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Thursday, April 28, 2005 01:00 am

Road trip

Doug Waterman, a retired teacher from Davis, Calif., plans to visit his son Ryan and daughter-in-law Julie here in Springfield next month. There’s nothing remarkable about that, except that Waterman’s choice of transportation has raised some eyebrows, even among his family. Starting today, April 28, Waterman plans to cycle the length of old U.S. Route 66, from Santa Monica to Chicago.

Waterman, who turned 66 this week, is calling the trip “66 on 66.”

You can almost hear the faint strains of Bobby Troup’s classic song as Waterman details one of the most difficult parts of the journey: getting out of the Los Angeles area. “I’ll go from Santa Monica to Pasadena to San Bernardino, over the hills, and into the desert,” he says. “I’ll climb out of the LA Basin over the Cajon Pass at about 4,200 feet.”

Waterman is making the trip for myriad reasons, but suffice it to say that it’s a personal goal that he’s duty-bound to fulfill.

“In 1896, a woman named Margaret Valentine LeLong bicycled across the country. Can you imagine what that journey must’ve been like?” he asks. “I figure if she could do it, then I can do it.

“I’m also a member of a writing group at the local arts center, and we write and submit short papers about our experiences. I kept a journal on my New Mexico trip” — seven years ago, Waterman cycled to New Mexico over the Carson Pass at about 8,200 feet — “and turned it into a short booklet. The interaction I had with people on that trip really meant a lot to me. We live in a strange world, and sometimes it’s hard to be charitable to our fellow human beings. But I found a heck of a lot of good in people. I want to continue to stay in touch with the goodness of people, and I’m optimistic that I’ll find that.”

To that end, Waterman is giving a higher purpose to his journey by soliciting cash donations for Habitat for Humanity of Yolo County, Calif. He says that the group’s small staff is entirely volunteer, save for one employee whose small salary is paid by AmeriCorps, “so every penny raised will go for wood, nails, Sheetrock, and concrete.” Contributors may pledge a dollar amount per mile or per day — Waterman optimistically think he’ll spend 28 days en route — but he would like people to know that Habitat for Humanity-Sangamon County would undoubtedly appreciate any contribution, of any size, to its worthy cause as well. For information about Habitat’s local efforts, call 523-2710.

Waterman’s son Ryan is completing a two-year clerkship in Springfield for U.S. District Judge Jeanne Scott. He and his wife have lived on the near the west side of town since 2003 but are making plans to relocate to California in September, where Ryan Waterman will enter the private practice of law. He says that he wasn’t surprised when his father announced plans for his two-wheeled peregrination because he has long spoken of just such a trip.

“I wasn’t surprised,” says the younger Waterman, “but I am excited and somewhat nervous. You don’t have great adventure without risk. I understand that, and so does my mom. She’s been married to him for 38 years, and she knows that when he is determined to do something, his mind is made up. The question of him not doing this is gone now, so we are behind him.”

The knowledge that so many people are supporting him in his endeavor — Yolo County Habitat for Humanity received more than $600 dollars in donations before he had even begun his journey — is keen motivation for Waterman to persevere to the end. He hopes to dip his bike into the chilly waters of Lake Michigan sometime before June 1. By combing books and maps, he has compiled about 75 index cards bearing directions to help him scrupulously adhere to the original Route 66 wherever possible.

“I don’t want to die in 15 years wondering ‘What if?’ ” says Waterman. “We are given each day as a gift, and it is up to us to make the most of our gift.”

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