The Great Downhill

Blue, baby, you’re in my bed. I crashed at the local brewer’s house and his husky Blue is ready to pounce and play. I need thirty minutes more rest. Blue is soft and warm and I want to squeeze him like a pillow, but he won’t submit. He wants to chew on any exposed limb. I hide under the covers and pretend it’s not miserably cold and icy outside.

The roads are clear from yesterday’s snow, but not for long. Another round of snow is forecast for tomorrow. My window to escape high-altitude Arizona is now or never.

I depart Williams with a fully-charged ShareRoller, but won’t need the battery-powered motor because of an epic downhill to someplace called Ash Fork. The bad news is that Route 66 disappears west of Williams and I’m forced back onto I-40.

I pedal across the flyover to access the westbound lanes. The interstate shoulder is wide and clear, giving me confidence at what is strangely becoming second nature — pedaling a bicycle next to semi trucks going 70 mph.

During an initial climb, anticipation drains my energy. I’m expecting gravity to do the work, but am pedaling against it. One thought consumes my mind: when do we go down? I expect it. I want it. I need it. I demand it. RIGHT NOW, dammit.  

Yellow signs caution trucks to test their brakes. Ahh yes. I’m slowly cresting like a roller coaster before it plunges. Hang on, Countri Bike, we’re going down-town.

I’m going so fast that icy headwinds give me brain freeze. Not that I’m complaining. For six exhilarating miles I don’t have to pedal. Normally that distance takes me almost an hour of effort, but I am in bike-gone-wild mode thanks to a gift from the topography gods.

With gravity on my side, I barrel ahead with raw confidence and invincibility. I slalom through a minefield of exploded tire treads and ice chunks blown off trucks driving cautiously alongside me.

About those treads. Spending countless hours on America’s roadsides, one thing I’ve learned about the way stuff works is that thin wires are woven into truck tires. When one goes kaboom (God help the driver), pieces of wire can break free in the explosion. Like parasitic worms, these wires can insidiously burrow into my tires and puncture the tube — the circular air chamber inside the tire (that I’m terrified of harming because I don’t know how to replace it).

Fortunately it’s the terrain that flattens and not my tire. I safely exit the interstate at Ash Fork, which calls itself Flagstone Capital of the USA. Stone from quarries near here ends up on patios near you. The ash in Ash Fork comes from the abundance of ash trees once found in the area. What’s not found here naturally is water — the town had no source until a well dug in 1976. Prior to that tankers on trains brought it daily.

Running water or not, Ash Fork looks unwell and past its prime. The town suffered three devastating fires, the most recent in the 1970s around the time I-40 bypassed town and took traffic with it. The Escalante Hotel, the one remarkable landmark (photos then/now), was demolished in the 70s during the national we-don’t-need-old-buildings-anymore movement. Even worse, the local BBQ joint, which looks new and promising from the outside, serves dry brisket. There’s nothing worse than dry brisket except maybe catching one of those parasitic tire wires.

I rejoin I-40 west of Ash Fork for four miles until historic Route 66 re-emerges in the middle of nowhere. I exit onto a desolate stretch of Route 66 that extends so far into the distance it could be California (it’s not). I’m going to be on this for a while, but fortunately the terrain is flat except one uphill pass through the mountains where I walk the bike.

I arrive in Seligman, a quirky Route 66 town, ready to play the what’s-your-rate game with any motel that doesn’t look like a meth lab incubator. They're all local choices because chains are prohibited in town. I better choose wisely because I’m not leaving as soon as I expect.