I emerge from the desert dirt roads onto pavement.
After passing through the small settlement of Goffs, where I spent the morning chatting to a volunteer at the East Mojave Desert Museum, who kindly lets me download my photos there, I find myself on the Route 66, a highway which actually no longer exists, heading towards Needles.
Needles has the desolate air of a town whose time, if it ever existed at all, has long since passed. Things are patched up, cobbled together, paint flaking, car bodies slowly rousting. People are unsmiling, hard eyes and closed faces. A group of wannabe punk kids sitting on a pile of tyres at a service station direct me to the sole grocery store on the other side to town. They tell me it’s long way. I tell them I’ve come from Alaska so it’s probably not too far and their eyes widen. The boy with a dyed blonde Mohawk, sporting a large U-bolt in one ear, tells me he jumps trains and has travelled all over the country. A man inside the garage calls out to me as I ride off, “What do you do when you get a flat tyre?” “Fix it,” I reply. He clearly doesn’t know how to respond to this unexpected piece of information.
Shopping done I ride out of town as the sun slips behind the hills. I have no plan and only a hazy idea of what lies ahead. The highway has no shoulder and the Saturday night traffic is busy. The Mag light is a poor replacement for my head lamp and I ride in darkness through a semi-urban area – a mixture of casinos, seedy bars, liquor stores, dollar shops, interspersed with fields. My camping prospects are not looking good.
I see a quiet looking area on the other side of the highway and go to investigate. It is a golf course – I case it for camping potential as the Saturday night traffic passes on the highway. A few factors tip the balance against bedding down on the Willow Springs Golf Course: tomorrow, being Sunday, could see some enthusiastic early morning golfer and it occurs to me that perhaps I am coming just a little bit too itinerant.
I contemplate my options. I am tired and filthy and have spent the last eight nights camping alone in the desert. I turn and ride the five miles back down the highway to Needles and check into the Needles Inn – a salmon-pink edifice that attracted my attention when I first entered the town, the first of a series of seedy motels on the west side of Needles. The fact that the heyday of this establishment has long since passed is evident in prominent advertising of its status as a historic Route 66 motel. Finally, I get to step into my real life road movie.
My expectation are not at all high but I quickly warm to the Needles Inn. The management consists of a woman and George, her middle aged son, an eccentric with firm religious convictions. Sadly, the woman’s husband has just died but she seems in reasonable spirits. The entire extended family is in Needles for the funeral and currently housed in the hotel which partly explains why it is so busy. The atmosphere despite the sad occasion is festive. Children run about and play with noisy radio operated toy vehicles in the parking lot. Doors open and shut constantly. People stand about in small groups chatting with relatives they clearly haven’t seen in a long time.
I retire to my room and have a long shower. Hot water is very welcome. I bring my bicycle inside with me and spread my belongings all over the floor. The bed is vast and there is wi-fi internet. What more could a girl ask for? I fall into bed at 2AM and in the morning I turn on my computer again. As check-out time slips by I go to the office and negotiate a second nights stay at a bargain basement biker’s rate. George is happy to oblige and kindly does my laundry for me while I gratefully spend the day trying to get this blog up to date.
Towards evening George knocks on the door of my room and asks if I will talk to some of the children about my trip. I agree and a group of three or four hyperactive youngsters troop into my room to view my bike and then sit fidgeting on my bed while they ask me questions about Australia.