Day 5: Rains on the Plains

Rain on the Harley-Davidson FireFighter Special

It was a wet day. In fact, it was a very wet day. We delayed our start in the hope that the weather might clear a little and also give EagleRider, who were sharing the same hotel, a head start so we didn’t get mixed up with them. I took the opportunity to take photographs of a wonderfully restored 1956 Ford Thunderbird on a trailer in the hotel car park. I couldn’t get a shot of the whole car because the trailer was in the way so I concentrated on detail shots.

The weather didn’t clear much and so we moved out in our wet weather gear ahead of EagleRider who were suffering from a couple of bike failures. The rain was interspersed with spells of even heavier rain making it a less than pleasant ride. I soon discovered that the waterproof overjacket that came with my Spada jacket is really a showerproof jacket and not a heavy duty rain jacket. The water seemed to permeate through and my tee shirt was soaked. Françoise was wearing her jacket and had the same experience. Also, I had that cold wet feeling in my nether regions meaning that my old waterproof trousers were close to retirement. Water seemed to get into our helmets even though we closed the air vents but since much of the helmet interior is polystyrene, it dried quickly. However, it seems that the N-COM communication system got wet and it packed up. My microphone was wet due to water splashing up under the visor. We had earlier removed the chin bar for greater air flow and convenience but subsequently decided that the chin bar was a good option in the wet since it helped to keep the face and microphone dry. However, all was well the following day after everything had dried out.

I had bought some cheap (£15) leather summer gloves from Hein Gericke that I didn’t mind getting ruined if it rained. The only problem was that they became soaked and were thus difficult to put on. Also, when wet, some lining material came adrift and trapped my fingers making putting them on or taking them off difficult. Gary loaned me a pair of industrial gloves which he said gave good grip in the rain. The size was right and they gripped OK but they weren’t waterproof. In fact, they soaked up the rain like blotting paper and due to the raised handlebar height of the Harley, I found the water running down inside my jacket sleeve and settling at the elbow. It was amusing to take the gloves off at each stop and wring them out like a dishcloth.

The forecast was for heavy storms, floods and tornadoes over Oklahoma. Gary was in the support vehicle and had a laptop computer hooked up to receive the weather radar service to see what was happening. His concern was two-fold – even on the outskirts of a tornado (which you wouldn’t want to be near anyway), the winds can be high with hail the size of golf balls and, secondly, with such heavy cloud and poor visibility you wouldn’t know where the tornado was anyway. He was also keen to keep us out of the thunderstorms. Weather systems in the States tend to be quite severe and are to be taken seriously. Throughout the day we came across many roads that were blocked by flood water or the bed of the road had been undermined by the flooding and the road had washed away. We had to make several detours. Again, thanks to Gary’s knowledge and the well-equipped support vehicle we made it through.

At our fuel stop, the garage forecourt was a stream of water with puddles several inches deep. We went into the café area and had coffee and a cake while we waited for it to improve. Gary saw that, if anything, it was going to get worse and we’d have to move out. We bypassed Oklahoma City. Even though Route 66 goes through it, much of the old road has been built on, the traffic would be heavy and, as we subsequently learned, the City had enormous problems with flooding. It had 10.5 inches of rainfall between 6am and 2pm which was the highest daily rainfall for 65 years.

Eventually, we got to Chandler to see the Route 66 Interpretive Center housed in a former armoury. We dumped our soggy gear in the corridor of the museum and spent some time looking around and taking photographs. The gift shop provided further temptation to get out wallets and purses, not least to buy the many postcards we had to send.

Our next stop was for lunch in a sandwich bar called Jimmy John’s. We had a leisurely lunch and Françoise and I took shots of the interior decorations and signs. Françoise has lots of photos many of which are different to mine but this blog only contains my photos for now until she gets round to sorting them out and I find a way of hosting her photos here too.

