It had been a long-standing dream of mine to drive Route 66 from its beginning in Chicago to its end in California, and in September of 2017 my wife Carolyn and I set out on that wonderful adventure from our home in Cortland, Illinois. However, we began our journey in “stages” prior to hitting the trail for the long haul.
Because we reside relatively close to Chicago, we found that it was simple to break the Illinois portion of the trip into three segments, picking up each time where we’d stopped on the previous drive. (Day 1-Chicago to Dwight; Day 2-Dwight to Bloomington-Normal; Day 3-Bloomington-Normal to Staunton.) We were accompanied by John Weiss’s New, Historic Route 66 of Illinois (8th Edition), an easy-to-follow guide which made each of our segments in Illinois interesting, fun, and on track.
By doing it this way, we could make a “day” out of each segment, enjoying—unhurriedly—the many places and historic spots along the old highway. And so when we were ready to get out on the Mother Road and drive it the rest of the way to Santa Monica in September, our starting point was in Staunton, a short distance to the Chain of Rocks Bridge and the Mississippi River.
I had been eager to visit the Chain of Rocks Bridge, having never done so before, and I was particularly interested in seeing the odd sharp turn it makes near the Missouri side. Unfortunately, because the access to the bridge was closed to access, we could only see the bridge from a distance as we crossed over the I-270 bridge, westbound to St. Louis and beyond.
I was disappointed but knew that sometime down the road I’d be able to get to the Chain of Rocks Bridge, which we did in June of 2021, where we actually got to drive over and back on the bridge with our group, The Route 66 Association of Illinois, during its annual Motor Tour weekend.
Once we crossed the river, I had a feeling that our journey was now “officially” in play! So many miles and unfamiliar territory lay ahead. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom on the open road with so many little towns and nooks and crannies for us to see and enjoy on The Mother Road!
I have now been retired from teaching middle school kids reading and English since June of 2007, yet I still can recall—with vivid clarity—the job interview back in late-summer of 1973 that helped me get the proverbial “foot in the door” and eventually secure a teaching job. It had become rather a hectic and frantic “scramble” that summer to overcome the loss of a position before I even had the position!
None of this helter-skelter would have been necessary had the job I’d thought was mine had acutally been offered to me. Alas, it wasn’t, and the whole unforeseen experience was a colossal wakeup call, one I very much needed, mind you! How naive I had been to believe that my first teaching position was a foregone conclusion. . . in the bag. . . a sure thing, etc.! I even had delusions of spending most of that post-graduation summer lazing around and taking my sweet time gathering up whatever I would need for my new life in a different town.
Oh, how wrong I was!
When June turned into July, and I still hadn’t heard from the superintendent, who’d previously “unofficially” assured me that I’d have a job in the school system back in my old hometown following my graduation, I began to worry. As much as I hated it, I called and spoke with him directly. After the general run-around, he informed me that the job was no longer vacant and wished me good luck on my future career endeavors. Thus, any thoughts of “lazing around” for the rest of the summer quickly flew the coop!
After a period of disbelief and shock, I came to my senses and knew I had to figure out a way to jump start my situation and get going on a now-crucial job search. During this near-panic-driven stage, I saw an ad in the local paper for a teacher employment agency.
Without hesitating, I contacted the agency and signed up to receive vacancy notices each week, even though I understood that any job I took would require me to pay a fee out of my first contract. At this point, I wasn’t too picky and didn’t rule out any opening that came my way. It was imperative to find something before the new school year was to begin. July didn’t offer me much wiggle room in that regard!
Soon, I began receiving the “vacancy” bulletins, with job listings and contact information. Had we had our computers and iPads and the Internet then, all of this probably would have been solved before it really got going!
Although I was not very familiar with much of Illinois outside of suburban Chicago, I was willing to go just about anywhere if there was job security and a pathway to a worthwhile career in the mix. I think it was kind of the beginning of my interest in setting off to previously unheard of spots. Of course, being twenty-three, I’m sure I didn’t always think things through all the way, but I had to go about things a different way now.
