Thoughtfully the organizers of the trip thought we might need a day to rest after our long flight so the next day was free of any official engagements and ours to do as we pleased with so Allan decided that we would drive to the two hundred mile journey to the far north of the State to see the Grand Canyon.
This seemed a good idea but involved a very early start before it even got light and we were off and away before I had time to check to see if I had a hangover and even before the breakfast bar was open in the restaurant. The route took us along a highway that went first north and then west around the city which seemed sensible because Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the USA and suffers notorious congestion, and then we picked up Interstate 17 which according to individual preference is called either the Black Canyon Freeway or the Arizona Veteran’s Highway and we started to drive north.
As we had skipped breakfast it was inevitable that Dave would be the first to crack and declare his hunger and he predictably started to nag about a food stop a short way into the journey. After about thirty miles Allan could stand it no longer and at the next available intersection left the Interstate without warning and headed in an unknown direction down Stagecoach Road towards the municipality of New River.
I will never know if this was just a major stroke of luck or pure inspiration because I was convinced that he had no idea at all where he was going but just as I was wondering where the dusty Black Canyon Highway was going to lead Allan, with a confidence that he was not entitled to, swung into a car park of a diner called the Roadrunner Restaurant and declared with a swagger that it was the perfect place for breakfast. As I wrestled with this conundrum I concluded that he must surely have seen a sign that no one else had some way back on the interstate!
It turned out the place was quite famous; the Roadrunner was established in 1964 and the story goes that its first bartender was only six years old because when the original owner arrived with his new liquor license and a celebratory bottle of whiskey, he appointed the only non-drinker present at the time to pour the first drinks.
Inside there were plenty of local folk enjoying huge plates of food and we all agreed that Allan had made a very good choice indeed. After we had settled down at a table the waitress brought coffee and menus and we set about making our choice. When she returned Keith went first and she enquired how he liked to take his eggs.
Now, Keith was an easy going, mild mannered sort of chap but this simple question seemed to trigger an Incredible Hulk type transformation, ‘EGGS!’ he said in his distinctive Norfolk drawl (and it works better if you can try it with the accent) ‘I aren’t eating eggs, I aren’t eating something that’s been squeezed out of a chicken’s arse!’ We really didn’t need the graphic details of how a chicken lays an egg and neither did the rest of the diner. There was stunned silence all round!
This uncharacteristic behaviour took us all rather by surprise, the tables went deathly quiet and needless to say the outburst seemed to alarm the waitress who after all was only doing her job and would have been wholly within her rights to decide for herself that he probably liked his eggs simply cracked and served raw over his head.
Between us we managed to smooth over the situation and we were careful after that to keep Keith well away from eggs for the rest of the trip. We had a nice filling breakfast and made sure that we left a generous tip.
Outside, the sun was up now and there was a big blue sky with little wispy white clouds on the horizon but as we travelled further north it stared to get colder and the highway verges were piled high with snow where the ploughs had cleared the carriageways of a recent fall. Arizona is best known for its desert climate with exceptionally hot summers and mild winters, but the high country in the north features pine forests and mountain ranges with much cooler weather than the lower deserts and we were beginning to approach them now.
We passed by Black Canyon City, climbed through the Prescott National Park and somewhere around Flagstaff we crossed the famous old Route 66 without really appreciating the significance of the event. Finally Interstate 17 came to an abrupt end when we reached a junction and we selected a route across Coconimo Plateau through a Navajo Indian Reservation and continued north to the Grand Canyon South Rim visitor centre.