One Harley Fat Boy. One Mustang GT. Two Schoeys. One epic adventure through the desert, covering 1,530 miles, three US states, and with 39.5 hours of driving time. Here’s the proof:
We faced extremes of temperature, altitude and the possible extreme of spending almost two weeks alone together, and at the end of July me and my Dad set off on what was to be an amazing road trip. So cool it’s inspired me to write a blog about it (only my second all year…that new year resolution about blogging I made clearly didn’t work out).
DAYS 1 & 2, LAS VEGAS
Our first two days in the US actually didn’t involve much driving; we met and stayed in Las Vegas which mainly involved eating way too much food in places like Denny’s (my Nana would have been proud, she loved a good Denny’s – and I’d almost forgotten how enormous every food portion is in the US), losing way too much money in the casinos, and complaining way too much about the dry heat. Well, I complained. I thought I was used to heat having lived on the equator for over 18 months. Turns out humid heat at a lower temperature is more tolerable to me than the dry heat of the Nevada desert, which basically feels like standing in an oven. I thought Vegas was hot. I later found out ‘hot’ is relative, especially when compared with Death Valley…
I’d never driven a left hand drive car before, but if you’re going to do it, I guess you might as well do it in a big 5 litre V8 American muscle car, in my case a Mustang GT. I was soooo excited – I love cars and although I don’t need one in Singapore, I do miss being behind the wheel and occasionally scaring myself silly with POWER and SPEED. I’ve wanted to hire a Mustang and do Route 66 for a few years now, and here I was, actually doing it, woooo! I road tested the Mustang a bit while we were in Vegas, but driving in the traffic there was in no way comparable to what would come later: driving in the desert, tunes on, no traffic for miles…but more on that later.
On the second Vegas evening we took the slowest bus ever up to Fremont Street to the old part of Vegas, which turned out to be a melee of tourists, performers, neon lights, and random people holding signs asking for money, some because they were homeless, others because they had (apparently) a small penis. Random. More blackjack in the casino followed, and (obvs) more gin.
DAY 3, LAS VEGAS TO KINGMAN VIA THE HOOVER DAM AND GRAND CANYON, c. 210 MILES
We left Vegas on Saturday morning – road trip time! – and time to cement my new nickname, ‘Mustang Schoey’ (thanks Dad 🙂 ). First stop was the Hoover Dam, where we just stayed long enough to take a couple of photos – our real focus that day was the Grand Canyon. Apparently my brother and his mates once hired a car in Vegas and drove to the the Hoover Dam, commenting it was ‘pretty shit’. Seriously, it’s a dam, what do you want??
Next was the Grand Canyon – of course, it’s huge (there’s a clue in the name) although you can’t really comprehend the scale until you see how small a helicopter looks when flying through it; we arrived from the west, and hopped on a bus tour which took us to a couple of viewing spots, including one by the skywalk (which we didn’t bother with).
Leaving Nevada, we crossed into Arizona and spent the night in Kingman, my first ever US motel experience, but certainly not the last on the trip; also the first (veggie) burger on the trip for tea (that’s dinner to most of the world), which, like the motel experience, also wasn’t the last. The car and bike looked pretty cool parked outside.
I tried to get my Dad to do a piece to camera in the bar while we were waiting for our food; he didn’t really get the point of doing a video diary but he did oblige me, which was nice because he even used his posh teacher voice. He got a bit more used to me pointing the camera at him over the next few days, although he didn’t really have much choice (‘tolerated’ is probably a better expression than ‘got used to’ but, hey…). Gin and chocolate from Walgreen’s topped off the night as we sat outside the motel like a couple of old folk watching the lightning. It didn’t really occur to me there would be rain in the desert…doh. While drinking gin I also met a woman who was fascinated by my British accent (many were, ‘it’s so cute’ etc. etc.), who described herself as a ‘local yokel’ when I asked if she was from around there. She must have thought being British made me posh. Guess again love.
