As with most travelers, my cross-country road trip began with a Google search. As a freelance travel writer with a new empty nest, I was getting antsy to take an extended road trip - one that I’d daydreamed about since purchasing my first “Let’s Go USA” in high school.
I typed “longest road in the USA” and up popped a surprising result: US Route 6. Little ol' Route 6? The same Route 6 that irks summer travelers on Cape Cod with its bumper-to-bumper traffic at the height of the season? The same Route 6 - nicknamed “Suicide 6” in my home state of Connecticut - that claims the lives of many a motorist? That simple, curvy single-digit route runs completely across the US of A?
Yes, it does. Not only that, but except for a few devotees, including a 60-something year old who walked its entire length, a University of Southern California Professor Emeritus of Geography, and the director of the Route 6 Tour Association (who has never made it east of Iowa), US Route 6 is virtually unknown. When asked, most people confuse it with the more mythical Route 66.
In 2011, I made it my year’s quest to research and explore US Route 6 in order provide a comprehensive guide to its entire 3,652 miles. I contacted visitor bureaus in every city and emailed Chamber of Commerce officers and the Mayor’s office in smaller towns. I booked rooms in the best hotels, inns, motels and B&B’s along the way.
Beginning on May 20, 2011, I set out from Provincetown, MA, spending six weeks on the road, taking notes, pictures and videos, and uploading daily posts on my travel blog at the end of each day. On June 30, I shipped my car home and flew back to the East Coast where I was invariably met with the same question from friends and family who had been following my progress all along: “How was Route 66?”
Really? Even my closest friends were confused. So, before proceeding, I’ll make this as clear as I can:
US Route 6 is not Route 66.
Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, rendering it a piece of nostalgic Americana. Route 6, is a living, breathing, still-viable federal highway.
The ditty, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” first recorded in 1946 by Nat King Cole and covered by hundreds of musicians including the Rolling Stones placed Route 66 in the public consciousness and there it remains. I guess Route 6 needs a song too.
While I didn’t give Route 6 a song, this year I did give it a book, a mile-by-mile guidebook, Stay On Route 6 – Your Guide to All 3,652 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. It took six months of research prior to the trip, six weeks gathering material and experiences on the road and another six months compiling all the information to create the travel guide. Big name travel publishing houses were not interested in a cross-country guidebook, preferring regional or thematic guides instead.
Undeterred, I took matters into my own hands. I didn’t want to wait months – or years – for potential publishers to get back to me. As a newspaper (Newsday) and magazine (National Geographic Traveler, Sierra, Westchester Magazine) freelance travel writer, I was accustomed to a relatively quick turnaround. Travel Guides, like cars, are notorious for becoming obsolete the moment they are produced. “Assisted Publishing” through Amazon’s publishing arm, CreateSpace, allowed me to get Stay On Route 6 into buyers’ hands within a year of my transcontinental trip.
And what a trip it was. US Route 6 traces a timeline through American history. Beginning with the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, MA (yes, it’s where the sea-sick pilgrims on the Mayflower set foot on solid ground in the New World before finding a more protected spot in Plymouth), soldiering through the road where General Rochambeau marched to meet up with General Washington in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, out to the Pennsylvania towns where the very first train ran in the early 1800’s, to Lake Erie and Pioneer settlements in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, on to the Gold and Silver Rush towns of Golden, CO and Tonopah, NV and down into the cradle of aerospace testing – the Mojave Desert – and the glitz of the moving picture industry in California, US Route 6 gives road-trippers a visceral education about our country’s past, present and future.
I’m usually asked, “What was the highlight of the highway?” Truth is, there are many. Of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (yes, a Route 6 city) is high on the list, being a rocker (no, not a disco queen!) from way back, and the MillerCoors plant in Golden, CO where you’re treated to four free eight oz. glasses of brewski that has never left the building. Refreshing!
But there are plenty of lesser known spots that made my “Highlights” list; for example, the Kinzua Skywalk – near Mt. Jewitt, PA, that overlooks the former Kinzua Viaduct – the longest (over 2,000 ft.) and highest (301 ft.) railroad bridge when it was built in 1882, it was torn and twisted nearly to extinction by a rogue tornado a few years back. The Skywalk allows you to peer over the precipice at the contorted iron remains. Amazing.
And in Lakewood, CO – right outside of Denver, the public is invited to watch precision-riding members of the youth-group, The Westernaires, practice drills on summer eves as the sun goes down over the Rocky Mountains. Watching these kids handle their steeds at high speeds in the glow of sunset will make your hair stand on end.
For more recommendations about what to see, and where to shop, eat and bed down on 3,652 miles of US Route 6, buy the book: Stay On Route 6.
All images taken by Malerie Yolen-Cohen unless otherwise noted.
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