We attempted to make further progress towards Weatherford, our stop for the night, but the storm intensifies (lightning and heavy cross-winds). Françoise disliked riding in the cross-winds but the lightning was even worse and made her intercom pop and crackle – she thought that it was going to explode. Gary got us off the road into another café where many of us fancied a hot coffee to warm us up. Surprisingly, this café had no coffee! Again, we amused ourselves with our cameras until Gary told us that we had to move on again as there was another storm front coming in. Fortunately for us, the weather started to improve the further west we went.

Before arriving in Weatherford, we crossed the William H. Murray Bridge (“one-mile bridge”) which spans the south Canadian River. This bridge is nearly 4,000 feet long and has 38 spans. It was a 1930s engineering marvel. This changed the alignment of Route 66 and bypassed Calumet, Geary, and Bridgeport which soon became ghost towns. As was often the result with such modernising projects, the new road was soon lined with commercial start-ups ranging from service stations and cafés to motor courts. This segment of Route 66 flourished until the construction of a new alignment further north in 1962.

That evening I went to Walmart with Gary to buy new waterproofs for myself and Françoise, a gel seat pad for Françoise so she doesn’t keep sliding on the pillion seat, and a universal charger for her Palm One. The Palm contained important addresses for postcards and she thought that she had charged it before leaving the UK but it seems that she plugged in the wrong charger and it wasn’t charged at all. I do wish manufacturers would adopt a single universal charger for all devices – it would make life so much easier! While I was shopping. Françoise busied herself with drying out our gear. The helmets were easy to dry but the gloves would take some time (several days in fact). We got back from Walmart too late to eat in a restaurant and so we find the number for the local pizza parlour. We order pizzas to be delivered to our room along with a half gallon of raspberry lemonade. The pizzas were good. It’s been a tough day and we are tired so we retire soon after eating and look forward to better riding conditions the next day.

Note that the photo gallery spans several pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 6: Show Me The Way To…

Day 4: The Longest Day

Kansas Route 66 sign in shop window

Gary told us at the morning rider briefing that this was to be the longest ride of the trip. Today was to be 316 miles taking us through Missouri, Kansas and into Oklahoma. We had already observed differences between the quoted mileage in the information pack and what Gary told us so we called these ‘Gary miles’. Françoise was suffering from her boots. They were comfy in the UK but the hot weather and humidity had made them less comfortable. Gary loaned her his size 10 boots the day before but these were too big to walk around in. Fortunately, I had packed my size 8 BMW Sneaker 2 boots and Françoise found these to be much more comfortable. She wore them for much of the remainder of the trip. Moral of the story is to get a size larger than what you would normally take in the UK to allow for swollen feet in higher temperatures. Today hit 96°F and I was starting to suffer a little from the heat.

The first stint of the day after leaving Rolla took us down some older country roads and over a couple of steel bridges. The countryside here is very lush and we see a number of smart properties as we go along. I had already wetted my cool vest and was feeling the benefit but, at the fuelling and rest stop, Gary said that I should dunk it in one of the large ice chests he had in the back of the support truck. Those ice chests were used to cool water for drinking and to top up the water bottles that Gary had distributed on the first day. Well, the vest was dunked and Gary took great delight when slapping my back with the vest on still dripping wet with ice water. Ye gods – that was chilly! Future uses of the vest would see me wringing out the surplus water first.

Much of the day was spent riding with only a couple of stops. I didn’t feel particularly inspired to take many photographs. We made it to Kansas and on to Baxter Springs where we had an excellent and cheap buffet lunch in the Café on the Route. It is located in the old Crowell Bank, a two-story brick building built in 1870 and reputedly robbed by Jesse James in 1876. Gary had phoned ahead and asked them to stay open for us which they did. It turned out that Gary does an awful lot of organising in the background to make sure we get food, see the best sights, meet the right people and, above all, stay safe on our journey. It was interesting to note that much of Baxter Springs was quite run down and really emphasises the fact that many such towns lost significant business from the lack of passing traffic when the Interstates opened. We fuelled the bikes in Baxter Springs and one of the locals warned us about tornadoes in the area. This was close to Tornado Alley and central America was experiencing some severe weather systems at the time. So far, we had been lucky to avoid much of the storms. Would our luck hold?

