Copenhagen to Flagstaff via Phoenix and Kingman
OK, so here we are. 30,000 (or thereabouts) feet above Greenland and just over seven hours to go. I’ve had dinner (or lunch, according to British Airways). I’ve had two mini-bottles of wine and one gin and tonic. I’ve watched X-Men: Apocalypse, and now it’s time for me to write the first of what will probably be six entries.
As you may or may not have noticed, the last post here details – roughly – my trip to Arizona. I can’t remember right now what I wrote or when I wrote it, but the short of the long is that back in May (or thereabouts) I entered the lottery you need to win in order to hike to The Wave. Around 300 people enter for the 20 spots available each day, and to be honest, I never thought I’d win a spot. I never win anything (bar a power drill when I was 11). But lo – I won, and here I am.
Winning a spot was one thing – going was another. I’ve got a son. A beautiful little boy who’s turning the ripe old age of two in December. And I’ve got a wife. A beautiful wife who’s, well, she’s just lovely. Should I and could I leave them for a week? Turns out I could and I should. Or at least she gave me her blessing because she’s amazing and he, well, he had no idea he wasn’t going to see me for a week when I kissed him goodbye this morning at nursery. Daft sod.
So I could. I planned and I planned and here I am. Apart from some pretty severe nerves this morning and some kind of system failure in British Airways that meant both my flights were delayed, things have gone very smoothly. I’ve got myself a lovely seat right behind the bulkhead, there are five (four now) films I want to watch, the food was actually pretty good, I’ve had my wine and the steward just told me that a man was giving his mother a wedgie as he helped her out of her seat. Fun times.
So yes. Arizona. Again. I could probably quite happily go there for every holiday for the rest of my life. I have every intention of taking Melvin and his mor there, numerous times, in the not-so-distant future. For starters, I want them to hike in the Grand Canyon with me, and then there’s the beautiful desert, the darkest skies you’ve ever seen, and the open road. I hope Melvin likes it. I think he might.
Fast-forward 24 hours and here I am in Flagstaff. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer on the flight, and fell asleep. I woke up with just less than two hours to go, and, after a smooth run through Phoenix airport, I picked up my hire car and made my way to Wickenburg for the night. I went to bed around 10, trying to force myself straight in to Arizona time. I woke at 5am, and was so awake I thought I might as well get a head start, so after a slow morning, I skipped breakfast at the motel and made my way to Horseshoe Café. It had good reviews on Trip Advisor, and good it was. For starters, I was called ‘baby-girl’ about 10 times. No one has ever called me baby-girl. Maybe they have but no one has said it to me in a western drawl. I had steak, eggs and hash browns because when in Rome, and all that. This was about 7am, and after my delicate breakfast, I put the pedal partially to the medal and cruised on up to Kingman.
I had high hopes for Kingman. It was founded as a railroad siding back in 1882, and was a pretty busy town for a while, situated smack bang on Route 66. I must admit that I am battling a cold, which has left me groggy, stuffed up and wanting bed, so many things are seen from under a rather oppressive headache and lust for sleep (the good thing about having a cold in the US is the vast amount of drugs available. I have stocked up and am keeping myself relatively high). Maybe it was this, or maybe it was the fact that I can’t stop thinking about my family and how much I miss them (to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think I’d miss them so much so soon. We text and I’m sent photos, which I coo over, but how frustrating! But what a luxury), but Kingman wasn’t quite what I had hoped for.
The thing that struck me about the place – other than the general gloom – was the abundance of pet grooming salons. It was most odd. While most of the town is closed or closing, including the quite beautiful Hotel Brunswick, pet grooming is booming. After a walk around the town, and an unintentional tour of pet salons, I stopped at a diner for a snack. As I ordered my apple pie, I realised I was sitting opposite two young Danish guys. Danes. They get EVERYWHERE.
Anyway. Kingman did have a great museum about its beginnings and Route 66. It had photos of families fleeing the depression and dustbowl America, and their monumental drive to California. Whole families, from grandparents to tiny babies, sleeping under the vehicle, dirty, ragged and desperate. It’s hard for me not to imagine Melvin in that situation, and I get pretty sad. This mother thing comes with a whole bucketload of emotions I was not prepared for.
