Following Route 66

When I planned this trip, I hadn’t anticipated sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to St Louis.  It was a cold start in the morning from Lincoln, IL.  The car said it was 24 degrees but it seemed colder.  Everything was coated in heavy frost, and the air was so nippy it hurt to breathe in through my nose.  I’m glad I didn’t try to spend the night in the Caravel.  I really needed that hotel room and warm shower, and I slept 10 hours very solidly.

Heading south long I-55 all morning I saw frosted brown stalks of corn fields, and half-frozen cattle stomping around on white grass.  It didn’t warm up until late in the morning, and by then I was crossing into Missouri.  Worse, there was a strong wintry headwind slowing me down, and the GL was getting only 12.5 MPG fighting it.

It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning that I was approximately following the historical Route 66.  The “mother road” used to run from Chicago to Los Angeles, paralleling I-55, I-44, and I-40 — exactly my route.  But watching the scenery closely (and what else is there to do alone in the car for ten hours?) I began to notice the quirky roadside signs and attractions that are today’s hallmark of historic Route 66.

dsc_3882.jpg

The Pink Elephant Antique store was the first good sign of Route 66 I noticed.  I am a fan of architecture and giant-sized mid-century outdoor kitsch, so at first their classic soft-serve stand caught my eye; then the shell of a Futuro House (only the second one I’ve ever seen; and then a “Muffler Man“.  I’m fans of all these things, so to find them all in one spot was worth exiting the highway and doubling back for three miles along the frontage road.  The bonus was discovering that the frontage road was formerly Route 66, so I felt very good towing my little vintage Airstream to see the Pink Elephant.

The temperatures this time of year naturally discourage camping in the north.  I gave up looking for an open campground in Illinois, but was still hoping to fill the Caravel’s water tank along the way so that I could sanitize it while I drove.  (Eleanor and I mixed up a pre-measured batch of bleach and water to dump into the tank.  After four hours, all the bugs that might be living in the plumbing will be dead, so I can drain the system and refill with pure water.) But the Flying J I visited in Missouri had turned its water off for the season.  I took this as a sign that I was still too far north, and proceeded on.

Pulling into a rest area sometime later, I heard a strange clanging.  One of the Caravel’s wheel trim rings fell off just as I was slowing down, and it rolled along right behind me to finally stop 20 feet behind the trailer.  That’s something I was rather accustomed to back in the days when the Caravel was our primary trailer: things falling off in transit.  With the refurb, I expected those days would be mostly behind me, but I guess not. To be on the safe side, I removed the other trim ring and tossed them in the car for safekeeping.  I’ll have to figure out how to secure them better in the future.

Being cautious, I am towing at no more than 62 MPH (and usually 60 MPH), so it’s difficult to cover as many miles as I was a few days ago.  After nine hours of driving I managed 520 miles and then parked in Tulsa OK.  This will be my first night in the Caravel.  It’s still cold, but not nearly as cold as before (about 40 degrees as I type this), so with the catalytic heater pumping out warmth, and my sleeping bag, I should be completely comfortable.

This is “dry camping,” meaning that I have no water in the trailer and thus can’t wash, use the bathroom, or do dishes.  Cabin-fevered northerners often do this when their trailers are winterized, just to have a brief getaway.  The usual technique is to have a few gallons of water for drinking, and rely on the campground bathroom for everything else.  Since I’m stealth camping in the middle of Tulsa, I’m using the bathrooms of local stores and restaurants.  Can’t get a shower this way, but at least I can cover the basics, and meals are only a short walk away.

The weather is clear along my route, so it’s my choice whether to take the quickest way home or an alternate.  The quick way is still 900 miles, on I-40 to Albuquerque and then down I-25 to I-10.  Problem is, that brings me up to 6,000 feet elevation.  Albuquerque — my overnight stop — will be freezing at night again, and not too warm by day either. If I dip down into Texas via Wichita Falls and Abilene, I’ll have a much warmer climate at the cost of an additional 50 miles and about two hours of travel time.  Right now, I’m craving warmth so I am leaning toward the Texas tour.  I’ll figure it out before I get to Oklahoma City tomorrow.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine