Route 66: The Friendship Highway

German couple riding the Mother Road make connection with Kingman women

Werner Wilkens, Kate Arnold, Jean Arnold, and Karen Wichert made a lasting friendship after meeting at a Texas RV park. Wilkens and Wichert, from Germany, are nearing the end of an epic North American bike ride. The Arnolds are two of many Americans they’ve befriended over the past few months.

Photo by Doug McMurdo.

Werner Wilkens, Kate Arnold, Jean Arnold, and Karen Wichert made a lasting friendship after meeting at a Texas RV park. Wilkens and Wichert, from Germany, are nearing the end of an epic North American bike ride. The Arnolds are two of many Americans they’ve befriended over the past few months.

KINGMAN – International friendships are made in the strangest of places. Take, for example, the Amarillo Ranch RV Park in Amarillo, Texas.

That’s where retired Kingman educator Kate Arnold and her mother, Jean Arnold, met German citizens Karen Wichert and Werner Wilkens.

The foursome started talking, as travelers often do when they’re on the road. Kate and Jean were on their way back home to Kingman after taking a trip to Chicago.

For the first time in her life, Kate towed a travel trailer for her and Jean to stay in while on the road – which was an adventure.

Karen and Werner were also on an adventure, one that has taken them nearly 2,800 miles in four months – on bicycles, not counting the 4,200 miles they traveled by airplane from France to Quebec City, Canada, where their North American odyssey began four months ago as of last Sunday.

And like Kate and Jean, they, too, were on their way to Kingman. Eventually. After all, you can’t drive the length of Route 66 without going through the city.

The women invited Karen and Werner to stay with them when they made it to Kingman. On Sunday, she and Jean took them to Oatman and downtown, but not before the Miner got their story.

Karen and Werner said Kate and Jean are two of many Americans that showed them kindness along the way, which shows the country, while politically divided, remains full of good people.

The first leg of their epic journey took them from the St. Lawrence River to its source, Lake Ontario, and its thousands of islands.

“It was a wonderful landscape,” said Karen, an energetic woman thrilled to share her adventure. “We saw Niagara Falls and Lake Erie.”

They made it to Port Huron, but had to turn around and go miles out of their way when they were told they could not cross the bridge on bicycles.

“We broke a spoke. It was raining,” she said, assuming the look people get to convey great misery.

Eventually, they traveled about 1,000 miles to Chicago, where they connected to Route 66, but not before they ran into a little trouble – and met another friend.

“We had to go through Gary (Indiana),” said Karen. “People told us, ‘Don’t go to Gary. It’s too dangerous.’ We didn’t know what to do, but then a man, he told us, ‘If you have to go through Gary, go in the morning. All the bad people will be asleep.’

“We decided to go in the morning.”

Seven miles outside of Gary, a unique screw on one of the bike’s broke. Werner found a length of wire in the street and fashioned a temporary fix and they rode through Gary, in the morning, unmolested.

The couple hit Chicago on Labor Day weekend and every campground for miles around was full to capacity.

A stranger, also a bicyclist, saw their heavily-laden bikes and invited them to stay the night. At his home on Lake Michigan, with a private beach.

The man gave them the option of sleeping in one of his guest rooms or on his beach.

“We took the beach,” said Werner.

“It was beautiful,” said Karen.

The man, a lawyer, and his wife brought dinner out to their tent, built a big fire on the beach, and neighbors came over to visit.

The man also knew a top-notch bike mechanic in Chicago who repaired the bike.

After sight-seeing in Chicago, Karen and Werner ate breakfast in Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, a Chicago icon since 1923 located near the starting point of the Mother Road.

They rode between 35 and 65 miles a day. Along the way, they made another friend who happened to have ridden Route 66 in 2015. He took much of the guesswork out of their trip when he provided them with Route 66 maps made specifically for bicyclists.

By the time they met Kate and Jean in the Texas Panhandle, Karen and Werner had braved ferocious headwinds as they labored up and down the Rockies and across the Continental Divide.

They’ve both lost weight. Karen shows how much she’s had to tighten her belt. Werner’s shirt size was XL at the end of July.

“I wear a medium now,” he said, proudly patting his trim stomach.

The weight loss came thanks to what has at times been an arduous journey. “Often it was hard. Very hard,” said Karen. “The wind is not our friend.”

On the ride from Amarillo to Kingman, about 750 miles via Interstate 40, they met a couple from New Zealand on bikes. They also met an older biking couple from Canada, who inspired them. “He was 79,” said Werner.

“And she was 73,” said Karen, her eyes as big as saucers in her marvel.

They met a Japanese man who rode his bike from New York to Chicago just to ride Route 66. When they got to Truxton, they spotted a jacket in the road they thought might have belonged to him.

They called, and Saturday they had a brief reunion when they returned the lost jacket at one of the Kingman Safeway stores.

“We have met so many friendly people,” said Karen. “Americans are very friendly. Everyone is so helpful and outgoing.”

Werner and Karen will ride the highway all the way to Santa Monica, Calif.

They were told to go in the morning, when everyone’s asleep. Chances are, they will meet a few more friends along the way.

For more on Karen and Werner’s grand adventure, visit http://sabbatical-im-sattel.diezweiunterwegs.de/.