Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Get Your Kicks on Route...um...Six!

- Photo by Rob Adams (on Lake Casse Drive, Mahopac, NY - July 30, 2005)

Ride along as Rob Ryser from The Journal News takes you on a cross-country journey on US route 6. As the article points out, many, if not most people don't know that US 6 is a nearly coast-to-cast road, and once was the longest road in the US - from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA. There are some flaws in the article, but I'm not going to point them out. Doesn't seem productive today. For the most part, the article does a nice job of letting readers in the lower Hudson Valley know that this stretch of road that comes out of Connecticut, goes through my home areas of Carmel and Mahopac, and heads through congested suburbia before crossing the Hudson River on the Bear Mountain Bridge (one of the roads huge highlights) is a pretty important link in US highway system.

I tried to find a link for the article on The Journal News's website but came up empty, so I'm going to post it here, and hope to not offend anyone...

Congested local highway offers a cross-country journey
Rob Ryser

With a gas card and a good map, you can drive all the way to California on Route 6.

It may seem comical to those who know how long it can take to drive a lousy mile on Route 6 that a chronically congested road in Putnam and northern Westchester could roll on and on into the Pacific sunset.

But it's no joke.

Route 6 really is a coast-to-coast connection - the longest historical highway in the United States in fact - cutting a transcontinental diagonal from Cape Cod to Long Beach, Calif.

It's true.

"That's pretty impressive," says Marty DiCola, the owner of Peekskill Paint and Hardware, who always thought the Route 6 where he does business ended somewhere over the Bear Mountain Bridge in Orange County.

The idea that one of the most notorious choke points in the Lower Hudson Valley is part of a two-lane legend across 14 states and four time zones may take a moment to absorb. But no one with plans to travel it should be surprised at what they find.

From the one-time whaling capital of the world to the Wild West, from New Englanders to American Indians, historical Route 6 is a 3,652-mile ribbon that wraps the most diverse people and the most dynamic regions into a common culture called America.

The downtown office towers and the gold mining ghost towns - and all the silos, oil rigs, suspension bridges and roller coasters in between - stand like icons of the nation's infrastructure along Route 6.

To be sure, with gas prices in the $3 range and cross-country road trips no longer what they used to be, few New Yorkers but the real roadies are likely to drive any farther on Route 6 this summer than they absolutely must.

But with a new book coming from a retired Connecticut journalist who walked Route 6 to document "places you can't savor in the fast lane," and a growing interest by Route 6 enthusiasts to post travelogues on the Internet, residents might replicate some of the road trip experience without starting up the car.

And anyone who has ever suffered the indignity of seeing a squirrel move faster on a wire than the car can advance during rush hour on Route 6 might now take pride in being stuck on a historical highway full of celebrity and novelty; a road that links the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the birthplace of Velveeta.

"It looks like we're in the middle of a whole bunch of everything, you know?" says Janie Jackson of Peekskill, 47, who thought, as perhaps many do, that Route 6 ends in the Hudson River.

It may seem strange to imagine commonality with other Route 6 states such as Nevada, where wild horses are as out of control as whitetail deer here.

The truth is that the New York portion of Route 6 is so integrated with the larger highway that it's emblematic of the whole. Like the longer historical highway, the local stretch of Route 6 has a commercial pace, but also comparatively rural sections. It has a crossing of awesome beauty over the Hudson River and places of supreme serenity atop Bear Mountain, as well as sections of Main Street life in Peekskill where families still use the sidewalks, and wild raspberries as sweet as jam grow through chain link fences.

It has colonial heritage and a future of certain change.

In 2017 - not too soon for the congestion-weary - the state will draw up plans for a Route 6 bypass in Mohegan Lake.

"It's a great time to travel Route 6 because it is unspoiled," says Thomas Repp, the executive editor of American Road. "Route 6 is so long and so diverse and so overlooked."

What began in 1926 as a two-lane highway from Provincetown, Mass., to Brewster culminated in 1952 when a 150-mile section of wagon wheel ruts was paved between Utah and Nevada.

The more America grows, experts such as Repp say, the less Route 6 will look the way it does in Brewster and Peekskill, where pedestrians still rule the road, and the more it will look like the mega-laned intersection in Baldwin Place, where the only people who cross the ladder-like pavement paintings are those in cars.

Route 6's reach

It doesn't surprise road enthusiasts that many New Yorkers may not know the remarkable reach of their own Route 6.

