Reader Story: Defying the Odds on Old Route 66

Two women go cross country on small, old motorcycles

By Amy Turilli, Forest Park, Illinois

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Amarillo, Texas: We were halfway to our final destination, with 1,244 miles behind us and about the same ahead. We punctuated our accomplishment with a perfect rib-eye steak at Smokey Joe’s. The celebration was only slightly marred by the logical conclusion that if we had already traveled half the journey, the trip was half over. The bittersweet realization that two novice riders had already covered half of Old Route 66 on motorcycles, using only the “Route 66 EZ Guide” and a Michelin road atlas, didn’t sweep over us in peels of macho celebratory emotion. No high fives exchanged. No fist bumps. Just the lingering calmness of a long motorcycle ride.

Writer Amy Turilli and her 1986 Honda Nighthawk 450SC on Old Route 66 in California.

It was time to move to Chicago, where my father resides. I was born and raised there, and with the recent passing of my beautiful mother, it made perfect sense that I should relocate to spend all the time in the world with my father. He and my mother had shared a marriage that began in 1955 and ended when she lost her battle with dementia in December 2010. A man whod honored his vows to stand strong in sickness and health deserved to have his children honor him with the same love and respect hed shown our mother.

The trip to Chicago via Route 66 began early on June 11, 2011, at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, Calif., where I’d lived for the past six years. I had covered the portion of Route 66 that runs from the Santa Monica Pier to Pasadena several weeks earlier and met my fellow rider, Carole Huguet, on a cloudy morning peppered with light drizzling rain that was gone by the time we caught I-15 North to Barstow, Calif.

Amys riding partner, Carole Huguet, and her 1991 Honda Nighthawk 750 at the Bagdad Café in Newberry Springs, Calif.

Many before us had traveled the “Mother Road” on motorcycles, but not as many had traveled from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Michigan. We were an odd breath of fresh air to the residents of Route 66, who are accustomed to people traveling in the opposite direction. Melba of 4 Women On the Route, a historic gas station on an old section of Route 66 in Galena, Kan., purchased by four women, was thrilled to finally have someone to send to Gary’s Sinclair Gas Station in Ash Fork, Mo. We were happy to visit with Gary for three hours, sipping root beer and listening to his original songs about Route 66.

The direction we were traveling wasn’t the only thing that got people excited—so did the fact that we were operating our own motorcycles. I was surprised that the sight of two women riding motorcycles on a very long road trip was out of the ordinary to some people. If that wasn’t enough, the disclosure of our relatively small machines launched us from a couple of cool chicks on bikes to superhuman rock stars. Carole rode her 1991 Honda Nighthawk 750, and I rode my 1986 Honda Nighthawk 450—our bikes aren’t just small, they are old!

Carole, whos French, liked that she had parked her bike under the French flag. Moments later, that wild burrow, one of several roaming Main Street of the old mining town of Oatman, slobbered on Amys saddlebags.

Amy points to her Honda Nighthawk somewhere in the desert.

While in the planning stages for this trip, I was privileged to receive much unsolicited advice regarding the size and age of my Nighthawk. I was told I would be blown off the road, that my back would be in constant pain from all the vibrations, that trucks would squash me, tires would go flat, oil would leak, and the engine would overheat. Rubbish! My bike is perfect for me, and it did not disappoint—not on the Oatman-Topock Highway, that precarious section of Route 66 to Kingman, Ariz., with its 10 mph hairpin turns, and not while passing big rigs on I-40 through the windy corridor of Holbrooke, Ariz. With the exception of minor altitude sickness that my little Honda experienced coming down to sea level from Santa Fe, N.M., both bikes were flawless. The aches and pains we “should” have expected did not happen.

Each day’s ride was better than the previous—even through Texas, where the heat never dipped below 100 degrees and water was nonexistent. Cattle grazed in yellow grass that looked as though it might ignite spontaneously beneath that relentless sun. More heat and dangerous wind greeted us as we crossed the border into the great plains of Oklahoma. Prior to that harrowing ride from Shamrock, Tex., to Oklahoma City, the weather had been unexceptional. It was hot, but we took plenty of breaks to rehydrate, sometimes sheltered by a rare shade tree.

Amy with the Round Barn in Arcadia, Okl.

The restored Conoco gas station in Shamrock, Texas.
It was on one of our breaks in the shade that we experienced the camaraderie of motorcycle riding. We had missed a turn on our way to Albuquerque. We were not far off course, but we needed to consult the guide. For several miles leading up to our missed turn, I had been experiencing something odd. I was concerned that either my tires were going flat or that I had lost my steering, as I’d been experiencing the feeling of drifting. I knew if Carole had felt the same sensation, then it must be the road and there was no need to panic. With my hands holding imagined grips, I moved my arms in the swaying motion I had been experiencing. My little show caught the eye of a man named Ed.

