Tuesday, July 22, 2014

North Country Redux: Across the Midwest

July 9 2014

In yesterday's post (I know, I know, it wasn't just yesterday I posted the last one but WIFI is a little scarce around here.) I talked about driving US59 up through Texas, but that was only the beginning of the day. By the time I stopped for the night (And wrote yesterday's post instead of going right to sleep like I was supposed to.) I had also traveled diagonally across Arkansas and on into West Memphis then, having entered the state in the very southwest corner, jogged north to exit it in the very northeast corner, though there's little to differentiate that part of Arkansas from the scraggly little tail dangling off the southeast corner of Missouri. I finally ended the day at a truck-stop in Missouri poised to cross the river into the very southern tip of Illinois this morning.

I don't know exactly what it was that soured me on the area, but I just find the eastern half of Arkansas and the lower tip of Missouri, and especially the bottom lands there along the river, a place best left behind as quickly as possible. I know, I know, there are some spots in eastern Arkansas worth visiting, the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge comes to mind, as does crossing the old vertical lift steel through-truss bridge that carries, or used to anyway, US 70 over the White River,  but from the coarse and gritty truck-stops just east of Little Rock, (And equally coarse and gritty CB chatter. I've never encounter so many unhappy truckers as around here!) across the suspension busting hump-de-humps of I40 (They've since fixed that but the memory of humping my way across the state on badly worn and sagging concrete while surrounded by a preponderance of trucks all jockeying for space lingers on.) to the bill-board near Sikeston encouraging you to turn in your neighbor's meth lab, (I'll bet that was a realtor's nightmare to see go up!) this remains a place I'd rather just leave behind me. (Driving it in the dark with Neil Diamond's Hot August Night album cranked up loud helps but I can't completely turn off the memories of all those past daylight crossings.)

As a reward for getting through there yesterday, I got to start out today by driving up through southern Illinois. With the exception of Cairo, I really like this part of the state. (I understand how rivers factored in to transportation and economy and Cairo itself isn't such a bad little town, but is there any worse location to try to inhabit than that little spit between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers? OK, I just heard someone out there shout out New Orleans; and they have a point. . . Oh, and warning; if you ever cross
into Cairo from Kentucky, northbound on US51, there's a stop at a T intersection at the bottom of the bridge crossing the Ohio where the road tends to get all piled up like a rug the dog has skidded on as heavy trucks burn their brakes trying to counteract the downhill momentum, so keep it slow as you crest the bridge or you're likely to shake your teeth out!)

Even when I'm just passing through drive-by style, that long, rolling
That's the Mississippi under me and the Ohio across the point there,
climb north through the woods and past the lakes of southern Illinois is pleasant and recharging. (That rest area on southbound I57 at MP79 right there on the shores of Rand Lake opposite the State Park has to be one of the prettiest pit-stops in the country.) Driving through this part of the state even makes the perpetual highway construction at Mt. Vernon almost tolerable.

Speaking of construction, they have the highways around Effingham all tore up right now too.  Even so, I managed to snake my way through and came out heading north on I57. Sometimes
I'll bite the bullet and run I70 east to Indianapolis then I465 around to I69 north, but that's just to remind myself that I really don't like doing that and most trips I take to the US and State highways and work myself around well clear of the city. The most obvious route being US231 north from Cloverdale Indiana (The Cloverdale RV park is nice and quiet.) to Lafeyett then hop across SR25 to US24 and on into Ft. Wayne. A nice pleasant drive through farm country and especially
Cairo has its moments
interesting during harvest when there's so much corn they're piling it into gigantic mounds beside the already stuffed elevators. But, been there, done that, a lot, so today, for a little change, it was up I57 to pick up US24 at Gilman and take it on across. I could have run 57 up to near Chicago and picked up I94 but, to paraphrase Harry Chapin's line about Watertown NY, I spent a week there one afternoon trying to get across a 4 mile stretch of the Tri-State Tollway, and then had to pay for the privilege, so I don't do that anymore.

But this is how you get out of town. Must be frightening to see that door dropped!
The first time I drove that stretch of US24 from Logansport to Ft. Wayne, probably back in the late 80's sometime, I thought they had built a highway and forgot to tell anyone it was there. I was on 4 divided lanes of pristine concrete and practically had it to myself for mile after mile. Well that was a whole lot of years ago and the towns originally bypassed by the highway, such as Peru and Wabash have creeped their way outward and spilled all over it now, but it's still not a bad drive.

I know, I know. If I'm supposed to be blasting through on a quick trip what am I doing getting off the freeways? Well from a philosophical standpoint, there's more to life than homogenized, antiseptic freeways; from a practical standpoint, I pretty much drive like a grandmother, maybe not mine, but someone's grandmother, (Maybe I should start saying I drive like my mother. . .) so 'blasting through' is a relative term as I poke along driving somewhere between 60 & 65 and I very rarely ever pass anyone out there on the
Just a couple small-town Illinois photos
big road. (For any east-coaster's reading this, our posted speed limits out here in the west range all the way up to 85 and here in Texas there are even a few two lane roads posted at 75 though 70 is the norm.) So, at my normal rate of progress I find I don't lose all that that much time taking to the highways instead of sticking to the freeways. But all that's just rationalization, truth is I just like the highways better.



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