Friends take ‘road trip of a lifetime’ along Route 66

Vancouver resident Bobbi Foster pets Walter the burro in Oatman, Ariz., in July. Walter was abandoned by his mother after being born earlier this year, but has been taken in by a local family. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Linda Wade of Vancouver stands next to a rail car in a uranium mine in Grants, N.M. Uranium mining in New Mexico was a significant industry from the early 1950s until the early 1980s. Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal, and Rick and Bobbi Foster and Arnie Hoag and Wade of Vancouver visited the site during their Route 66 vacation in July. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Stalactites hang from the top of a cave at the Meramec Caverns near Stanton, Mo. The caverns were formed from the erosion of large limestone deposits over millions of years. Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal, and Rick and Bobbi Foster and Arnie Hoag and Linda Wade of Vancouver visited the site during their Route 66 vacation in July. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

A Native American memorial adorns the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument in Crow Agency, Mont. Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal, and Rick and Bobbi Foster and Arnie Hoag and Linda Wade of Vancouver visited the site during their Route 66 vacation in July. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal, and Rick and Bobbi Foster and Arnie Hoag and Linda Wade of Vancouver visited the original McDonald's restaurant, now a museum, in San Bernadino, Calif., during their Route 66 trip. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal, and Rick and Bobbi Foster and Arnie Hoag and Linda Wade of Vancouver visited the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ariz., during their Route 66 vacation in July. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Doug Norcross, Rick Foster and Arnie Hoag (back row left to right), and Julie Norcross, Bobbi Foster and Linda Wade pose for a photo at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Redwood trees extend skyward at a park in northern California. Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal, and Rick and Bobbi Foster and Arnie Hoag and Linda Wade of Vancouver visited the site during their Route 66 vacation in July. (Contributed photo courtesy of Bobbi Foster)

Six friends, three Corvettes, 29 days, 28 nights, 17 states, 7,160.7 miles, thousands of photos and dozens of memories.

It all added up to the road trip of a lifetime.

Doug and Julie Norcross of Washougal joined Vancouver residents Arnie Hoag, Linda Wade and Rick and Bobbi Foster (a longtime Post-Record employee) on a journey across U.S. Route 66 earlier this summer.

Route 66 is one of the most famous roads in the United States, covering more than 2,400 miles from Chicago to southern California. Also known as the “Mother Road,” Route 66 served as a primary route for western settlers, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

“I liked driving through the countryside, seeing all the varied things from big cities to small, places I’d never been before, meeting people who were all so friendly,” Doug said. “And (I liked) the fact that I was with good people the whole way.”

Doug and Rick, former co-workers at the Camas Police Department, started talking about a post-retirement Route 66 trip several years ago.

“(The motivation) came up from watching the old television show, ‘Route 66,’ reading books and online articles, and for nostalgia, (to see) the way it used to be before the interstate,” Doug said. “We thought that sounded like a cool road trip. And we all own Corvettes, so we thought, ‘What a way to go.'”

All of the travelers said the trip was a resounding success.

“I said, ‘I could do this every day,'” Julie said. “It was just entertaining and fun. There’s so much of America to explore. We did a 7,000-mile trip, but (with) side trips and seeing all the sights, it could go on forever. It was just so cool to stop and see all the different things. Now I understand why people get in motorhomes and tour the country.”

Absorbing Americana

The sextet started out on June 16 with a 700-mile drive to Missoula, Montana. They crossed the top of the United States before dropping down into Illinois and heading to the official starting point of Route 66 in Chicago.

From there they drove through southern Illinois into St. Louis, Missouri; made a two-day detour for their first side trip, a jaunt to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky; and got back into Missouri, drove through a tiny portion of Kansas, and moved into Oklahoma. They then went south for their second side trip — to Arlington, Texas, for a tour of AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, Rick’s favorite National Football League (NFL) team.

The travelers got back on Route 66 and drove through west Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, where they took their third and final side trip to the Grand Canyon. Then they went up into California, drove through the Mojave Desert and finished at the Santa Monica Pier, receiving a certificate for their efforts on July 11.

They then drove north along Highway 1 and Highway 101 through northern California on their way home. The travelers reentered Clark County on July 14.

“It’s a huge trip,” Julie said. “Everyone kept saying, ‘How are you going to sit in a car for a month?’ and ‘Aren’t you going to get tired of (being on the road)?’ It wasn’t that way at all. The cars were so comfortable. There was no arguing or anything about where we were going. Individually it would be a great trip, but there’s something about being in a group (that made it special).”

