So, where do I start? Today was the first day of our mammoth 4,000 mile road trip and we decided to start with one of our longest driving days. We like to jump in at the deep end! We picked the car up (Sandy, short for Sandra, some sort of Chrysler, she's white, has air con and our luggage fits in the boot...all the important things you need to know) from the loop, the equivalent of the west end, and had to battle with driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car and navigating around and out of the city on the right road. Claire was driving, I was navigating, and Claire took to it like a duck to water. Within 2 mins she was trying to take selfies with the Chicago skyline in the background at stop signs, whilst I shrieked and squealed and begged her to concentrate.
Our first goal was to make it to a place called Joliet, just outside Chicago. We made it though the city centre and out through the suburbs - so different from the city centre and really start to give you an idea of how divided and diverse America really is. We made it to Joliet eventually - an hour and a half after picking up the car - and we were so excited, stopping to take photos with the signs, until we checked out the map and realised we had only travelled about an inch on the map and had about 25 inches still to go. At this point our projected arrival time in St Louis was around 2am and I had a minor panic that we would never reach our hotel and wondered why on earth we planned to cover so many miles in a day but we continued on along Route 66 regardless and resisted joining the interstate. The was the first of about 4 similar panics today but Claire kept calm and reassured me it was fine and was right as usual. I think the enormity of our route just overwhelmed me!
Before I continue, I just want to reflect on one of the reasons it probably took us an hour and a half to travel around 15 miles... Claire's love of signs! When we were in New Zealand Claire had to stop and take a photo of any obscure sign we passed but when there is on average 20 Route 66 signs in every town, it can take quite a while to travel very far. Claire can't work out if the love signs originated because she wanted to come to Route 66 or if she wanted to come to Route 66 because of her love of signs. Either way, she was happy as Larry today!
After Joliet the next stop was Wilmington, home of the giant green space man known as the Muffler Man (Gemini Giant) and time for a quick photo stop, shortly followed by the Polka Dot Diner compete with Marilyn, Betty, James Dean and Elvis. We stopped for a photo but didn't go in and spent the rest of the day regretting it!
Next came Braidewood, Godley (apparently not Godley - the miners used to get up to mischief) and Gardner, before we got to Dwight. Gardner was one of our favourite places. The locals had made a Route 66 detour around the whole town, you just had to follow the signs painted on the ground. It was a really pretty town! Dwight was also really nice with an old fashioned gas station, great for a quick photo stop. Odell was another picturesque town with a little Route 66 shop near the exit. I popped in to stock up on water and the lady was so sweet, ringing up the order on an ancient wooden till.
Pontiac came next. We had been looking forward to this stop but we were disappointed - the town had a hostile feel and so we didn't stay for long. Just enough time to take a photo of one of the original Route 66 signs at the Historic Division Street Bridge. We think we may have missed a few highlights here - perhaps we went to wrong way, which was a shame. We had planned to grab some lunch in Pontiac but as we didn't like the feel of it we moved on.
After Pontiac the original Route 66 road ran alongside the current Old Route 66 road. The original road in this section is so battered that you cannot drive on it but we pulled over for a photo stop and to stretch our legs and enjoy the sunshine again. Next came Chenoa, Lexington and Towanda. None had anywhere really appealing to stop for lunch so we carried on to Normal - yes, that's a real place - and pulled in at a disused restaurant to have some lunch. We had been looking for a diner to buy lunch but decided to eat the bagels we stole from breakfast and some fruit instead. It was also rude not to have a photo in a place called Normal. We sat on a bench in the sunshine for a while (around 83 degrees today) and just enjoyed being outside the car for a while.
