Petra Zamagna gets her kicks on Route 66.
The 41-year-old head of asset management at Frankfurt-based Hoechst AG -- whose merger with Rhone-Poulenc SA has just won shareholder approval -- took to the highway last summer, renting a red Harley in Chicago to take the classic ride down Route 66 to Los Angeles.
Ms. Zamagna, along with her partner, spent 14 days making the 2,448-mile journey down the route immortalized as the "Mother Road" by John Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath."
But traveling the storied highway was not what Ms. Zamagna expected. "In the beginning, I was shocked. In Europe, you expect beautiful scenery" -- a sharp contrast to Route 66's tour through small-town America. What's more, the highway no longer exists as a formal route and is haphazardly marked by local residents and associations, making it tough just to follow the road, she said.
"It takes a while to understand," she explained. "The beauty lies in finding the route." The key to sticking to the road, Ms. Zamagna explained, is tracking the telegraph poles. "They are your pathfinders."
Ms. Zamagna, who oversees investments of Hoechst's 11 billion deutsche mark ($5.7 billion) pension fund, found fascinating people along the way, from the storyteller Fran Eichoff who runs the Route 66 Lounge in Cuba, Mo., to Angel Delgadillo, a 70-year-old barber and a founder of the Route 66 associations. Ms. Zamagna and her partner each had a trim from the barber, who is still cutting hair in Seligman, Ariz.
"For me, it was like a big museum. It was a life museum," she said.