August 18, 2013 marked the true start of our Route 66 journey.
This voyage is my 3rd trip across Route 66 from starting Ajax, Ontario. I keep coming back because I love the ride, the people, the history, the one of a kind places, meeting other travelers and so much more. We did not travel all the way out to Los Angeles since I wanted to spend time with my friends in Arizona and also take time out to see the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Sedona, etc. We would travel only as far west as Seligman, AZ, just over an hour west of Flagstaff. I have done the trip out to L.A. in the past and it does not have the same lure as the incredible natural beauty of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Moreover, I missed my friends and really wanted to spend time with them.
Our day began by leaving behind the flat and relatively featureless terrain and towns of Michigan and Indiana. Route 66 officially begins in Chicago, however, I decided to bypass Chicago because it is a big-assed modern city and one does not quite feel the spirit of the road there. So, for us, Route 66 started in Joliet, IL, a small town just outside of Chicago and it is there that one starts to see the 66 road side culture and kitsch. It also marks an place where Route 66 road signs, merchants, museums and more permeate the landscape.
One of my favourite movies is “The Blues Brothers” and the movie has a great opening scene in Joliet, IL, when Jake Blues is released from the Joliet Penitentiary. So, in a way, our arrival at Route 66 Joliet was akin to being released from prison and nothing but the open road and adventure ahead. We had a long day ahead of us, one that would cross all of Illinois from North to South and then end at Cuba, MO.
The first Route 66 stop was at the Joliet Historical Area Museum. The museum was closed, however the gift shop was open. Elaine ran inside to get her first Route 66 hat pins and stayed outside to smoke a cigar and snap a few photos. It felt good to be back on the Mother Road.
While I was photographing the Gemini Giant, we saw a massive motorcycle rally thundering down the road, I quickly switched my camera to video mode and captured the procession.
For lunch, we went just a few miles southwest along the Mother Road to Braidwood, Il where you find the wonderful Polk-a-Dot Drive In. Like many roadside attractions, the Polk-a-Dot features lots of kitsch and a 1950’s decor theme. I had a very tasty and unhealthy lunch consisting of a burger, chili cheese fries and iced tea, whereas Elaine enjoyed a healthier cob salad. I opted for the junk food to get that good-old time diner experience.
Outside the Polk-a-Dot Drive In, one can meet Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Betty Boop and the Blues Brothers. I love these cheesy statues, they are a perfect marriage of nostalgia, cheapness and kitsch. This is the kind off stuff that makes eating at Route 66 places fun.
If cheap celebrity statues are not your thing, then you can count on seeing plenty of antique cars and all manner of motorcycles on Route 66. In our travels we met motorists and bikers from all over the world. For some reason, Route 66 seems to attract a lot of Germans, Japanese and Scots. I found this classic car parked outside the Polk-a-Dot and shot it with a lensbaby to emphasize the beautiful grill.
Since Route 66 is so entwined with the romance of the car, it also celebrates retro service stations. Decades ago, breakdowns were frequent, so motorists had to depend on service stations all along the mother road. They are as iconic as the cars that used to rely on them. Today, some of these stations are very well preserved and literally look like they jumped out history. They have been refurbished by volunteers and donations since Route 66 was by-passed by the interstate freeway.
One of the best known and maintained service stations is Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station in Dwight, Il. The station remained in service for a full 66 years until it was closed in 1999. Ambler’s was restored from 2005–2007, and reopened as a Route 66 visitor’s center in May 2007. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
We spoke with one of the volunteers at Ambler’s about the station’s history and I used the time to cool down and take some photos. Once I was re-hydrated it was time ride on to the next stop at the historic jail in Gardner, Il.
The next destination is a classic gas station, the Standard Oil Gasoline Station in Odell, Il. This station was originally built in 1932 and remained in operation until 1999. The station was granted status on the National Register of Historic places in 1997. Today it serves as a tourist attraction and contains a small shop to sell Route 66 paraphernalia.
The sun was setting soon after visiting Odell and I knew we had to make good time across the Illinois to make it to our motel in Cuba, MO. More importantly, I was determined to eat dinner at Missouri Hick, the best damned BBQ on Route 66. This meant having to sacrifice some sights along Illinois, due to impending darkness and time. However, there was time for one more stop: the world’s largest covered wagon in Lincoln, Il.
Just before darkness fell, we made it to Lincoln, to see the Railsplitter Covered Wagon. Unfortunately, the light was terrible since the sun was setting behind the wagon. So, our photos are not the best. If I had put my mind to it, perhaps I could have used the lighting to good effect, but I had BBQ ribs on the brain.
Within minutes of departing Lincoln, the last of the daylight melted into the horizon and it was a long, dark ride to Cuba, MO. I did my best to get there before Missouri Hick BBQ closed. This ride covered a full 341 KM (212 miles) and the only stops made were for gasoline. Unlike the hot day’s ride, the evening was cool and required a few more layers of clothing. I blasted down I-44, dealing with trucks, a lack of street lights and then endless construction and lane closures. These impediments added needless delays and I was starting to worry we would not make it to Missouri Hick.
We arrived in Cuba, Missouri just after 9 PM and I hurried through town to get to Missouri Hick. As it turns out, 9 PM was their closing time! Hours of haste and anticipation seemed all for naught. We told them the story of our lengthy travels and how I had been waiting three years to savour their food again. They took pity and fortunately, they still had a full rack of ribs that were cooked just before closing as well as fixings like baked beans, coleslaw and cornbread. I ordered up the full meal deal and some fixing’s for Elaine. Although the dining room was closed, we enjoyed our dinner on the patio.
My God! It was worth all the hassle to get there, these ribs were some of the best I’ve ever had and when dunked in Missouri Hick’s homemade BBQ sauce, it was to die for. BBQ perfection at its finest and ribs tasty enough to risk life and limb.
I don’t know if was the full moon and the combination of being a glutenous carnivore that put me in such a good mode, but August 18, 2013 was a fine day to start exploring Route 66. We put down quite a number of miles, starting off in Kalamazoo, MI and ending in Cuba, MO. It was the day that the first 1000 KM of our trip rolled over on the Harley’s odometer, a minor accomplishment. I prefer to think of miles as being more of a milestone, after all, it’s a frickin’ milestone and not a lame assed sounding kilometerstone. At least I knew on the following day, I would surpass the first 1000 mile milestone.
The rest of the day’s photos are presented below.