Bill Cahill soon will turn 87, an age when most octogenarians have pretty much exhausted all of the items on their "bucket list" and, in many cases, are pretty exhausted themselves.
Not Cahill. The wiry World War II veteran fulfilled a long-held dream this summer by riding his Russian-made Ural motorcycle with sidecar the 2,400-mile length of historic Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, or most of it, anyway.
"I first planned this trip 22 years ago," Cahill said.
That was when he owned a body-and-paint shop in Oregon. But his wife of 62 years began experiencing declining health and eventually died. A few years later, he met a woman from Ceres, whom he married five years ago.
His new family encouraged him to make the Route 66 journey while his health remained strong. True, Cahill might be closer to 90 than 80, but he could easily pass for a 70-year-old spring chicken.
Starting out June 3 and wearing a T-shirt that read "Damn, I'm older than the road I'm on" he quickly realized how difficult the three-week journey would be. He started at 6 a.m. and spent about 12 hours a day on the road.
"I was determined to follow every bit of (the historic route)," he said. "I probably did 85 to 90 percent of it whatever I was able to ferret out."
Cahill loves the old route and studied its history. The government established it as a highway in 1926, connecting the dots from small town to small town, creating a highway that traversed eight states from the Midwest into the Southwest and eventually the West Coast.
"They did it for commerce," Cahill said.
Over time, Route 66 picked up nicknames, including "The Will Rogers Highway," "Main Street of America" and "The Mother Road" because so many people used it to migrate west during the Dust Bowl. The government decommissioned it as a U.S. highway in 1985.
Cahill encountered his first roadblock figuratively and literally on the very first day.
After leaving Chicago, the original route is blocked by a steep berm because the government doesn't want motorists on it.
"They said it's unsafe," Cahill said. "They've done a real good job of trying to keep you off of it. Three times, I went down the road on 20-mile stretches and (the road) just plain flat disappeared."
That neither redirected nor stopped him. With his two-wheel-drive motorcycle, he found his way over some of the berms and around others.
Some stretches of the highway are framed by concrete strips with a 9-foot-wide swath of bricks in between. Some of it is regular asphalt pavement that hasn't been maintained in decades. Other stretches of Route 66 were later built over as part of U.S. Route 40.
"It's under the freeway," he said. "There's nothing you can do about it."
One day, while riding the old highway, he saw a highway patrolman who had stopped a motorist on U.S. Route 40. The patrolman gave him a long look, then went back to writing a ticket. Cahill figured it was the last he'd see of that patrolman. But a few miles down the road, the cop came up alongside on the other freeway and told Cahill to stop.
"I think he was more interested in my bike after I told him it was two-wheel drive," Cahill said.
The officer told him he'd need to get off the old route at a point a couple of miles down the road.
Whenever he rolled into small towns along the way, people wanted to photograph Cahill and his bike, invariably working the sidecar into the frame.
"If I had 50 cents for every time someone said, 'Climb on the bike so I can take your picture,' I could have paid for the trip," Cahill said.
In fact, a photo of him hangs in one of the small museums along the way.
He kept a daily journal, describing the events of his trip, including his stop early on in an unincorporated area of Illinois. He'd noticed a motel as he came into the community. Great he'd stay there that night.
He went to a cafe and struck up a conversation with the locals. One asked him, "Where are you staying tonight?"
"The Cedar Crest Motel," he responded.
"Atta boy, Bill. Good for you!" his inquisitor said.
When Cahill later went to check in at the motel, he knocked on the door and an attractive young woman answered. His journal reads as follows:
"We only take cash, $40.00? She says, with a smile."
"You have WIFI?" I ask. The look on the lady's face was not of shock or dismay, just a very blank, faraway stare. "We don't have WIFI" she says. Boy, how will (I) explain this to Christina (Cahill's stepdaughter), if I don't send her a post or pictures she will be really upset. I also don't want the BEAUTIFUL lady to think I am some sort of Yuppy. "OK I'll go down to the truckstop ATM machine and get some cash" even though I had the $40.00 in my pocket.
Instead, he went to another hotel.
"That night as I lay in my $75.00 room in the big fancy motel, mulling over the evening I had had at the Luna Cafe with the local guys and my meeting the most Beautiful lady at the Cedar Crest motel, it dawns on me. They never have WIFI
lots of love to you all
Wi-Fi, as in "WIFE-I"
He continued on from town to town, landmark to landmark and, a few weeks later, reached Highway 101 at Santa Monica. That's where Route 66 ends.
"I wore out as the trip went out," he said. "That last day before Santa Monica, I realized how tired I was."
In fact, the final leg from Southern California back home to Ceres became a blur. Everything in between, though, is etched pretty solidly in his memory. Wife Martielena and her children created a beautiful hardcover commemorative book resplendent with his color photos and journal entries.
Cahill believes he might be the oldest person every to ride a motorcycle along the route.
"It was a great trip," he said.
And it was the last thing on his checklist, which creates an even greater dilemma than disappearing pavement: He's still in great shape, with more great adventures left in him.
"I need to find another bucket list item," he said.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.