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Known as the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 is a 2,400-mile museum of nostalgic charm. And, it has a lot of fans. People from all over the world drive from Chicago to Santa Monica, visiting small towns and eating at old burger joints. But for Dennis Crowley, Route 66 isn’t about getting from point “A” to point “B” -- it’s a spiritual journey that began in 1998, albeit a rather unorthodox one. He didn’t start in Chicago, Ill., but Joplin, Mo., which is where the trip will end. Dennis isn’t driving Route 66 -- he’s walking it. Well, sort of. Ann Heppermann joined Dennis Crowley for a stretch just outside of Seligman, Ariz. She found out that you can learn quite a few things by walking a mile, or more, next to a man’s shoes.

Walking Route 66

By Ann Heppermann 10/18/2002

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It's hot day on Route 66. Dennis and I have just left our starting point, mile marker 145. There isn't much out here -- just us and a line of abandoned telephone poles. They look like crosses stretched across a barren landscape. They're a fitting landmark.

Dennis Crowley: I started reading the book of Jeremiah and the verse said to, uh, stand at the crossroads, stop look and ask for the old paths where the good way is; walk in it and you'll find rest for your soul.

This is Dennis Crowley's spiritual journey. For Dennis, the old path is Route 66. And he has been walking in it for 3e years. Growing up, Dennis says, he was like a lot of fundamentalists in Oklahoma's Bible Belt. Church was the center of his life, from weekly worship to church socials to prayer chains. Dennis still is a strong Christian. He reads the Bible everyday. He prays a lot. But Dennis' walk, he says, has changed things. He has become a different kind of Christian.

Dennis: Christianity, what it really is is a relationship, and not a religion. It's bringing things down to earth -- down to things where they're practical, down to things where they're real. And, that's where my heart is, to take what I'm doing and to relate my experiences of what Christianity is in a real practical sense: what it really means to actually walk with God.

Dennis is now also different from other Route 66 travelers. Many who drive along the old highway are obsessed with the small towns and burger joints. It has become a 2,400-mile museum of American nostalgia. Dennis says, Route 66 isn't supposed to be a "getting from point A to point B, destination kind of thing."

Dennis: As far as I'm concerned, it's what it's stood for over the years. It's stood not just for a highway that went from Chicago to LA, it was about experiences; it was about living life one day at a time and appreciating for what you experience out of it.

Now, here, we're going to get a good example of what goes on when I walk.

(sound: people pulling up next to him and saying "Hello")

Dennis doesn't look like a freak. He's approachable. He dresses well, has short hair, and even sports a fanny pack. Most people who stop are like Bob and Syndey Schmedgall from Yuma, Ariz.: good Samaritans who think something's wrong and want to help. Others are just curious. Once, a busload of Japanese tourists pulled over to take Dennis' picture. But Dennis also has his skeptics.

Dennis: First of all, they don't know who I am, never met me before, and here's this guy saying, well, he's gonna do, he's walking Route 66. It's based on a Bible verse and, uh, you know, your reaction is, 'Who's this flake and where did this guy come from?'

He has been harassed and had stuff stolen from his campsite. Once, a cop tried to arrest him…just for walking "without a reason." It's one of the few instances that made Dennis want to quit. But, he says, most people he meets while walking are good folks.

We reach mile marker 142.

Dennis: We made it halfway, and here's where we turn around. You made it. I'm proud of you.

But Dennis really is the one to admire. Since Dennis walks out to his next stopping point, and then heads back to his car, he's actually walking Route 66 twice. When it's over, Dennis will walk almost 5,000 miles. He'll cross eight states and three time zones. It's a travel choice that seems crazy at first, but actually makes a lot of sense. I mean, why zoom across Route 66 at 65 miles per hour when you can really get to know it, and yourself, by walking it at 2 or 3 mph?

Dennis: I really believe, and I think one of the biggest things I've learned in all of this, is that the world as such is not searching for perfection, but it's starving for honesty and it wants people to be real. To be honest, you know most of us play games. Nobody's perfect. And, I'm the first to admit it, that I'm definitely not and I think that's what people want. They want something that's real.

After 2 hours, we are back to where we began.

Dennis: Here we are, made it. This is where you say Thank God.

Before I take off, Dennis pulls out his travel log. We walked 6 miles today and almost reached the town of Seligman. It's approximately 1:40 in the afternoon. We began at mile marker 145 and ended at 142. I pipe in with "and Thank God." He chuckles. Let me put that there: "Thank God," underline, underline, underline, exclamation.

Savvy Resources:

http://www.route66.com

The Route 66 Collection - http://www.wemweb.com

The National Historic Route 66 Federation
http://www.national66.com

Historic Route 66 - http://www.historic66.com

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