Wednesday, May 28, 2008

US 20: A Cross Country Trip

I thought that fans of US Route 20 would be interested in reading this article from The Nantucket Independent, about Charley Walters, who took the cross-country trip last year on US 20. Enjoy!

Travels with Charley
Crossing the country in search of a book
Long-time Nantucketer Charley Walters could easily be described as a homebody, but last spring he said goodbye to his loving wife and comfortable house to drive for almost 10 weeks and nearly 3,400 miles through 12 states across America on the nation's longest road. He was on a mission to write a book about his experiences, and now the first draft of that manuscript is complete.

A quiet man familiar with sand dunes, brick sidewalks, cobblestoned roads and shingled houses, and who mostly walks wherever he goes on the island, Walters found himself in the midst of snow covered mountains, then passing through dense forests, plains and deserts as he traveled from the onset of Route 20 in Kenmore Square in Boston to its end in Newport, Ore. at the juncture of Highway 101. What he witnessed were sights, people and lifestyles unfamiliar to him and, he believes, to many other Americans who have not ventured far or learned much about their stateside peers and vastly varied environments.

Walters was owner of Musicall, the island's only music store, for 25 years. In June 2005, he knew the business would not be viable much longer because of competition from the Internet, and once he came to that realization, he began thinking about what he would do with his time when the store closed. Several years earlier, Walters had thought about writing a travel book of some sort. A conversation 10 years ago with the late Wes Tiffney, who told Walters he was driving to Idaho via Route 20, sparked Walters' interest. When he looked at a map he discovered that not only was Route 20 the longest road in the country, it runs coast to coast and mainly through sparsely populated areas. That appealed to Walters and was something that stayed in the back of his mind.

"It's a country road that keeps on going," he said of Route 20, almost entirely a simple, two-lane divided highway stretching 3,365 miles. "It looks like the 'Sconset Road except the landscape is different. You see all sorts of different landscapes. You even go right alongside the Great Lakes. From Boston to Chicago, you see a lot of the suburbs and a lot of countryside, but once you pass Chicago it's mostly farmland and cattle country. You can go for mile after mile of this - I thought it was beautiful."

When he closed Musicall in December 2006 he spent three months planning his trip and setting up lodging in advance so that searching for places to sleep would not interfere with time for chronicling his experiences.

"I sacrificed spontaneity to have more time to do what I wanted to do," he explained, noting that he traveled an average of 75 miles a day.

What he wanted to do was look out the car windows and take notes, which he did by hand "very carefully" since he was driving at the same time. Walters was so spellbound by what he saw he never once turned on the radio or played a CD because that would have been too much of a distraction. Along the way he saw President James Garfield's house and the home of President Rutherford B. Hayes, both in Ohio. In Illinois, he saw the home of Ulysses S. Grant and in Auburn, N.Y he passed the prison where President William McKinley's assassin was executed.

"A lot of the presidents who have somewhat tenuous connections to the road were among the least known and of the same period in the second half of the 1800s," said Walters, who also saw the homes of many authors including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Ann Sexton. He saw where Longfellow wrote a series of poems called "Tales of a Wayside Inn," the town of Clyde, Ohio that author Sherwood Anderson fictionalized in his book "Winesburg, Ohio" and where Indian historian Mari Sandoz wrote about the mid-west in the 1930s.

Walters met many people on his journey, most of whom, particularly in Iowa and Nebraska, were very friendly to the New England stranger in their midst.

"People would come up to me in the street and want to talk. It was just natural friendliness," he said. "There were a couple people who had that 'Bambi in the headlights' look, but for the most part they were very welcoming."

The rudest people Walters encountered were west of the Rocky Mountains and east of the Cascade Mountains, especially in areas that drew tourists. The only place that made him uneasy was Gary, Ind. where the crime rate is high.

"You don't want a flat tire in Gary, Indiana, but if you drive another 20 miles you're still in Indiana but you're in Amish country, so you get these contrasts," he said, adding that in some instances, a town's speed limit was higher than its population, such as Lost Springs, Wy. that had a population of one and no visible buildings except a combination post office and general store and a bar. In Ainsworth, Neb. the sign at the town line read, "Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere."

