“Just think, I’ve been shot and hung in a museum.”

Original Route 66 in Auburn, IL. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images.

“Auburn Brick”
A portion of the *original* Mother Road in Auburn, Illinois, laid by hand in 1931.

I do love coming across stories like this!

After his wife’s death in 2007, Bill Cahill had given up on life. Having been married to Rose for 63 years, he was desolate and lost without her.

He was sleeping 16 hours a day when a friend called and encouraged him to give love another chance. He listened to his friend and met a “nice lady” online. The octogenarian fell in love with Martielena and they married in 2008.

Four years later, Martielena found a large stash of books and maps on the Historic Route 66.

“What are these for?” she asked Cahill.

He told her about the plans he and Rose had of riding cross-country on Route 66. For 22 years they dreamed and planned, but something always got in the way and they never made the trip.

….To his surprise, Martielena told him he shouldn’t give up on the idea. “If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it,” she said.

So at the age of 86, Mr. Cahill bought an orange Russian Ural motorcycle with a sidecar and flew to the Windy City, traditional starting point of Route 66—complete with three orange t-shirts bearing the message “Damn, I’m a year older than the road I’m on”.

Like every “Routie”, Cahill met wonderful folks and took a few wrong turns that led to, oh, all sorts of things.

He drove to a restaurant where the gangster Al Capone had hung out (Jen’s note: This would be the Luna Cafe in Mitchell, IL). Customers asked where he would be staying. He told them the name of the motel.

“Attaboy Bill, good for you,” one of the guys yelled. “You hear that fellows? Bill’s staying at the Cedar Crest tonight.”

The customers cheered and congratulated him.

At the motel, a nice-looking lady invited him to come in and insisted on being paid cash. He asked if the motel had Wi-Fi, and the lady looked at him strangely. No, there was no Wi-Fi, she replied.

He said he would go to find an ATM but decided instead to stay at a chain hotel with Wi-Fi, so he could update his blog. It wasn’t until the next day that it dawned on him that the motel must be a “house of ill repute.”

Ha! Can’t say that happened to us!

Mr. Cahill is surely one of the oldest Route 66 travellers to have made the trip, and The Luna Cafe, Route 66, Mitchell, IL. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.almost positively the only man or woman of 86 to do so on a motorcycle—his age attracted the attention of Pontiac’s Route 66 Museum:

Down the road at Henry’s Ra66it Ranch, he learned that the curator from the Route 66 museum in Pontiac was looking for him. He wanted a photo of Cahill on his bike for the museum for being the oldest route rider they know of.

“Just think, I’ve been shot and hung in a museum,” he quipped.

Mr. Cahill had a few close calls on the road, and even fell victim to thieves who inexplicably stole his travel folder (what losers). He carried on, though, reaching Santa Monica after about two and a half weeks of Mother Road travel:

He felt a “real honest to goodness sense of accomplishment. Not a lot of people, not over 80, not over 85, do it.”

It could only have been better if he had done it earlier, he said.

“A lot of people have dreams of doing something. Just do it.”

The best memories are of the people he met, many from other countries who insisted on taking photos with him, and the riders who accompanied him part of the way. Several asked to see his driver’s license, not believing he was 86.

It truly is the people you meet on the road that make the trip so grand—no matter your age (or theirs). What a terrific story! You may read more about his Mother Road jaunt in the Yuma Sun article or at his travel blog, which has some fun photos. It is amazing to see what has changed since our last time hitting the Mother Road in ’11 (moving to another state has the effect of destroying vacation time for a while, darnit); some of the museums have undergone makeovers, other places are gone entirely. But that’s the way things go on 66, and so many of our other old US Highways.

Well, no matter where you’d like to travel, don’t give up on it—and don’t ever let yourself think or be convinced that you are “too old”. There’s no such thing.

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