Friends: After one hundred miles of Historic Route 66 through Missouri we'd had enough. It had been little more than a frontage road along Interstate 44. It was well-labeled with blue Historic Route 66 markers, though it is just a series of frontage roads pieced together, alternating from one side to the other of the Interstate. It serves as an "Incident Bypass Route" when accidents block the interstate.
It is largely traffic-free, making it a virtual bicycle path, but the roar and tidal flow of 18-wheelers and other gas-guzzlers on the interstate along side hardly made us feel as if we were off in rural America on a quiet road all to ourselves. Nor were there many acknowledgements to Route 66 or oddball businesses catering to Route 66 devotees, as we hoped there would be, other than a Toy Museum, "For anyone who has ever been a kid," and Merrimack Caves and Jesse Jame's hideout.
The town of Cuba, where we had decided to veer from 66 and head south into the real Ozarks, was the first that truly celebrated its heritage of being a part of Route 66, "America's Main Street," the first main artery from the East to California after the era of the automobile began. Buildings all over Cuba had large murals hearkening back to the early days of Route 66.
The mural on the town newspaper building was a paper with the headline "Bette Davis Comes to Cuba." There were murals of Model T Fords and old style gas pumps. One mural commemorated a visit by Senator Harry Truman during a 1940 Presidential campaign visit. Another depicted an emergency landing by Amelia Earhart in the town in 1928. If we'd had such curiosities to gaze upon all along the route, we would be tempted to continue on despite the blight of interstate traffic intruding upon our tranquility. But not even the sign "The World's Largest Rocking Chair four miles ahead" could entice us. Maybe if we had been passing through in the summer on the one day of the year that the owner provides a hoist to lift people up into the chair at $5 a pop for a photo we would have wanted to check it out. But we were eager to get off into true rural America and escape this characterless corridor.
There was more of a Halloween spirit than Route 66 spirit. Before I visited the rest room at the service station in Gray Summit, I was warned, "Don't forget its Halloween." There were streaks of fake blood on all its walls and "Help Me" spelled out in blood. Carved pumpkins adorn most homes. The Scrooge of one town had four large pumpkins on his porch all carved with mouths turned sharply downwards.
The back side of our Ortlieb panniers each have a palm-sized white reflective patch. I've met cyclists who have etched smiling faces into them, as if they were pumpkins to be decorated. When I mentioned this to Jim, he proposed that we etch some slogan into them, one word per patch. Our initial brainstorming only produced profanity laced epithets towards motorists. That led to my suggestion 'Get A Bike.' "
"It has to be two words," Jim said.
" 'Get A' is short enough that could be one one side."
"No, we have to stick to two words."
"How about 'Bike Good' then." "That would be perfect. You can put those on your panniers and I'll put 'Car Bad' on mine."
If we'd had this discussion after our lunch in Marje's Cafe in Cuba we might have had some weight loss ideas. Pam, our overnight hostess the first night of these travels, told us that Missouri has the highest obesity rate in the country. It was fully confirmed at Marje's. Three blimp-sized women waddled in several minutes after we arrived. Not so long after a husband and wife of even more gargantuan proportions took a seat. We've both seen obesity before, but nothing to compare to this.
Jim kept fidgeting with the thermostat at Marje's as we were cold and wet. People came into Marje's saying that there was snow up the road in Rolla at a slightly higher elevation than what we were at. Not even a couple hours at the library fully dried and warmed us, so Jim suggested we splurge on a room at the Wagon Wheel Motel, a classic on Route 66 going back to the '30s. It had recently been restored. The grand reopening had been this summer with prices rolled back to what they were back then--$3.10 for a room and ten cents for pie--for that day.
The lady who checked us in didn't react at all when Jim said he was from Ecuador. They'd never had a guest from Ecuador before, but she said about 70% of their guests are foreigners traveling the route. For many who start in Chicago, the Wagon Wheel is their first night. She said a couple from Sweden on motorcycles arrived with such horrid sun burns the wife went to the emergency room. Her son is in the army in Germany and many Germans are impressed that he lives on 66. An English camera crew spent three days at the motel using it as a base for a documentary they were filming on the road.