7-15 –04 Laughlin, Nevada to Flagstaff, Arizona
Laughlin was hot at 10 AM. After breakfast and a shower, I checked out of the hotel. The day was already sweltering. The heat had a physical presence; a palpable feeling of pressure. In the parking garage, an old gambler cocooned in a Cadillac drove ahead of me, cautiously stopping at every turn. The bike felt unstable at such a low speed, so I finally pulled over to let him clear. Once clear, I coasted down the ramp and onto the road.
I crossed the Colorado River into Bullhead City and struck off east on Arizona 68, which became a small, two-lane road. The road rejoined I-40 just before Kingman.
There was rain all around Kingman, interspersed with occasional bolts of lightning. The rain finally caught up to me, and I turned into a gas station and stopped by the diesel pumps for shelter. A leather-faced Arkansan pulled into the pumps next to me, got out, looked at the bike, and exclaimed, “I didn’t know those things ran on diesel”. I told him I was there for the storm, not for fuel. Shortly afterwards, I looked up to see the shiny chrome of a semi's grill inching towards me. Puzzled, I walked over to the cab. The driver asked, “Can you move? I got no choice: I have to pull straight in”. I wheeled the bike over to the next bay.
The rain finally lightened, and I returned to the road. Almost immediately, the rain intensified, and after a few miles, I left the road for another gas station. I asked the owner if I could wait out the rain, and he let me park under the awning. I bought something to eat out of a vending machine to offset the owner’s kindness. I spent the time answering thousands of questions from his daughter, a pre-school waif with a dirty face framed by wild curls of hair. After about 30 minutes, the rain again lessened.
East of Kingman, Old Route 66 diverged from I-40 in a large arc to the northeast. The northern path of Old 66 reaches apogee at the town of Peachtree, before swinging back south to rejoin the 40. Old 66 was rendered obsolete by the construction of the freeway, replaced by a straight line running across the desert floor to Flagstaff. There was no one else around. I throttled the engine to an easy 60 miles per hour, while to my right, a thunderstorm paced me and cool gusts of wind from the outflow of the storm buffeted the bike and kept me comfortable. Route 66 rejoined I-40 a short distance past Seligman, where I stopped to refill the tank. The storms were all around me. I got back on I-40 to try to outrun them. A storm directly ahead at Williams took me off the road again, where I stopped at a hamburger joint for a quick lunch. The storm was moving from left to right and cleared my path to Flagstaff as I ate. Humphrey’s Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona, loomed on the horizon, its distinctive volcanic peak wreathed in clouds. I was to meet friends in Flagstaff the next morning to climb this peak.
The plan was to camp at Sunset Crater, a recently active cinder cone known for its ring of reddish iron deposits around the rim of the peak. I turned left on U.S. Highway 89 towards the Crater, but rain ahead convinced me to turn back into Flagstaff and book a room for the night at a hotel.
As I reached the Flagstaff city limits, my speedometer quit. I found an economy hotel on the outskirts of town, booked a room, and walked back out to the bike to see if I could determine what had caused the failure. The end of the speedometer cable was lying on the headlight. Meanwhile, Billy from Oklahoma pulled up next to me on his Harley Softail and asked if I needed help. He was traveling in the opposite direction towards Los Angeles to visit relatives. With his help and my tools, I reattached the cable.
I tested the cable by riding out to Sunset Crater to check the condition of the campground. The air had cooled drastically after the afternoon’s rains, and the campground was cold and damp. As I motored through, the campground host waved me to a stop. He politely asked me what I was doing, and finally admitted that he thought the KLR, sans license plate, was an illegal dirt bike. I assured him that the bike was licensed and legal.The speedometer cable detached again on the way back down 89 to the hotel. As the blast of air cut through the weave of my jacket, the cold saturated my body, sucking out all of my energy. Shivering and exhausted, I pulled into the hotel parking lot. I walked across the street to a chain restaurant, ordered a bowl of beef soup, and ate without appetite.