Walking Route 66
By Ann Heppermann 10/18/2002
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.
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.
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.
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