Book Review
Ten Million Steps on Route 6
Joe Hurley & Travis Lindhorst

Ten Million Steps - cover“It’s not the destination but the journey.”
“Life begins at the off ramp.”
“Getting there is half the fun.”
Most people who visit this website are probably familiar with those and similar quotes. How about “Friends don’t let friends walk the interstate”?

I and a lot of folk I know preach about taking back roads and slowing down. Joe Hurley took that idea a few million steps further and not only stopped to smell the roses, he saw them get watered and watched them grow if only a smidgen. Starting at the east end of the longest US highway that ever existed, Joe spent about eight months walking its full length. He didn’t really count each step or measure each mile but 10,000,000 of one and 3600 of the other are believable round number estimates. While Joe was walking, Travis Lindhorst, his camera wielding partner, was driving. Joe was within hailing range of sixty and Travis was twenty-seven. Perhaps that saying about wisdom coming with age is not universally true.

This is not a guide book. There are some maps but they are not of a scale suitable for navigation. They’ll show you that US 6 goes through the north part of Indiana and the south part of Nebraska but that’s pretty much the limit of their detail. And Joe does occasionally mention where he slept or ate but the mentions are neither regular nor recommendations. The book resembles a collection of newspaper columns. Some bits that now appear in the book were, in fact, published as stand alone articles during the trip to help finance it but many were composed well after the walk was over.

Hurley retired as a columnist for a Danbury, Connecticut, newspaper shortly before starting his 2004 cross country walk so it is natural that this book is a compilation of column-like articles. As I read Ten Million Steps…, I was reminded of collections I’ve read from another newspaperman, Ernie Pyle. For several years before the start of World War II, Pyle was a popular travel writer. He posted his personal human interest style observations from wherever he happened to be. Joe Hurley’s observations seem a lot like Pyles although they are 70+ years newer and organized in a single line rather than a wild scatter pattern. As presented in this book there is another big difference. Ernie Pyle didn’t have Travis Lindhorst beside him.

Ten Million Steps - sampleSometimes Lindhorst’s photos are coordinated tightly with Hurley’s text and sometimes they just represent the general area. Either way they are always wonderful additions to the story. Some would be right at home in a super-wide hardbacked coffee table book but then I probably couldn’t afford it. The fairly large format paperback with glossy pages serves the photos well in an affordable package.

Route 6 goes through big cities like Cleveland and Chicago and Hurley neither bypasses them or ignores them in his writing but most of the stories come from the small towns and open spaces in between. He talks with the manager of a bookstore in Yarmouthport, MA, an auctioneer in Foster, RI, and the manager of a tiny theater in Newtown, CT. He stops by the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in New York and a little league game in Pennsylvania. In Galton, PA, he talks with a women who tells him “I spent 16 years scrimping and saving to get out of here then I spent the next 16 years scrimping and saving to get back.” Out west Hurley looks over the remains of Topaz, a WWII Japanese interment camp and walks through a snow storm while covering the all but empty 160 miles between Ely and Tonopah, NV. In between were a lot more towns, a lot more people, and a lot more country. Two locations that Joe counted among his favorites are the Rialto Theater in the not-all-that-small town of Joiet, IL, and Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. Of the latter, Joe says, “I’ve traveled across the United States and nothing has beguiled me more than Glenwood Canyon.”

Joe and Travis and Route 6 and the Geo Metro that Travis used to drop off and pick up Joe each day all made it to California. Only Joe and Travis made it to the coast. In 1964, Route 6 was truncated and Bishop, CA, became its western terminus. Joe and Travis said goodbye to the work-horse Geo when the brakes pretty much vanished during a side trip to Death Valley. To meet their now firm end date, they left the ten year old car with a junkyard mechanic who promised to repair the car and give it to an elderly gal in need of transportation. After the run of its life, the red Geo just might be fetching groceries at the edge of Death Valley.

The current US Highway 6 may officially end just over the California line but the pavement it once followed west is still there and Joe kept right on walking until he reached the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. West of Bishop, the former US 6 now goes by names like CA 395 and CA 14.

Back on Cape Cod, the traveling odd couple had dipped their hands in the Atlantic. At the end of the Pine Street Pier, they dipped them in the Pacific then Joe and his wife spent a couple of nights on the Queen Mary. I’m guessing that Joe spent a significant amount of his shipboard time with his feet propped up.

Route 6 is a great road. The few sections I’ve driven (MA, PA, UT) have gone through some mighty pretty country and I’m very glad that Hurley chose it for his walk. But I’ll still risk saying that this book could have been written in large degree on several roads other than US 6. Route 6 took Joe across the whole country and gave him a bigger than average sample size but the the book is not about directions and turns. It’s about people and places and steps and stories and it’s a darned good read. More information at route6walk.com.

Ten Million Steps on Route 6, Joe Hurley and Travis Lindhorst,  Arkett Publshing, 2012, paperback, 8.5 x 11 inches, 240 pages, ISBN 978-0-9816781-6-5

Book Review
Stay on Route 6
Malerie Yolen-Cohen

Stay On Route 6 coverMuch like the subject highway, my opinion of Stay on Route 6 has gone “coast to coast”. In the end, I settled slightly inland on the positive side.

