In getting from one coast to the other here in America, as we showed you when we talked about Omaha's significance in the opening of the West, a route was first pioneered by the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was refined by the hundreds of thousands of pioneers who sought fortune in the West via the Oregon Trail, made more direct to California by the Lincoln Highway and fully brought to maturation in the form of I-80. Of these connections, none titillated the nation's imagination more than the Lincoln Highway.
No more than ruts in the grass or a "red line on a map connecting all the worst mudholes in the Country" as it was referred to by many once an official route had been chosen, it was begun by those who dared to think big. This as the courage of its early drivers was equally as large. And yet it would go on to impact the culture of this continent in many ways similar to how the TransSiberia Railroad and Silk Road across Asia redefined those lands. In the end, though it was never one road but made use of many, it still changed our geography, increased the size of our thinking, enlarged the scope for what was possible and began to show that strangers are only friends one has not yet met.
Long is this how I have foreseen the impact that the National Bicycle Greenway can have for America. Soon, largely because of the way in which we have squandered oil, the conditions of the world, terrorism, climate change, and peak oil, etc, will force us to look for solutions in a radically different frontier – another world also only explored initially by the adventurous few. A frightful place for most, the wilderness to which I refer is the inner self each of us knows so very little about. And yet as we bring the light of understanding to the darkness within, when we don???t need distraction from externals to be happy and content, we will transform the geography in a before unthinkable way as we make for a true wonderland of joy.
Toward this end, as we move in the direction of a more sustainable way of conducting the business of life, the bicycle, where modern transportation all began, will emerge as an important tool. When glass and metal no longer separate us from our brothers, when a radio or the steady drone of an engine does not drown out bird song or the sounds of the city and we can feel the wind, even the wet of rain on our face, it is then that we will know what it is to be a fully alive part of the human family. As this experience teaches us that we need nothing or no one to be complete, we will become aware that conflict can bring us nothing of value. Even though the government funded our interstate system for defense purposes, a time will soon come when none of our long distance roads will be seen as ways for us to escape an enemy but as ways for us to more fully explore the love that is our connection to one another and to the planet itself.
Using the Lincoln Highway as an example, then, I will show you how we can can go inside to create just such a heaven on earth with the National Bicycle Greenway. But first I have to help you better understand this nation???s first coast to coast road system and how it went about changing American consciousness the way it did.
Fomented by Carl Fisher, the man who built the Indy Speedway, and later the Dixie Highway and Miami Beach, the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) came together in 1913. However because they could not raise the millions needed back then to actually build a coast to coast car connection, they quickly turned to promotion. It had become apparent to them that in order to create a wide cross section of support for their dream, that they first had to convince Americans that they needed roads.
Toward this end, late in 1914, when their "highway" was formally announced, after almost two years of teasing the public with the adventure calling to them from California, they devised a way to make it seem un-American to not support what they had created. They called their offer to drive the collection of roads they had assembled an ???Appeal to Patriots???. Add the name Lincoln to it, and motoring on the course they had selected would somehow make you a better citizen. Run by automobile manufacturers, the LHA knew that in order to create demand for its machines they had to have roads, lots of them. And as history has shown us, from the systematic deconstruction of passenger rail to the demolition of whole neighborhoods and historic buildings they would go on to stop at nothing to make people feel like they needed paved thoroughfares.
Car makers began with an uphill battle. The possibility they had proposed came at a time when the price of a car rivaled that of a home. For that matter, the cost of one tire, of which many were needed on longer trips, could be measured in the form of several week???s worth of the working man???s wages. The LHA had to convince America that the Lincoln Highway they envisioned was more than the "peacock alley" many referred to it as. Especially in a Nation that was still largely driven by the needs of the farm.
In 1913 when Carl Fisher set out with 19 others cars on the 34 day Hoosier Tour (also called the Indiana???Pacific Indiana Automobile Manufacturers Association tour) from Indianapolis to San Francisco, all but a few of the roads west of the Mississippi were hard to recognize dirt paths. For that matter, according to the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, established with the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 to make America???s National Parks more accessible, only 8% of the roads in American had improved surfaces of gravel, stone, sand-clay, brick, shells, oiled earth, or bituminous.
Fisher also left on their 1,700 mile caravan at a time when filling stations were rare in America and none would be found anywhere between Indianapolis and San Francisco. Nor did the road map that we take for granted today even exist. Gulf Oil would not issue America???s first ever road map, a map that would cover the area in and around Pittsburgh, PA, until the end of 1913. And yet perhaps it was no coincidence that by the time Fisher???s much publicized journey was complete, car production exceeded the manufacture of carriages and wagons in the United States for the first time in history.
Because of Fisher???s bold vision, a shift began to take place in the way Americans thought about travel. As the LHA took the data he had collected and continued their work of configuring an official route, a great number of cities all across the country set up committees to try to lure the Lincoln Highway to come their way. And even after the roads that would be used were announced, some of those that had been bypassed, continued lobbying efforts that would ultimately become futile. And yet as they continued to promote, they added to the voice that clamored for roads.
Some of those that had been ignored, Denver, CO, for example, even went on to establish connections to other highway systems that had begun to rush in to fill the void . One such route was called the Midland Trail. Transcontinental, it ran from Washington DC to Los Angles. Other shorter connections such as the Dixie, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Spirit Lake and Sioux Fall Highways began to form at this time as well.