The first opening that looked “possible,” was at a high school in a small town in central Illinois, not far from Champaign. “Might as well get things going,” I told myself. I arranged for an interview with the principal there. I’d like to say that the two-and-a-half hour drive through the cornfields in typical summer heat a few days later, paid substantial dividends.
Quite frankly, it was a complete waste of time from the very beginning. The lethargic principal seemed merely to be going through the motions, not really showing any interest in what I might have to offer as a member of the teaching staff. Disappointed, I went back out into the hot and humid air and headed back northbound, thinking about what my next opportunity would be, or, perhaps, what other field of work I might consider.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. The next job bulletin I received included a couple of potentially rewarding positions, and I quickly contacted the appropriate people at the two schools to arrange interviews.
The first one, in Munster, Indiana, just southeast of Chicago and not a far drive at all from home, would be with a high school principal on a Tuesday morning a week from my phone call.
The second one, in a place named Mulberry Grove, in south central Illinois, would take place the same evening of my Munster interview.
Two interviews in one day. . . Hundreds of miles apart. . . Could it be done, realistically?
I had no idea, but at this point, I was willing to give it a try. After digging out my Rand-McNally Road Atlas, I figured that it would be about 350 miles between the two places. When I mentioned this situation to my parents, they were glad I was getting some leads for a job, but they thought my plan wasn’t a wise one to attempt alone.
As I’ve mentioned many times, one of the truly enjoyable things in my life is travel. And since I retired in 2007, I have been able to experience many, many miles “out there” on the road!
Of course, a good number of the travel adventures haven’t come about until we gave up our summer cottage rental a few years ago. We always knew that we wouldn’t be able to afford to do both: a summer cottage and the expense of nice trips. So, after several summers spent on Magician Lake in Sister Lakes, Michigan, we opted to give it up beginning in 2017 and take those trips to places we’d longed to see and visit.
And 2017 was certainly a memorable one for our travels. In mid-August, with a group of friends and other acquaintances, we embarked on a Holland America cruise to Alaska’s Inside Passage by way of Vancouver. I had been on one other cruise previously, and it couldn’t hold a candle to this cruise in terms of elegance, comfort, and amenities. It certainly whetted my appetite to “go cruising” in the future! There was never a time on the trip that I was bored or disappointed in the itinerary or the cruising life in general. My one regret for the whole trip, though, was my health (heart valve issue and A-fib) which hampered my ability—or desire—to walk and enjoy the ports of call: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Denali, and Anchorage.
The smoked salmon we had in Ketchikan, the trip to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, the train ride through history on the White Pass & Yukon Route out of Skagway and sampling Spruce Tip Ale afterwards, the stark beauty of Glacier Bay are all “moments” forever etched in my bank of memories.
Leaving the ship for the final time in Seward, we made the long bus ride up to Denali National Park where we spent an overnight, leaving little time for any real exploration of the area. The next morning we boarded the McKinley Explorer train, with domed cars for glorious views en route to Anchorage. As luck would have it, it was a crystal clear day, with visibility unimpeded, making Mt. McKinley/Denali as clear and close-up as anyone could have hoped for.
Through all of the miles, the only wildlife we saw other than birds and small game, was a black bear cub scooting back into the forest as we zoomed past. The ubiquitous moose failed to show, leaving me just a bit disappointed.
After spending the night in Anchorage, we had all of the next day free to sight-see and enjoy the beautiful sunshine of an Alaskan summer. The colors were out everywhere the eye could see, provided by flowers larger than we were used to back in the Midwest!
As night approached, and our bus hauled us to the Anchorage Airport, most of us were ready to get back home. Of course, our flight didn’t leave until midnight, so it would be a “red eye” special, of a full airliner, that took us back to O’Hare International.
Weary and travel worn, we made it back safe and sound and recalled all of those terrific moments of our group’s fun days just past.
But that wasn’t the end of that summer’s travel. In September, Carolyn and I would set out on the next adventure—driving Route 66!
