Well, I hadn’t seen anymore of Chicago than I had last time, but then that wasn’t the point of this visit. I had come to visit Jason and I couldn’t think of a better way than re-visiting some of the highlights of my last visit. Give me a beer, a burger, good company and good music, and I’m easily pleased.
The other point of visiting Chicago was to begin my journey to the west coast along Route 66. Established in 1926, the “Mother Road” starts in Chicago and runs all the way to Santa Monica in California, where it meets up with another road I wanted to ride, Highway-1 up the California coast.
Now I must confess to being rather skeptical about Route 66. The road itself doesn’t exist anymore. It was removed from the US Highway System in the 1980s, and what was left of the old Route 66 was renamed and incorporated into other routes, often frontage roads for the Interstate that has replaced it. In places, the road has simply gone, like the section I saw in the Painted Desert in 2011, where only the telegraph poles remain.
In order to follow Route 66 now you need to try to piece together the patchwork of Historic Route 66 that still exists. This sometimes means hopping onto the Interstate, going along for a few intersections, before you can pick up the next section of the Historic Route. To complicate matters, Route 66, when it did exist, was re-routed on numerous occasions and numerous places, with new bits added and old ones taken away, so that now in places, you have a choice of at least three different routes to get from A to B which could all be designated as old Route 66.
My skepticism is also fuelled by the tacky tourist kitsch associated with Route 66, some of which I saw in Arizona and New Mexico in 2011. This skepticism is one of the reasons that Route 66 didn’t even figure in my plans for my first tour of the US.
But having said all that, I’m was going to be in Chicago and I needed to get to the west coast to visit Graham and Sarah, and to ride again Highway-1 and through the redwoods, so what other route could I possibly take. Even if it turns out to be pure tourist kitsch, I’m sure there will be some beautiful scenery along the way and I will be able to say “I did that!”
And so my day started in Chicago with the customary loading of the Trooper and then trying to find Route 66. I set off down Lake Shore Drive again with the intention of turning onto Jackson Drive, but the all the roads across Grant Park were closed to traffic. It looked as if they were setting up or taking down some kind of festival, perhaps it had been part of the 4th July celebrations. Anyway, I don’t use sat nav on the bike, and with my pre-planned memorised route thwarted, I had to improvise. I knew I had to head south-west out of the city, so I keep taking right then left turns where I could until I ended up on Archer Avenue, which I vaguely recalled ran south-west all the way out of the city and came close enough to I-55 (the modern equivalent of Route 66 out of Chicago) for me to pick it up. Any notion of riding all of Historic Route 66 all the way to California was now dashed. I wasn’t going to sweat it, nor attempt to turn back and start again. I’d just ride those bits of Route 66 that I could find and that were convenient, and if I ended up on the Interstate at times then so be it.
Not too far along I-55, I saw a sign for Historic Route 66. At last I thought and pulled off the Interstate. Interstates, like the motorways at home, provide a way to get from one place to another quickly, but they are so boring to ride. Riding as much of Historic Route 66 as I could was going to take a lot longer than blasting all the way to California on the interstate, but it was going to be so much more interesting, taking me through small town America.
At Wilmington, I pulled in for fuel. I was going to take a photo of the Gemini Giant at the Launching Pad, but a young guy named Nick, started chatting to me about where the licence plates on the Trooper came from, and then was interested to here about my journey and how I got the bike here. Chatting to Nick I somehow failed to take the photo, so I’ve borrowed someone else’s. Hey Nick – if you are reading this don’t worry about me missing the photo, there are plenty others on the internet, I’d rather have talked to you in any case. It was real nice meeting you.
Riding further south, I couldn’t help but compare southern Illinois to Iowa and eastern Nebraska – almost completely flat, full of corn fields and every 10 miles or so, huge grain silos. I don’t mean any disrespect to the inhabitants of these states, and they are certainly perfect for growing crops, but the landscape really isn’t very inspiring. I grew up on the outskirts of East Anglia in England which is also incredibly flat, but ever since I have yearned to live somewhere with more features in the landscape. I love the mountains, forests and the sea, and this is perhaps one of the reasons I feel so at home living in Scotland.
I had more trouble keeping to the Historic Route a little further south. The road was closed for road works and a diversion was in place, but when I got to the end of the diversion there was no sign of which road was the old Route 66, so I just headed south. At a rest stop, I got to chatting with another biker, Rick. He was heading up from Tampa, FL to spend the summer fishing in Wisconsin. He was going to head back to Florida in the fall when the weather was cooler.
I got into Springfield around 7pm. I’d chosen my hotel because it was the closest to a recommended biker bar, the Knuckle Head. Unfortunately the bar was closed on a Sunday evening, so I ended up with a take-up burger and a couple of tinnies in my hotel room. Not the evening I had planned, but at least the gas stations in Illinois sell beer.