Thursday, September 26, 2013

US Route66- Day 1, Sept 17, 2013 Tuesday

Its finally time. I had initially thought to start on Wednesday morning but two things led to change my mind. One of my friend who lives in Bloomington, IL, failed to visit me over the weekend because he got stuck with work. It'd still be okay for me to leave Illinois without seeing him because we met the previous weekend but I thought what the hell, lets meet him for one last time because I don't know when will we see each other again. Bloomington is 2 hr drive away from my place and its actually on 66 as well so doesn't hurt to pay him a visit. I could have started Wednesday morning, stop by his office, have lunch with him and then leave but I thought if I leave Tuesday evening, not only will be able to stay at his place for the night, I'd also beat the Chicago traffic in the morning, thereby saving me precious travel time. Great. So I decided to leave Tuesday evening.
Most of the day time was spent on packing my stuff. My roommate, Sreejit, helped me pack. He then also helped fill up my car with my stuff. I had two big bags, a chair and table which can be dismantled and put in box, kitchen stuff in a big box, exercise equipment like dumbbells, door gym etc. I was little worried looking at those heavy dumbbells that these might break down my car's suspension. Driving few miles with these weights loaded up is one thing but driving 2200mi over 6 days is completely different. For a moment I had given up. I had plans to leave those weights behind and take only those stuff that are absolutely necessary but then these weights are crucial for my daily exercise routine too. Aahh!!! What to do?
Anyways, I thought I'll carry them with me and will deal with things later on, if anything happens. I put some cushions on the car floor like pillows and comforters and wrapped my dumbbells in there, plus I spread them over both sides (driver and passenger) as well as front and back row. Cool!
All set, I took a picture with my roommate and started the drive. The traffic was very light so the drive was without much frustration. Filled up my tank before I touch Chicago city and then moved on.
The first stop was Launching Pad drive in where we have the Launching pad giant, one of the three giants in Illinois. Some iconic figure representative of 66. I knew that if I include Launching pad giant, I've to visit the other two giants too. I cannot afford to miss even one. Then it will always feel incomplete. Very much similar to the trilogy of movie or book. If you watch or read one, you gotta finish the other two too. One hour of driving and I'm there. It was around 8:30pm. Not many people were around. There was a gas station across the road. I went in there, got myself a bottle of water but couldn't summon the courage to ask the cashier lady to come out with me and take a picture of mine with the giant. Came out of the store and saw a dude filling up his tank. I asked him to take a pic and he obliged. First attraction done. It wasn't so bad. The giant is nothing special. Its glittering green and, well, a giant.

In the meantime, my Bloomington friend, Siddharth has been calling me up and inquiring how far am I now. He was waiting for me to arrive so that we can have dinner together. As soon as I left the giant, I saw the route 66 sign. I had to stop and take a picture. I knew I'd see such signs throughout my trip but I thought I might not have time to stop and get out of traffic etc to take a pic so might as well do it now when its 9pm and there is no traffic whatsoever for miles. A pic using the front camera of phone and I'm done. I've got evidence for myself, that I've done it. This should be enough to remind me of my epic trip that's going to happen.

Anyways, I reached Bloomington at 11pm, had dinner with my friend then gossip for an hour before retiring to bed. Long day ahead and it starts at 9am.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

US Route 66 - Chicago to Santa Monica.........Prologue

66 is epic. Its the mother road. It used to be the sole most important highway connecting two of the most important cities of US, Chicago and LA. From gangsters to cobblers, everybody used this road until the 70s when I-40 came along. A interstate highway running parallel to 66 for the most part but better constructed. 66 started getting ignored, its roadside businesses going out. However, it still retains the essence of US and has drawn road trip enthusiasts from across the globe. I cannot say that it sums up US but I'd say that it has its own charm and one will definitely get the feeling of what US is about.
The 2200mi stretch is in itself a bit of a challenge. Its not surprising that I've been fascinated by it. I've always had the eye for an exciting road trip and a cross country trip is the pinnacle. An ideal trip would have been NY-LA but CHI-LA isn't much less to me anyways.
So here I was coaxing my friends in Chicago to come aboard for 66. I live in Chicago so I've got the start covered. A continuous driving would finish in 2 days but I don't want to do that. Its of paramount importance that I enjoy the trip, spread it over a week or more, drive from dusk to dawn with long breaks for food, gas and route attractions. The most ideal choice is 6-8 days one way. This means my friends would have to take 2 weeks off from work which is difficult. Even it would be difficult for me to take 2 weeks off but since my manager was uber cool guy, I thought I could pull this off. Because we usually want to save our vacations for India trip once a year. This thinking applies to me too. So I know I'm asking too much from my friends but still now and then I'll just throw 66 on the lunch or dinner time with friends when we were deciding on our next long weekend plans. With constantly mentioning 66, my friends had gotten the idea that I really want to do 66. Anyways, long story short, we all knew 66 isn't going to happen anytime soon and with ease.
Time went by. Few months later, first week of Aug, my employment with BlackBerry ended. The company wasn't doing well for past 2 years, reporting losses after losses every quarter. It had been laying off people to reduce costs. Then came a time when managing remote offices in US became expensive (Blackberry HQ is in Canada) so in Aug the company decided to shut down its Chicago office. There, me and my team and other teams in Chciago, were told we are no longer required. They paid us severance and other special payments etc, which I must be honest, was decent.
Anyways, what to do when you are jobless, you find a new job. So I started applying to Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc and finally after 4 weeks, I had accepted an offer from vmware. Vmware is in Palo Alto, California, some 350mi north of LA. Accepting position in vmware means I now have to relocate from Chicago to Bay area. Then, it struck me, why not do the 66. I must do the 66. This opportunity is not to be missed. I don't have to worry about taking time off from work because I'm not working, plus I get to relocate thereby saving myself some money and enjoying 66. Its a win win idea.
Then I started planning for the trip. I decided to start 2 weeks earlier than my start date in vmware. That would give me enough time to finish 66 with plenty of time to stop and see attractions. Plus San Diego is only 2hr drive south of Santa Monica where Apurv lives. So I'd have plenty of time to visit him, stay at his place for couple of days, recharge my batteries, rest and relax, meet other San Diego friends and then finally drive 6hr north to Palo Alto.

This has a very philosophical touch to it. For long I've dreamed of doing 66 and right when it seemed like this isn't going to happen anytime soon, the whole universe conspired to make it happen. I must have wanted to do 66 from my heart and the wish was so pure that everything else fell into places to make it happen for me. A window automatically opened for me. Its funny that I'm an atheist.

So I started my route66 adventure. First thing was to draw a list of attractions that I fancied. I took notes from and made a list of sights I want to visit. I decided driving an average of 350-400mi per day should be enough. A google map plan I made is here.

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