After Normal came Bloomington and our third wrong turn (I was allowed 5 all day and managed to get to, but not exceed, 5 by the end of the day. Phew! Just a note on navigation here - I couldn't get the sat nav to load yesterday morning so put it away intending to get it out later and just sort of forgot about it. We have a book called EZ66, which basically guides you along the whole of Route 66. This is our main navigational
guide but it's written in a somewhat confusing manner, so it's like deciphering a code as you go. Luckily, the route is signposted although the signs can be sporadic and very last minute i.e. on the actual junction with no warning, so it makes navigation a fun challenge. All adds to the sense of achievement - no one wants it to be too easy, hey?). Bloomington was a bigger town and had a nice feel although we didn't stop. After Bloomington came Shirley (surely not) and Funks Grove. By this time is was 3pm and we were just about half way through our drive for the day, so ETA was still 10pm.
Atlanta came next and we stopped to see the Bunyon Giant, brother to the Muffler Man. Atlanta felt like a film set, with old fashioned shops and cafés. A great place! After Atlanta we entered Lincoln town - a series of towns all honouring Abraham Lincoln who was born and grew up in Springfield, one of the biggest towns on our route today. Originally we were planning to stay overnight in Springfield but we ran short of days later on in the trip so cut this stay out. We did stop off at Abraham Lincoln's tomb, in a very grand and beautiful cemetery. His tomb was huge, and the whole place was very peaceful and had an air of importance and significance, understandably. The people we saw here we were in awe of this amazing man. We rubbed his nose for good luck. By this time it was just after 5pm and starting to cool very slightly so we had a pleasant walk around the cemetery and then headed back to the car.
From Springfield we had to choose between two different Route 66 paths and we chose the 1930-1940 section, which followed the interstate, deviating off through lots of small towns (villages really). By this point we were hungry and started looking for somewhere to eat knowing it was going to be late when we arrived in St Louis with 100 miles still to drive. Bad idea. First stop was the Ariston Cafe in Lichfield, which looked promising but was closed on Mondays. After that we drove through a series of towns none of which had anywhere to eat (or certainly not anywhere we intended to stop) so we ploughed on without really stopping. Eventually we got to Edwardsville, which looked quite nice but by this time we were so close to St Louis we carried on driving.
The state boundary between Illinois and Missouri is the Mississippi River and we crossed over on McKinley Bridge, a huge iron bridge, just as the sun was setting. This was beautiful, daunting and almost overwhelming, particularly as I had no clue about how to get to our hotel, just a tiny map with half of the roads missing and some useless directions from the hotel website. Claire was also shattered and just needed clear directions on where to drive. To make matters worse, my eyes were so tried and dazzled by the sunset that I couldn't read a single road sign until we right by it - not great. It was at this point I wondered why on earth the sat nav and my glasses were sat in the boot! We took a wrong turn immediately, had a minor exchange of words, and then turned around and worked together. We followed the interstate round until it felt right to come off and made it onto 7th St. Our hotel was on 9th and Pine, so logic set in and the American grid system helped us out. If we were on 7th, 9th must be two blocks down. We went one way and came to 6th - drove back around the block to 7th - and so knew 9th was the opposite way. We drove along 7th and guessed that we must eventually cross Pine, at which point we would drop down 2 blocks. We crossed Walnut, Spruce, Chestnut and then, argh, hit a one way system and had to turn away from 9th to 11th. We carried on and eventually found Pine, hurrah, but it was a one-way street so we went round the block and by some miracle drove straight into the hotel car park. Relief set in. It was 8.30 and dark by this stage. We had driven 300 miles over 10.5 hours and made it to our first stop! We grabbed our bags and went to check in.
For no particular reason, other than the fact the tour operator recommended it, we had booked into one of our nicest hotels, the Omni Majestic. We checked in and made our way to our room - a suite with one of the biggest and most comfortable beds I've ever slept in. We were so tired we knew we wouldn't explore St Louis tonight, so we went straight to the hotel bar for dinner - a burger for Claire and Chicken sandwich for me - and a well earned drink. As we were driving round St Louis last night we saw the Gateway Arch and the Cardinal Stadium, both lit up and the city looked great. We're going to explore in the morning before leaving for Springfield, Missouri (the other one).
It's now 10pm and after being awake from 5am it's time to sink into this huge bed and sleep...
Total miles driven: 306
States crossed: 1
Licence plates checked: 4