One of the things I’m most counting on to “get back to normal” as soon as possible, is the opportunity to get out on the highway and roll onward—whenever and wherever—I please. At this writing, in early January, surrounded by snow-covered lawns and icy sidewalks, I long for the pleasant days ahead that are just perfect for road tripping! Even though I’m still awaiting “official” word regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, and when I can receive it, I’m mentally making plans for dates and destinations once so many restrictions are lifted.
If I listen carefully, I can hear Route 66 calling…shouting… out to me—and so many other travelers—that it’s been way too long away! As old friends, the road and I will eventually enjoy a wonderful and rewarding reunion.
No, I won’t be making the entire trip from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, this time. We did that in September of 2017 and still cherish the many memories of the people, places, and character of The Mother Road. Because of time constraints, there was much we missed on that trip, a prime reason for my intention to make the whole drive again—sometime, just not yet.
Living outside of Chicago, the legendary eastern point of the legendary highway, I’m in a perfect location. First, as soon as I’m able, I will drive the whole of Illinois’s portion of 66, ending at the famous old Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis. Because access to the bridge site was closed during our 2017 trip, we weren’t able to get out to it to walk across it, since it has been closed to car and truck traffic for several years. The thought of being able to get back there, when the days are warm and sunny, helps me put up with this cold and snow and ice.
Besides renewed adventures on Route 66, there are other miles to click off, on other roads and highways, such as US-6, the route I enjoy driving from Illinois, through Indiana, ending at my mother’s in Ohio. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been able to make that drive, and much has changed for all of us in that time. I know, the Turnpikes and Interstates are quicker, but they’re nothing more than a necessary evil in my way of thinking! Because of my absence from all of these old, familiar roads, I believe I’ll see and experience the “things” along the way in a whole new perspective! I’m eager—even anxious—to do so!
I’ve been away from this blog for far too long, and what better time to jump back into posting some poignant and cogent thoughts than on my birthday? Yep, I’ve reached another milestone in this life, and it’s a terrific day outside to add to the occasion. At this writing, a few minutes past 10:00 A.M. Central Time, it’s sunny, clear, and 73° with a most delightful breeze. To say the least, it was perfect for my early-morning coffee on the deck, one of the few times I’ve been able to do so this “spring” with all of the chilly and rainy weather that’s been the rule rather than the exception here in northern Illinois.
The farmers have been desperate to find a “window” to be able to get their fields prepared and planted in time for a fall harvest. Usually by this time each year, corn and soy beans are sprouting up from the good, rich soil. It is doubtful if the field directly behind us will even be planted this year. It has become pretty much an overgrown wasteland. With the warmer dry weather lately, I look out each day to see if any tractors are getting going to break it up and get it planted. Alas, nothing yet!
Weather issues aside, we have spent several weekends “out and about,” mostly for family events: High school graduations in Omaha and West Lafayette; a three-day visit to see my mother in Ohio.
In early May, I set out one Saturday and took part in the Illinois Route 66 Association’s Red Carpet Corridor event between Joliet and the central Illinois town of Towanda. The gorgeous day provided a wonderful backdrop for driving from town to town along the famous old Mother Road. The day brought back many memories of 2017 when we drove the whole route—Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in California.
And, of course, there have been the grandsons’ baseball games to attend, and the annual NASCAR weekend over in Brooklyn, Michigan. Again, it was a fun time, with the exception of having the big race rained out on Sunday. As always, that’s the chance one takes. Seems as though we’re hitting more rain issues every year. Mother Nature enjoys playing spoiler with us.
With summer about to bloom again, it’s time for me to get a move on and finish my writing projects that have lain dormant for too long. It’s time to continue my water exercise program I began in May at the YMCA three days a week. It’s time to go for walks and find those smiles once again. It’s time to bring this blog back to its original intent when I launched it a few years ago. It’s time to make this birthday one of re-emphasizing that life is good.