I was pretty excited when I first learned that an established travel writer had published a book on US 6. My excitement faded as I read the introduction and it was replaced with disappointment after I’d read a few pages of the “guide” portion. I paused then took a look at the blog the author had launched as she prepared for the cross country trip that would become this book. This somehow allowed me to let go of my preconceptions and accept the book for what it is. It is not a guide to the bypassed twists and turns of an historic highway. It is a guide to food, lodging, and attractions along the current path of a highway with history.

The seeds for recognizing my preconceptions were planted as I read the book’s introduction. That’s where Yolen-Cohen tells readers that Route 6 is not Route 66 and details some of the differences. The need to do this may be irritating but it is a fact. For many people, the only roads they know of are the interstates, some local streets that lead to jobs and shopping, and a mythic Route 66. It is a wonderful thing that Route 66 has the recognition that it does but it sometimes blurs people’s perception of other roadways. I am quite familiar with the phenomenon. I have had several conversations with folks who expected the Lincoln Highway, the National Road, or the Dixie Highway to be just another Route 66 and were disappointed that they are not. It turns out I was guilty of something similar. I don’t believe it was anything in the actual blog that did it but as I read some of the early entries I realized that my disappointment in the book wasn’t very different from that of those travelers. I wasn’t disappointed in the book because it was a bad guide but because it was not like the guides I was familiar with for Route 66 and other historic highways.

So once I got my own expectations adjusted, I found that the book was pretty good at doing what Yolen-Cohen intended. It covers the entire route, offers some casual commentary on the country along the way, and describes most cities and towns it passes through. Sleeping and eating establishments are noted with a distribution that should assure no one using this guide goes hungry or has to sleep in their car. The emphasis is on locally owned businesses and the owners are typically identified right along with their bistro or B&B. Yolen-Cohen met these people on her 2011 drive so her recommendations have a personal touch. Nearby attractions are also identified and I very much appreciate the effort to visit and describe local museums. I like local museums. Contact information including, where possible, address, phone number, and website, is included for each restaurant, lodging, and attraction.

I can’t swear to there not being other travel guides created as this one was but I don’t know of any. Guides like the ones I mentioned for faded historic routes are typically put together by someone intimately familiar with the road through years of exploration. On the other hand, my impression is that many dining and lodging guides are put together by someone sitting at a desk using a phone and computer to gather recommendations from chambers of commerce and other boosters. Yolen-Cohen certainly did some recommendation gathering but she did it specifically for her trip. She selected and scheduled almost all of her stops before leaving home then colored things in with a single cross country run.

I like that. I like the idea of a single road trip — even one meticulously planned — giving birth to a travel guide. Yolen-Cohen describes this as a life long dream. A little innocence even shines through the possibly jaded view of the experienced travel writer. At least it does in the blog. The blog (stayonroute6.blogspot.com) is part of the whole. The book contains some low resolution maps and some black and white photos. The maps help with mentally placing general locations but a traveler is expected to follow the route with posted signs and modern maps. Similarly, the photos help understand some of what Yolen-Cohen saw on her trip but little more. This is a black and white paperback guide book not a full color photo book. It belongs on a car seat, not on a coffee table. But Yolen-Cohen did take color photos and video, too. Both appear on the blog and are worth checking out.

There are few turn-by-turn directions in the book. They are not needed since it is following an active and signed US highway. That is, until it isn’t. US 6 was once truly coast-to-coast and ran from the tip of Massachusetts to Long Beach, California. In 1964 the western end was truncated to Bishop, California. Yolen-Cohen carries on, however, and does provide turn-by-turn instructions for following the former US 6 to the coast.

I don’t know of any significant errors in the book but I do know of two insignificant ones. At least they should be insignificant. It’s even possible they would have gone unnoticed if the author hadn’t gone out of her way to draw attention to them. The first one is in the introduction and is partly responsible for me almost giving up on this book early. Calling an “association” a “society” sets the stage for Yolen-Cohen’s joke about the “unfortunately acronym’d ASSHO”. I’m sure this was a legitimate mistake but the fourteen months between the goof’s appearance in the blog and the book’s publication seems ample time to realize that the organisation in question is the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO).

The second is when the author berates a Joliet, Illinois, museum that touts US 66 for not also touting US 6. This seems a little off key since the differences between an historic decommissioned Route 66 and a living breathing Route 6 have been duly stressed. But it turns even more sour with the realization that, despite claims that the museum “occupies the corner of Route 66 and Route 6”. US 6, according to all maps I’ve checked, never gets within half a mile of the museum. A living breathing US 30 does pass by the museum. There isn’t a US 30 section in the museum, either, but a Lincoln Highway (US 30’s predecessor in these parts) display has just been added.

But, even though these errors are quite annoying to me personally, they do not make the book less useful. Anyone looking for a place to eat or sleep anywhere along this long highway can certainly benefit from Stay on Route 6 and the number of museums and other attractions included makes it valuable for sightseeing, too. It’s kind of refreshing to see a guide for a highway that hasn’t been declared dead by someone.

Stay on Route 6, Malerie Yolen-Cohen, CreateSpace, May 2012, paperback, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, 257 pages, ISBN 978-1468049398