Why Ride Route 66 at all?

I left route 66 behind at Santa Fe. At that point the pre-WW2 version - the road of Steinbeck - went back southwest a bit and then west across the AZ and CA deserts to the 1930's promised land of CA. Now that I'm off the road I want to talk about why I wanted to ride 66, or what is left of it, in the first place. Time for some reflection.

America's historic roads have always fascinated me. Roads such as the Lincoln Highway and Route 66, among many others, are stories of America's history and especially of her peoples. Half of the history is still told along the roadways if one looks closely, the other half is in one's mind. Having re-read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath two years ago got me thinking more of 66. I was very familiar with the road's story since my youth and thought of it as a road to adventure, as well as history.

My primary desire was to try to see what the Okies and others saw when they rode 66 not for adventure but out of desperation. I wanted to follow Tom Joad and his family across Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, where thousands left during the dust bowl and Depression years. I wanted to touch what remains of the very same pavement and dirt which that desperate diaspora rode on, and see the scenes they would have seen. It certainly added a sense of reality by feeling the same heat that those families felt.

What's interesting is that I have no desire to drive the family car down these historic fragmented sections of road. I feel much closer to the road and to history on a motorcycle, which immerses me in the world around me, not separate me from it in an artificial and air conditioned world with confining walls of steel and glass.

To its very end, route 66 was a tough road in an unforgiving part of the country and you traveled it on the terms of the road and the natural conditions around you. In its day travelers didn't ride in air conditioned comfort, they rode in jalopies held together by baling wire, or later in station wagons filled with hot and complaining kids, windows rolled down for some comfort. That all changed in the 1970s when AC became common and expressways whisked travelers along without regard to the painful history of what they were so nonchalantly driving past, and unaware and unappreciative of the labors of those who worked the farms and carved a life out of an unforgiving and uncaring land. By following the road, especially in New Mexico, one also clearly experiences the story of the Native American and Hispanic peoples that lived their lives here prior to the coming of the dirt farmers.

Some day it would be good to ride the CA end of the road. But that portion of 66 has a different meaning for me and it seems improper to mingle the gritty reality of the Okies with the glamour and fun adventures of 1960s Hollywood and its version of route 66. The California stretch of the road evokes images of light hearted travels of the Beat Generation, of Kerouac and his merry travelers, and of course of the young men in their Corvette searching for the meaning of life in the 1960s Route 66 television show. That's all well and good, but it shouldn't be mixed with the rest of the story. Nobody ever glamorized that part of route 66 through America's heartland. Even today this region is just too real, too hard, too in your face, to ever be glamorized. This is the portion that I really wanted to experience, and which I did.

So now I'll be off to enjoy the mountains and explore another part of America's history and story. It's all very powerful and compelling, creating an overwhelming pull to get out there to experience it and learn from it.
So I'll do just that.