A Few Miles on the Abandoned Stretches of the Mother Road

66signMore than any road in America, Route 66 conjures images of freedom, history and nostalgia. “The Mother Road” stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, and was the conduit for trans-American travel and westward migration starting in the late 1920s. Sadly, the historic highway was removed from the national highway system in 1985 when it was deemed to be no longer relevant. Well, relevance is a relative thing and Route 66 may be our nation’s most historically relevant highway.

66mapMy goal in a recent trip was to find and ride some of the stretches of the Mother Road that have been abandoned in the series of re-alignments that the highway has undergone over the decades. So I packed my big BMW GS (anticipating rough roads) and headed to Northern Arizona to ride and explore arguably one of the most famous stretches of Route 66.

On this current and passable stretch of Route 66, you will find the full compliment of commercial nostalgia – mostly of 1950’s vintage. I don’t begrudge the businesses along the route for their attempt to draw customers by pulling on the heart strings of a nation looking back to a “simpler time.” The towns that were bypassed by the Interstate System that replaced venerable roads like the 66 need to do something to survive. However, I was searching for a different kind of history here. I was on a quest for the original path of the 66, or at least a little bit of it.

66bridgeIn preparation for the trip, I did some research on the changes to the “route” of Route 66. A site that was particularly useful was www.historic66.com which gives route information with turn-by-turn directions and what to look out for. It also gives maps of the locations of earlier alignments of the Mother Road. My quest was to ride on a few of these abandoned stretches of bypassed alignments. The portion of the 66 that I rode is represented on the map.

Here are some of the stretches of abandoned Route 66 that I sampled on my quest.

The now abandoned Crookton Bridge was part of the highway staring in the 1930s. You can see how the bridge is being undercut by erosion and the resulting structural cracks are foreboding and ominous. Cars cannot make it onto the bridge but I managed to maneuver the GS onto it.

66brokenIn this stretch of the pre-1960 alignment of the road, you can see that the asphalt is showing signs of its age. Moisture and repeated freeze and thaw cycles are slowly breaking down the historic tarmac.

66grassThe ravages of nature are not just attacking the road from above. Grass, bushes, and even trees are wedging fissures in the Mother Road.

66gravelSome of the early stretches of Route 66 run parallel to, or intersect the current route.

I spent a total of about 20 miles on these parallel routes. Some of the old routes are fairly well graded. Other stretches are a challenging mix of broken asphalt, gravel, and dirt.

66treesSome of the vegetation along Route 66 is almost other-worldly. This photo was taken near Valentine, which was the site of an Indian school that was used full-time from 1917 to 1937.

In the end, I rode about 150 miles of the current Route 66.

However, the goal and the highlight of the trip were the 30 or so miles I spent on abandoned stretches of the Mother Road. This trip left me with a desire to see more of the 66 that time and civilization have left behind.

66burroAnd by the way, you never know what kind of friends you’ll make as you get your kicks on Route 66…

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

The Achievable Dream

AchievableDreamHave you ever wanted to take your Dual Sport or Adventure Tourer on the road less traveled? Do you have the dream of traveling the different corners of the world and meet new and exciting people? Many people do have this dream and are just not sure how to go about getting started.

There is a website out there to get you going, Horizons Unlimited; they have been doing this for many years. Traveling the world and meeting those new and exciting people. They have gone through all the trials and have learned some lessons possibly the hard way.

Achievable_DreamBikeonRoadNearTierradelFuegoArgentinaSusan and Grant have rolled the many years of experience they have gained and put the information in a DVD set, Achievable Dream: The Motorcycle Adventure Travel Guide DVD series. The DVD set has the following information:

  • Get Ready! – This DVD aims to inspire you to take the plunge, and start to prepare for the trip.
  • Gear Up! – This 2-DVD set covers ‘the Kit’ – the motorcycle, preparing the motorcycle, what to take and how to pack the motorcycle.
  • Ladies on the Loose! – Is a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! The globetrotting ladies share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure – choose and maintain a motorcycle, decide what to take and tackle rough terrain.
  • Tire Changing! – When you’re venturing off the beaten path, you can’t just call your friendly automobile association! Fear no more – Grant will demystify the black art of tire changing and repair.

AchievableDreamBMWDouggaAfter you complete the DVD set you can head back over to Horizons Unlimited and find a local gathering your part of the world.