"Americans have forgotten how to travel," says Repp, the author of two books about the storied Route 66. "The interstate highway may be safer and faster, but it has taken the romance out of the cross-country driving experience. Everybody is into destination travel."

Of course, some Route 6 locals know about its longest-highway status.

As a kid growing up in Mahopac, John Moore heard stories from his grandfather about Route 6 being a dirt road in the 1920s and 1930s. Now 49 and the owner of an antique-furniture shop on Route 6 in Cortlandt, Moore also has heard stories from buddies that Route 6 went all the way to California.

"I never really believed it, you know?" says Moore, a friendly man with a Hemingway beard. "It was the Sixties and everything."

It was in 1963 that California renumbered its highway system and ended Route 6 in Bishop. That act made modern Route 6 only 3,227 miles, and second-longest in the nation to Route 20's 3,345 miles.

California is committed to posting historical Route 6 markers along the renumbered section, but some can still find the way from the Atlantic Coast in Providence, R.I., to the Pacific port of Long Beach.

Walking Route 6

Joe Hurley proved it in 2004 when he took a rookie photographer and a veteran Geo Metro that died in Death Valley on a nine-month walking tour of Route 6 "to see if the country had changed."

The car was only to get to the hotel at night. During the day Hurley was on the road writing vignettes about a curmudgeon who whittled an ax handle on the porch in Pennsylvania, a guy named Big Daddy Frick who treated employees to free lunch off china plates daily in rural Indiana and a 92-year-old man missing a kneecap and a few fingers who sat on a Valvoline can and sold corn out of his pickup in Des Moines.

"I found two Americas," says Hurley, whose book about his trip is due out in January. "I found urban America and I found rural America. I don't think the two are at war, but urban America doesn't know rural America exists."

Hurley makes a case that the slower pace of life outside the cities gives people more time for one another. He suggests that people in small Route 6 towns are more like small-town people in other states than they are like city folk in their home states.

He became so used to being waved at by strangers and returning the wave across the Midwestern and Western states of Route 6, he says, that he caught himself waving to a fence post.

Try making that mistake on Route 6 at the Westchester-Putnam border - a conglomerate of commercial concrete and cars called Baldwin Place - where the architectural focus is a massive sagging necklace of traffic signals.

A touch of country

And yet a traveler just might consider such a friendly country gesture when the eyes catch the crayon-colored animal pens under three dreamy weeping willows. Standing out among the gas stations and warehouse stores on one corner of this intersection is a grassy property adorned with abandoned vehicles, ornate barns, rural memorabilia and farm animals that one might associate with wheat fields and one-room schoolhouses.

"We have gone from open fields and one or two cars parked on this road when I got here to shopping centers," says Bernard Zipkin, 86, a rural guardian of sorts and owner of Mahopac Farm & Museum.

He also knew that Route 6 goes all the way to California. The last thing he wants to do is sell the 31-acre property he has owned since 1967.

"People are consumed with buying new things, but if somebody needs a helping hand standing on the road, we are consumed with the fear of being taken advantage of," Zipkin says. "What has happened on Route 6 here kind of mirrors the whole thing."

Where Route 6 loses its bond with people is where the road cares more about moving four wheels as fast as possible than getting two feet where they need to go, locals and road enthusiasts agree.

In Baldwin Place, Jefferson Valley, Cortlandt and stretches of Mahopac and Carmel, the road is no longer the Robert Frost metaphor for life connections, but a punch line for such modern conventions as road rage.

A perpetually congested section of Route 6 in Mohegan Lake was the subject of so many public fits after the turn of the millennium, for example, that state and county transportation planners sat down with Yorktown, Cortlandt and Peekskill officials to reach a consensus about rerouting a portion to alleviate congestion.

Even then, during several years of intense study, no one uncovered Route 6's historic reach or the uninterrupted story that it tells.

"A road is just a strip of pavement until you get into the town and talk to the people and understand what the road means," says Repp. "You turn on the news and get a nice dose of depression, but you can go on the road and see what the country is really like."

Reach Rob Ryser at 914-666-6489 or rryser@lohud.com.

1 comment:

demo122800 said...

I regularly travel Route 6 (from 384) through CT and into RI. I can't say it's a very scenic route in the least but for me, it serves it's purpose - bypassing all the traffic on Route 95.