Route 66 Bicycle Tour – Recap

Here are some closing thoughts on the five day, approximately 400 mile bicycle tour I just completed from Flagstaff, AZ to Barstow, CA – mostly expanding on logistical items I mentioned earlier, in case some readers may be considering a similar ride.  Daily writeups (now with photos!) are in earlier blog entries – check out the Track My Tour website for an overall map and short tweets/photos at various stops along the way! (Post ride note: I also have a Ride With GPS map of the tour route.)

Weather-wise, I couldn’t have done this tour at a better time than mid-March, with high temperatures in the high 70s/low 80s in the deserts and almost no chance of rain. Although that is the norm for that time of year, due to the El Nino weather pattern there were still some winter storms/disturbances in the area through late February and early March, which is unusually late in the season  Luckily for me, I had some flexibility as to exact dates for the trip, so I could keep an eye on the weather and plan accordingly.  Note that this Route 66 ride passes through this area in April, when it is noticeably warmer, but their timing is more likely driven by the need for good weather for the parts of Route 66 in the Midwest.

Driving to Barstow, CA, taking the train to Flagstaff, AZ, and riding back to the car in Barstow worked out well. The downside of starting in Flagstaff (elevation about 7000 feet) at that time of year is that it made for a cold start, and if I had started just a couple of days earlier, I might have had to deal with snow/ice issues.  Starting the tour in Williams or further west would have avoided that issue, but Flagstaff had to the be the starting point for me because it was the only Amtrak baggage stop on that part of the route that could handle my bike.

Since Barstow is not a baggage handling stop, my plan was to ship the bike to Flagstaff as Amtrak freight, and the only station in my area that can handle freight is Los Angeles. So my plan was to go to Los Angeles early in the day, ship the bike to Flagstaff, then drive to Barstow and board the train there.  However, I arrived in Los Angeles to good news  – I would not have to pay $45 to ship the bike as freight to Flagstaff, I would only have to pay $5 as luggage, since I had a ticket for that train (even though I was boarding at another station).  But if I had known that in advance, I would have investigated doing this in Fullerton, which is not a freight stop but a baggage stop.  (Confusing?  Thought so!)

Shipping the bike on the train is much easier than preparing it for shipping via UPS/FedEx or air travel. The Amtrak bike boxes are HUGE (40″x70″x9″), so all most people have to do is remove the handlebars and pedals and roll it into the box.  In my case, I also had to lower the seat, which was no big deal.

With Flagstaff at about 7000 feet and Barstow at about 2000 feet, going from east to west worked out well to make more of the ride downhill than uphill.  The downside was that the wind seemed to be coming out of the west most of the time, although this was only a significant problem on the last day from Ludlow to Barstow.

Due to the long distances between services, I did this as a credit card tour, saying in motels every night. That made for a long 113 mile day from Needles to Ludlow, for which it was prudent for me to bring lights and get in a solid hour of uphill riding before sunrise so I could finish the day’s ride in daylight.

Many parts of the route are off the beaten path and so the pavement was not always in the best condition.  I did the ride on 700×23 tires which worked out OK for most of the ride, but I hit a bone jarring rough section between Kingman and Oatman which broke one of my lights, and just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, there was the section between Ludlow and Fort Cady Road in Newberry Springs.  I would recommend wide 700×32 touring tires for a more comfortable ride.

I took my iPhone along on this tour to take advantage of one interesting technological development – the Track My Tour app, which allows writing short notes and/or taking photos for waypoints that can be sent to Twitter (which I also redirected to Facebook).  Cell service is spotty when Route 66 deviates from the I-40 alignment, so the nice thing about this app is that it lets you save the waypoints to a drafts folder for submitting later when you are back in cell tower range.  The downside was that the iPhone GPS was not very reliable in much of the California desert – so often times I had to wait for the GPS to “warm up” and properly detect my location.  My initial concern was that this app might detract from the touring experience, but in this case I think it enhanced it, as I could take out my phone, snap a photo, write a short note, and then upload the waypoint all in a short amount of time.

All in all, it was nice to finally have a chance to get around to doing this bicycle tour, of which I had been planning various incarnations since I discussed this on the bicycle touring email list in 2001!