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  • Writer's pictureAlana

36. Santa Rosa to Tucumcari, NM

May 19, 2024

In the first half of the twentieth century, a Rock Island passenger train ran from my hometown of Memphis to Tucumcari. Perhaps that's why I feel such an affinity for this place, its connection to both a home and a past I have known. Louise especially liked our motel, whose orange-and-aqua palette and atomic-age flourishes matched her own. And I appreciated having several proper hotels and restaurants to choose from, rather than the single selection I've grown used to.

Tucumcari's exuberance contrasts with the usual state of Route 66 towns. I-40 bypassed the Mother Road back in the seventies, leaving many once-bustling communities to wither. The ones that have gone full ghost are a wistful sort of gorgeous, with their rusting cars, decaying buildings, and etiolated neon still beckoning "open." But it's sad to fathom how many thousands of people think of these places as home, yet have so little to return to.

The surviving towns cash in on nostalgia. Route 66 branding and midcentury kitsch is everywhere. As a native Memphian, I am surprised to see so much Elvis outside his natural habitat.

But the market for this brand of Americana is limited. I've encountered only one other touring cyclist on this route, and he was from Poland. Much of the motorized traffic is Europeans and Australians with rented motorcycles and muscle cars.

The road itself isn't going down without a fight, though. The pavement is in blocks, and so every 10-12 feet there is a seam that causes a "ka-dunk!" when you bump over it. Miles of ka-dunking every few seconds leaves a mark on your psyche. At night I feel the ka-dunk in my dreams, and I reckon I will feel it in my bones long after I say good-bye to Route 66.

Distance: 62.69 miles

Climbing: 1.55 K feet

Totals: 1,655.79 miles, 61.71 feet

Song: "King of the Road" by Richard Miller


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