Route 66: The Route Home

The Stories from the Road blog page will host stories from Jim, Lucas and the rest of the team as they travel historic Route 66 to promote the establishment of the Mother Road-Mojave Trails National Monument. This particular post is not one of those stories. This post, written by Tory Elmore, GIS Coordinator for The Wildlands Conservancy, for an e-newsletter, captures the heart of what we are trying to save.

Each year I return, at least once, to my parents' house in Granite Springs, NY. Though it has been six years since I moved away from that white house with black shutters and two odd stone lions standing outside a picturesque front door, I still, instinctively, call it home.

And so each year, when I return (at least once), my mother or father picks me up at the airport or the train station and drives the windy route home, along highways, then avenues, and then streets and ways, until we round the corner of Richard Somers Road, make the first right onto Church Street, and pull into the first driveway on the left. Home.

There's a feeling I get on that familiar route-- a dull ache in my chest, a nostalgic pang in the pit of my stomach; no matter where life takes me nor how many right turns onto some foreign "Church Street" I make (I've encountered dozens), that street will always be my street. That street bore silent witness to my countless failed attempts to ride a bicycle. Sprang beneath my step as my first boyfriend kissed me goodnight in the shadow of his parents' Toyota. Swallowed my angry footfalls when he later broke my heart through the drivers' side window of that same car. Kept the secrets (and tears) I poured into it on desperate midnight runs. 

Somewhere, I think most of us have our own Church Street— a stretch of dirt or asphalt that beckons us down a tangled web of memory. A street that, no matter how long you leave it, will always mark the route home. 

Collectively, I think we have one, too. 

Even before I had ever visited Chicago or Santa Monica or any of the timeless stops along its route, I always knew Route 66. The Mother Road. Main Street of America. Call it what you will, I have always associated it with the trials and triumphs of this country, a symbol of those ideals- freedom, adventure- that we so adamantly project on the "American Dream." 

Route 66 is the "Church Street" of America. 

Yes, the Mother Road has seen us at our best, giving rise to countless mom-and-pop businesses along her course, and our worst, providing a backdrop to the economic and social hardship of the Great Depression (as brought to life in Steinbeck's classic, The Grapes of Wrath). Even in an age of airplane travel, high speed rails, and interstate highways, she endures-- in places maintaining vestiges of her former rugged glory. 

One of those places is Mojave. The longest remaining scenic stretch of historic Route 66 runs through the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. To raise awareness and garner support for the proposed Monument, lifelong Route 66 advocate, Jim Conkle, and The Wildlands Conservancy's own Lucas Wilgers are driving the entirety of Route 66, from Barstow to Chicago to Santa Monica. They're gathering signatures along the way-- on the exterior of their van. 

Protecting Route 66 means different things to different people. For some, it is about preserving dramatic landscapes. For others, it is about culture or history or economy.

For me, it is mostly about that ache in my chest, that nostalgic pang in the pit of my stomach. 

About going home.