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Past years: 2003, 2007

Rt. 66 Tour

PAC Tours are unique among bicycle tours, but Route 66 Pac Tour is unique among PAC Tours. For my money (and I've paid to do this tour a couple of times), it's the most fun you can have on a bike tour in America. But you're not me. So how do you know whether riding from Santa Monica, CA to Amarillo, TX in 18 days is your mug of sarsaparilla?

Of course you need to love riding your bike and can ride 100 miles easily enough -- but you aren't obsessed with simply racking up miles. This is one tour where you won't want to hammer -- there's too much to see. And even if you are a fast rider, you've also meandered down a road just to see where it goes. Plus, you're curious about the places you ride: the history (natural and unnatural), the locals, the hamburgers. You like a good story, and you love to ride to places that most people never see.September is a perfect time of year for riding in New Mexico. The hottest summer days are past and the cold days of autumn have not arrived. The winds are typically from the southwest, bringing warm dry air across the region. Our circular route will have a balance of winds. The days are planned to fit into six to eight hours of cycling regardless of the weather.

Interested? Let me tell you about the route. Remember Nat King Cole singing "Route 66"? Just play it backwards. (Nat probably wasn't worried about the prevailing winds.) Route 66 PAC Tour starts on the far left of America and heads east through the best of the West. Russell's Restaurant has been in business just off Route 66 in the Old Town section of Pasadena for almost 80 years, so it makes a fine spot for a "second breakfast" and a first real stop on our route east. Is the first morning of the ride too soon for your first milkshake? After the better part of 100 miles (and countless stoplights), you're still pretty much stuck in Smog City. But at least you get to spend the night in a warm bed in a stucco wigwam.

If you saw the Pixar movie Cars, then you'll recognize that the Cozy Cone Motel was really a tribute to Rialto's Wigwam Motel. This isn't the first wigwam motel in the U.S. (they were patented and then franchised) but it's been thoroughly restored to its former glories after decades of seediness (actually, greater than its former glory since they probably didn't have WiFi in the 1950s). The first really big climb -- the one that takes you out of "El Lay" and into the Mohave, is Cajon Pass. Sadly, legislation requiring a first-rate diner restaurant at the top of every paved mountain pass in America has long been stalled in the Congress, but the Summit Inn nevertheless waits at the top of this one. It only takes one milkshake to recharge your batteries for the long descent to Barstow.

If you saw the Pixar movie Cars, then you'll recognize that the Cozy Cone Motel was really a tribute to Rialto's Wigwam Motel. This isn't the first wigwam motel in the U.S. (they were patented and then franchised) but it's been thoroughly restored to its former glories after decades of seediness (actually, greater than its former glory since they probably didn't have WiFi in the 1950s).

The first really big climb -- the one that takes you out of "El Lay" and into the Mohave, is Cajon Pass. Sadly, legislation requiring a first-rate diner restaurant at the top of every paved mountain pass in America has long been stalled in the Congress, but the Summit Inn nevertheless waits at the top of this one. It only takes one milkshake to recharge your batteries for the long descent to Barstow.

Before you know it, though, the "Main Street of America" starts crossing the Mohave Desert, and you're mingling with burros on "Wild West" streets and shopping at trading posts for rubber tomahawks. Eventually, you climb out of the desert and into the forests of Arizona, You could say that The Snow Cap Drive-In is a quirky and slightly comical family-run fast food stand in the Seligman, Arizona -- an original Route 66 town that refused to give up the ghost after getting bypassed by the Interstate. Or you could say that the plot of Pixar's Cars was hatched right here. You'd be right both times.

Before there was a Route 66, there was the railroad, and the two travel side by side across much of the West. Winslow, Arizona's La Posada is the last of the great railroad hotels. Our night staying there is a trip back to an era of relaxed elegance.

The El Rancho Motel & Hotel in Gallop, New Mexico, was once a favorite haunt for the movie stars who made countless westerns in the area, and the rooms are named for guests like Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracy, and Gene Tierney. The lobby is a masterpiece of Western Rustic -- you expect the cast of Bonanza to come striding in after a day in the saddle.

Near the end of the trip comes one of the most lovingly restored motels in America -- the amazing Blue Swallow of Tucumcari, New Mexico. The blue swallows in question are handcrafted neon at this perfectly preserved motor court that features "100% Refrigerated Air."

It's a heck of a lot of scenery in 18 days.

Steinbeck called it "the Mother Road," but it'll seem like about a hundred different kinds of road. Whenever possible, it will be old road -- the older, the better. Some sections are like ghosts. Just finding them is half the fun. But be prepared for anything: Freeway shoulders. Cracked concrete. Gravel. Dirt. More dirt. Roads that suddenly disappear beneath a mountain or an Interstate or a cow pasture. Sandy tracks that make you feel like a Hawaiian on ice skates. Route 66 does wonders for your bike-handling skills, but don't bring skinny tires (32 mm or bigger, please).

Along the way, besides teepees, you'll stay in motels and hotels -- ranging from ordinary to unforgettable. The best ones exist in time warps where you'll wake up thinking you've somehow astrally projected back to the 1950s. Absolutely need a TV in your room so you can check the Weather Channel? Maybe this isn't your trip.

As for the food. The mileages on Route 66 PAC Tour aren't really enough (less than 100 miles on all but one day) to let you eat whatever you want, but you will anyway. You'll eat like someone traveling in 1935 would have -- pancakes, burgers, sopapillas, root beer, french toast, milk shakes, more burgers, and the ever-present tongue-toasting cuisine of the American Southwest.

Route 66 first became a recognized highway in 1926. It evolved with different alignments that carried thousands of travelers from Chicago to California and back again. Our bicycle tour will explore these forgotten sections and link together many desolate pieces of original roadbed. Besides finding old concrete, we will experience the culture that defined America from 1920 to 1980. Route 66 is a unique tour that combines over 60 years of cross country history with a fun bicycle adventure.

An Introduction to Route 66 Tour

by Jim Bradbury