|On a cool morning in May 2004, I pressed the starter button on my Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle. The triple-cylinder engine roared to life, and I and 30 other people on 24 motorcycles left Grant Park along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago for the trip of a lifetime—a 3,200-mile tour of the “Mother Road,” U.S. Route 66.
Contrary to popular belief, this interstate road from Chicago to Santa Monica is not extinct. In fact, more than 80 percent of the old road still exists. With a good map and some prior research, you can travel Route 66 across Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Our trip, sponsored by the American Motorcycle Association, took 15 days. The best part about traveling on Route 66 was there was always something new or unexpected a few miles up the road. There are sections of the road that are gone, and the pavement simply stops or turns into a muddy field. When the interstate bypassed Route 66, restaurants, motels, gas stations and entire towns dried up and blew away.
Encountering the unexpected made life fresh, and there was little room for boredom. The only bad part about the trip hit me at the very end, in Santa Monica. I had to travel back across the United States in four days—800 miles per day.
When Route 66 became official in 1926, about 800 miles of the road were paved. The surface of the remaining 1,648 miles was either graded dirt or gravel, bricks covered with asphalt or rocks and wooden planks. It took considerable time to get the road up to federal-highway standards. It wasn’t until 1937 that all of the paving was completed.
A local connection between central Pennsylvania and Route 66 exists. The late musician and actor, Bobby Troup from Harrisburg, composed the famous song, “Route 66,” in the 1940s while getting his kicks on a trip with his wife. After Troup completed his trip in Los Angeles, he played his song to Nat King Cole. Neither Troup, Cole nor Route 66 would be the same again.
Route 66 is not just any road; it’s a piece of living American history. Although the last section of the old road was bypassed in Arizona in 1984, the memories of the road still linger. The road is more than a means of getting to another destination—it’s the people, places, food, buildings and entertainment that conjure fond memories. Some have called the route “America’s Road” because it represents the hopes, dreams and aspirations of people looking for a better life.
Traveling its full extent fulfilled a dream for me. I hope that you will visit Route 66 one day. Take the advice of Nat King Cole, “If you ever plan to motor west: travel my way, take the highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66.”
For more information, go to:
www.route66maps.com, www.historic66.com/index.html and
Joseph Winberry ’79 is an optometrist who enjoys riding his Triumph motorcycle as a member of the White Rose Motorcycle Club in Spring Grove, Pa.