Here’s to ice-cold Yoo-hoos and coast-to-coast trails

This Route 40 historical marker summarizes the lofty goal of the first national highway. The highway runs from Atlantic City, N.J., to Park City, Utah, and passes through northern Delaware between Delaware Memorial Bridge and Elkton, Md.
July 19, 2013

Becky and I continue to make our way across the United States on bicycles. Our total mileage this week passed the 2,500 mark as we crossed from Illinois into Indiana and then Ohio. We have seen red-winged blackbirds and robins from coast to coast and lots of roadkill, including possums, raccoons, snakes, coyotes and deer. Becky swears she saw a dead armadillo alongside the Katy Trail back in Missouri. “It had all that armor stuff on it.”

We’re seeing a lot more churches in the eastern half of the country than we did in the west; but then, there are a lot more people in the east.

Yoo-hoo - the chocolate-flavored drink - has been available just about everywhere. When the heat really started sizzling one day this week we bought a Yoo-hoo out of the cooler in a country gas station. Cold as ice and delicious. Harold Shaffer, who had the tire and bicycle complex on Route 1 just north of Red Mill Pond, had a cooler inside his shop that he kept stocked with cold Yoo-hoos and Dr. Peppers. I’d stop in on the way to Dover sometimes and buy one or the other along with a couple of packages of fresh NipChee crackers. Between the caffeine, the sugar, the chocolate, the cheese and the flour, it was a perfect meal and kept me going for at least three hours.

Much of our travel over the past week has been either on, or on parallel roads to old Route 40, which makes its way across the country. In Delaware, Route 40 passes through Glasgow and is in the vicinity of the colonial roads connecting Philadelphia and Baltimore. Areas of it east of Baltimore - if I’m not mistaken - are called the Pulaski Highway.

When we passed through Vandalia, Illinois, a few days back we found ourselves on Route 40. Going through Indianapolis on Monday this week we rode through the heart of the city on Washington Street, which is also Route 40. From time to time we pass historical markers discussing the route, and I was surprised to learn that this first national highway was authorized in 1806 by legislation involving President Thomas Jefferson and his administration. That legislation authorized construction of the first phase of the highway linking Cumberland, Md., with Vandalia, Ill. Now it goes coast to coast.

In the area we’ve been riding - between St. Louis and Pittsburgh - Route 40 follows close by I-70, which carries most of the heavy traffic. We’ve found decent shoulders most of the way. Still, we look at Google bicycle maps from time to time to get us on even less-traveled routes and bicycle trails to get away from the constant noise and danger of automobile traffic.

I have no doubt that someday bicyclists will be able to ride coast to coast completely on trails. It’s amazing how many systems we’ve already ridden. When this journey is complete, more than 750 of the 3,600 or so miles we will have pedaled will have been on bicycle and pedestrian trails away from automobile traffic.

Route 40 and all of these roads and trails have played a huge role in developing a common culture that continues to unify these United States. E pluribus unum is such a powerful, loaded and enlightened phrase.

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