over the place and saw the board with the prices for the cavern tour. The number that I saw was $49.95. Fifty bucks for an hour’s walk? I reconsidered my plans as I munched my dinner.
Again I sat outside of my room smoking a little cigar, waiting to visit with my neighbors. As this was off-season, I had no neighbors and I went inside to bed.