Crossing from Indiana into Illinois on I-80 in Chicagoland just after sunset.

RealImaginaryWest 2017 Day 1 – Our Adventure Begins in Illinois

Our drive on the first night of this trip is a short one for once! We drove from Middleburg Heights, Ohio near Cleveland to Wilmington, Illinois just outside Chicagoland.

Packing Up for 3½ Weeks (😮!)

I know 24 days is only a week longer than our usual road trip. For some reason it feels like we’re leaving for good. It’s weirding me out…

Anyway, I think we managed to pack everything we need except for one thing. When I picked Becky up from work to hit the road, she immediately asked about the clip that holds her phone up on the vent. I totally forgot about it. She almost wanted to go home and get it. I suggested we live without it if we can find one along the way somewhere. This worked for Becky, so we officially got on the road at 3:45pm.

Feeling Less Organized Than I’d Like

I just remembered another thing I sort-of kind-of forgot. I’ve been working out the itinerary for this trip since all the way back in January. I had to make some last-minute tweaks over the last week or two, but I did finish it. It contains the best information we have to keep on time over the next week as we make stops on Route 66. Unfortunately I neglected to print it out… Thankfully I stored it on Dropbox, so I can still get to it. But I really like to have a hard copy handy just in case my electronics fail.

I always experience a great deal of anxiety in the final week or two leading up to a road trip. I felt super confident and calm after we left for our trip to the Black Hills in July. For some reason I feel so much less organized for this trip than I’d have expected. We’ve been planning for months, most every reservation was made back in spring, and I’ve taken good notes. And yet I feel so flat-footed. Maybe I should have made up some mileage charts like I did on the last trip? Maybe the cold and rainy weather has pushed me off of my game?

Our Weather Outlook

Speaking of weather, there’s a lot going on across the country right now! For starters, we’ve had one of the coldest Augusts I can remember in Ohio. The hot and humid “dog days” of summer never came this year. It dropped below 70°F frequently this past month, when temperatures often approach or surpass 90°F. I’m glad we’re heading to the Southwest where temperatures will feel more like summer again!

The good news is that this cold snap across the Eastern United States is also holding temperatures down to a more comfortable range in Oklahoma and Texas. The bad news is that everything west of the Rocky Mountains has been experiencing a heat wave.

Will the Western Heat Wave Affect Us?

As I’ve checked the forecast for most of our destinations, It looks like we’ll have comfortable enough temperatures thanks to summer winding down. Unfortunately though, the record heat has touched off a number of wildfires across much of the West. I hope we won’t have smoke turning our blue skies grey. More importantly I hope that smoke won’t make breathing a problem—tents don’t really offer anything in the way of air filtration!

Our prime concern with heat remains Death Valley. While there are small campgrounds at high enough elevations to negate the heat, what if these fill? If they do fill, will the temperatures be comfortable enough for us to sleep at the larger campgrounds in the valley? It’s not unheard of for daytime highs there to surpass 110°F…and morning lows to remain above 80°F! I guess we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.

Thinking of Our Friends & Family On the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts

While my concerns with the heat out West weigh on my mind, I feel like they’re silly compared to those in the path of the very serious hurricanes barreling through the Atlantic Basin. Becky’s sister Rachel and her husband Tim just endured the torrential rains of Hurricane Harvey in Houston a couple weeks ago. They’re OK thanks to living on high ground, but there’s a huge amount of cleanup work going on there now.

Hurricane Irma has much stronger winds and will certainly affect Florida this weekend. I’m hopeful the worst of this Category 5 storm will stay out at sea and spare my friends and family there and along the coast in the Carolinas.

Our Drive to the Mother Road

Getting back to the here and now, our trip begins just southwest of Chicago in the small town of Wilmington, Illinois on Old Historic US Route 66. While the highway no longer officially exists, it played a central role in the nation’s culture throughout the middle of the 20th Century. The highway started in Chicago, but we’ll start our journey along the Mother Road well into the countryside to save time in city traffic.

With only one stop to fuel up on the Ohio Turnpike, our drive to Wilmington passed smoothly. Though there were a few slow spots due to road construction, we can’t complain. Traffic around Chicagoland was incredibly kind!

We witnessed a magnificent sunset as we entered Chicagoland on the Indiana Toll Road. Red sky at night, roadtripper's delight!
We witnessed a magnificent sunset as we entered Chicagoland on the Indiana Toll Road. Red sky at night, roadtripper’s delight!

A Little History on Route 66

During the 1930s, Route 66 served as an emigrant route for those seeking escape from the economic and ecological effects of the Dust Bowl. After World War II, the highway became the way home for many veterans. And during the 1950s and 60s it became the route for the quintessential American road trip—and even today there is no other highway that conjures up the romance and nostalgia of the open road more than Route 66. Songs have been written about it. Many books and films took place on it. It even had a television series in the 1960s.

Beginning at Grant Park in Chicago, Route 66 made its way across the Great Plains, the Continental Divide, and the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Coast at the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica. Almost as soon as the federal government designated the highway, a continuous cycle of improvements began. Paving the road lead to increasing traffic and business. As traffic increased and road-building technology improved, many sections of Route 66 were realigned. Beginning in the 1950s much of road was bypassed or replaced by the new freeways of the Interstate System.

The End of the Road?

By 1985 the entire route had been replaced by sections of I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15, I-210, and I-10. Many businesses suffered and closed as towns along the way were bypassed. Paradoxically, the very traffic that turned Route 66 into the “mother of all roads” caused many of these efforts, killing much of what made the highway so special.  After less than 59 years, US-66 was officially removed from the US Highway System.

Shortly thereafter, classic American nostalgia spurred efforts to preserve and promote businesses and landmarks that had survived progress. Funds were sought and won from states and the federal government. Certain sections of the highway itself have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. And some landmarks have even been acquired and restored by none other than the National Park Service.

Checking In at Van Duyne’s Motel

So tomorrow we’ll begin our first Route 66 adventure as we make our way from the Great Lakes to the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean. But first we got into our accommodations at Van Duyne’s Motel in Wilmington, Illinois at 8:30pm CDT.

While Van Duyne’s is nothing fancy, it has the virtues of being right on Old Route 66 and being the only motel within many miles. The manager, Bob, was super cool and put on no pretense about his rooms, which definitely could use some remodeling. We only needed a cheap, clean place to sleep and take a shower, and Van Duyne’s met those needs nicely. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for a romantic getaway, unless staying at old mom & pop motels along historic highways sounds like an adventure to you.

Turning In For the Night

For a quick and easy dinner, we mixed canned chicken from Trader Joe’s with a jar of salsa from Aldi. Becky ate hers plain and I ate mine with blue corn chips. We intended to take showers, but neither of us had the energy.

Tomorrow we’ll get up and ready early so we can be on the road by sunrise. We’ll make our way down I-55 to the St. Louis area for lunch, making a few stops on Old Route 66 along the way. From St. Louis we’ll pick up I-44 and make a couple of detours along our way to the Rock Cafe and another small mom & pop motel in Stroud, Oklahoma.



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