Travelers driving between Chicago and LA used to get their kicks on Route 66 before it was essentially decommissioned in the 1980s with the emergence of the Interstate Highway system.
Now some surviving portions of the Mother Road in the Midwest have become destinations for bicycle tours while other abandoned stretches are being considered for bicycle trails.
The old highway, which dates back to 1920s, sounds like a great place to travel by bike today — in places. It wends across the landscape visiting small towns and passing the old-timey car culture claptrap of art-deco-style motels and diners bright with neon.
Elsewhere, of course, it’s buried under freeways, becomes part of a frontage road system or just disappears. In the West, parts of the old highway take off across endless miles of desert.
Bike tours launched
Just about every state the highway passed through — Illinois, St. Louis, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California — has a Historic Route 66 organization that seeks to preserve and inform car travelers and motorcyclists about the old highway.
Hostelling International Gateway Council is one of the organizations that is sparking interest among the bicycling crowd.
Last year it launched a bike tour along 350-some miles of the route from Miami, Oklahoma, to the Route 66 State Park in Eureka, Missouri. Susan Weaver writes about her perspective on that bike ride at Adventure Cycling magazine (the article is available in a .pdf file at “Cycling the Mother Road through Missouri.”)
This summer, the council is offering two bike tours on Old Route 66. The first leaves Chicago on June 12 and travels across Illinois to end at St. Louis on June 19. A later bike tour through Missouri starts at the Route 66 State Park on Oct. 10 and ends at Carthage on Oct. 15. (I tell a little more about these rides and others at Across State Bike Tours Illinois and Missouri.)
The Adventure Cycling Association’s Bike Bits newsletter (available by email subscription) recently reported on the efforts in Illinois to turn an abandoned length of Route 66 into a bicycling recreation trail.
The trail would start in Staunton, Illinois, and pass through Mt Olive to Litchfield, a distance of about 17 miles. In a letters to newspapers, a member of the Historic Route 66 Recreational Trail Committee writes:
“Although the roadway is still sitting there, abandoned and doing nothing for us now, we are all becoming more aware of the tremendous potential and the unique nature that this Trail will have for us, our communities and region. Most of all, we are talking about it, again.”
The designation already has lots of support from groups in the area. I’m thinking of it as a rail-to-trail project, except using an abandoned highway instead of a railroad.
Arizona and California
Bike Bits also writes about occasional bicycle traveler Brian DeSousa’s adventures on the old section of the Route 66. Last fall DeSousa began making plans for a bike tour along sections of Route 66 between Williams, Arizona, and Needles, California. If you ever read the book or watched the movie “Grapes of Wrath,” you’ll remember this as the route taken by the Joad family to the “promised land” of California.
A good place to learn more in general about Route 66 is the travel site “Legends of America.”
I wanted to end with a video, and I could have chosen Bobby Troup’s classic “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” But instead I opted for the theme song written by Nelson Riddle for the TV show “Route 66” that aired in the early 1960s. You can hear the entire song at TelevisionTunes.com.
Interesting sidenote; when we stopped in on Lazy Louie’s Bicycle Camp in Missouri back in 1984, Louie named Martin Milner (a star of Route 66) as one of the celebs who stopped there, on his motorcycle, to camp one night. The camp was located on the TransAmerica Trail between Marshfield and Hartville.
This would have been long after that show went off the air in 1964. I read that although the episodes were shot on location around the western US, few were shot along Route 66 itself. Maybe Milner wanted to visit scenes where the TV show could have been filmed.
Milner also appeared in the TV drama Adam-12. (How did I get so off-topic?)