How To Rent Route 66 by Motorcycle, Part 2
Welcome (back) to Part 2 of “How to Rent 66 by Motorcycle.” To recap, EagleRider gave me a ton of free credits to take a long trip on one of its rental motorcycles. In return, I enjoyed myself and wrote whatever the hell I felt like writing. I rode one of its Yamaha Ténéré 1200s on a self-guided Route 66 tour. If it had sucked in any way, shape, or form, that would be the headline up top. But it was a great experience by almost every metric. Read the How to Rent Route 66 by Motorcycle, Part 1 article.
In Oklahoma, I changed plans. Instead of returning to Chicago, I’m going to Vegas. Thanks, EagleRider.
Halfway, More or Less
After almost a thousand miles, I’m starting to understand Route 66 more. While it exists as a literal road in countless spots, Route 66 is more psychic geography than anything. The freedom, escape, and opportunity are rooted in hopes and dreams, not asphalt and road signs.
Even in its heyday, the ideals of Route 66 were fleeting. People bemoan the “decline” of Route 66 towns, but America is built on the idea of moving on. There is always better than Here. John Steinbeck’s “Mother Road” made it easier for people to move homes, lives, and capital to a better place. And people built livelihoods dedicated to this nomadic process. America’s DNA is encoded with success based on failure. What was, builds what is.
The late Bobby Troup wrote the famous song “Route 66″ in 1946, and it was a hit for Nat King Cole shortly thereafter. It’s worth remembering that Cole couldn’t safely travel much of it. “Sundown Towns” meant anyone of color might not have survived their stay. With the help of the “bible of black travel,” or the Negro Motorist Green Book, African Americans could experience Route 66—if they planned ahead. In 1950, only six of 100 hotels in Albuquerque, New Mexico, served them.
From an engineering perspective, Route 66′s end was being planned while Cole’s hit was climbing the charts. World War II made it clear that a comprehensive, centralized plan for interstate travel was needed. It’s one thing to build a road for Studebakers, quite another for tanks and troop transports. Route 66′s short concrete slabs and simple asphalt were turning to dust halfway through the war.
All that aside, the Ténéré makes everything great. It knifes through truck turbulence and holds 90 mph for hours at a time. It’s a hilarious period at the end of every vintage sentence the trip writes. Nobody is impressed by it except me. And some kid at a gas station in Vinita, Oklahoma. Thanks, kid.
Why is it a “panhandle”? Is Texas being dumped into the Caribbean or Mexico? Dumb questions like this bounce around my helmet as I hurtle toward the end of Oklahoma. At Sayre, an extant section of Route 66 splits off for 23 miles until you get to Texola. You get to go through Erick, hometown of country music legend Roger Miller. It’s also unofficially the first “Western” town on the route.
They say everything’s bigger in Texas. But anything looks big when there’s nothing around to compare it to. Without trees, people, or mountains, any place seems terrifyingly vast. No offense, Texas.
Texas greets me with a giant concrete triangle, visible from miles away. It turns out to be a rest stop with an observation deck to observe all the nothing for miles around—except wind. It offers an educational exhibit about wind energy. Being Texas, there’s canopied picnic spots, complete with Texas-shaped grills. Grilling sounds great. It’s cold. But my Packer hat makes for good jacket insulation. Once again, Texan challenges are no match for the Green and Gold.
Route 66 returns to I-40, and it’s straight to Amarillo, Texas. I stop in Groom, and snap a pic of the Leaning Tower of Britten, a water tower deliberately tilted at a 10-degree angle to lure tourists. Supposedly, it figured into saving the town from being bypassed by I-40. Nicely done, Groom.
Amarillo happens, countless steakhouses get passed, and traffic thickens. Then, like a vision, the Cadillac Ranch appears on the left. Then, lots of graffiti, cars, and tourist buses. My pilgrimage is not unique. And graffiti has become its own cottage industry. Water-based spray paint is sold from a trailer and 100-plus visitors are painting everything in sight, including the 10 famous Cadillacs. Call it cheesy, but it’s art that speaks to everyone in their way.
Moriarty, New Mexico
Around Glenrio, New Mexico, Route 66 appears again, and shadows I-40 until Tucumcari. At Santa Rosa, the EagleRider app will take you north to Santa Fe, roughly following the 1926–37 Santa Fe Trail path. But I’m taking a pass. After reaching the Cadillac Ranch, the new dream is to return to Oatman, Arizona, and drink adult beverages in Laughlin, Nevada. Then a short 100-mile sprint to Las Vegas and a flight home. Call it a hope more than a dream.