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

MotoQuest All Ladies Alaska Tour

Alaska_tour_2Ready for a big motorcycle adventure, but not sure if you want to go it alone?

Join MotoQuest as it takes off again in 2011 with its popular All Ladies Alaska tour – Eight days of girls-only fun! Enjoy all the thrills of touring without the hassle of logisitic planning or the uncertainty of exploring an unfamiliar terrain. An experienced, local guide shows you Alaska as only the residents know it, while you share your passion for riding and travel with like-minded companions.

Alaska_tourThe all-paved itinerary takes riders from costal Alaska to the hinterlands, looping through and over some of the country’s most majestic scenery (snow-capped mountain peaks, natural hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers, fishing towns) and to some of its most legendary “names” in exploration, like Denali, Valdez, Anchorage, and the North Pole! There’ll be ample opportunity for living out great stories to take back home.

If you’re in the Chicago area, stop by the Twisted Throttle display at the Chicago International Motorcycle Show to meet this years’ All Ladies MotoQuest Alaska tour guide, Ariel! Pick up a MotoQuest calendar and ask her your questions. She’ll be there Friday (2/11) from 3pm to 9pm; Saturday (2/12) from 9am to 9pm and Sunday (2/13) from 9am to 5pm.

Prices start at $4,100 for riders, and $2,200 for passengers. Spaces must be booked by May 1, 2011. More information at www.motoquesttours.com.

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

Touring the Alaskan Wilderness: Fairbanks to Tangle River

772070231_x56om-S-5The route for the Best of Alaska turns south after Fairbanks. Goodbye to Gold Rush History and Sourdoughs, hello Santa. Yes, that’s right, Santa. As you head South East out of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway, you pass right by the town of North Pole, and the prodigious roadside attraction of Santa’s House.

Santa’s House at North Pole, Alaska

Now, you may not be into roadside attractions. Nor do you believe in Santa. But let’s face the facts: this is probably one of the most boring sections of highway on the entire Alaska Highway system, so take what you can get. Plus, North Pole does have something about it. It may be the candy cane decorated streetlights, or the 70 foot tall paper macheesque statue of St. Nick himself. Whatever it is, you can feel the excitement. You are in Santa’s front yard, so go in and say “Hi.”

Santa can be found at the back of his house, holding court. He will be happy to take a picture with you, and if your lucky, Mrs. Santa will be there too. Two banger. This is the place that all the children’s letters come to. This is the vortex of Christmas cheer and consumerism. Don’t miss out!

Further down the road, there will be the other roadside attraction worth mentioning. The Knotty Shop has been in existence since anyone can remember, and features two memorable things. The first is amazing ice cream! The second, lawn art made out of wood with large knots in them – hence the name. If you like ice cream and large mosquitoes made of wood, then this is the place for you.

Alaskan Wilderness along the Richardson Highway

It’s rather flat heading out of Fairbanks on the Richardson, but be patient. After an hour, you begin to see the peaks of the fabled Alaska Range. After a little more, you come across Delta Junction, the home to the best lawns in Alaska. After that, you are in riding heaven! The road begins to twist and turn into the mountains.

Glaciers, wild rivers and 15,000 foot mountains peaks surround you as you slip into an Alaskan wonderland. Before long, you are at timber line, and there is nothing but unobstructed wilderness. Keep your eye out for critters, because as you head through Isabel Pass, you have a good chance of seeing them. Moose and Caribou range through this area and are often spotted from the road.

The road plateaus at Summit Lake and skirts it. To your left, Isabel Glacier, to your right, pristine alpine lake….not bad for an afternoon. Summit Lake is the location of the fabled Arctic Man competition, held every winter. This enigmatic challenge couples the disciplines of snowmachine (that’s what Alaskans call Snowmobile) and skiing. I’m a little cloudy on all the rules, but there is a rope pull, speed and jumping involved. During that period, Arctic Man actually becomes Alaska’s third largest town!

Solitude on the Denali Highway

Our ride this day ends big as we turn onto the Denali Highway. This “Highway” starts out as a two-laned paved road, and then turns to a dirt road. It used to be the original entrance road to Denali National Park, but has somehow fell off the radar as a destination.

However, ride the Denali Highway on a good day, and tell me it’s not one of the most scenic rides you have ever done! The road is 120 miles long, and parallels the Alaska Range. Stop your bike, and you will again be overwhelmed with solitude. Look left or right, and no buildings will be seen for miles. The Denali Highway is Alaska in a nutshell: wild, remote, and scenic.