He stopped to ask if we needed help, then revealed that he was a motorcycle mechanic. I relayed my concerns about the drifting sensation, and he assured me that the uneven surface of the road was the culprit. When we assured Ed that we knew where we had made our mistake and could find our way, he departed. Barely 10 minutes had passed when Ed returned, this time bearing two plastic cups and a healthy-sized pitcher of ice water. An avid rider himself, Ed had experienced the elements and knew the thing we needed most at that moment was water. He also took a closer look at my bike, checking that there were no loose bolts and that the tires had enough air.

Carole Huguet on her Honda Nighthawk in Lincoln, Ill.

The old truck on the left was the inspiration for the character Mater in the movie “Cars,” but Amy says its the people who own and operate 4 Women of the Route that make it a must-visit.
We discovered that Ed’s kindness was no aberration. There were decent, generous people all the way to Chicago. The staff at the Cherokee Restaurant in Calumet, Okla., welcomed us and allowed us to sit at the lunch counter for three hours to wait for the wind to dissipate. We nibbled on appetizers while I sketched from memory the pony truss bridge over the Canadian River. The woman running the front desk of the Best Western in Lincoln, Ill., let us park our bikes beneath the portico during a thunderstorm. The staff at La Posada in Winslow, Ariz., found and returned my sunglasses at no expense to me. In Ash Fork, Mo., we were invited to ride a horse named Dolly that lived in a field next to Gary’s Sinclair.

On June 26, 2011, we pulled up to my sister’s place in Forest Park, Ill., for a couple of days of rest before finishing the last 15 miles of Route 66. The “Taste of Chicago” was just winding down as we turned right onto Michigan Avenue from Jackson Boulevard. We had completed 2,488 miles, and as in Amarillo, no high fives or fist bumps were exchanged—just the peaceful, joyous feeling that had carried us safely from the Pacific Ocean to the shore of Lake Michigan.

When I decided to ride cross-country, I wasn’t certain that my motorcycle or I could make it, but I wasn’t going to let the unknown stop me. The unknown sets me in motion. There are so many places I can go on a motorcycle. Life is less complicated on two wheels. Carole and I traveled without the aide of communication devices. All we could do was ride our bikes—no music, no talking, just riding. I miss the trip and the road and the feeling of freedom you get when all you need for the journey is packed neatly into two saddlebags on the back of a motorcycle.

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27 thoughts on Reader Story: Defying the Odds on Old Route 66

  1. I’m looking for a female riding partner. I’m going to Colorado on July 1st and coming back on the 7th. It’s a women rally sponsored by WOW, Women On Wheels. If you can’t do that then just someone to ride with. I have an Indian trike so I could carry some camping gear if a camping adventure would be better. Thank you.

    1. Hi Patty,The best place to find riding partners on our site is by registering to be a member of our WRN Forum. You can access that here on our site. The link is also in the top navigational bar. It’s free to join and you’ll have access to almost 2,000 other women riders across the U.S. who are members and converse on the forum.

  2. Great story. I love to read about other women riders. I have a passion to ride across somewhere, but would love to have someone to share the experience with. Other woman would be great! Can’t believe how much fun it would be. Farthest I’ve been in years on a bike is across the state of SD. It was a ball. Any one out there want to plan something?

    1. Hi Sue,There are many other women like you who don’t have anyone to do these fun long distance rides with. The best place to connect with other woman riders for this sort of thing is our WRN Forum. Registering is easy and free. You can then post a comment in a thread about touring and start finding your new riding partner. Here’s the the link for the forum.

  3. I loved the article. I lived in Newberry Springs just off Rt. 66 and have been to the Bagdad Cafe numerous times. My current bike is a Honda Nighthawk 750 which I bought a year ago with only 19,000 miles.My longest ride was from Northern Minnesota south to escape winter! When we hit Dallas we didn’t know which way to go so we flipped a coin…heads we turn right and tails we turn left…it came up heads and I’ve been in Cal. ever since. That was in 1983!

  4. I’m so glad I found this article! I’m a brand new rider (literally got my license three days ago) and two days ago I bought a Honda Nighthawk 450 (1985). For the past few days I’ve been searching high and low for something to read talking about a woman’s experience riding this bike! It looks like it was an amazing trip.If by chance Amy (or another Nighthawk 450 rider) sees this comment, I wonder if you can tell me if you found the weight of the bike to be a challenge? Unfortunately when I bought the bike I wasn’t really able to lug it around because of how it was stored, and it’s only being delivered to my house next week. Thanks!