We passed through a number of places after leaving Rolla – Doolittle, Lebanon, Springfield (the Oklahoma one – not the Illinois one), Joplin, Baxter Springs, Miami and Venita. The last place we passed through, and stopped at, before arriving in Tulsa, was Catoosa which is famous for its Blue Whale attraction just outside the town. Originally, the Blue Whale was built in the early 1970s as a present for the wife of the then owner, Hugh Davis. His wife, Zelta, was into collecting whale figurines. It soon became an attraction to both locals and Route 66 travellers and Davis developed the site with picnic tables, diving boards, sand and other attractions. It closed in 1988 and fell into disrepair. The present owner has restored the Blue Whale and other elements of the park but health and safety regulations mean that it would be difficult to operate it once more as a swimming venue without signifcant cost. Though the Blue Whale has been seen by many Route 66 travellers (except our EagleRider rivals who rode straight past it while we were there), I didn’t feel the urge to take the camera out.

Next: Day 5: Rains on the Plains

Day 3: Rolling Over to Rolla

Neon Sign - Route 66 Museum

On our second day of riding we started to settle down to a pattern – get up at 6.15am, shower and dress, go for breakfast, pack bags, load truck at 8am, and leave at 8.30am. We’d spend much of the day on the road, arriving at our hotel between 6-7pm. We’d spend an hour freshening up and then meet for dinner after which we were quite tired and mostly went to bed. It was a struggle to find time to write up notes for the day or write postcards. Notes were important because we were seeing so many things and going through so many places that it would be easy to overlook something. In fact, there is so much to see on Route 66 that what we saw was only a brief glimpse.

Our first stop was Carlinville. Carlinville is typical of many towns located on the original Route 4 alignment which was Route 66 from 1926 to 1930. Many are classic, small town, middle-American communities with autonomous downtown businesses, schools, grocery stores, gas stations and other amenities. Their public squares are still the centre of civic activities. Carlinville is in Macoupin County which is famous for its courthouse. Built in 1870, this courthouse is reported to have cost over a million dollars ($1.3m) to complete (against an original budget of $380,000) and created a scandal the likes of which are still talked about today. The building is made of limestone and is a fantastic example of the mid-1800’s Renaissance Revival style architecture. It’s the largest county courthouse in the United States. Legend has it that a nearby appartment block (owned by the local judge) was financed with the courthouse money – it was certainly built from the same stone.

That appartment block houses a number of shops and is reputed to be haunted. There was a hairdressing salon that was open so I stepped inside to look around. After speaking to the hairdresser and explaining that I was from England and touring the area, she told me more about the building and took me (and the client she was working on at the time) through the back door and into the disused apothecary next door. It has beautiful ceiling-height wood cabinets and the upper shelves still contained glass jars of the day.

After leaving Carlinville, we made further progress before stopping at a chain called Cracker Barrel for lunch. These are similar to the more commercialised English garden centres in that they sell produce, garden furniture, toys and have a little café/restaurant. Naturally, the way in/out of the restaurant was via the shop so you were tempted by the many things on sale. What we later discovered is that Cracker Barrels in other towns are almost identical in terms of layout and style such that you could be forgiven for forgetting which town you were in. The food was good and reasonably priced. There were several sketches and paintings of a monoplane on the wall before the penny tumbled – the pictures were of the Spirit of St Louis, the plane in which Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 – we were close to St Louis after all.

