Best of Route 66 Challenge with Bike Tours For The Wounded
When I was presented with an opportunity to go on the Best of Route 66 Challenge provided by an organisation called Bike Tours For The Wounded - whereby a group of experienced riders, both civilian and veteran, take a number of wounded, sick or injured servicemen/veterans as pillions along a route that starts in Las Vegas, heads down into California, through Arizona and finishes where it started, riding on big chunks of the old Route 66 along the way - I knew I wanted to take part straight away. Although the trip is heavily subsidised by BT4TW, I knew that I would struggle to pay the £800 that was required to be paid by each participant, due to being medically discharged and having to tighten my belt with civvy street looming. This is where the RACF came in and turned the opportunity into a reality by very kindly funding this once-in-a-lifetime trip for me.
The tour is designed to give veterans a chance to reconnect with the sense of camaraderie that they had whilst they were serving and also to challenge themselves again in a testing climate and often high-adrenaline scenarios. For every challenging part of the tour, there are enjoyable moments in abundance and plenty of chances to relax and explore the local towns.
We began in Las Vegas and headed down to a small town in California called Victorville, home of the Route 66 museum. Having not been on the back of a Harley Davidson before, I was gripping the sides of the seat a little tighter than I liked to admit at first, especially travelling at 70mph in the middle lane of a 7-lane freeway! But as time passed I realised how safe a position I was in and how experienced my rider, Mike, was, making it easy to relax and take in the surroundings.
During the next few days, we got to head up into the Angeles Mountains and see the breath-taking views they had to offer, ride on some historic pieces of Route 66 and eat home-made apple pie in an old gold-mining town turned apple-farming community called Julian.
After finishing our California stay in a desert town called Blythe, we headed over the state line into Arizona; with the famous cactus becoming visible almost immediately as far as the eye could see. We got to stop for a ‘wet’ in a biker bar called The Hideaway just outside of Phoenix, which was a welcome break from the soaring temperatures that August in the desert brings! Something that surprised me about Arizona, though, was how within the space of a couple of hours, we had gone from being in the desert to being in the mountains in the mist and drizzle, surrounded by thick forest with elk and wild horses roaming free. A heavy storm brought about the opportunity to have a later night than expected in the American Legion in Heber-Overgaard, where we were welcomed in a typically warm fashion by the American veterans and plied with food and drink by some wonderful people.
The latter parts of the tour brought some more diverse riding conditions, with torrential rain getting the old nerves going a bit, followed by riding through Sedona with its famous red rock formations, and the opportunity for the riders to demonstrate their impressive riding skills on the windy roads of the many canyons Arizona has to offer. The towns of Williams, with its mock gunfights and Route 66 tourist shops, and Oatman, with its Western movie feel, saloons and substantial population of ‘burros’, were the final stops before we rode back into Las Vegas, complete with a stay in The Excalibur and an exploration of The Strip to finish off what was an all-round amazing experience.
Without the RACF’s extremely generous contribution, I wouldn’t have been able to experience the comprehensively superb trip that Bike Tours For The Wounded provide for veterans and serving military personnel alike. The support that I have received from the RACF has been second-to-none and every time I have been in comms with them I have been met with a friendly, positive attitude.
All-in-all, the experiences of the tour will stick with me forever and it was only made possible by the excellent work of the Royal Artillery Charitable Fund and Bike Tours For The Wounded.
by Ryan Shaw