The usual suspect, Dorothea Lange, is featured heavily, and rightly so.
Leaving Kingman, I made my way to Hackberry’s General Store, a permanent - hopefully - fixture of those days when Route 66 was what it used to be.
It is, really, nothing more than a gimmick, but it does it well. Someone – the owner? – was standing outside playing guitar, surrounded by rusting cars, some I recognised, others, not so much. Inside was a plethora of Route 66 kitsch.
I bought a toy for Melvin, and some gum. Then I moved on to Seligman, another victim of I-40, the stretch of which in question opened on September 22nd 1978 (the year I was born, funnily enough), and literally destroyed livelihoods overnight. I stopped, walked around briefly, and decided it was time for lunch. I paid a visit to the Road Kill Café, and realised I hadn’t eaten anything green for the last 24 hours so ordered a grilled chicken wrap, with a side salad instead of chips. Being America, the salad came with grated cheese on top because you know; a salad’s not a salad without cheese.
After Seligman, I joined the necessary evil of I-40 and made my way to Flagstaff. Reaching my hotel, I had driven 293 miles (or 472 kilometres, for you Danes), since 7am, a fair amount for one day. On the last stretch of Route 66, which you join again as you enter Flagstaff, I saw my first ever Burma-Shave signs. My favourite was:
Don’t lose your head
To save a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it
I checked in to Hotel Monte Vista, then hit the Museum of Northern Arizona, and then the Pioneer Museum, which is an old hospital filled with oddities from days gone by.
Very good oddities too. I like old stuff, me. From there, I went to buy a compass, some energy bars, and then to another kind of bar, and had a beer. Which is where I am now.
You’ll be pleased to hear that I think my cold is getting better and that the end of this post is in sight. Apologies for the length, but there you go.
I will have dinner. I hope to Skype with the family, and then I will go to bed. I will drive to Page tomorrow, and go inside Glen Dam, then swim in Lake Powell. That’s what you can look forward to.
So long, baby-girl.
Below is a slightly abridged version of chapter 12 from Grapes of Wrath, one of my favourite books, by John Steinbeck. It's well worth a read. The route I took from Kingman to Flagstaff is on the longest stretch of Route 66 still driveable today, and although it’s weak and somewhat artificial, the heart of the mother road still pumps, just detectable under all the kitsch. One day, together with my family, I’ll drive the whole thing.
"Highway 66 IS THE main migrant road. 66 – the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map, from the Mississippi to Bakersfield – over the red lands and the gray lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the
Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.
66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.
Clarksville and Ozark and Van Buren and Fort Smith on 64, and there's an end of Arkansas. And all the roads into Oklahoma City, 66 down from Tulsa, 270 up from McAlester. 81 from Wichita Falls south, from Enid north. Edmond, McLoud, Purcell. 66 out of Oklahoma City; El Reno and Clinton, going west on 66. Hydro, Elk City, and Texola; and there's an end to Oklahoma. 66 across the Panhandle of Texas. Shamrock and McLean, Conway and Amarillo, the yellow. Wildorado and Vega and Boise, and there's an end of Texas. Tucumcari and Santa Rosa and into the New Mexican mountains to Albuquerque, where the road comes down from Santa Fe. Then down the gorged Rio Grande to Las Lunas and west again on 66 to Gallup, and there's the border of New Mexico.
And now the high mountains. Holbrook and Winslow and Flagstaff in the high mountains of Arizona. Then the great plateau rolling like a ground swell. Ashfork and Kingman and stone mountains again, where water must be hauled and sold. Then out of the broken sun-rotted mountains of Arizona to the Colorado, with green reeds on its banks, and that's the end of Arizona. There's California just over the river, and a pretty town to start it. Needles, on the river. But the river is a stranger in this place. Up from Needles and over a burned range, and there's the desert. And 66 goes on over the terrible desert, where the distance shimmers and the black center mountains hang unbearably in the distance. At last there's Barstow, and more desert until at last the mountains rise up again, the good mountains, and 66 winds through them. Then suddenly a pass, and below the beautiful valley, below orchards and vineyards and little houses, and in the distance a city. And, oh, my God, it's over.