After lunch, we moved on and crossed the Mississippi into Missouri. Immediately after crossing ‘The Big Muddy’ we turned off the road and rode to the nearby Chain of Rocks Bridge which was on the original Route 66 but closed to motor traffic in 1968. The bridge is a cantilevered-through-truss bridge and has a total length of 5,353 ft. Its most notable feature is a 22-degree bend occurring at the middle of the crossing, necessary to allow river traffic to have uninterrupted navigation on the river. The bridge’s name comes from a large shoal, or rocky rapids, called the Chain of Rocks, which made that stretch of the Mississippi extremely dangerous to navigate. Due to the construction of a low-water dam built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, little of the Chain of Rocks is visible today except during extreme low water conditions.

Our next stop was the Route 66 State Park where there was a small museum and gift shop (there were gift shops everywhere on Route 66 with some being better than others – this one was quite good). We spent a little time looking around and buying bits and pieces including some pin badges, a Route 66 map and a small bear dressed like a biker which we called Root Beer – a play on the words Route Bear. There was rain in the air and rumblings of thunder. When we came out, it started to rain heavily so we donned our wet weather gear. By the time we had it on, it had almost stopped raining but we knew that the roads would be wet so kept the gear on for a while.

Our last stop for the day was at the Meramec Caverns where we enjoyed an ice-cream to cool us down. It was still hot (90°F+) and very humid. Plus we were hoping to get there in time to avoid another downpour. We avoided the rain but there was still a lot of lightning and thunder around. There wasn’t time to explore the caverns but they are meant to be an elaborate network of caves and Jesse James is reputed to have used these a hideout.

On leaving the Meramec Caverns, I saw something green on the road. It looked remarkably like the neck scarf that Gary had loaned Viv. I was second from last with Pat behind me and Pat thought that I had stopped to take a photograph. I turned the bike around and Françoise recovered the scarf. I resumed our journey but where were the rest of the group? They must have been way down the road. I had earlier overheard Gary say to the others that they would take the Interstate to Rolla since it ran parallel to the old Route 66 road and that the road at that point wasn’t in good condition. So, I turned onto Interstate 44 but despite trying to maintain a quick pace, I still couldn’t see them. Then the gravity of the situation dawned upon me. My wallet, mobile phone, map, hotel details and contact details for Gary were in my rucksack and I had put the rucksack in the back of the truck for convenience. I couldn’t remember what hotel we were in that night and we were running short of fuel. On top of that, the batteries in our Nolan N-COM system had just given up and I couldn’t even discuss the situation with Françoise behind me. I recalled that I had stuffed the change from our ice cream purchase into my pocket rather than my wallet so I thought I might have a few dollars for some petrol. I took an exit from I44 near a place called Steelville (quite appropriate) close to another Route 66 town called Cuba. On stopping, I found that I had my wallet in my back pocket, I had Gary’s business card with contact number and Françoise had her mobile phone with her with just enough power left for a call. I managed to contact Gary and we agreed to meet at the BP station close to the I44 exit and a few minutes later he arrived with the rest of the group. Phew! That was a relief! Gary was pleased to get one of his favourite neck scarfs back and Viv didn’t even realise that she had lost it. The lesson learned was to keep wallet, contact details, map, info booklet and mobile phone with me at all times which I duly did. We then headed for our overnight stop in Rolla.

Note that the photo gallery spans two pages – click on the page numbers below the thumbnails on the Photo Gallery page to see more pages of images.

Next: Day 4: The Longest Day

Day 2: The Journey Begins

Harley outside the O'Dell Gas Station, 1932

We meet as a group over breakfast for a briefing on what to expect and protocols on riding as a group. We also cover safety and basic differences with driving/riding in the US. Since this is a small group, California Sunriders will run it a little differently than normal size groups. Instead of a lead rider with the support vehicle following up at the rear, Gary will drive the support vehicle and lead from the front. The support vehicle turns out to be a godsend and one of the many good reasons for having a guided tour of this nature.

