Thanks to TVAM training.
Like many of us at TVAM, I stopped biking in my twenties as family and work commitments took over. Now, with my children safely into young adulthood, I wanted to return to biking, but wanted guidance and support on how to do it properly. I was rusty. A friend of mine, Allen, is an Advanced FIRST rider with TVAM and he convinced me that this was the right course of action. My father and step-father had both passed away during COVID on the same day in November 2020, which prompted me to decide to tackle my bucket list – Route 66 on a motorbike. In July 2021, I joined TVAM and was assigned Dave Parker as my Observer. Over the coming months my riding and confidence improved no end, thanks to Dave’s guidance and coaching. We were out in sunshine and torrential rain. In December 2021 I booked that trip – for autumn 2022.
In late September I flew to Denver, Colorado and then down to Albuquerque in New Mexico to collect my “Steel Horse”, a new Harley Davidson Road Glide with 114 inches of Milwaukee Eight engine, equivalent to 1900 cc. This was a beast compared to my Honda CBR650f. A bigger bike; “wrong side” of the road; navigating using satnav; on my own – a real challenge for day 1. However, the riding experience gained with TVAM and especially the guidance from Dave and my friend Allen, gave me the confidence I needed at this point.
After navigating through Albuquerque, I eventually met up with some friends who were doing the Route 66 starting in Chicago a week earlier. 276 miles took us from Santa Fe to Gallup, New Mexico. Along the way we stopped at Madrid to pay homage to the ‘Wild Hogs’ film location and the rather shabby town of Grants where we had a truly dreadful lunch. The Turquoise Trail from Madrid was stunning with lots of twisty roads. Highway 14 saw mile long trains and crazy trucks overtaking on bends at 90mph. The majesty of the scenery today cannot be captured by my words. We clipped the edge of some simply biblical thunderstorms and arrived safely in Gallup, New Mexico. Tomorrow sees the clocks turn back another hour as we ride into Arizona.
We covered just 197 miles (as planned) but it was by far the hardest day yet. We spent much of the day in torrential rain and crosswinds. The last 30-mile leg was nothing but a test of our determination and mettle. Our first stop was at the Petrified Forest national park for a hot drink. The admission to the park was $20 per bike but with visibility at less than 100 metres we gave it a miss. Along the way we stopped at a local museum in Holbrook which was really fascinating and out of the rain. Jack Rabbit trading post saw a flurry of souvenirs purchased. We were standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona at lunchtime. The meteor crater looked interesting but it was expensive and we could see the weather closing in so we pressed on to our hotel in Flagstaff.
What an incredible day. We took Highway 89 north from Flagstaff up through the mountains that had received their first dusting of snow overnight. None of us knew of Arizona’s monsoon season, the last of which we rode through yesterday. Indeed, a tornado hit our destination of Williams. Our ride across the plains towards the Grand Canyon was breathtaking. As anyone who has visited the Grand Canyon will say, one can’t comprehend the vastness and elemental beauty of the place. A very relaxed day riding along the rim of the canyon. Our return blast to Williams saw our best formation riding so far and we arrived after 171 miles with a cold beer and smiles. Williams proved to be the liveliest town so far, with shops and bars open and lots of things purchased. Tomorrow sees Seligman the town that the Disney Pixar film “Cars” was based on and a quiet evening in Las Vegas.
242 miles from Williams to Las Vegas. Another departure from Route 66 after an excellent lunch in Kingman as we headed to Nevada. It was a frosty 2°c when we started and a whopping 35°c at the end. The scenery was again incredible and looks like the backdrop to every western you’ve seen. We stopped at the Hackbury store, an icon of R66. Seligman is basically the town Radiator Springs from the Cars film. My friend’s bike had a gearbox fault and the Harley Davidson (HD) dealer in Kingman diagnosed the fault but didn’t have the part. It was caused by water ingestion following the torrential rain. On to Las Vegas and HD managed to fix the bike. We rode in formation up the strip, a bunch of middle-aged men behaving like juveniles. It was brilliant! We then checked into our hotel and headed into the night. I can’t say any more about Vegas!!
Las Vegas to Laughlin. A very warm start to the day with another cruise down the Las Vegas strip. We then headed onto the Hoover dam for a bit of sightseeing before the 100 mile blast back down the highway to Kingman. We stopped by the same cafe as yesterday for another super lunch then headed out on the Oatman highway to see the unique little town. However, we didn’t get there. As we travelled along the bumpy highway we came across a swale where a river pops up in time of heavy rain as had happened a few days before. What we encountered was sand 8-12” deep across the road. At 30 mph our lead rider had a major wobble but held on; the second bike flicked violently from lock to lock but he got back upright. I was riding third, with my friend Richard behind me. We were offset to the right by a few inches and the sand was even deeper. My bike buried itself in the sand and threw me off to the right, landing on the road and sand. Despite the very hot weather in the desert, we were all wearing the correct armoured clothing and this saved a lot of injuries. Richard, behind me had fewer options trying to avoid me and he went down to his left. The bike landed on Richard’s left ankle and he went under the 400kg bike.
The guys were immediately at his side but the pain told me this wasn’t one he was going to get up from on his own. The team swung into action without hesitation, Jake called 911 and I started first aid. The others marshalled traffic. The first responders from the fire department soon arrived, as did traffic control and the sheriff. A medic truck and then an ambulance arrived and took Richard to the local hospital where X-ray confirmed his ankle was broken in two places and a torn ligament. Once Richard was released from hospital, we taxied him to the next destination, Laughlin, Nevada. It is in times of adversity and vulnerability that you really find out who’s on your side. Wearing the right kit, having confidence on the machine and working as a team were all important at this point.
Having safely arranged for Richard to fly home and be met at the airport, we then set up as a smaller group from Laughlin to our next destination of Victorville, via Oatman, famous for the donkeys roaming the streets. The ride up was through twisting, decaying roads with loose gravel. We were all extra cautious following yesterday’s experience, but we all managed to ride at our own pace. My Honda would be up there in no time. We ended the day in Victorville, a place that is not on my “must see again” list.
The final ride. So, the trip nears its end, as we head to Santa Monica Pier and the end of Route 66. Only a matter of around 100 miles, but this is through LA traffic and traffic lights. 6 hours. What a test of resilience and slow bike control.
In total, I rode 1,741 miles. Without the support, guidance and coaching from TVAM, from Dave Parker my Observer and friend Allen, this item on my Bucket List would have remained there forever. Safe group riding; the focus on correct protective kit; and advanced skills of bike control and observation made this an adventure that I enjoyed. TVAM helped me to achieve my Bucket List item, and I recommend TVAM to anyone thinking of a similar trip.
First published in Slipstream February 2023