Without the Santa Fe diversion, there’s not much visual distraction for the next hundred miles. But it’s my fault and a schedule is a schedule. This 400-mile day ends in Moriarty, where beer gets bought and enjoyed in the hotel parking lot, with a trailered 1972 Ford Mustang serving as literary inspiration. Several beers in I realize I’m near the fictional home of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. That’s worth a detour in the morning.
As soon as the mercury hits 45 degrees, I find the abandoned Day Spa and Nail salon, followed by a stop in Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza, one of many stops featured in EagleRider’s app. The Rattlesnake Museum and Gift Shop isn’t listed, but it’s a must. There’s also the San Felipe de Neri church, active since 1706. But if you’re feeling religious, you’ll have to sign up for a tour or wait until Sunday since it’s not open to the public.
Albuquerque begets more desert, and EagleRider’s route dips south on I-25 until hitting Route 4, which used to be Route 66. It eventually meets back up with I-40 and skirts the Navajo and Zuni reservations, while serving up ghost towns like MCartys, New Mexico. Or at least it seems like a “ghost town” until an angry neighbor emerges from his non-ghost town home behind the abandoned building I’m photographing. Sorry man, nice place.
Grant, New Mexico, and Continental Divide, New Mexico, make for nice stops. Grant has a drive-through Route 66 photo arch, while Continental Divide reminds us we’ve always been divided, rainfall-wise. But the goal today is Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. Within 10 minutes of entry, peace and tranquility prevail in the Painted Desert. Two distinct dust devils lazily make their way across red and lavender badlands on the desert floor below. Spectacular.
Having never experienced the rite of passage known as the Great American Vacation by car, it’s my chance to see things only glimpsed in textbooks. The Crystal Forest sums everything up; seeing things made over 200 million years without human intervention. The wind dies down, kids play quietly in the distance, and the sun slowly sets. All’s right in the world and a realization dawns on me; I’m 60 miles away from Winslow, Arizona, and out of beer.
Winslow is as charming as the Travelodge Wyndham is not. But it’s not an official EagleRider tour stop, so my bad. As I mentioned in Part 1, I’m making up my own accommodations. The EagleRider tour camps at Gallup, Arizona, before making a day of things at the Petrified Forest National Park and heading to Flagstaff, Arizona. The best breakfast burrito I’ve had in ages from a Maverik gas station starts things off right. Leaving town, I spy the Meteor Crater Road exit. I was supposed to come here four years ago for a story on Land Art and the Indian FTR, but artist James Turrell’s Roden Crater wasn’t taking visitors. It’s supposed to open in 2024, but don’t hold your breath.
At 6,909 feet, Flagstaff is one the highest altitude cities in America. No wonder my hangovers are worse. Plus, there’s snow on the ground and falling temps. Public education did not prepare me for this. The EagleRider tour wisely detours north on Highway 89 toward the Grand Canyon for an entire day of well-earned sightseeing. But Tom Joad didn’t go sightseeing on his way to Weedpatch Camp. Catch you next time, Grand Canyon.
At Seligman, I hit Route 66 again. Now things get real. Eighty-seven-point-three miles take you far away from I-40, toward Kingman. Like a movie, tumbleweeds blow perpendicular across the road. Replica Burma Shave signs are the only visual respite from slow mountains and unchanging landmarks. But the winds are strong and clean and there’s nobody around for miles. This makes Oklahoma worth it.
Solitude is a drug in the right doses. To paraphrase Johnny Cash, it’s about breathing air that ain’t been breathed before. But everybody I’ve met offers a smile. Travel proves commonality is greater than the sum of our differences. Not a single unkind word is spoken when I mention being from Chicago. They don’t want to live there and neither do I. All good. Besides, I love my country. As far as I’m concerned, it’s big, freaky, and everyone’s invited. There’s enough freedom for everybody.
All I’ve been able to think about for the last two days is Oatman, Arizona. Twelve years ago, my wife and I honeymooned on our ‘73 Hondas, riding from LA to Chicago in five weeks. One of our first stops was in Oatman. Without realizing it, we took Route 66. Bypassed by a new route in 1955, it died an early Route 66 death only to be reborn in the best American way possible; it’s one of the better tourist traps you’ll ever see.