After packing our bags and meeting at the front of the hotel we load our bags into the support truck to wait for our lift to the dealer to collect the bikes. It turns out that a black stretch limo is waiting for us. Now, this is what I call starting in style. We go to Milwaukee Harley Davidson to collect our bikes from Street Eagle Motorcycle Rentals based at the dealership. We arrive before the dealership is open so we go in through the rental door and spend some time looking at the bikes and sorting out the paperwork. Our bike is a blue Heritage Softail Classic. All the other bikes for our group seem to be black – at least we’ll spot ours easily when parked up. Dave is bitterly disappointed that he can’t get the Fat Boy he had booked. Apparently, it had been wrecked the week before and nobody told him. He has to make do with a Road King. We check the bikes over. It took some time to find the keys for our bike but eventually they were found. We put our gear on and prepared to start our adventure. As we moved out, Bill fell off his bike. It wouldn’t be the first time Bill fell off his bike. It seems that Bill is not a regular rider and used to ride Matchless singles a few years ago. A Harley is much bigger and heavier than what he is used to and it will take him some time to get used to it. All credit to Bill – he persevered and wasn’t going to let a minor problem like this get in the way.

Gary gave us instructions on what we were to do. We would ride for 40 minutes or so as a shakedown to make sure that all was well with the bikes and us. We followed Gary through the traffic and out onto Route 66. We didn’t start from the very beginning of Route 66 in Jackson Street since this would mean taking bikes we were unfamiliar with into the city centre only to ride out again. Besides, Françoise and I were on Jackson Street the day before when we visited the Willis Tower. Since it was already 11.30am, we wouldn’t be riding too far without stopping for lunch. Fortunately for us, one of Gary’s previous professions was as a chef and so he appreciated good food and knew where to find it. We would eat little junk food on the trip and Gary would take us to some good places for meals.

Before lunch, we pulled over in Wilmington to see the “Gemini Giant” which was first used in 1965 to welcome hungry travellers to the Launching Pad Drive-In Restaurant. Owners John and Bernice Korelc took their cue from America’s fascination with the space race when they decided on a name for their restaurant. Standing 28 feet tall, the Gemini Giant was named as a result of a contest among Wilmington’s school children. Cathy Thomas came up with the name after NASA’s Gemini Program.

We then moved onto another diner called Pete’s Place which seemed to be a on a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. The food was excellent, plenty of it and the decor of the diner was interesting. As Gary pointed out, service is usually excellent since the waiting staff want to earn their tip – this seems to be an obligatory 15-20% across the States. Tax is also added to the bill. Another thing we discovered early on is that if you ordered a soft drink, you had free refills. This applied to Coke as well as lemonades. I had raspberry lemonade served in a big glass filled with ice. That went down very well on a hot and humid day. We would have no alcohol at lunchtimes since it would impair our concentration and exagerate the effects of the heat. Alcohol will wait until the evening when the days riding was over.

After our relaxing lunch we set off once more to travel through the lush countryside of Illinois. We stopped at a restored 1932 gas station at O’Dell and spent some time taking photographs. Partnerships between local, state and federal government, private business and Route 66 preservationists made the restoration of this classic 1932 station possible. The station’s architectural style, known as ‘house with canopy’ lends even greater historical significance to the site. We ride on through Normal Bloomington and McLean stopping at Atlanta to see ‘Tall Paul’, another giant fibreglass structure. These figures (there are many more across the US – they are not just a Route 66 phenomenen) were created in the 1960s by International Fiberglass of Venice, California.

The first one was for the Paul Bunyan Cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona. Many such giants were used to advertise tyre and exhaust shops and it is why they are sometimes referred to as Muffler Men. The one in Atlanta originally held an axe but that was swapped for a hotdog when H A Stephens purchased it in 1965 to advertise his Route 66 restaurant in Cicero, Illinois. Stephens deliberately mis-spelled the name of his establishment as “Bunyon’s” to avoid a potential trademark conflict with the Paul Bunyan Cafe and the statue became known as “Bunyon’s Statue”. Bunyon’s ceased trading in 2003 but Stephens agreed with the Preservation Committee of the Illinois Route 66 Association to re-locate the statue to Atlanta where it now stands on permanent loan. More information on these giants may be found at Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down and Route 66 University.