Walters said before he left on his trip a friend asked him if he was trying to 'find America.' What resulted from the adventure was the recognition that there are many 'Americas' depending on where one goes.

"I had no special notion. I was looking for what was there, whatever it was. It is not a travel guide, it's a travel log," he explained of his book. "If you want to find out where to eat or where to stay this is not the book. I want the reader to feel as though they are in the car with me. I didn't see everything and I knew I wouldn't, but I'm saying this is what I saw and heard for two months in the spring of 2007. It's not a history book, but there's some history in it. It's not sociology, but there is some sociology in it. For me, seeing all the different landscapes was the best part of the trip."

At this point, Walters is correcting his first draft with some assistance from his wife Nancy Thayer, who has been a published author for 28 years and recently had her 18th novel released. Walters hopes to be finished with editing in a little more than a month. He has not yet chosen a potential title for his book, nor does he have an agent, which he views as essential to successful publication, but those issues do not matter too much at the moment. In fact, Walters said he hopes this book does sell, if it does not, he still wants to write another and is considering several ideas.

The US Route 20 Blog homepage can be found here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

US 20: Toledo Ohio and Toledo Oregon

I suppose with a road as long as US Route 20 that it’s bound to have cities that share the same name show up along the route. But a name like Toledo may not be one that first one that comes to mind.

Toledo, Oregon

On the western end of US 20 (also called the Corvallis-Newport Highway) is the city of Toledo, Oregon, first settled in 1866. It is less than 10 miles away from the Pacific Ocean, which also puts it very close to the western terminus of US 20 in Newport. The city’s web site lists the population as 3,680. It appears that US 20 through the city of Toledo is an old section of the route that was in use between 1917 and 1971, before the current bypass was created. The old section is still known as US 20, but as a business route. More information about the US 20 Route through Toledo, Oregon can be found here.
Toledo, Ohio

Much farther east is the larger city of Toledo, Ohio. It is situated on the Maumee River and the western end of Lake Erie, and is the fourth largest city in Ohio with a population close to 300,000. It is also known as the “Glass City” due to an extensive history in all facets of the glass industry, from everyday items like windows, bottles, and fiberglass, to the more specialized art glass. The Toledo Museum of Art (not on US 20) has a large collection of glass works. In addition, there are many glass companies who got their start in Toledo Ohio, such as Owens-Illinois, Owens Corning, Libbey, and many others.

With its location on Lake Erie, Toledo Ohio is a very popular destination for fishing and water sports, but also serves as a port for industry. More information about Toledo Ohio can be found here.

The US Route 20 Blog homepage can be found here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

US 20: NY Brothers Making “The Long Bike Back”

In June of 2006, brothers Pearson and Peter Constantino were planning a trek across the US via Route 20 when Pearson was struck by a hit and run driver. After Pearson’s long recovery, the brothers again have plans in the fall of 2008 to make the trip cross-country on US Route 20, a trip they plan to document by film. It will take place over a 50-day period in August and September. The trip, and their film, is called “The Long Bike Back,” and will detail the trip on US 20 and raise awareness of road safety.

A fundraiser will be held on May 15, 2008 at Creekside Books & Coffee in Skaneateles, New York. There will also be a screening of the film trailer at this event. Details for this fundraiser can be found here.

If you’d like detailed information about their story and the trip, visit their web site The Long Bike Back. You can also view a sample trailer, below.

The US Route 20 Blog homepage can be found here.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

US 20 In Ohio: Mentor Ohio Dangerous for Motorcyclists?

Possibly in light of the 25th Annual Louie Run taking place nearby this weekend, my local newspaper published an article about the dangers of driving US Route 20 in my home town of Mentor, Ohio.

I can tell you that not only is the stretch dangerous for motorcyclists, but in my opinion it is also dangerous for motor vehicles and pedestrians. There are a lot of traffic lights – and frustrated motorists often speed through cautions and red lights. (I’ve had a few too-close calls by motorists running red lights.) There are also a lot of driveways leading into businesses, not to mention intersections. And with Mentor being the 6th largest retail area in the state, there is lots of traffic.