DAY 4, KINGMAN TO NEEDLES VIA CHLORIDE AND OATMAN, c. 90 MILES
From Kingman we headed to Chloride, founded in about 1863. At its peak as a mining town it had 5,000 inhabitants but according to the latest census only about 352 these days; we only met about four of them. It has a shop which doubles as a visitor centre, handy for buying a cowboy hat – not just a fashion accessory but also very practical i.e. to avoid getting ridiculously sunburnt in the car with the roof down. Despite living in Asia for so long, I still manage to burn pretty regularly as I never seem to put enough sunscreen on; a hat effectively made up for my lack of sensible-ness. We visited the town jail where I tried to lock my Dad in, and although I didn’t quite manage it, it might have served him right to stay there as penance for lying on the manky mattress in the cell.
After a detour for gas we were on to historic Route 66, one of my favourite parts of the trip. My Dad had warned me this part would be slow – I was like, hello, I’m in a Mustang, I don’t do slow – but it turns out the roads are really twisty and bendy and full of hairpins, and there’s a reason for the 25mph (and sometimes 15mph) speed limit. Although of course, they’re more of a suggestion, especially when you’re in a Mustang 🙂 . This part was where early cars, before the time of fuel pumps, either had to be towed or drive in reverse to keep the gas reaching the engine. I’m not sure it would have been as enjoyable going up it backwards, but whichever way you get up there, the view from the top is pretty special.
As we stopped to take some photos along the way, I obliged a few tourists who were drooling over the car (I can’t blame them) by revving the bollocks off the engine for a bit before driving off with a big smile. Yeah that’s probably a bit childish but I never got tired of it 🙂
Next stop was Oatman, a former gold mining town with a real feel of the Wild West, complete with wild burros (donkeys) which were originally let loose by the prospectors and which now roam wild around the town. We saw a gunfight between some cowboys (okay, it was a show) and lots of cute little shops selling everything from Route 66 souvenirs, art and jewellery to old glass bottles and other random tat which apparently passes for antiques these days. We stayed there for a couple of hours; it’s a pretty nice place and although by the 1950s it was almost a ghost town, it’s now a fairly significant tourist attraction due the popularity of people travelling Route 66.
We continued to Needles in California where it was so hot we decided to hole up in a motel even though it was a bit earlier than we’d planned to stop. I posted on Instagram at the time that it felt like the hottest place on earth; after sampling more burgers are some pretty epic desserts, it was still 106 degrees at 9.30pm. (Little did I know what Death Valley would have in store for me in a couple of days’ time, although according to Wikipedia, I wasn’t totally wrong as Needles occasionally sets national or world daily temperature records.)
I found out this evening that the Mustang actually shines a horse onto the floor when you unlock it. Totally unnecessary. But also sweeeet.
Day 5, Needles to Ridgecrest via Amboy and Ludlow on Route 66, c. 260 miles
From Needles we continued on Route 66 where we pitted Harley vs. Mustang in a race from a standing start. I won, although the Harley gave me a better run for my money than I expected until we hit 80mph where I dusted it; my Dad later claimed he started in second gear…whatevs Dad.
We took some pictures where Easyrider was filmed; unfortunately some of Route 66 was closed which was a shame (it’s no longer part of the US highway system, so some of it has fallen into disrepair although we think it was being resurfaced), but we did as much as we could to get the full Mother Road experience.
We passed through Amboy and had a break at Roy’s motel and cafe; it’s not open any more, but there is a gas station and shop. Apparently we missed Armin van Buurin and Enrique Iglesias filming music videos but we did pick up some ‘Root 66’ root beer. We also saw a guy who was cycling and planning to bed down in one of the old motel rooms. I thought my Dad was crazy on a motor bike, but this bloke must have been a bit special riding miles across the desert on a push bike. No wonder he needed a kip at 11am in the morning, he must have been cycling through the night to avoid the heat. I’m not sure what would be worse – cycling in scorching daytime heat or in the pitch darkness with the possible threat of being attacked by wild desert animals like coyotes. Safe to say I won’t be trying either any time soon.
A bit further on we stopped off to look for a spooky photo of hands in a derelict house (random). Context: my Dad did a similar road trip a couple of years ago with one of his friends, and they found a spooky photo of hands on the floor as they were exploring the derelict house, which apparently properly freaked out his mate. My Dad thought it would be funny if we found it so we could freak out his mate from several thousand miles away. We didn’t find the photo (come on, as if it would be there three years later…) but we did see that someone had spray painted on the wall ‘Can you hear the children scream?’ We couldn’t, so we went for a cheese toastie in Ludlow, just up the road.
More driving through the desert, we headed through Barstow and onto Ridgecrest for the night.