Of more interest to me was the wonderful Art Deco neon sign of the Palms Grill Restaurant. The building was constructed in 1867 but became a café and Greyhound Bus station on Route 66 from 1934 into the 1960s. It fell into disuse and was neglected for a number of years before being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. A grant from The Atlanta Public Library and Museum Board has enabled it to be restored to its former 1940s glory and to resume café service. It re-opened in 2009.

The day starts to draw on and we make our way to our hotel in Springfield for the night.

Next: Day 3: Rolling Over to Rolla

Day 1: Arrival in Chicago

Chicago as seen from the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower

The flight was comfortable, the food was reasonable and I whiled away some of the time by watching Shutter Island (it’s good). Arrival at O’Hare and getting to the hotel was a different matter. Our travel packs told us to get the shuttle bus or a taxi but we were given so much misinformation at the airport that we gave up on the shuttle bus. We had met up with Simon and Viv on the trek from the aircraft to baggage reclaim – they were carrying helmet bags so they must be planning on doing something similar. Viv smiled at us and said “Route 66?” and we made our acquaintances. The four of us agreed that in order to not waste further time at the airport (we wanted to see something of Chicago that afternoon), we should get a taxi. A lady who seemed to be matching passengers with taxis found us a taxi and agreed that the four of us and all our baggage would get into one taxi. We had our doubts but they were sure. After watching the driver try to shoehorn our helmets into his boot with two more cases still to go, we were right – we wouldn’t all fit so we took separate cabs.

The journey into downtown Chicago took over an hour as the traffic on the freeway was heavy. The driver said that it was because of people coming into town to celebrate the success of their local hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks, over their rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, to win the Stanley Cup, a feat they haven’t achieved for almost 50 years. We were impressed with the hotel and the view and were within walking distance of many sights but it was getting late in the afternoon and we had to check in with the tour guide. Besides, it was almost midnight UK time and we were exhausted after a long journey.

The tour guide wasn’t at the desk. It seems that we weren’t given a message that he would be late as he had to take a small group to the Harley Davidson Museum up in Milwaukee. We eventually met him at 6pm when we were given a rucksack, a tee-shirt, a printed tour guide and his contact details should we lose ourselves along the way. The tour guide was Gary Fleshman working for California Sunriders and we would discover how helpful and knowledgeable he would be over the coming days. Gary also has a friend called Bearnard Behr who travels with him and has his own Route 66 blog. We meet our riding buddies at the desk – there will be 8 people on 6 bikes. Simon and Viv will be one couple riding two-up along with myself and Françoise. Then there is Pat, Bill, Dave and Neill making up the eight.

At another desk there are people checking in for a parallel tour from a rival company called EagleRider. They get given smart leather jackets. We wonder how much the tour price was loaded for the jacket and whether the jacket would be good value for the trip. It would be more weight to travel home with and may not be comfortable to wear given the temperatures – in Chicago the humidity was about 80% and the temperature already in the 90s (°F).

We then left to take a quick tour round Chicago – well, as quick as we could make it by going to the Willis Tower (formerly called the Sears Tower) and stopping to take photographs along the way. We had considered a trip on the Chicago River down to Navy Pier but it was getting late and we conceded that we couldn’t do everything. We were also conscious that we were hungry and tired and needed to factor in a meal somewhere. We made it to the Willis Tower and found the entrance on the side to take the elevator to the observation deck. We obviously spent some time there taking photos and enjoying the view before making our exit to go back to the hotel. We were recommended to try the Kinzie Chophouse on 400 North Wells St. since it was close to the hotel and quite reasonable. We couldn’t find it at first (more ambiguity with directions) but eventually found and enjoyed our first steak of the trip. We made our way back to the hotel (it was about 4am UK time by now) and collapsed into bed for a good night’s rest.

