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Route 66: the enduring classic

Anyone who is a fan of road-trips or motor sport will have heard about America’s famed Route 66. The road, not much bigger than an average country road in Europe, crosses nearly the entire country going from California to Chicago (or reverse depending on how you drive it obviously). If one thinks about driving in America nowadays one tends to think of the multi-laned interstates that are so broad one can hardly see the oncoming traffic, but route 66 was one of the first motorways built in the US—even before the Interstate System that one nowadays associates with driving in America.

While the Interstate System is most certainly one of the best road systems in the world and has been copied across the planet (of course it’s true that the American system is actually based on a slightly older German one), to me it lacks the charm of the older route system.

The route system was created when cars were only starting to become commonplace. Top speeds of some of the first cars to drive on the routes were as low as 30 mph in the early days and it could take weeks to drive across the country.

In fact, travelling across the whole country was a relatively uncommon activity for the early 20th century and basic infrastructure, such as the frequency of fuelling stations, made it impossible or at least something that had to be very carefully planned. Therefore the route system was crucial to the development of the American highway system, now the largest in the world at just over 259 000 km, or just under 161 000 mi, as would be more common to refer to it in the US.

The crown in the jewel of that infrastructure crown would for me have to be Route 66. As one of the earliest roads to cross nearly the whole country it was used by travellers in the early and mid-20th century such as writer Jack Kerouac and many others. It might be something of a cliché because it has appeared in pop songs and has become a cultural icon, but for me it will always remain the ultimate American road-trip!

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