Michael Clark

The Adventure Cycling Association has just put out six detailed maps and brochures for cyclists planning to tackle the historic highway.

They call it America’s Main Street: Route 66, which traces a 2,248-mile paved path from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, is the archetypal American highway. It’s been hailed in song (get your kicks in cool jazz style here from the guy who wrote the road’s signature tune, Bobby Troup); in literature (John Steinbeck memorably called it “the mother road, the road of flight” in The Grapes of Wrath); and in movies (although Radiator Springs does not exist outside the Pixar universe).

Ever since the Route 66 mystique got its start in 1926 as part of the then-fledgling U.S. highway system, it has been defined by motor vehicles. Even its decline was the result of a motoring trend: the rise of the modern interstate system. Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, and today survives only as a patched-together shadow of its original self, stubbornly traced by countless nostalgic enthusiasts.

Now the Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit with the mission to “inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle,” is hoping travelers will discover the joys of the historic road under their own power, rather than with the help of an internal combustion engine.

The group has released a six-map guide to covering the entire route, complete with turn-by-turn directions, listings of lodgings, campgrounds, eateries, and bicycle services along the way, as well as information about all of the road’s idiosyncratic attractions. This brings Adventure Cycling’s nationwide network of bike routes to 44,673 miles.

Route 66 passes through eight states in the process linking some of the nation’s most disparate landscapes and mindsets. The namesake song’s litany of the road’s cities—Chicago, Saint Louis, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Gallup, Flagstaff, Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino—evokes the enormity of an entire continent.

Traveling on two wheels, rather than four, instantly gives travelers a whole new perspective on their surroundings. In the case of Route 66, that includes such bizarre Americana as the Gemini Giant or the Catoosa Whale, and such natural wonders as the Missouri Ozarks and the Petrified Forest in Arizona. Even if you take on only a short portion of the entire route, pedaling Steinbeck’s Mother Road is one sure way to get to the heart of the American psyche, in no time flat.

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