Next: Day 2: The Journey Begins

Ready for Departure

Well, the big day has arrived and we desperately rush to complete our packing. As our flight to Chicago is at 11am we have to check-in at least 3 hours in advance, we decided to stay overnight at Heathrow to avoid what would have been a late night and a very early start. We searched the web for a good deal for a hotel stay with parking for up to 15 days – we decided to drive ourselves to the airport to avoid the hassle with public transport and a multitude of bags. We found an unnamed (the name would only be revealed after booking) hotel and 15 days parking for an all-in price of £129. It turned out to be the 4-star Park Inn right next door to Heathrow. The only downside was that the postcode didn’t take us there using the satnav. The postcode actually took us to another hotel about a mile away.

We drove around and couldn’t find it and eventually had to ring the hotel for directions. We found it in the end but not until the restaurant had closed. The pub opposite had also closed and we resorted to walking down the road to a drive-thru McDonalds where we ordered something simple and ate it on some tables outside (it was a warm June evening after all). We had already planned to skip breakfact in the hotel (a special of deal of £36 for two!!!) and get to the airport early, drop the bags off and then get a bite. We had completed an online check-in and so just needed the bag drop. We still have to queue at a desk the following morning and I can see very little difference between a physical check-in and a bag drop. My bag came in just over the 23 kg limit and Françoise’s was just under. Nothing was said about the fact that we each had two items of hand luggage (a camera bag and a helmet in its own bag).

At least we were flying Virgin Atlantic and so would not have any delays or cancellations due to strike action unlike with BA. In order to keep bag weight down, we wore our heavy biking gear rather than pack it. It was a little uncomfortable to fly in biking boots, jeans and jackets but it is difficult to pack for two and include proper motorcycle clothing and still keep within the bag weight limits. We made it though and it was a relief to board the plane and make ourselves comfortable. Chicago was waiting for us.

Hurrah for Hood Jeans

Hood Motorcycle Jeans

Well done to Hood Jeans. After last-minute visits to dealers to see what would could be obtained as summer riding trousers, I resorted to ordering another pair of jeans from Hood Jeans. I already have a pair of Hood jeans with which I am pleased but wanted something a little different to give me more choice on the trip. In the end, I chose their ND4 jean which is a darker material. A few of the reasons I purchased another pair of Hood jeans is their reputation, their price, the fit, and the fact that they can supply different leg lengths (this is often where I come unstuck with off-the-peg trousers). Since my existing pair was a tad tight, I ordered the next size up.

Unfortunately, I must have measured my existing pair wrongly because what arrived was too big. Hood themselves acknowledge that their jeans are on the ‘generous’ side. I needed to change these but time was running out before we were due to leave. I telephoned Hood and they said they would send out a smaller pair by Special Delivery and I would send back the pair that was too large. The replacement jeans arrived the day before we left and they were a much better fit. Françoise had also ordered a pair of K7 jeans and was happy that they were able to supply a lady’s version with better shape around the hips and the waistband came up sufficiently high to be comfortable unlike so many jeans on the market whereby there is a massive gap between the waistband and the back when seated. So, we now had three pairs of Hood jeans between us.

I am indebted to Hood Jeans for their prompt service. I can highly recommend their products and their service.

Staying Cool, Part 2

TechNiche Deluxe Cooling Vest

The other item of apparel that is highly recommended according to the H-C Travel Info Pack is a cooling vest. Now, these things aren’t easy to come by in the UK since much UK motorcycle clothing is designed to keep riders warm and/or dry such is the normal UK climate. We had a fair amount of trouble trying to source mesh jackets last year and cooling vests were going to be more difficult to find.

Searching the web showed that cooling vests are a fairly recent idea and reviews suggested that one of the best, and also one of the cheapest, is made by a company called TechNiche. Every review I saw of the TechNiche cooling vests using their HyperKewlTM technology (an evaporative cooling technology relying on the evaporation of water previously soaked up by a polymer layer sewn into the vest) was very positive so I contacted TechNiche in the States who were most helpful. I selected the Deluxe Sport Vest with sleeves and collar as being the most appropriate for our needs but initial attempts to source them in Europe ground to halt as this model isn’t available in Europe. Janelle at TechNiche in the US kindly put me in touch with a dealer in the US, 4 Seasons Survival, who is geared up to ship to countries outside the US.