OK. It’s been way too long since I actually sat down with the sole purpose to write something to post on Down Many Roads—my long-standing blog about various topics of which I’m interested. And I’ve frittered away so many opportunities to do that very thing during the past several weeks and months. Reading, rather than writing, has still been my “go to” activity when I’m up before dawn most mornings, and I feel rather guilty about that—but not that guilty! Recently, I have enjoyed reading the following books: Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan; The Russia Hoax, by Greg Jarrett; The Saga of the Pony Express, by Joseph J. Di Certo;
Since I last posted regarding our wonderful adventure on the Oregon Trail with our grandsons, I have been busy with a few road trips to Ohio to see Mom and my older sister and husband. Mom turned 90 last month and is doing remarkably well. We had just returned from an 18-day Panama Canal cruise, and our intention was to make the six hour drive to northern Ohio to celebrate her birthday on the actual day—January 22. But a nagging viral infection entered the scene, as did the return of the Polar Vortex, preventing me from making the trip to the shores of Lake Erie.
About that same time, we had been inundated with continuous snowfalls, accumulations mounting daily. As such, I’m planning a trip out in a couple of weeks, hoping that this sudden thaw and this stretch of very pleasant weather will hold on for a while. Fingers crossed.
Our aforementioned cruise began on January 2, when we flew out of O’Hare to San Diego. From start to finish, the whole trip was wonderful, particularly the warm and comfortable weather all the way along, where we ended up in Fort Lauderdale and flew home from there. I will be writing about the highlights of this adventure in future posts.
Watching the Super Bowl yesterday left me in a total state of “the blahs.” Not only was the game a complete flop, the commercials—usually the highlight of Super Sunday—were non existent. There is definitely something going on in our world and society that has changed things that are supposed to be fun into anything but. Too much preachy content that caters to a generation I find difficult to comprehend much of the time. The outcome was not really surprising, and I’m not a Patriots football fan. However, I do admire their achievements and their adherence to off-the-field obligations. Enjoy your White House visit, Patriots!
Now, it’s time to focus on getting through February. Good to be back and writing! See you sooner than later…
Writing now from northern Illinois, and looking back to our wonderful mid-July trip out on a stretch of the Oregon Trail in Wyoming, I still smile at the many moments and memories forged in that three-day adventure.
Our final day dawned as crystal clear and bright as the previous two had. And this morning’s breakfast didn’t disappoint, either. We weren’t sure how far we would travel on this last day, but we would find out that some beautiful, open country lay ahead. Morris told us that our part of the trip would be finished by lunch time.
Leaving camp, we headed out once more and followed the rugged trail through private land and that of the Bureau of Land Management. We encountered more Mormons making their summer handcart journey. Everyone was friendly and eager to stop and watch as our horse drawn covered wagon rolled along nearby.
Grandson Jack once again spent most of the morning riding Taz, and brother Matt was invited to ride up on the driver’s seat with Morris. After a time, Morris turned the reins over to Matt, who drove us over more original ruts of the Oregon Trail.
Before we realized it, the morning had run on toward lunch time, and as we arrived at another of the many fence gates, Morris announced that our part of the trip was finished.
It was one final lunch out in the great wide open, breathing in the terrific air and basking in the glorious high plains sunshine. Then, it was time to load our trail backpacks and various other things we’d had along with us into the pickup that would haul us back to the remote spot where our car was parked.
And it was as simple as that! It seemed that no sooner had our adventure begun, that it had just as quickly come to an end. Fond farewells to Morris and our other traveling companions occurred and then we climbed into the pickup that Randy would drive to get us to the cars.
It felt good to unload and put our belongings into our car. We pointed the car back toward Casper, where we would be spending the night before heading out the next morning to Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore.
With a sense of accomplishment, we all relaxed and smiled at the notion that we’d be showering and putting on clean clothes for the first time all week!
Day 2- Somewhere out in the High Plains of Wyoming on the Oregon Trail, near the Sweetwater River
Dawn arrived, seemingly quickly, and was spectacular as we awoke from a restful night. Once, during the night, I had found my way carefully out of the tipi to “check on nature,” and was treated to an awesome sky of billions of stars overhead, providing all of the light there was. Off in the distance, a few coyotes called out. Later, the hoot of an owl broke the stillness. By first light, most of us were ready to get on with the day’s adventure ahead.