Among their favorite stops along the way: the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Montana; Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota; The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota; Wrigley Field in Chicago; the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis; the Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri; the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas; the Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico; an underground uranium mine in Grants, New Mexico; the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona; the original McDonald’s restaurant, now a museum, in San Bernardino, California; and a Redwood park in northern California.

They stopped at dozens of gift shops, restored gas stations, museums, historical landmarks and quirky roadside attractions, such as a 70-foot-tall ketchup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois.

They saw “green guys” (Muffler Men statues in New Mexico), a pink elephant in Livingston, Illinois and a blue whale in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

Julie picked up a nickname in Erick, Oklahoma, where a performer asked her what her name was, misheard her saying, ‘I’m hiding from you’ and called her ‘Heidi,’ which stuck for the rest of the trip.

They toured Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Springfield, Illinois. They watched two visitors from Georgia attempt (and fail) the famous 72-Ounce Steak Challenge at the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, Texas. And they stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, in honor of the famous Eagles song.

“I’ve always been a history buff, so it was really cool to see the actual history of our country,” Bobbi said. “Seeing Mr. Lincoln’s home, hearing about how the house is pretty much the way it was when he lived there, (or going) to Little Bighorn and seeing all those headstones, it gives you goosebumps.”

And Bobbi made a special friend in Oatman, Arizona, which is known for its street-roaming wild burros, including a 5-day-old male named Walter who was rejected by his mother. Bobbi’s interactions with Walter, who has since been adopted by a family and become somewhat of a local celebrity, were a highlight of the trip.

“I felt so sad for him because his mama rejected him,” Bobbi said, “but I was glad that somebody was able to foster him.”

Overcoming obstacles

The group did encounter some challenges — most of them car-related — along the way.

The first problem occurred on their way to Chicago.

“We got a screw in our run flats,” Linda said. “We were about 13 miles outside of South Dakota. We (had to go) back to Mitchell, South Dakota, to the Goodyear place. While they were fixing the run flats, we went to the Corn Palace and had lunch, and it was good. It turned into an okay thing because we weren’t planning on going to the Corn Palace. And we still have the screw, by the way.”

The Fosters’ Corvette had several issues during the journey. In Lebanon, Missouri, Rick discovered a coolant leak, which required a trip to a repair shop and a five-hour wait.

In Oklahoma City, the car’s battery went out. The group couldn’t find jumper cables, so Rick and Doug purchased a battery and tools at a nearby store and installed the battery before getting back on the road.

The coolant problem presented itself again at the Grand Canyon, and the car started to overheat. They were able to make it back out to the park’s entrance, but could go no further. They had to call for a tow to Kingman, Arizona, 163 miles way. The wait for a new radiator cost them two days.

But when the car was ready to go, the group faced a new quandary in the form of two large earthquakes that had shaken southern California, their next destination. They seriously considered cutting their trip short.

“We were concerned (about the possibility) of more earthquakes or aftershocks,” Bobbi said. “But we said, ‘We’re this close. We really, really don’t want to bypass the end,’ so we went ahead and took the chance. If there were aftershocks, they were minimal, and I never felt anything. It turned out to be good.”

Before the start of the trip, Doug created an itinerary, filled with places to stop, turn-by-turn directions, hotel information, car wash locations and more, meticulously catalogued into a three-ring binder, which the travelers affectionately dubbed “The Book.”

Even though Julie referred to Doug’s book as “a savior,” the group learned that its contents weren’t always completely accurate.

“One of the biggest things I noticed was the information that we got from online sources versus what we saw in reality was a little different sometimes for the street signs and stuff,” Doug said. “We’d get to these towns and I’d have directions that say, ‘Turn left on D Street’ or whatever. We’d drive up and there’d be no street signs whatsoever. How are you supposed to know? You have to guess, and sometimes you guess wrong. We found that at a couple other places, we’d pull up and (the place would) just be abandoned, so we just had to move on.”

Even though they returned home just a few weeks ago, the friends are already talking about going on another Route 66 trip.

“We were on a deadline because one of the group (members) is still employed and had to get back to work,” said Rick, referring to Bobbi, who works for the Post-Record and the Columbian newspapers. “We’re going to do it again when Bobbi retires. If it takes two or three months, it would be more fun.”

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