We weren’t able to try the vests on before purchase and so guessed at the sizes. I chose L and Françoise chose S. We dealt with Keri Lynn at 4 Seasons Survival who was very helpful and gave lots of advice. Our biggest concern was getting the vests shipped from the US to the UK in time (we were 10 days away at the time) and stressed that we wanted prompt delivery even if we had to pay extra for it. I ordered the vests along with some neck ties on Friday, they were shipped on Tuesday and, to my utter amazement, I received them today (Thursday). They were delivered by UPS who demanded an extra £30 for VAT and customs duty and, in the end, we have probably paid double for them but I am anticipating that they will make our trip much more enjoyable.

On unpacking them, they seem to be well-made and my L fits quite well. Françoise’s S seems a little on the large size but I suspect that an XS may have been a bit too small and we have yet to find out how tight a fit they become when soaked with water. We’re very pleased that we got them in good time and look forward to using them (I will report later on their usefulness). However, I must thank Janelle at TechNiche and Keri-Lynn at 4 Seasons Survival for their attentiveness and excellent customer service. It has been a pleasure to deal with them and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Thanks guys (or should that be gals?).

Staying Cool, Part 1

CamelBak Classic

After reading through the Info Pack, we noted that hydration packs and cool vests were highly recommended. The start of the journey in Chicago should see some moderate temperatures (currently about 27°C) but as we head into week 2 and approach the Mojave Desert we expect temperatures to climb. We decided to avoid this trip in July/August when temperatures in this region hit their peak but even in June, daytime temperatures are likely to be between 32°C (90°F) and 38°C (100°F) or even higher. Travelling in an air-conditioned car or bus is not too bad but on a motorcycle you have a continuous blast of hot air. The motorcycle we have chosen is fitted with a screen which will reduce the wind blast (in Europe, such screens are used to keep the cold air off) but there is still a high risk of dehydration and heatstroke. This is why we have equipped ourselves with airflow helmets and mesh jackets. Even this won’t be enough. So, we are looking at two other items – CamelBak Hydration Packs and Cooling Vests. We’ll cover cooling vests in Part 2.

A CamelBak Hydration Pack is essentially a small insulated rucksack containing a plastic bladder that is filled with ice-cold water. A tube leads from the bladder out of the rucksack and secured near the mouth somewhere so that it is easily accessible for drinking purposes. These are often used by endurance sports people when out for extended periods in very hot weather. We haven’t quite figured out how best to operate these with a helmet on but it does mean that water is accessible while we ride without the need for frequent stops and digging bottles out of rucksacks. Of course, we will have coffee stops along the way but it is recommended under the conditions we will be in, to have a few mouthfulls of water every 15 minutes. This, in conjunction with the cooling vests, should see us through the hot stages of the trip.

The H-C Travel Info Pack

H-C Travel Info Pack

The H-C Travel info pack arrived a couple of weeks ago and is most impressive in terms of information provided for the preparation for the trip as well as for the trip itself. Well done to H-C Travel! Only one downside though – they provide a ‘taster’ DVD which turned out to be pretty awful. To be honest, we didn’t watch all of it but after watching a lot of footage of pretty boring roads and then being ‘treated’ to some eccentric at a stop en-route who was a tad OTT and wanted to hug everybody, Françoise was asking herself if she really wanted to do this trip. I fully anticipate a lot of the road to be boring and Route 66 isn’t the most scenic route through America but there are some good things to see and experience. Of course, one of our objectives is to see and photograph some of the old (and quite run down by now) motels, garages and diners along the route. I know that H-C aren’t into producing professional videos but I think that the DVD has limited appeal and is probably best left out the pack. It simply doesn’t match the standard set by the rest of the pack.