Trail hand, Randy, proceeded with getting the morning fire ready for breakfast. Matt, always the helper, pitched in and lent a hand. The rest of us went about rolling up our sleeping bags and packing our cots to stow once again in the goose neck of the trailer. We also had to take down the tipis and mess tent after breakfast.
We had some time to do all of this as we had to wait for Morris to get back with the pickup truck, having left in the night to drive back to Casper to pick up a family of three, who would be joining us for the rest of the trip.
Breakfast was nothing short of excellent! Thick strips of bacon, fresh eggs, potatoes all cooked on a flat top over charcoal were delicious. And the trail coffee truly hit the spot.
Following our morning’s feast, and quite satisfied, we finished breaking down the campsite and getting everything packed and stowed on the trailer and were just waiting for Morris and the new folks to join us. It was late morning when the blue pickup pulled into camp, and Morris immediately introduced the Collins family, and began harnessing the two horses up to the wagon. We were about to hit the trail once more.
What lay ahead as we bumped along the trail, was the infamous Rocky Ridge, considered one of the most treacherous parts of the Oregon Trail. I elected to stay in the wagon to “ride it out,” as the others walked to lighten the load. To say that it was a rough and wild ride going up and over the stairstep-like rocky obstacles would be a vast understatement.
We continued on through land belonging to private owners and much of that of Bureau of Land Management. Along the way, we came upon Mormons who were pushing or pulling handcarts along the trail. Thousands of Mormons visit Wyoming to re-enact traveling the Trail with handcarts to symbolize the suffering of Mormon’s who traveled
theTrail in 1856-1860.
Before we knew it, we had come to our camp site. It was in a meadow that abutted a small grove of trees and a rather steep hill behind.
Since we “knew the drill” from yesterday, it didn’t take us long at all to set up the mess tent, the tipis, and to get things ready for that night’s dinner of rib eye steaks, green beans, and another dutch oven berry cobbler. Outstanding!
Afterwards, we all enjoyed spending some time around a campfire as the day gave way to dusk and then to darkness. Tired from another day’s journey, we climbed into our cots and sleeping bags and had no trouble getting to sleep.
Our summer travels in our trusty Chevy Equinox have netted well over 4,000 miles. But, as I like to say, they’re all wonderful miles! Miles of memories! And it’s not just the miles alone that count for all of this, but rather the people who have ridden along with us down those many miles.
Back in July, we had the pleasure of having our two grandsons—Jack (12) and Matt (10)—out to Casper, Wyoming, as passengers and participants for a three-day journey along part of the original Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.
Going in, we had no idea of just what to expect, but we came away from the experience feeling like it was one of the best things we’d ever done.
And though they are too young to actually admit that it was an adventure of a lifetime, we’re pretty certain that Jack and Matt will carry the memories of the journey with them their whole lives, Grandpa and Grandma notwithstanding.
And this was no amusement park staged make-believe trip. Everything was authentic and custom made—from the covered wagon to the tipis we slept in for two nights out in the middle of nowhere on the High Plains of Wyoming.
This all came about nearly a year ago when my wife started researching outfits that provided these kinds of tours. And that is when she came in contact with Morris Carter and his business, Historic Trails West, out of Casper.
When the date to leave finally arrived (following the boys’ baseball season on July 15) we pointed our loaded up Equinox west for the long drive out, stopping in Fremont, Nebraska, for a quick overnight on the way.
After arriving in Casper the next evening, the boys unwound in the pool at the Ramkota Hotel, followed by a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.
Following a wonderful breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we were up and out to meet up with Morris by 8 a.m. to begin our three-day covered wagon trek. Little did we know just how amazing the next few days would be!