Wild (and very inbred) burros roam the streets, with staged gunfights at noon, sharp. Happy families take videos of the bank-robbing action. T-shirts and bumper stickers get sold. Thirteen-dollar burgers get slung and dumped on plates of fries. And history gets rewritten a tad. Turns out Clark Gable and Carol Lombard didn’t honeymoon at the famous Oatman Hotel in 1939. But it hardly matters. Good stories just need a little truth. Fellow riders from Las Vegas snap some pics of me and I’m satisfied. God bless Oatman.
The real treat is getting there. The last nine miles of Route 66 from Kingman to Oatman is breathtaking. And the route to Catfish Paradise is pleasantly desolate. But the trip’s almost over. With crushing sadness, I rejoin I-40 and head to a Walmart in Bullhead City, Arizona, to buy luggage to fly my gear home. From a 19th floor hotel in Laughlin, Nevada, I see the rugged hills I just rode. Sigh. Time to hit the slots and see if road luck translates. Spoiler: it doesn’t.
Las Vegas, Nevada
I could probably buy another day or two with a text to Danny, the EagleRider manager in Chicago. But a flight’s been booked in Vegas. Reality is just a 96-mile sprint to Harry Reid International Airport. Like Captain America said, “I’m hip about time. But I just gotta go.”
First I need to return the Ténéré. Located near the airport, its primary Las Vegas location features a gas station nearby to top off the tank as per rider agreement. A very nice EagleRider guy checks my bike in, notes the lack of crash damage, and snaps a few pics. And that’s it. The place my ass called home for eight days disappears into a cavernous garage. Somebody will clean several hundred dead bugs off the windshield and I’m free to go. It’s done. It happened. And it was uniformly positive for the most part.
About the EagleRider Experience
I mostly forgot I was on a rented bike. Although I stayed at places of my choosing, the ride was exactly what I hoped it would be. I made a stupid plan, then changed it with help from EagleRider and went on to have an epic trip. The app leaves a bit to be desired, but navigation upgrades and functionality are in the works. The suggested stops were a huge help. I still can’t get Red Oak II, Missouri, out of my head.
EagleRider is betting its credit/subscription model leads to long-term relationships with riders. It’s looking for love, not a one-night stand. As a Club Member, my rental rate would have been $58 a day. The non-member rate is three times that. A $55/month ($660 per year) membership nets you 24 credits a year, while the top tier costs $79/month ($948 per year) and gets you three credits a month, or 36 credits per year. That’s six days (or nine, respectively) aboard a Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra, which “costs” four credits per day on any guided or unguided tour. Insurance, taxes, various surcharges, and waivers are not included with credits. If members don’t want to use their credits, they still get 20 percent off the rental rate.
The math changes depending on your preferred ride. Twenty-four credits could get you six days and/or $1,344 worth (standard retail rate) of Road Glide Ultra time. Is $110/day a good rate for a giant road hog? It’s not bad. Or you could also opt for a Yamaha Bolt at one credit per day and take two weeks to see the America of your choosing. Just saying. The non-member pricing is obviously priced to “incentivize” you to join. But that’s capitalism and marketing 101.
Speaking of marketing, be aware that seasonal surcharges apply during high season. May to June adds $19 a day, while August to September adds $39 a day. Apparently the heat of July disqualifies it from being high season. The tl;dr here is the subscription and pricing structure works hard for the right rider. Simply put, if you want more than one moto getaway a year on a bike you don’t want to own, joining Club EagleRider puts you ahead.
Numbers aside, it was a wonderful experience. I loved the Ténéré 1200 and I loved returning it without a thought. For foreign tourists, EagleRider’s guided tour packages are ideal. You’re buying an experience; a motorcycle is just part of it. For Stateside riders, EagleRider is a fine option for the smarter and wiser riders among us. I’ve done my time with “adventure travel.” I don’t need to source a tire guy in rural Utah again. Want to see the best parts of America? Grab a pen and go to eaglerider.com and do a little math for your next moto adventure.
The classic song “Route 66″ is great and all that. But I had a different song playing in my helmet the whole trip. Route 66 is less about where you are, than where you’re going. Here’s to hard-earned loneliness.
“And as I hurtled down the highway,
Past the factories and graves,
I think of all the years I wasted,
I think of all the years I saved.”