DAY 6, RIDGECREST TO LONE PINE VIA BALLARAT AND DEATH VALLEY, c. 280 MILES
After breakfasting on cakes which was the ‘continental’ breakfast offered by the motel, we headed out on a hunt for a watch which my Dad could throw on the floor later as we recreated the opening scene from Easyrider. Having never seen Easyrider, or even the opening scene at this point, I was slightly confused, but in the interest of humouring my Dad we ended up in a dollar store buying a kid’s sheriff’s play set which also included a Sheriff’s badge and gun – not bad for $1. We left the badge and gun by the bin outside in the hope a child would later find it, and my Dad seemed pleased with the watch, even though it was about 15 sizes too small for him. (Turns out Peter Fonda’s watch was a Rolex, which I imagine cost slightly more than $1.)
We passed through Trona and onto Ballarat for said filming. (Unfortunately we missed the nude dancing burros show.)
Ballarat is set about three miles off the main road down a dirt track, and as it’s a ghost town with only one resident (we thought someone might have been living in a trailer behind the shop, Wikipedia confirms this), we only had a donkey for company who wasn’t much good at using a Go Pro, so it was down to me to act as camera crew and producer. I can’t say I was director as I had no idea what I was supposed to be filming, so my Dad took on that role as well as playing the lead actor; he got to throw the watch on the floor and drive off on his bike, I got to shoot a movie and we both got to sweat a lot in the ridiculous heat (did I mention it was hot? I don’t know how Peter Fonda looked so cool in his leather jacket, he must have gone out of season, if that’s even a thing in the desert).
Producer note: we filmed in the right place, but as it’s about 50 years since Easyrider was originally filmed, not all of the building remnants remain. Check out the edit here (there’s a bit of creative licence going on, especially in the second half, but this is me so what do you expect?):
And here’s the original – specific scene starts at 0:52. This was such a cool thing to do, and I think we did a pretty decent job 🙂
We parted ways after Ballarat as I went on to Death Valley and my Dad headed to Lone Pine, where I’d meet him later. Apparently you’re not insured on a bike in Death Valley because it’s too hot, and to be honest, it’s hot enough riding a bike in the 100+ degree desert heat for several hours a day, never mind torturing yourself in Death Valley (I guess it is anyway, it’s hot enough having the roof down in a car, I’m not mad enough to do this stuff on a bike completely exposed to the elements and without the ability to put your roof up or the air con on). Technically my Dad did ‘do’ Death Valley as he entered a bit of it…but he was off to find a motel, and I was off to melt in the Death Valley heat. I said I thought Vegas was hot. Then I thought Needles was hot. Death Valley was like…well, I can only imagine if I ever go to hell, the temperature would be pretty similar.
With a gallon of spare water for emergencies and no phone signal, I had lunch in Stovepipe Wells (another burger) and went on to Furnace Creek where the temperature was an eye-watering 126 degrees. That’s 52 Celsius. I don’t look at all hot and bothered at all in this pic.
I’d agreed with my Dad that I’d get to Furnace Creek and head back so I wasn’t sure if I had time to go on to Badwater – which has the lowest elevation in North America – and back to Lone Pine without my Dad worrying I might have broken down or got lost; as well as my emergency water, I had a map, GPS and a compass so I was pretty well-covered, but there was no mobile phone signal so I had no way of getting in touch with him. But then I remembered I was in a big silly Mustang which meant I had both POWER and SPEED. So I carried on to Badwater Basin where I literally got out of the car, took a photo, got back in the car and whacked the air con up. JEEEEZZZ it was hot.
I saw Artist’s Palette on the way back too, an area of the Black Mountains where oxidation has coloured the rock in shades of red, pink, green and blue. Again, a quick photo, back to air con.
At various points along the route your ears pop due to the changes in elevation – you’re up to around 9,000 feet in some points, and back down to 228 feet (86m) below sea level at Badwater. The main roads through Death Valley are huge and long, with great views and not a lot of traffic – although as it turns out, this is where everyone takes their Mustang. We didn’t see many other Mustangs on most of the trip, apparently they were all in Death Valley waiting for me to overtake them. Well, except the ones we later saw in Yosemite Park, as there were a lot there too. Not so much overtaking there though as you don’t want to smash into a bear.
