Kick off your shoes, shun the interstate, and travel on Rte 66!
By Helena Wahlstrom
A word of warning: after traveling down America’s best-loved highway between the pages of Drew Knowles’s “Route 66 Adventure Handbook,” you might find yourself on the road for real. Knowles’s brilliant, genuinely fond account of Route 66, now in its fourth edition, is sure to make readers long for the good old pre-interstate days.
Knowles, photographer and writer, embarked on his years-long expedition of the Mother Road after a chance encounter with a small section of it in New Mexico. After four editions of his Route 66 book, the love affair keeps going strong. And Knowles’s love for the road shines through on each page of his guidebook.
Illustrated with his black-and-white photography, “Route 66” lists a wealth of attractions along America’s main street. The fourth edition boasts even more goodies, including 70 new maps, dozens of new attractions, and exact locations of points of interests.
But don’t expect Knowles to get too exact on this Adventure with a capital A. In order to get the reader to “fish,” not merely be fed, Knowles warns readers he will not tell them exactly where they should turn to stay on Route 66. Instead, he wants travelers to pack their Spirit of Adventure: to “go with the flow” and not follow any exact itinerary. It’s unorthodox coming from a guidebook writer, but in the offbeat setting of Route 66, it works.
Knowles begins his Route 66 trip in Illinois, following the road’s westward tradition. Along the way, readers encounter small towns filled with quirky attractions like a giant “muffler man” in Cicero, the Catoosa Whale in Oklahoma, and the world’s largest ketchup bottle, 70 feet tall, in Collinsville.
Not to mention a wealth of bars, motels, and restaurants to keep a traveler happyand busy for a long time. Sure, chances are that a trip down the Mother Road will be pretty memorable even without this book. But the Adventure Handbook is sure to make the drive all the more rewarding. Pick up this book and tell me you don’t want to skip the interstate and make your way through the splendor and kitsch of this artery in America’s heartland.
An Excerpt from the book
Admittedly, the interstates—like the ill-fitting shoes—are not entirely without practical benefits. They are, after all, designed with graceful, high-speed curves, and enable us to travel from point A to point B in minimal time. We accomplish this with greater fuel efficiency, thanks to the ability to move with unvarying speed. And, a limited-access highway is safer from the standpoint that there are no driveways for irresponsible motorists to pop out of unexpectedly. These qualities are quite attractive, particularly to the long-distance truckers among us.
But what are those features costing us? That snazzy pair of oxfords does have a few important drawbacks. Did you ever stop to think of what a tremendous misnomer the word “freeway” is? There’s not much freedom in interstate travel. Consider that you are shielded and encapsulated against the world at large. Sealed in your fast-moving mobile cocoon, your perception of the world is distorted. You are cut off from sound and smell by your tightly sealed windows. Open the window, and the buffeting and roaring of the air will cut you off from your senses just as effectively.
Visually, the interstate corridor offers only the barest glimpse of the surrounding countryside. Your visual stimulation is often limited to mile markers, exit signs of uniform appearance, and perhaps a swath of trees to block your view of anything outside the world of the superslab. This isolation is partly due to the enormous amount of land which America’s interstates have taken as their own.
Swaths of Acreage
There are enormous swaths of acreage on both sides of the interstate, in the medians, and still more locked up in the countless clover leafs, flyovers, and other interstate-grade interchanges. All of that empty acreage contributes to the interstate traveler’s isolation from his or her surroundings.
Furthermore, there are restrictions which make it unlawful to attempt to squeeze a little more gusto from the experience. There are minimum speeds which must be maintained, preventing you from taking advantage of whatever paltry visual stimuli might actually be available. There are also prohibitions against non-emergency stopping or slowing, and against turning your vehicle around. No wonder it’s hard to stay awake.
Ah, but Route 66. Now there’s highway travel for you. Kick off your shoes, because the above restrictions do not apply.
On Route 66, there is a healthy stimulation for all the senses, and conditions encourage you to take full advantage. Sensory experience is in no way out-of-fashion on the Mother Road. Smell the new-mown hay and the honeysuckle. Hear the clamor of children playing softball in a nearby park, or the tolling of a church bell. Feel the breeze on your face and know that the coolness signals a change in elevation, or even a new climate zone.
The Difference is Dramatic
Visually, the difference is even more dramatic. There are schools and stores and mountains and crosswalks and downtowns and trains and depots and billboards and murals and cafes and menus and humanity.
Don’t forget: you can pull over and stop at almost any time to savor it a little more. You can travel Route 66 by bicycle, horseback, or even on foot, so as not to miss a single nuance—don’t try doing that on the interstate!
A few words about the concept of efficiency—the maximum of one thing with a minimum of another. An efficient automobile is one that goes maximum miles on minimal fuel; an efficient apartment is one with maximum amenities in a minimum amount of space. Significantly, the thing which is maximized ought to be something desirable, while the thing which is minimized should be something either undesirable or expensive. I think that the two examples cited above—the auto and the apartment—fulfill this requirement.
One of the knocks against Route 66, which eventually led to its demise, was a call for increased efficiency. The interstates are considered efficient because they transport us with a maximum of speed in a minimum amount of time. That’s well and good. But my point is this: the interstates have had some unforeseen and undesirable side effects, because at the same time that they minimized the amount of our time in getting in our destination, they also minimized the quality of our time on the road by placing us in an experiential vacuum.
That quality of experience is what you’ll put back in your life when you kick off those shoes and travel Route 66.
Buy this book on Amazon Route 66 Adventure Handbook: Turbocharged Fourth Edition
If you liked this article, you may like these as well:
Helena Walstrom was born in Helsinki, Finland where she grew up. She was an intern for GoNOMAD, and was one of the best. She now lives in New Hampshire and works as an editor.