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The First Comprehensive Cycling Map of Route 66

Thirty years after it was officially decommissioned comes Bicycle Route 66—the first all encompassing cycling map of the iconic byway. So finally, you can ditch the car and explore the most historic road in the U.S. on two wheels.

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Thirty years after it was officially decommissioned comes Bicycle Route 66—the first all encompassing cycling map of the iconic byway. So finally, you can ditch the car and explore the most historic road in the U.S. on two wheels.

Route 66 lovers who want to tackle the iconic Mother Road by bicycle, have reason to rejoice: On March 2, after four years of mapping and advocacy work, the Adventure Cycling Association debuted the first-ever comprehensive bicycle map of the 2,493-mile route, which winds from Los Angeles through eight states to end in Chicago.

Lest you think that mapping such an iconic American feature simply requires downloading a few satellite photos from Google Earth and stitching them together, think again. Anyone who has attempted to drive even fragmented sections of Route 66 knows that the byway, which was officially decommissioned in 1985, is legendary not only for its nostalgic kitsch, but also for its multiple alignments, confusing signage, and even gravel on some sections in Arizona and New Mexico that were never paved in the first place.

“It takes awhile to craft long-distance routes,” says Jim Sayer, the executive director of the Missoula-based non-profit. “For Route 66, our goal was to stay as close as possible to the original corridor, while keeping as much of it on paved road as we could,” says Sayer.

The map for Bicycle Route 66 took six cartographers, four on-the-ground researchers, and cooperation from state tourism bureaus—plus a year’s worth of advocacy work to get permission from the California Department of Transportation to legally use a stretch of I-40 with eight-foot shoulders. It is a utilitarian work of art broken into six separate sections of roughly 400 miles each. Printed on waterproof, tear-proof paper, the map shows turn-by-turn navigation, while the flipside includes detailed field notes on the history, topography, and natural history of Route 66, as well as key services like budget lodging in classic hotels, campgrounds, libraries with internet access, hardware stores, grocery stores, and essential stops in remote segments. Digitally, ACA has Twitter hashtags for all major routes that riders can use to find the latest updates. For ACA members (a membership costs $40 per year), there are also GPS waypoints for the route and services along the way.

If taking roughly 32 days to cycle almost 2,500 miles of Bicycle Route 66, some of which are on an Interstate, sounds like more work than it’s worth, take a few cues from Lon Haldeman, the co-owner of PAC Tours, who helped map the route. He loves Route 66 so much that he’s cycled it 15 times. “You’ve got to have that explorer’s mentality,” says Haldeman. “If you don’t understand the history of Route 66, then you’re like, ‘this is just an old, funky road.’” He also recommends riding from west to east to get a boost from prevailing tail winds and using a touring bike with 32mm or wider tires. “In some sections in Missouri and Illinois, every ten yards has a two-inch crack and bump that’s like hitting a two-by-four,” he says.

As for his favorite sections, it’s tough for Haldeman to narrow them down. “Oklahoma is really good because it’s almost 100 percent rideable across the state, plus it’s very historical and very safe,” he says. He also loves sections in New Mexico and Arizona for other essential reasons. “Twisters in Williams, Arizona, makes the best malt on Route 66. It’s got the best ice cream, the best malt flavor, the frosted glass, the stainless steel cup, and a cherry on top. It’s got it all.” Haldeman does note, however, that his malt research is ongoing and his next cycling trip across Route 66 may yield very different results.

With the new Route 66 route, the ACA now has a total mapped cycling network of 44,673 miles, which pass through 47 states and parts of Canada, making it the largest cycling route system in the world.

Filed To: Road Biking / Exploration / Travel / Road Trips / United States
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

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(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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