Much of this was put on hold as America fought in World War I. However, when it ended in 1919, the LHA rallied a sense of patriotism for their road once again. It sold the US Army on the fact that they needed to use its "highway" to test the reliability of their vehicles. As such, a convoy of 72 vehicles, most of them heavy military trucks, and 297 men, paraded across America for two months that summer. Everywhere their machines went, sometimes with great difficulty, they were worshipped as heroes. One of officers who traveled on this tour was Dwight D Eisenhower, the same man who 38 years later would usher the Interstate system into law under the pretext of defense preparedness.
The road building frenzy that had been blessed by the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy gave cars more and more places to go. Soon, creating more automobiles and place for them to drive would became America???s preoccupation.
Any yet maybe if Fisher???s original dream of connecting communities to one another hadn???t been obviated by Henry Joy???s engrossment with the most direct route, later road builders would have had more respect for people, the buildings that housed them and the land itself. As the president of both the Packard Motor Car Company and the Lincoln Hwy Association, Joy was far more interested in reaching San Francisco than he was in visiting any of the sights or residents along the way. It was this mindset that carried over as technology then enabled construction engineers to more and more conquer the country as they mowed through whatever was in the way. This psychology continued unabated into the 50???s and 60???s. It was not until Jane Jacobs led a movement to stop Robert Moses, who had already displaced nearly three quarters of a million people in New York CIty with his insatiable thirst for roads, that any of this was finally called into question.
And yet there again, the early transportation pioneers of the last century could not have foreseen the downward spiral that the automobile would ultimately take us down. The health and social costs and the cost to the planet are only now forcing us to rethink the once unchallenged sacredness of the car and all the space it needs to do its work. From roads to parking places and the orientation of buildings, etc, we are only just now beginning to call any of the automobile???s insatiable appetite into question.
Just as the father of the Lincoln Highway, Carl Fisher, began life as a bicycle mechanic and racer, indeed we have come back to the very point where modern transportation all began. As we reverse engineer our cities so that people can move about, free also of noise and smell, it is the bicycle that is making our population centers more livable once again. Besides getting us out of gridlock., the bicycle also speaks to the overweight epidemic that is gripping America today.
If there ever was a war that could justify the expenditure of federal dollars here in the US, it needs to be fought right now. The battle we need to engage in is against the direct cause of skyrocketing health costs – obesity. Investment in safe infrastructure for walkers, joggers and cyclists would drive this expense down as it made all of America healthy and virile once again. So from a profit and loss standpoint alone, the numbers could easily justify a new "Appeal to Patriots", the building of the National Bicycle Greenway.
And yet just as back when Mr Fisher awakened the spirit of reaching unexplored lands in our fore parents, as exercise in fresh air awakens the fullness of our being, as we said above, we will arrive at the only place left yet still to discover – the world within. While those who ventured to go long distance in a car had to rely on instinct and the goodwill of others, those who go long distance on a bike today can measure the quality of their ride by how well they are able to listen to that silent voice inside. Since the cycle tourist cannot carry as much as a car in the way of supplies, they often find themselves trusting that their intuition will locate the food and water needed to keep their legs moving. Whether it is a road they feel called to pedal, a stranger they feel compelled to talk to, or a trip guide they feel guided to consult, they know their needs will always be met if they trust.
For that matter, while the long distance cyclist of today can still get to know himself pretty well through the nothingness of deserts and wide open prairie lands, his mental fortitude can still also tested by break downs. Consider the equipment that was required of all vehicles on the 1913 Hoosier Tour we talk about above:
– a pick or mattock
– a pair of tackle blocks
– six hundred feet of three-quarter-inch rope
– a barn lantern to be hung on the rear tire carrier in case the car???s regular lights failed
– a steel stake three feet long to use as an anchor to pull the car out of sand or mud
– twelve mudhooks
– a full set of chains
– a sledge
– chocolate bars in cans
– beans and other canned food
– a 4???x6??? tent
West of Salt Lake City:
– four African water bags filled at all times
Considering the difficulty level facing those long distance car travelers of the early 1900???s, one can???t help but know that such journeys built character. Without tow trucks or phone lines or any of the safety valves the modern motorist has at his or her disposal, car voyagers back then had to make a lot of it up as they went along.
In many ways, their treks were a waking meditation. Without radio, billboards or road signs to distract them, they had to go inside for information and entertainment as they also bonded with their machines. Just as the transcontinental cyclist can get to know himself pretty well on the open road and is attuned to any new sound his bicycle may happen to make, early motorcar adventurers faced the same set of challenges. At a time when a car trip to the Pacific Ocean lasted one to two months, those hearty souls who undertook such a trip were forced to become not only their own best friend but they also knew that as uninvited guests to an unfamiliar land they always had to be on the lookout for help.
Entering a frontier where no services for either their vehicles or themselves existed, they could not afford to alienate anyone in the event there was any kind of breakdown. From directions to health matters and broken parts, the smarter excursionists knew they needed each other out there. Unlike car drivers of today, this awareness forced them to be friendly with other motorists. Since travel was bidirectional, they never passed up a chance to exchange information about the condition of the road itself as they moved into new turf.
In addition to one another, just like the NBG assists its scouts today, from 1913 to 1928 Lincoln HIghway travelers were assisted by the home offices of the Lincoln Highway Association. The LHA helped its travelers get on the way with routing and gearing recommendations. Though the actual ???road??? assistance the LHA provided could hardly be described as timely, especially by today???s standards, once word did get to them that someone was stuck, they still were able to get help out to them.
To be continued with parallels between the Lincoln Highway?? and the National Bicycle Greenway including:
– The LHA radio shows = NBG Podcasts
– LHA caravans and tours = NBG Mayors' Ride
– LHA road markers = NBG approved road signs
– LHA road spec = NBG road spec
– LHA "seedling miles" = NBG demonstration sections