So if you’re coming to this area for the Louie Run, or just to enjoy the home of US President James A. Garfield, keep your eyes open and drive US Route 20 with care.

Route 20 dangerous for motorcyclists
Michael C. Butz

As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, area motorcyclists are emerging from their winterlong hibernation ready to rev up their bikes and hit the open road.

Traditionally, May marks the beginning of motorcycle season in Ohio, and with that, local law enforcement agencies wish to remind all motorists of the increased need for safety.

To that end, the Ohio Highway Patrol and American Motorcyclist Association released data this week that shows the stretch of U.S. Route 20 that runs through Mentor to
be the fourth most dangerous roadway for motorcyclists in the state.

From 2002 to 2007, there were 56 fatal or injury motorcycle crashes on the road also known as Mentor Avenue.

"It's probably the high volume of traffic we have during the day, and at all hours,
and the fact we have so many exits and entrances to the businesses along the avenue," Lt. Tom Powers of the Mentor Police Department said.

Tim DeWolf, president of the Lake County-based Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, agreed that traffic is an issue.

"There's a number of red lights, and the visibility from parking lots can be obscured," he said. "Some of the intersections are pretty tricky."

Also, rain doesn't always drain well on parts of the avenue, DeWolf said. Traffic patterns frequently change with the addition or subtraction of a business.

"You have a lot of new construction and new businesses," he said.

Speaking of businesses, DeWolf said the number motorcycle crashes along Mentor Avenue might be the result of a higher number of bikers there due to the motorcycle dealerships, custom shops, and biker-friendly restaurants and bars in the vicinity.

"You might have a higher percentage of motorcycles there than on other roads in the area," he said.

DeWolf speculated there might also be a difference in the number of crashes involving what he called "sport bikes" and "cruisers," which many would identify with Harley-Davidson, but the available OHP statistics weren't that specific.

In 2007, there were 4,982 crashes involving motorcycles, which included 190 motorcyclist fatalities accounting for almost 15 percent of the 1,257 traffic fatalities that year, according to the OHP.

Other Northeast Ohio roadways made the OHP's top 10 most dangerous for motorcyclists - the stretch of Interstate 480 in Cleveland near I-71; Cleveland's Innerbelt, which spans the length of I-90 just south of downtown; and the stretch of state Route 534 found in Windsor Township of Ashtabula County.

"The traffic there is coming from southern areas going up to Geneva-on-the-Lake," said Lt. Mike Harmon of the OHP's Ashtabula post, referring to Route 534. "The big thing is there's an S-curve there, and the curves are very sharp," he said. "There are problems with people who are probably not familiar with the geography of that location."

Another problem Harmon sees, he conceded, is one that doesn't affect just motorcyclists.
"The added problem there is some of our fatals in that area are alcohol related," he said. "We want people to have a good time and enjoy Ashtabula County, but we want people to do it without drinking and driving."

Harmon offered other common-sense safety tips, including wearing a helmet and other appropriate safety gear, as well as obtaining appropriate training.

"The first thing we want people to know is they should be educated on riding their motorcycle," he said.

DeWolf, who's been riding for 25 years, agreed, pointing to something he saw recently that displayed inexperience.

"I was just at a Harley-Davidson dealership (Thursday) and someone purchased a $16,000 motorcycle and had to have someone drive it home for him," he said. For those interested in training, DeWolf said there are many local options.

"They offer a terrific riding course at Lakeland Community College," he said. "I strongly recommend that one, not only to new riders but also to (experienced) riders who have new riders in their family."

Also, at this time of year, a lot of bikers are shaking off the rust while getting used to riding their motorcycles again, DeWolf said.

"Everybody's a new rider for the first two months of the season," he said. As for motorists who prefer four wheels, DeWolf said there are things they can do to make the roads safer, too.

"They can put down their cell phones," he said. "My reoccurring nightmare is I'm going to be run over from behind by someone on a cell phone because they're distracted."

The US Route 20 Blog homepage can be found here.