  5. Loved the story. Would love to read about more road trips.

  6. Myself and a friend traveled Route 66 last year in August. Temperatures were brutal. Average temperature from Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico was 155 degrees. Flagstaff was a bit of a relief. We detoured to Las Vegas and when we pulled into Vegas my thermometer read 121 degrees.I had a 2011 Victory Vision and my partner had a 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic. We pulled into Santa Monica and started up the Pacific Coast Highway for our trip back to Chicago.Unfortunately I hit a deer 30 miles south of Monterey and broke my leg. The trip ended abruptly for me but my partner finished the journey. BTW, I broke my leg on August the 30th and didn’t get medical treatment until September 2. Rode an additional 100 miles to San Jose shipped the bike to the dealer I purchased it from and caught a flight home. Spent the next 2.5 months healing after I got a plate and eight bolts to repair my leg. Lets see the girls top that one. Also I was 65 years old, now 66.

  7. So glad you didn’t listen to the naysayers! Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you can’t. My longest ride so far was in 2007 from Texas to Tampa, Florida,…by myself…on a Yamaha V Star 650 Classic. Loved it! I have since gotten a Harley-Davidson Crossbones but have yet to take a long trip on him. That’s suppose to come next month. Once again, I will ride alone but I love the solitude…with no stereo or iPod or GPS, just me, the road and my maps.Kudos to you and all the other women who don’t let others deter their dreams.

  8. Wonderful encouragement. I have traveled 24,000 miles in the past four years on my Honda Shadow 600VLX — local trips, there and back, here and there. Occasionally, I will do the Cascade Loop that means I stop over in Wenatchee for a rest. I have always wanted to take her out of state all the way to San Jose. You girls did! I love my 600. I have heard the same warnings of about vibrations that will kill my back. Very cool.

  9. Wonderful story! Want to do the same route soon; it’s been my dream for years.

  10. That nonsense about a 450 and a 750 being small bikes doesn’t wash. Not that long ago, a 450 was the biggest bike Honda made, and either of these bikes can do highway work hour after hour without strain. And as for your bikes being “old,” a properly maintained Honda never gets old. My 92 Nighthawk 750 has over 118K miles with only a few minor fixes along the way. Congratulations on a great trip and thanks for sharing it with us.

  11. I just love Route 66. Last year I rode solo from Texas to Needles, Calif., and stayed in Seligman, Arizona. it was a blast a from the past! As much as I liked the quiet time, I wish I had another lady rider to share the trip with. Your pics are great!

  12. Amy, I’m so proud of you. Keep exploring!

  13. You wrote a beautiful and interesting story, Amy. Dad enjoyed charting your course and looked forward to your nightly call from the little towns where you spent the night. “How Far Did Amy Get Today?” became a fun family game while you were on the road. We are happy for you that you had this great adventure. (You know, we get a lot of mileage out of telling people that our sister rode her motorcycle from Pasadena to Chicago on Rotue 66.) We are most happy to have you and your Nighthawk in Chicago!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this inspirational story with us. It was a great read and love the determination these two women had to complete their Journey. Made me want to consider doing it myself. Much love and respect.

  15. Great story! I’ve been along Route 66 but would love to add it my list of places to go on a motorbike! I also love that these gals did it on older bikes…very cool, very inspiring. Thank you for posting it.

  16. I agree with everyone who commented, that this is one great article! So good, with the text and photos that Amy should submit it to a lot of motorcycle magazines. Really an inspiration to women riders to get out there for wonderful experiences that can only happen on their bikes.

  17. Amy,Girl, you are such an inspiration! I’m so thrilled to read this! Thanks so much for sharing your journey. It was delivered in such a way, that I feel as if a part of me went with you. Hats off to you girls for facing the unknown and seeing Old Route 66 the way it deserves to be seen. You rock sister!

  18. Amy, I enjoyed your wonderful article and photographs. Keep traveling and writing. I will keep an eye out for your next travel story!

  19. This story and the accomplishment of travel on Route 66 is a wonderful inspiration for me. This has been my dream ride this last year. My brother lives in Chicago, my sister is in Arizona I’m in Washington; I would cruise to AZ pick up my sister then the two of us would head to Chicago via Route 66. Now I’m even more excited.

  20. What a great ride and story. I wish I was there.

  21. Great story and what did Carole do to get back to CA? Did she ride back?

  22. I used to have a 250 Nighthawk I called “my little rustball” because I bought it used and it had sat by the ocean long enough to be covered with rust. But that was a great little bike in spite of the rust, and I’d guess that, with a more comfortable seat, I could have ridden THAT cross-country!

  23. I loved this article. I have been wanting to ride Route 66 myself, but haven’t found anyone to do it with me. Have been thinking of doing it by myself. This article really inspired me to do just that. Would be great to find a group of women to make an event of this.

    1. Why don’t you reach out to women on the WRN Forum and see if you can get a small group together. It’s a great way to connect with other women riders.

  24. This was a fabulous and delightful article. I loved hearing their story. I rode 66 solo back in 2000 and still consider it to be the most special of all my trips. Everyone should ride this route. It is beautiful and so retro.

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