Countdown to Kingman

Waking up in an unheated motel room makes me almost regret not spending $800 to sleep underground in the caverns. Key word: almost. I rub the tip of my nose, which turned ice cold overnight like a piece of idle machinery. I consider walking to the bathroom in my sleeping bag (that I layered under the covers) so I don’t have to leave its snuggly comfort. Reluctantly, I rise out of bed and greet the day with goosebumps. The pathetic bathroom heater blows false promises of warmth.

Breakfast is included, but coffee is not because the water line is frozen. Eating in the Betty Boop room that overlooks the empty parking lot, my toes begin to numb and I’m not even outside yet. The cobalt blue sky looks cold to the touch.

Back on the road, the sun warms me enough to shed the socks on my hands as makeshift gloves. Today’s ride is partly psychological. With each mile I’m losing elevation and gaining temperature. Every foot forward matters.

I snicker at sign “Watch For Animals Next 20 Miles,” placed just before the sign “Entering Hualapai Indian Reservation,” which covers the next 20 miles. I breeze through the reservation and its tribal administrative center of Peach Springs, named for the trees growing around spring water once used for steam locomotives.

The fallen town of Truxton feels about two residents more than a ghost town. Outside the abandoned Frontier Motel I devour an apple and toss the core onto the roadside. Truxton was one of Route 66’s last dirt stretches until pavement was laid in 1951. Only a trace of snow is left. The road to Kingman is looking good… downhill good.

The former mining town of Hackberry is my one rest stop of the day. Hackberry was once more important than the county seat of Kingman, but when ore veins dried up the people left, too.

The general store has survived since the 1930s. How it stays in business is beyond me because it no longer sells gas, but rather vends soda, candy and Route 66 merch. Not a stable diet for financial success, but every Route 66 tourist stops here to poke around the vintage car graveyard with old advertising signs.

From Hackberry to Kingman, it’s a straight shot west into the sun. The shoulder is wide and I’m counting down the miles. As I approach the city limits, traffic suddenly increases. The shoulder becomes pitted with cracks and gravel, but it’s too dangerous to ride in the right travel lane. The sun hangs at a blindingly low angle on the horizon. A cheap white sedan with tinted windows comes within inches of striking me on the shoulder. Was that intentional? I’m praying the vehicles can see me through the glare.

At the sign for the city limits, I pause to take a triumphant photo. Such a regal name. Kingman, I have arrived. A man on a kid’s dirt bike approaches me going upstream on the shoulder. One hand grips the handlebars and the other hand cups hot water. He moves with circus-caliber balance. He stops and begins an inquisition:

— Where have you come from?
— Where are you going?
— What cause are you riding for?
— Have you no wife and kids?
— How old are you?
— What is your occupation?
— Where are you staying?
— What is your ancestral background?
— No, really, how old are you?
— Do you use Facebook?

His accented English gives an intellectual quality to his questioning, which bewitches me enough to answer truthfully. I, too, am curious at what I’ve encountered: a man on a kid’s bike going the wrong way along a busy road on the outskirts of Kingman, Arizona with an uncovered hot beverage. As if reading my mind, he tells his story.

Liam is from Ireland and now lives here, alone. He’s on disability, but was able to purchase his own house nearby. It’s not much, he says, but it’s his. With unflattering vignettes about local leaders, he colors my first impression of Kingman as a “redneck city,” and he might be right. I haven’t seen this many confederate flags on trucks since Antietam.

He volunteers that he’s divorced and now identifies as gay. He says his wife has poisoned their two daughters against him. One lives in London and the other may live in Greece, but he is unsure. He asks me to check Facebook on my phone for any evidence.

I get the sense that he wants to use me as a conduit to reconnect with them. I want to be sympathetic, but I have only so much sunlight and energy left. I extricate myself by giving him my email and hoping that he loses the scrap of paper. I continue biking towards downtown on the narrow sidewalk along Route 66, carefully navigating around light poles planted in the center.

I dismount to let an on-coming bicyclist pass and she stops to chat. Nancy is from Staten Island of all places, and noticed my New York license plate. She’s been living here since the late 70s after a cross-country trip with her sister. The sister returned to NYC, but she stayed.

Ireland and Staten Island… I guess no matter where we’re from, we can settle in seemingly random places and rely on bicycles to get around. I am hoping this ride does that for me.