Sunday, April 29, 2012

Creatures of the interstate

Day 15. It has been two weeks since we left Santa Monica pier.

Yesterday's and today's routes follow a newer alignment of Route 66. When Route 66 was defined in 1925, there was no road from Albuquerque east to Santa Rosa. Existing roads went north up through Santa Fe, through Las Vegas (NM) and then southeast to Santa Rosa. On the 1925 map this looks like a big camel's hump.

In the 1930's they blasted through the canyon east of Albuquerque and built a road that went directly to Santa Rosa, 140 miles to the east. When they cut off the camel's hump, Route 66 used the new direct route. We rode the first 55 miles of it yesterday, mostly on frontage roads. Today we ride the remaining 83 miles, mostly on the interstate. Apparently the interstate basically repaved and widened Route 66 here. I-40 is on top of Route 66. They are the same thing.

Vic and I missed the first turn this morning due to a mistake on the cue sheet. We missed the second turn due to a conversation about the Spanish Inquisition. Never discuss deep topics when turns are coming up! Getting on the freeway involved ducking under a fence and hopscotching across four lanes. On-ramps are for other people...

Yesterday Todd the Local Rider was aghast when he found out we'd spent some time on I-40. It's really not bad. Today's shoulder is wide and relatively clear of debris. There's a rumble strip and minimal gravel. In many ways, it's safer than the bike path we used to get out of ABQ. The sound of the traffic, especially semis, is what takes most of your attention.

We climb gently for about the first 25 miles. Wind is variable all day long but it's a quick and painless ride anyway. This is what the interstate was designed for - to get you there quickly. We're still on a high plateau with scrub and some hardy wildflowers and not much exceptional scenery. The shattered tire bits on the shoulder stand out as objects of interest.

Flung from an exploded tire, they land on the shoulder in neat abstract configurations. Many of us have plucked the wires out of our bicycle tires on this trip. But if there were flat tires today, I did not hear about them.

When we head downhill toward Santa Rosa, the headwind means it does not feel like a downhill.

Tonight we're at the Sun 'n Sand Motel, which has a fabulous neon sign out front but has seen better days. Like the Rota-Sphere in Moriarty, the motel sign was restored and featured in the PBS documentary. It's beautiful, a work of art.
At night, it's all red neon.
Sadly, we guess that the motel did not receive the same TLC. And Santa Rosa has the most closed businesses of any town so far on Route 66. Like Grants, there's an older part of town along Route 66 that is clearly struggling. And there's a new part of town right next to the exit on the interstate, where chain motels and fast food places have set up shop.
Abandoned garage in old part of Santa Rosa.
Is it possible to build a local economy based on through traffic? We're in a fairly remote part of the US, maybe as remote as I've ever been within sight of an interstate highway.

To complicate matters we find ourselves in the middle of a moth epidemic here in New Mexico. The housekeeping routines at the Sun 'n Sand might not be keeping up with moth ingenuity and sheer numbers. Some of our group headed across the street to the Super 8. Our room is fine, and our neighbor's rooms are fine. We're staying for an authentic Route 66 experience.

Need a break from grim realities? Behind the motel about a mile away is what they call the Blue Hole. It's used by the locals as a swimming hole. In fact it's an 80-foot deep, spring-fed pool with caves that connect for miles. The water stays a constant 61 degrees. Scuba folks explore here, but the underwater caves had to be blocked off. They go so deep and far that it's possible to outrun your air tanks.
Word is out that tomorrow will be 90 degrees. The first day of a heat wave, and the Blue Hole will be the place to be.

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