Route 66 in the News

Getting Kicks on 66

2010-07-01 12:18:15

Imagine leaving home, a place where your family roots had spread for generations, loading your children and valuables into a less-than-reliable family car, and heading west on a road which is barely passable in some spots.

In the 1920s, '30s and '40s, thousands of families did just that.

Fleeing the shadow of poverty, they believed that following the road of hope called Route 66 would deliver them to California, a land of riches, gainful employment and opportunities galore. However, even if the 2,400-mile trip went well, these promises were often elusive or nonexistent.

Soon I will be doing the opposite. Having retired from well-paying professional jobs, my husband, Alan, and I will abandon for a time the luxuries of home, friends and security to travel decommissioned Route 66 east to Chicago. It's not such a monumental undertaking today, and yet, it's rather daunting in a time of economic and security flux.

In my SUV with a 19-foot trailer in tow, our aim is to explore the towns along the way, meet the peoples of America's heartland, and hopefully emerge from the adventure with a better understanding of why the Mother Road transcends its asphalt core, beckoning travelers to forego larger and faster modern highways in search of some sort of epiphany.

In this series on Route 66, we began at the border crossing town of Needles, rambled through the dusty little communities of the Mojave Desert, explored the crossroads of Barstow and headed west on the Sage Brush Annie stretch to Victorville. We experienced the Cajon Pass, the gateway to Los Angeles, and investigated Mother Road remnants in San Bernardino, Rialto and Fontana. Now, for a time, we will deviate from this route, promising to return and finish our trek to Santa Monica at a later date.

Soon we will head east from Needles with no particular time constraints or destinations except to journey on Route 66 with a few side trips to places we cannot fathom missing, such as Santa Fe and Roswell, N.M.

Armed with a pile of guidebooks and maps, advice from such Route 66 gurus as Jim Hinckley and Jim Conkle, the good folks at the Victorville Route 66 Museum and the Barstow Route 66 Museum, it soon will be "Chicago or Bust!"

How have towns along the route survived, what remnants of the road's heyday remain, and do creative minds continue to lure travelers with quirky and odd attractions? Will people act friendly and forthcoming, or will they be suspicious and resentful?

The challenges that face us are many.

First, we must slow down. Flying at 70 mph will not work with a trailer in tow. Can we live in a 19-foot space for two months? Will paying bills, writing articles and keeping in touch with family and friends on the Internet work?

And then there are the unexpected obstacles we may encounter, such as inclement weather like tornados or hurricanes, traffic accidents, the price of gas, car repairs and emergencies at home.

Will we suffer from an overabundance of togetherness? Can we survive on a drastic drop in earnings? These are challenges we will meet head on.

Our new (used) trailer has many amenities, the most important of which is a bathroom. After tent camping for many years, midnight treks to the outhouse were the pits (pun intended).

The trailer will cut down gas mileage, but will save on hotels and allow us to cook many of our own meals. We have taken it on two trial runs to iron out the bugs and become acquainted with hitching it up, plugging into hookups and packing it with the essentials. It is actually quite comfortable and easy to tow, albeit a challenge to back up.

This crazy idea came by way of an acquaintance who, in the year of his 66th birthday, took off in his Mustang and traveled the Mother Road solo.

His accounting of the trip was mesmerizing and we decided that when we turned 66 years of age, we, too, would follow the Road. That time has arrived, and soon we will embark on our journey.

In next week's installment of this series, we will travel with Kim Anderson on his adventure, exploring America's Highway in 2003. After that, we will head out on our own adventure following the road to Chicago.

So join us on this venture and maybe it will encourage (or discourage) you to take to the road and experience America's Highway.

Keep up with the progress of this quest on my blog:

~Claudia Heller,


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