Saturday, May 28, 2011

Are We There Yet?

A road trip such as driving from Illinois to Virginia, gives one a good taste of the country. It may be quicker to fly, but the sights along the way and the chance for a random meander make a drive, it you can do it, the more pleasurable experience. I love to fly, and when Carole lived in Seattle, it was the only way to go see her. But I had the vacation time and the ability to drive to the wedding made the trip more enjoyable. Still, when the odometer rolls over 50, 100, 150, 250, 500 miles, you want to know that you're making some sort of progress.

We traveled a lot when I was in my teens. My dad had wanderlust, that desire to see this country, to go places which were just names on a map. Every year from about 1969 through 1975, and possibly beyond but I didn't go after graduating from high school, we packed the van with camping supplies and spent a week to two weeks on the road, seeing America. Grandpa and my uncle Leroy took care of the farm. We went to the Black Hills and Devil's Tower; northern Minnesota and the headwaters of the Mississippi; Springfield to walk in Lincoln's steps; Chicago and Cubs baseball (they lost); and a two week swing south through Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and back straight north along the Mississippi.

One of the things we looked for was the state signs. We would watch, when the map said we were getting close, for that elusive sign that said you had left Iowa and entered Illinois. Some of the signs were small and you'd miss them. Others were larger, particularly on interstates. That's still true today, although I think every road into a state is now marked by a large sign, lest you forget you have entered new territory. I like to document these signs. It's a visual representation of a trip, a marker of where you were.

 I drove the entire trip with Mom as navigator. On Wednesday, May 18th, there were only 2 signs to see. There was Indiana as we left the Chicagoland area heading east on a drizzly, foggy, overcast morning, and Ohio, as we drove onward to April and Perry's. It was still overcast as we headed into Ohio but the clouds parted until around Cleveland. Then we hit some heavy rains. Those cleared out as we reached Youngstown.

Thursday was the day of many signs. The first was, of course, going from Ohio into Pennsylvania on the turnpike. We drove along the Pennsylvania Turnpike for awhile before the directions told us to leave it behind. The roads the directions selected; I-70, US 30, US 522, VA 37, I-81; took us quickly through Maryland and West Virginia. Before we quite knew where we were, Virginia arrived and I never got photos of any of the signs.

Coming back was a different story. I hadn't really liked the route selected by the trip finder. It was direct, no question about that, but part of it had been through small towns on two-lane roads. We hadn't really seen the things I wanted to see. Ironically, I knew some of the best views were not from the two-lane highways but from the interstate.

So, heading back to Youngstown on Sunday, May 22nd, we drove north from Warrenton and picked up I-66 heading west to I-70. A later post will have some of the views from the interstate as we headed through the Great Smokey Mountains. I bought a road atlas on Sunday. Funny how the one from 2005 really isn't what you want. Mom watched the map and alerted me to when we would reach a state line.

First up was Maryland. We drove along the pan-handle of Maryland on I-70 to I-68. It's a gorgeous trip, really. Good roads and stunning views. It's quick but there are still mountains to cross and valleys to traverse.

We had just briefly, on the two-week trip in the 1970's, been in the Great Smokey Mountains when we wandered into Pigeon Forge. I remember one look out station where we stopped, but we were not heading the right way so we turned around, found the correct road and headed back south towards Huntsville, Alabama. This highway mom and I found ourselves on was a delight for her. She got to see the mountains, something she may never do again.

As the drive was so easy, we kept going until about 6:30. By then, we had crossed into West Virginia and had decided to stop in Morgantown. Yes, this blurry photo is the state sign for West Virginia. It was brilliantly sunny, we were going uphill and the windshield was dirty, but we'd made exceptional time and we collapsed in a hotel room for a good night's sleep.

It turned out we were about 2.5 hours from April and Perry's. Well, we weren't really expected so soon so we slept in, got breakfast and gas and took our time getting going in the morning. I missed the sign which told us of the arrival into Pennsylvania. I think there was a truck in the right lane and I was passing it. We hit rain as we approached Ohio. It rained off and on before clearing up for the afternoon. Heavy storms with tornado warnings were in the evening and north of us.

Tuesday, it was time once again, for the longest travel day of the trip, Youngstown to Wheaton. We'd made the trek out in around 8 hours. Perry said we should be back at my house about 6 p.m. his time. We fortified ourselves with a good breakfast and got on the road.

Ohio is big and long. Going out, it didn't seem quite so big. Maybe it was the anticipation and excitement of starting a journey. Coming back, gad that's a long state. I quipped to my mother that it seemed as if they had added extra miles as the Indiana state line seemed to never come. It didn't help that every 50-75 miles, there was road construction and lanes would be reduced to one, going 50 miles an hour. I don't think I've ever been more happy to see the Indiana sign.

It took a little over 2 hours to get across Indiana. I've made parts of this drive before so it felt like a dash and when I-80 meets up with I-94, I know the home stretch is approaching.

That home stretch is covered in concrete. Unlike the somewhat bucolic settings for every other state sign, the northeastern corner of Illinois is highway, highway that seems to be in a permanent state of construction. There was the sign, tacked to an overpass and I knew exactly where we were and just how long it would take us to get from this point to my driveway. We pulled in 15 minutes shy of 5 p.m., 6 p.m. Perry's time.

I look back through these photos and remember passing the signs. They document a journey, a wonderful journey, a chance to spend time with my mom and my friends and to see the landscape, places different from where I live.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


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