The people in flight streamed out on 66, sometimes a single car, sometimes a little caravan. All day they rolled slowly along the road, and at night they stopped near water. In the day ancient leaky radiators sent up columns of steam, loose connecting rods hammered and pounded. And the men driving the trucks and the overloaded cars listened apprehensively. How far between towns? It is a terror between towns. If something breaks—well, if something breaks we camp right here while Jim walks to town and gets a part and walks back and—how much food we got?
Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean—a week here? That rattle—that's tappets. Don't hurt a bit. Tappets can rattle till Jesus comes again without no harm. But that thudding as the car moves along—can't hear that—just kind of feel it. Maybe oil isn't gettin' someplace. Maybe a bearin's startin' to go. Jesus, if it's a bearing, what'll we do? Money's goin' fast.
And why's the son-of-a-bitch heat up so hot today? This ain't no climb. Le's look.
God Almighty, the fan belt's gone! Here, make a belt outa this little piece a rope. Le'ssee how long—there. I'll splice the ends. Now take her slow—slow, till we can get to a town. That rope belt won't last long.
'F we can on'y get to California where the oranges grow before this here ol' jug blows up. 'F we on'y can.
And the tires—two layers of fabric worn through. On'y a four-ply tire. Might get a hundred miles more outa her if we don't hit a rock an' blow her. Which'll we take—a hunderd, maybe, miles, or maybe spoil the tubes? Which? A hunderd miles. Well, that's somepin you got to think about. We got tube patches. Maybe when she goes she'll only spring a leak. How about makin' a boot? Might get five hunderd more miles.
Le's go on till she blows.
We got to get a tire, but, Jesus, they want a lot for a ol' tire. They look a fella over.
They know he got to go on. They know he can't wait. And the price goes up.
Take it or leave it. I ain't in business for my health. I'm here a-sellin' tires. I ain't givin' 'em away. I can't help what happens to you. I got to think what happens to me.
How far's the nex' town?
That's what business is. What'd you think it was?
Danny in the back seat wants a cup a water.
Have to wait. Got no water here.
Listen—that the rear end?
Sound telegraphs through the frame.
There goes a gasket. Got to go on. Listen to her whistle. Find a nice place to camp an' I'll jerk the head off. But, God Almighty, the food's gettin' low, the money's gettin' low. When we can't buy no more gas—what then?
Danny in the back seat wants a cup a water. Little fella's thirsty.
Listen to that gasket whistle.
Chee-rist! There she went. Blowed tube an' casing all to hell. Have to fix her. Save that casing to make boots; cut 'em out an' stick 'em inside a weak place.
Cars pulled up beside the road, engine heads off, tires mended. Cars limping along 66 like wounded things, panting and struggling. Too hot, loose connections, loose bearings, rattling bodies.
Danny wants a cup of water.
People in flight along 66. And the concrete road shone like a mirror under the sun, and in the distance the heat made it seem that there were pools of water in the road.
Danny wants a cup a water.
He'll have to wait, poor little fella. He's hot. Nex' service station. Service station, like the fella says. Two hundred and fifty thousand people over the road. Fifty thousand old cars— wounded, steaming. Wrecks along the road, abandoned. Well, what happened to them?
What happened to the folks in that car? Did they walk? Where are they? Where does the courage come from? Where does the terrible faith come from?
And heres a story you can hardly believe, but it's true, and it's funny and it's beautiful. There was a family of twelve and they were forced off the land. They had no car. They built a trailer out of junk and loaded it with their possessions. They pulled it to the side of 66 and waited. And pretty soon a sedan picked them up. Five of themrode in the sedan and seven on the trailer, and a dog on the trailer. They got to California in two jumps. The man who pulled them fed them. And that's true. But how can such courage be, and such faith in their own species? Very few things would teach such faith.
The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever."