The Start Of Route 66

I awake with complete incredulity at 8.40 am, having slept through until then. Great sleep! I hope it’s not a one-off and that I’ll quickly adjust to CDT. I then realise I can’t hang around and need to get moving as breakfast closes at 10 am. Plus I don’t want to be too late in setting off for my first stop, Pontiac.

Breakfast is excellent. There’s a selection of exotic juices like peach & mango and strawberry & banana, some fruit-infused yoghurt mix plus vanilla-flavoured Greek yoghurt, nut sprinkles and a good fresh fruit salad. Top notch. I finish with a small portion of scrambled eggs and maple sausage, then a couple of small pastries. I’m then good to go! I suspect not all breakfasts on the road ahead will be as good as this one…

I go for the car but the ParkWhiz exit QR code on my ‘ticket’ won’t raise the barrier. Strange, as the code let me in last night. I call the attendant via the intercom on the barrier. Luckily the call is answered quickly and I’m soon on my way out after providing my details. Back at the hotel I leave the car in the parking lane while I check out. It’s a good hotel, I liked it.

I drive off at 11 am and 10 minutes later I’m standing in front of the ‘Begin’ Route 66 sign on E Adams St. The journey starts.

Route 66 Eastern Start Point

I read a post on a Route 66 website before leaving with some route advice in Chicago. It said there was a stretch of road in Chicago that should be avoided because it goes through a particularly ‘bad’ area. The guy stated there had been random shootings at cars and drivers, some quite recently! The police have not to date been able to curb or prevent the violence. He gave advice where to leave Rt 66 and where to re-join further south. I thought it eminently sensible to follow his advice.

Route 66 Eastern Start Point #2

Route 66 Eastern Start Point

So I used the app to get me to the start of Rt 66, did a short section on the Route, and then created a Google Maps route to avoid the bad section, namely Ogden Avenue. I will pick up Rt 66 again in Cicero. However, once on my Maps route, the traffic is really bad again and I’m crawling along.

I established before setting off this morning that the navigation app will not work with Android Auto in the car. Hence I need to buy a smartphone holder to mount my phone on the car dashboard where I can see the screen, hands-free, for the turn-by-turn directions. So I’m looking out for an auto parts shop en route.

Android Auto Frustrations Revisited

I am however trying to use Android Auto to get me to Cicero, having finally sorted out on last year’s trip how to stop Auto/Maps ignoring my pre-planned routes, having endured many years of frustration on previous trips. But something weird is happening as Maps is constantly re-routing, keeps beeping, and shows me as being on the opposite carriageway. This was similar to what happened on the way from the airport yesterday.

Route 66 in Illinois

Route 66 in Illinois leaflet

I end up disconnecting the phone from Auto and it works fine stand-alone. Apart from anything else it was really distracting, never mind not actually directing me where I wanted to go. So it’s got to be Auto yet again screwing things up. But as I approach what should be the end point of my Maps ‘detour’, now Maps can’t seem to decide where I should go.

And then I spot an auto parts shop. But too late, and I miss the entrance to the parking lot. So I carry on up the road, turn around and eventually get to the shop. The key decision is where to mount the holder. I ask the server and he recommends a holder, which happens to also be the cheapest. He lets me go and try it in the car, and whilst I’m not totally convinced it will hold secure attached to the ventilation grill (as it’s designed to), I decide to give it a go. I can always buy another later on if it turns out to be crap. At least I’m not going to be bugged by Android Auto… 🙂

I set off again, now guided by the app. It’s kind of like Maps but it also highlights Rt 66 Points Of Interest – roadside attractions, if you will – as I approach, plus it has other features. I find it tricky at first to get used to the changes of direction but I think the key is not to drive too fast. I did make a couple of mistakes later on but then I also did with Maps earlier. It’s all to do with how quickly (or not) the GPS updates my position relative to the app’s map onscreen. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

Roadside Attractions

Along the way I see and stop at various Rt 66 roadside features such as Gemini Man in Wilmington and Ambler’s Texaco Garage in Dwight. Great stuff. The first part of the route before this however was just getting out of Chicago: a very industrial landscape, and business-orientated. The countryside eventually emerges, but there’s a real mixture of landscapes. Sometimes fields of corn, then fields of pasture, and others almost left to go to weeds it seemed. It is a very, very varied first day on Route 66.

Elwood, ILGemini Man, Wilmington, IL #1Gemini Man, Wilmington, IL #2Old Route 66, Godley, ILThe Shop On Route 66, Gardner, ILOutside The Shop On Route 66

When I stopped at Ambler’s there was a ‘guide’ or docent in residence. I had a good chat with him, and he was very knowledgeable about the garage’s history. I think he said he’d been involved with the renovation after it closed. However a few miles on when I pulled over at Standard Oil, the ‘docent’ sitting outside went and hid inside. She should have stayed out to greet me, I thought. But I was short of time though as I wanted to get to Pontiac to visit a museum there before it closed later, so didn’t hang around.

Amblers Texaco, Dwight, IL #1Amblers Texaco, Dwight, IL #2Amblers Texaco, Dwight, IL #3Amblers Texaco, Dwight, IL #41932 Standard Oil Station, Odell, IL #11932 Standard Oil Station, Odell, IL #2

One point of note though was the weather. It was like a sauna getting out of the car today. Seriously hot at 84º F. Clear blues skies make it all very nice but it was a bit uncomfortable. I made a comment about it to the guy at Ambler’s and he said it’s about 15º warmer than normal for this time of year. Chicago was warm and humid last night but today has gone up a notch. Clearly this is better than rain and the mostly overcast skies I suffered last year Coast to Coast for most of the trip, but the heat today is a bit much.

Pontiac, Illinois

I arrive in Pontiac at 4 pm and visit the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum. There are lots of artefacts, photos and other historical items. These mainly focus on the people who’ve helped restore and bring back Rt 66 into the national consciousness. It’s operated by the Route 66 Association of Illinois. It is very good, free, and well worth a visit.

The roads today were not that interesting, or technical, but it was a real mixture of different types: from almost-Interstate to 2-lane blacktops with variations in between. At least that keeps things a little interesting.

I thought that Pontiac might be a small town and a drive around confirms this. Before heading to my night’s lodgings, I go and see the Swinging Bridges that span the Vermillion River in town. Well, two of the three anyway. These are interesting historical foot bridges built over the river in 1898, 1926 & 1978 to assist workers to get to work.

Three Roses B&B leaflet

Three Roses B&B leaflet

Bridges visited, I get back in the car and go find the Three Roses Bed & Breakfast. Inside I am greeted by Melanie who has recently taken over as manager. The old house, now converted to a B&B, is one of the many iconic lodging stops along Route 66, and mentioned by most guidebooks. It’s full of character and Melanie gives me a guided tour. There are only four rooms and it turns out I’m the only guest tonight. I think there are going to be some quite varied and idiosyncratic hotels and rooms on the trip ahead, and this is the first. But it does have its charms.

I ask Melanie for a recommendation for dinner, having scoped out a couple of possibilities beforehand. She wouldn’t recommend either of those and instead says to go to Delong’s Casual Dining. I look it up online and see it closes at 9 pm, so decide to leave at 7.30 pm. It’s just a short walk away in the centre of town.

Food and Drink in Town

Later when I do get to Delong’s, it’s very quiet. In fact the whole town is quiet, I hardly saw a soul on the walk here. It’s warm enough to sit at a table outside, and within 10 minutes or so the other 10 or so diners outside when I arrived have finished up and left, leaving me alone. I have a burger, which itself is good but drowned in way too much blue cheese sauce. The fries are good.

Old Route 66 paving north of Pontiac, ILRoute 66 Hall of Fame Museum, Pontiac, IL #1Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum, Pontiac, IL #2Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum, Pontiac, IL #3Three Roses B&B, Pontiac, ILCounty Board, Pontiac, ILAbraham Lincoln statue outside County Board

There’s nothing going on here so after eating I walk to Pub 13, one of only two bars in town. The other one had some dodgy reviews, so I chose Pub13. It’s OK inside, not very homely, with just a few people around the bar. The bar lady Ally is pleasant but her boyfriend is sitting at the bar and as soon as she’s served anyone just goes and talks to him.

So I start to write up some diary. The baseball on TV provides a distraction every now and again. After about half an hour an old guy comes in and sits down next to me. He chats to Ally a bit and is clearly a regular. I order another beer and half expect him to start chatting as it’s obvious I’m not a local, but there’s nothing from him.

He just sits there not saying anything unless Ally walks past, when they exchange a few words. Then he goes back to sitting in silence. After I order another beer, still nothing. I can’t think of anything to say to him so I keep writing my diary. Eventually I’ve had enough beer and leave, walking back to the B&B 10 minutes up the street.

I reflect on my first day on Route 66. It’s a real new experience for me: following the app for directions, looking for roadside attractions, varied scenery, and the road surface and type constantly changing. Of the latter, there have been straight-as-an-arrow sections, others gently twisting. Nothing hilly or technical but a very, very varied day. I enjoyed it.

I’m not stopping at every ‘noted’ attraction though. I don’t think I have time to, plus I’m not sure I need to. I am slowing down to make sure I see them but it’s a commonly made statement about Rt 66 that you’ll never see everything on any one trip. So my philosophy is to accept that and enjoy what I do see.

Even on the first day, it’s different than any previous road trip I’ve done. I’m still adjusting to that and probably will be for a few days to come.

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