After speed-demon driving and getting back at a reasonable time and therefore not worrying Dad, our night in Lone Pine including a visit to a proper saloon with swingy wooden doors, and we stayed in a motel which John Wayne often frequented – as you can imagine, there was a lot of John Wayne memorabilia. We shared a room and didn’t have a toilet. That’s what you call a motel experience.
DAY 7, LONE PINE TO MAMMOTH LAKES VIA BISHOP, c. 100 MILES
From Lone Pine we arrived at Mammoth Lakes via Bishop. The temperature here was significantly lower than we’d experienced at any point on our trip so far, which for me was very welcome. There was even snow on the mountains!
We were warned by the guy on reception at the motel not to leave any food in the car overnight as this was bear country and they may try to break in if they smelt any food (all of the bins in the area were designed to keep them out); we didn’t see any bears but I did have a family of birds nesting in the roof above my room, and there were a lot of chipmunks knocking about. If you were the size of a dime and squinted while sitting in the dark, I reckon a chipmunk might pass for a bear. However, I’m not.
Before tea (dinner), my Dad took me for a spin on the Harley which was pretty cool, as it was my first time on the back of a bike. While I’ll be sticking to four wheels, I definitely get the appeal, and at least the temperature outside was cool; I don’t imagine it’s such a great experience riding a bike when it feels like a hairdryer’s blowing at you constantly on the highest heat setting in the desert.
While we were out, we bumped into some deer – still no bears though.
Tea was a ridiculously large pizza and we got chatting to a US couple on ‘vacation’ who thought us having separate transport on holiday was ‘one way not to get sick of each other.’ I set them straight that we weren’t actually a couple – they might have been right about the having your own space thing, although if we were a couple, taking a holiday in separate vehicles would also have been weird. When we set them straight they were quick to say my Dad ‘looks very young’ which I think my Dad liked almost as much as I liked being asked for ID in the casino in Vegas on the first night.
DAY 8, MAMMOTH LAKES TO MAMMOTH LAKES VIA YOSEMITE, c. 200 MILES
Today we were off to Yosemite National Park. We hoped for bears, but didn’t even see any chipmunks, only a family of ducks who were shared our dinner (lunch) with. Ahh well. I suspect if we had seen a bear, I’d have crapped myself anyway. If you see a bear you’re supposed to stand your ground and look intimidating. Easier said than done when you’re 5”2.
We did however see some incredible views, a big stone which goes by the name of El Capitan and a lot of Mustangs.
That night in Mammoth Lakes I left food in the car – accidentally – but still didn’t see a bear, and we had a little drive around the town before tea which consisted of cheese, bread, cream cakes and some sort of weird tomato and chilli flavoured Budweiser. It didn’t even taste like beer. Who wants to drink beer that doesn’t taste like beer? (Note to self – just buy normal beer next time.)
DAY 9, MAMMOTH LAKES TO LAS VEGAS VIA BEATTY, c. 310 MILES
Dad set off 6.30 in the morning to avoid the desert heat on the bike. I had a lie in because not only did I have air con, I’m also lazy, so I set off at 11.15 to meet him in Beatty and only got there an hour after him (there were some pretty decent roads to belt it down that day). My Dad assumed that meant I hadn’t been able to take in any of the scenery…of course I did, I stopped for a quick toilet break in the bushes a couple of times (there were no services for a couple of hours, so I had to keep a close eye out for snakes while peeing – they remained as elusive as the bears though) and otherwise the scenery was whizzing by me all the way, just quickly. Turns out Dad didn’t need to leave so early, it was probably the coolest day of the trip.
There’s something really awesome about driving along in the desert on big, open roads, no-one for miles except the occasional car or bike passing the other way, roof down, tunes on full whack, singing loudly with no-one able to hear you, and the wind in your hair. You might think it gets boring spending hours in a car on your own but I loved it; you have a lot of time to think, to reflect on just how big the desert is and just how small you are; and you’re on the open road doing what you like which gives you a great feeling of freedom. And there’s nothing better just being able to floor the accelerator and throw yourself back in your seat with the POWER and SPEED. I actually giggled every time I did it, and it never got old. I could have driven a lot more so doing the whole of Route 66 one day – which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – is definitely still on the cards.
Dinner (lunch) was a solo picnic with cheese butties and caramel M&Ms in the desert. Classy.