We don’t actually ride the dirt on this day, but stop short and stay at the quaint Tangle River Inn. Nadine has been running this oasis with her husband for over 40 years, and it has been a highlight on MotoQuest’s tour routes for over a decade.

Tangle River Inn is a private landholding in the midst of an ocean of untouched public land. From the dining room, you look out over a wild and scenic river system, framed in by majestic mountains. Walk outside and turn a full circle: not a soul in sight but the beauty of nature. You’ll find the hospitality to be warm and welcoming, the goods to be delicious with generous portions, and the scenery to be hard to beat. Not a bad ending to great day of riding!

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

Day in Fairbanks: Hot Springs and Gold Nuggets

1156418296_ma2PS-S-1The free day in Fairbanks is not just for the adventure riders. There is plenty to keep you busy without conquering the Arctic Circle. If you want to take it easy in Fairbanks, head down to the Visitors Center located in the old downtown area. There, you can find out about all sorts of activities ranging from gold mine tours to paddle wheel cruises. The Visitors Center is located on the banks of the slow moving Chena River and is a pretty tranquil location in general, even though this is the second largest city in the state.

Golden History of Chatanika, Alaska

Fairbanks started because of gold – big gold. They say the largest deposits of gold of the entire gold rush could be found here. Every direction you take out of town shrouds remnants of this past culture. Rusting dinosaurs of gold rush equipment lie dormant in overgrown thickets here and there, off the main highways.

If you like gold rush history and old machinery, but hate organized tours, get on your bike and go to Chatanika. It’s all paved, all the way. Head north out of town about 7 miles (and don’t worry, since there is only one road out of town, you’ll know you are on it!) until you get to the crossroad gasoline station/town called Fox. You know you are on the right track when you pass a parking lot off to the right where you can walk up and touch the Alaska Pipeline. If you’re interested in this tremendous conduit, stop by and check it out.

At Fox, take a right at the four-way, and you are now on the Steese Highway. Hold on, because here come some of the best paved sweepers in the state of Alaska. When you come back down from the hills, keep your eye out for Chatanika Lodge. Looking at a map, you’ll see the town of Chatanika on some maps in bold block letters. When you pass a lodge with a broad parking lot at road level off to the right side of the road, beware. You are already headed OUT of town!

Visiting Chatanika Lodge

Ronny and Shirley have been running the Chatanika Lodge for years, and when you go in and meet them and see the decorum of the place, you may think that you have gone back in time. And, you may take over an hour just to soak it all in. From a 57 Chevy surrounded by pin-ball machines to an outhouse on skis, this place has it all. The Chatanika Lodge is one of the few places in Alaska that has a stuffed bear on rollers.

Ronny makes a mean omelet, so if you are in the mood, keep some space empty in your gas tank for a generous meal. Across the Steese sits an abandoned dredge – a throw-back from another time. Until 50 years ago, this Goliath dug, washed and dispersed gravel. Three stories high with ability to make its own tools, it was the work horse of the Chatanika River Valley. There are only two dredges of this kind left in the Fairbanks area, and one of them is an official tour.

This one lies completely abandoned, and anyone is welcome to explore around the bowels of it without limit of time or risk. Before you leave Chatanika Lodge, ask Ronnie to play the video about the very dredge that sits across the road. All in all, a pretty fascinating way to spend part of a day.

Chena Hot Springs

There are three natural hot springs that are connected to the highway system in Alaska. If you wake up in Fairbanks, you are 60 miles away from one of them. Chena Hot Springs has been spitting out very hot water from below the earths surface, without a permit, for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Lately, humans have found a way to build an out door pool, bar, hotel, camp ground, landing strip and ice bar around it.

Quirky almost nails it, but this oasis offers it all including algae. I say algae, because the moose around there just stroll around the grounds, sucking it out of the warm pools on the property. In Chena, after enjoying your Martini in a glass made of ice, don’t be surprised when a moose walks right through your volleyball game. It’s Alaska, after all.http://w842.photobucket.com/pbwidget.swf?pbwurl=http%3A%2F%2Fw842.photobucket.com%2Falbums%2Fzz347%2FCompetitionAccessories%2FFairbanks%2Fe687e17c.pbw

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com