To the Lake

Maybe it’s the double wide streets with no traffic or the cerulean skies against rugged mountains, but Kingman kinda wins me over. I like a frontier feel, and this town’s got just that. The local paper is the Daily Miner. Ranching and mining groomed Kingman to become the seat of Mohave County. Today it’s just two hours by car from the Las Vegas Strip, a two-day bike fantasy detour I did not entertain.

During two rest days, I eat at almost every local spot and twice at Redneck’s BBQ for the Redneck Nachos, made with sliced baked potato in lieu of tortilla chips. Other than that bit of culinary genius, Kingman is notable only in that it’s my last stop on Route 66 until Los Angeles County.

Adieu, double six. I’ve had an topsy-turvy relationship with the Mother Road, which began on a sour note in Joplin, climaxed in Tulsa, crashed twenty miles later in Sapulpa, flatlined across the Texas panhandle, withered in windswept New Mexico, lifted me up in the Arizona highlands and then punished me with near frostbite. What a great time.

I want to scream how much I hate biking Route 66, but in the end it’s hard to hold a grudge against this old pile of pavement. As a parting gesture of respect, I pay a visit to the museum in Kingman where I appreciate the history of the Legendary Road even more.

West of Kingman, Route 66 turns treacherous. Blind curves and deteriorating tarmac to Oatman, known for roaming donkeys that kick cars and tourists. That sounds fun, but crossing into California, Route 66 hits the Mojave Desert where neither shelter nor water are available for more miles than I can bike in a day. To avoid dying of thirst or frost, I must abandon the Mother Road.

 So long, Route 66. Time to forge ahead on Forty.

So long, Route 66. Time to forge ahead on Forty.

I’ll drop 60 miles south to Lake Havasu City, a snowbird colony on the shores of a man-made lake. Not exactly my scene, but it’s even warmer than Kingman. When you’re on a bicycle in the middle of December with no winter clothes, a few extra degrees can make a characterless city founded in 1964 seem like El Dorado.

As a bonus, the lake is just a few hundred feet above sea level, meaning it’s downhill from Kingman. My winning plan has one catch: only the interstate can take me there. Of course I’ve biked on the interstate before (in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona), but every time it requires feet of faith and nerves of steel.

Nowhere is the automobile given freer reign. The opposite seems true for bicycles until I see a sign that welcomes me forward: Bicycles Use Shoulder Only. OK, some other idiots have tried this before me. Now it’s my turn. Let’s go.

California-bound traffic races ahead like a raging river. The small boost of confidence disappears as I bike onto the wide bank littered with debris.

I pass a sign noting La-La Land is 303 miles away. Three hundred is almost 200, which is almost 100, which is almost done! I could be in LA for New Year’s Eve going a modest 30 miles per day. This could be over in 10 days. I’m tempted to stay on the interstate and cross into California today, but exit south towards Lake Havasu.

I’m a matter of miles from California, yet won’t feel the satisfaction of my final state for another four days. Then I think, what if a car hits me tomorrow? I’ll never feel victorious like I could now. Instead of seizing the day, I’ll take the safer, more scenic route through Havasu.

I refocus on the present. Wispy clouds dissipate into the blue sky and naked mountains rise along the horizon. Palm trees encircling a truck stop like an oasis remind me that I’m thirsty. I refill my water and strip down to two layers, a pleasant change from 100 miles ago when pedaling in four pairs of pants and three pairs of socks.

Moving on, I battle rough shoulder conditions and tense HEY, WATCH IT! moments of cars giving mere inches of clearance. Then freshly laid asphalt widens the shoulder that becomes smoother than warm butter. Water comes into view. Lake Havasu, I see you.

A dramatic downhill despite opposing wind makes a memorable end to a courageous day. I ease pedaling as the orange sun drops behind the mountains, leaving a glowing trail of red and purple towards my destiny in California.

Lake Havasu! I scream, making my presence known and arrival official. I never had heard of this place until a few days ago, yet here I am wide-eyed and happy. That is the beauty of this ride—making indelible memories across an America I never knew existed. Far removed from my cloistered big city provenance, this vulnerability adds extra meaning to every encounter. Treading on unfamiliar ground, I’m grateful for the most mundane things, such as the charity of a white stripe with ribbon of excess pavement.

Lake Havasu City leads to Parker, which leads to Blythe, my beachhead into California. Although my prize of Los Angeles isn’t far, unforeseen discomfort will outmatch my endurance. The darkest days are still ahead and they begin at Bob's Marriott, which is no hotel at all.