Meanwhile back in Singapore, Mel was escaping from her cage at home, worrying the parrot sitter and causing damage to my photos and frame and pottery handicrafts. We tighten all the screws on the cage on a regular basis because she has previous form, but she is like the Houdini of birds. Fortunately she didn’t manage to break out of the apartment.
Although there were a couple of motels at Beatty, we decided to head on to Indian Springs and chance finding a motel there. Turns out, that probably wasn’t the best decision (sorry Dad); Indian Springs was basically a correctional facility, and we didn’t stay long enough to check if they could accommodate us. We ended up continuing on to Vegas, arriving a day earlier than expected, although we had a quiet one that night (more burgers, of course); after covering 300 miles, my Dad must have been shattered.
DAY 10, LAS VEGAS
Today we had to say goodbye to the Harley. We did a bit of shopping in Vegas, and as it was our last night, I decided it would be a great idea to get hammered and do shots, wooo! What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas right – unless you’re writing a blog about it…
I realised the next morning that shots were possibly not the best idea I’ve ever had: there are no measures in the US and I drank more than I should have done (so a fairly standard Saturday night really) which resulted in much drunkenness. We adopted a random guy in a bar called Neil from Portland Oregon, Dad had a go on a rodeo bull and I ended the night by literally crawling back into the room on my hands and knees with very little memory, but Go Pro footage to prove it. It’s all a bit hazy so here’s a pic from earlier in the night before we got smashed.
DAY 11, LEAVING LAS VEGAS
After checking out an hour late because neither of us could face getting up, we sat around in the hotel food court for a few hours feeling sorry for ourselves. The minute I lay my head on the table to have a little nap I was accosted by security and told I must ‘stay awake ma’am’ – whaaaat?! Although we didn’t see any real bears, my Dad had bought me a toy bear from Mammoth Lakes, which is a nice reminder of our road trip, and probably a better bear experience overall because I didn’t crap myself or need to stand my ground and look intimidating when I saw it.
Eventually it was time to drop off the Mustang – I was so rough it was a fairly unceremonious parting – and head to the terminal; I was flying to San Fran while my Dad was internash, so we parted here. This was slightly more ceremonious and we were both quite sad that it was all over after spending so much time together, visiting so many places and having such an awesome adventure. Awww. Much hugging ensued, followed by waving as the bus whisked my Dad away to the next terminal.
Unfortunately for me, my flight was delayed which meant I missed my connection to Singapore, so I spent the night in San Francisco in an airport hotel with no luggage. I’d initially arrived in Vegas on Thursday lunchtime, having set off from Singapore on Thursday morning – this is a head melt due to the epic time difference, and despite 19 hours’ travel time. Even worse is going home on a Sunday night, missing your flight and a day of work and not really knowing what day it is (or what time zone you need your head to be on). I eventually got back on Tuesday night Singapore time, via Tokyo. Could have been worse, I managed to get the duty free bottle of gin I couldn’t face buying in Vegas because I was too hungover. Every cloud…
Spending so much time on the road definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for a petrol head who no longer owns a car and a lifelong biker, this was perfect for us. And how many people get to do something as cool as this with their Dad? It was a once in a lifetime experience* and we had an awesome time.
We had a lot of laughs, including some of the bits I’ve missed out because I can’t recall exactly when they happened (or because they happened often) – like my Dad getting his right and left mixed up because ‘we’re on the other side of the road out here’ (errr…). Or trying to being like the bikers who invariably all let on to each other when passing, so creating a way of letting on to other Mustang drivers by forming an inverted ‘M’ with your fist that makes you look like you either have a claw or are having some kind of episode. That didn’t stick, here’s what it looked like:
There was also fairly frequent mocking of each other’s use (or non-use) of technology – having a compass in my phone and an app for everything is not impressive to my Dad who didn’t even change the time on his phone when he arrived in the US so had to do maths every time he wanted to know what time it was (?!). Apart from that, much crap was chatted, which is always the best kind of conversation if you ask me.
So if you’re thinking about doing something really random like a road trip with your Dad, what are you waiting for? With all the driving, exploring and seeing so many places, eating so much food and (ahem) drinking way too much on the last night, we had a lot of fun – it was awesome!
*Disclaimer. We haven’t ruled out doing something similar again 🙂