BE A FREE­WHEELER!

It’s 50 years since Easy Rider but the route still of­fers a unique in­sight into the soul of Amer­ica

Scottish Daily Mail - - Escape - by JEREMY TAY­LOR

THE don­key has a sticker on his fore­head that reads ‘do not feed me any­thing’. Oat­man mules look harm­less enough but this old Ari­zona min­ing town on Amer­ica’s Route 66 is a rich seam of un­likely at­trac­tions for any­one on an epic road trip.

I’ve just ar­rived at Fast Fanny’s store in Main Street where they of­fer ev­ery­thing from T-shirts to shot­guns. It’s the lat­est bizarre halt on my jour­ney to cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of Easy Rider — one of Hol­ly­wood’s most iconic road movies.

Oat­man is a liv­ing ghost town that now thrives as an ‘au­then­tic Western ex­pe­ri­ence’. It’s also a Mecca for bik­ers. Easy Rider was a cult clas­sic that turned lead ac­tors Peter Fonda and Den­nis Hop­per into the coolest su­per­stars on the planet back in 1969 — their hippy-es­que, free-wheel­ing film a box of­fice sen­sa­tion.

And in­side Oat­man’s ram­shackle mo­tor­cy­cle mu­seum I’ve stum­bled across a replica of Cap­tain Amer­ica — the film’s fa­mous chop­per bike that came to rep­re­sent the counter cul­ture of Six­ties Amer­ica. It may be old but the chrome fit­tings still give off a re­bel­lious sparkle.

Char­ac­ters Wy­att and Billy rode their Har­ley-David­sons almost 2,000 miles from Los Angeles to New Or­leans in the movie. Their stash of money from an ill-fated drugs deal hidden in a fuel tank.

I’ve sad­dled up with pho­tog­ra­pher Richard Brad­bury on two hired Har­leys. Our week-long ride has been mapped out to fol­low some of the lo­ca­tions fea­tured in the early part of the film.

Wy­att and Billy slept rough on their jour­ney and got into all man­ner of scrapes. I’m look­ing for ad­ven­ture but pre­fer more tra­di­tional ac­com­mo­da­tion — if only to ease the back pain of sev­eral days hard rid­ing.

Our trip started a week ear­lier, plan­ning a route in the fa­mous Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Ho­tel. The up­mar­ket restau­rant is a favourite with the glit­terati of Hol­ly­wood, and once a hide out for Hop­per and Fonda, too. Our bikes have al­ready been de­liv­ered to the nearby Wal­dorf As­to­ria ho­tel, where the usual form of trans­port is a limo.

The start point is Man­hat­tan Beach, where leather-skinned lo­cals vie for the best sun­bathing.

It would be tempt­ing to stay and soak up the Pa­cific breeze, but like Billy and Wy­att, we’re on a jour­ney. Soon our bikes are zoom­ing north on High­way 14, past Palm­dale and Lan­caster to Mo­jave, near the gate­way of Death Val­ley Na­tional Park.

The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley was once a tourist des­ti­na­tion for wealthy Cal­i­for­ni­ans who wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence the unique­ness of the desert, where tem­per­a­tures have reached a record 56.7c.

The ex­treme cli­mate means most trav­ellers visit only in the win­ter. Death Val­ley was the lo­ca­tion for many of the iconic scenes in Easy Rider, too. And with Step­pen­wolf’s Born To Be Wild sound­track blast­ing through my hel­met head­phones, Brad­bury and I are liv­ing the dream.

Cruis­ing south again past 20 Mule Canyon and skirt­ing the Ne­vada border, we stum­ble across the Amar­gosa Ho­tel. Back in the Six­ties, the late Marta Becket cre­ated a fully op­er­a­tional opera house here, miles from any­where. Lack­ing an au­di­ence, she hand­painted char­ac­ters on the walls and of­ten danced to an empty au­di­to­rium.

Three hours later we ar­rive at Café 247, where the T-shirt logo reads ‘In The Mid­dle of Nowhere’.

The clas­sic road­side diner fea­tures walls smoth­ered in oily au­to­mo­bilia from the golden age of Amer­i­can mus­cle cars. Out­side, an­other replica of Cap­tain Amer­ica is fixed to the roof.

Fur­ther south again is up­mar­ket Palm Springs, a play­ground for LA’s rich and fa­mous. Brad­bury and I col­lapse on our beds at bou­tique ho­tel Villa Royale, with our fly-splat­tered bikes rest­ing in the park­ing lot. There’s a heated pool and a glitzy bar.

The next day we head east, past Joshua Tree Na­tional Park, the in­spi­ra­tion for U2’s sem­i­nal al­bum. Then it’s north again to Nee­dles, pass­ing ghost towns such as Oat­man that were left to crum­ble in the Dust Bowl of the Great De­pres­sion. Big skies and huge scenery just add to the drama.

Our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion is the Pony Sol­dier Inn at Flagstaff — 200 miles fur­ther east on busy In­ter­state 40. Buf­feted by lor­ries and trucks, we ar­rive at Wu­patki Na­tional Mon­u­ment and visit the In­dian ru­ins where Billy and Wy­att fa­mously camped for the night.

We’ve trav­elled more than 1,000 miles and met some in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters. Easy Rider may be 50 years old and less cool for the younger gen­er­a­tion, but there’s still time to get your mo­tor run­nin’ and head out on the high­way . . .

Get your mo­tor run­nin’: Sun­set out­side Oat­man, Ari­zona. In­set, Peter Fonda and Den­nis Hop­per in Easy Rider

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