Following Morris, who was driving his pickup pulling a 40-foot custom-made trailer that contained three horses, the wagon, various equipment and necessary items for the trip, and a porta-potty, we came upon
famous landmarks like Independence Rock, Devils Gate, and Split Rock. The early travelers and pioneers used these as guides and indicators of being on the right path west.
Several miles later, we finally reached our “setting off” place, a camp run by the Mormons.
The first duty was to get the trailer unloaded, the wagon cover (bonnet) attached, and make ready to “hit the trail.”
Jack and Matt’s first job became obvious when they each were handed a shovel and directed to the portion of the trailer where the horses had
Finally, all was ready and Morris called out to the two-horse team of big white Percherons (Jess and Jordan) to get going. And so we bumped along, crossing the first creek right away and slowly winding our way along a dirt trail westward.
We also had another horse (Tazz) for anyone who wished to ride. Matt started out on Tazz and later switched off to let his brother ride. They both enjoyed riding the trail atop Tazz!
One of the horses (Jess) had developed a sore hoof along the way and was limping badly by this time. Morris knew that a change in the horse teams would be necessasry before tomorrow’s journey continued, and he was in contact with his home base to arrange for a switch during the night ahead.
After nearly eleven miles and experiencing so much wide open space and scenic surroundings, and the afternoon growing late, we reached our first night’s camping site. In a vast and wide open space, we had our first experience of setting up camp.
First, the horses were unhitched and watered and allowed to roam and graze in the vast open spaces. Under the guidance and instruction from Morris and Randy, we all helped to put up the cook tent and help with setting up a couple of long tables and chairs. Next, the two tipis were up in a relatively quickly, ready for our cots and sleeping bags.
Soon, Randy had the charcoal ready for the potatoes and pork chops,
and the dutch oven cherry cobbler cooked slowly over the heat. It was a delicious trail meal that first night out, and afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags relatively soon.
It’s mid-June already, and life here in northern Illinois keeps rolling right along. It seems as though those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer have definitely arrived, and the constant whirring of our air conditioner is the background “music” as we go about our daily living around the old homestead.
I quietly “celebrated” another birthday a week ago and have been busy attending the grandsons’ baseball games a couple of times each week. As before, I’m doing way more reading than writing, but I keep intending to make amends in that department—soon!
As these summer days settle in around us, I find myself harking back to last summer and those two magnificent trips we took: Alaska cruise in August; driving Route 66 in September. And although I am trying to avoid being that guy—the one who constantly lives in the past—I do have very fond memories of that Alaska trip.
For sure, I wouldn’t mind being on board that magnificent Holland-America ms Noordam once more, plying the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay. And the long day’s bus ride out of Seward up to Denali National Park on that dreary and rainy day, wouldn’t be so bad right now, either. The splendid views of the magnificence of the entire area rest prominently in my mind’s memory right now.
I find myself flashing back to our wonderful Route 66 Journey of last September (not many weeks after we returned from the Alaska trip) and wishing we were just preparing to do it all over again. I often lose myself recalling all those twists and turns on the “old” stretches of highway, the weather-worn, rusty neon signs and forgotten roadside businesses we encountered all along the way.
I have several Facebook friends and Route 66-themed pages I follow every day, and I love seeing many of the same photos of the same places we experienced. Each one, familiar now, evokes so many wonderful memories.
Perhaps another journey along the Mother Road in the not-too-distant future is possible. After all, there are things we missed or didn’t have enough time to enjoy as thoroughly as we would have preferred. I’m afraid, though, that my traveling “partner” is not hot on that idea, as she feels that once was enough for her! We shall see…
I can’t, however, rest solely on last summer’s delightful road adventures. At this writing, I’m only a month away from another adventure, this time with our two grandsons. On Sunday, July 15, as soon as the boys are finished with the baseball tournament they’ll be wrapping up that day, we’re setting off for the territories once more! This time to Casper, Wyoming, for a three-day trip in a covered wagon on the old Oregon Trail.
I suppose that it’s only fitting that we spend some time this summer experiencing another of the famous roads so full of historic importance in the great land of ours. Lots of miles ahead, but I’d not have it any other way.