I didn’t leave home as early as I’d hoped. The Flaherty family was in a mood to talk, drink, and have a good time on Thanksgiving, so I didn’t sleep as much as I’d hope. Too much time in the shack, where we got into the whiskey and cigars, played old vinyl records, sang along, told old stories, laughed. You get the picture. I left for Florida at 9:00 a.m. rather than 6:00 as planned. When I left the driveway I turned South.
The goals for this solo road trip were as follows: no Interstate highways, no big cities, no itinerary, no deadlines, no detailed pre planning, no rush. On a U.S. map Florida is South and East so it seemed fitting I start by going South. I started in Ottawa. Using Just My Location, a handy app developed by my ingenious nephew Jim Zwica (free, available on Itunes) which tells you exactly where you are in three dimensions, I know my house is exactly here:
41.37 degrees latitude
-88.85 degrees longitude
577.4 feet elevation
I went South through Grand Ridge, East on Richards Road, again South towards Champaign and have been repeating that same routine pretty much the whole way, a long series of left and right turns, except when I lose my way and have to double back, or I take a small side trip, or whatever.
On a big map it looked like a good general route would be Tennessee, Tupelo, Ms., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Tallahassee, Fla. Once I got to Tallahassee I would figure out where I was specifically going in Florida by calling my brother in law. He and his wife Pat live South of Tallahassee somewhere. I liked that route idea because of the alliteration of the repeating T’s. While it may have looked good on the map, when I got down to real choices on the highway it made no sense. And it made less sense to try to go that way just because I said I would. So the three T’s went out the window pretty quickly. Last night, as it turned out, when I couldn’t make it to Tennessee, I stopped for the night at a Kentucky State Park lodge on Kentucky Lake, just past a whopping big dam that forms Kentucky Lake and was the beginning, I think, of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s giant undertaking to bring electricity to that part of America. Here’s exactly where it is:
641.11 feet elevation
Between those two points, on a day when I travelled South 4 degrees of latitude and East 0 degrees 12 minutes, I had a great time. I was tired, it was cold, but it’s just so good being out there and being free.
I refueled for the first time in Clay City, IL. That’s on Route 45 on a fairly straight line going South marked by towns like Forrest, Sibley Bondville, Tolona, and Montrose. The Buick’s gas gauge doesn’t work and is too expensive to fix so I use my trip meter to avoid running out of gas, which I hate. To be safe I fill up somewhere after I’ve travelled about 300 miles on a tank. I thought I would stop in Sailor Springs but one look at Sailor Springs and I knew there was no gas station there. It’s seen better days, that Sailor Springs.
Where do you suppose Southern Illinois, as we know it, really starts? In Clay City the snow was pretty much gone. The sun felt a little hotter as I stood by the gas pump. Two guys were working on a Ford pickup, peering under the hood, and the gas station’s biggest window ad was for Copenhagen. I think maybe Clay City is as good as any to mark the border between Southern and Central Illinois. It could be their motto “Clay City-Gateway to Southern Illinois.”
Things like defining Southern Illinois and other endeavors that entail more concept than fact depend of course on who you are, where you live, and what your perspective happens to be. Chicagoans think anything South of Route 80 is Southern Illinois, but us Northern and Central Illinoisans know that’s poppycock. Southern Illinois is much farther South. Actually, in Northern and Central Illinois we don’t use the word poppycock. We tend to say bullshit.
One of the highlights of my day was taking the ferry at Cave in Rock (just past Norris City and Omaha) over the Ohio River to Kentucky. I expected a big self contained ferry boat. Turns out it’s a gutsy little tug boat pushing a barge which pulled up on the Illinois side at a glorified boat ramp just as I was arriving. Maybe eight or ten cars or trucks max fit on the barge. It doesn’t take five minutes from the time you drive on the barge, cross the river, and drive off to get across the Ohio River, which is fairly narrow there. Everyone sits in their car. So fun. And it’s free. The Cave in Rock ferry was a great way to leave Illinois.
When I reached Kentucky I had no idea I was so close to Tennessee. At its East end Kentucky narrows down quite a bit. As states on a map Kentucky and Tennessee both are wide but shallow. I drove a short way, till it got dark, and found myself near the entrance to Land between the Lakes, a narrow National Recreation area South of Kentucky dam between the flooded Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. It promised to be a beautiful drive, and I wanted to see it in the day light. Besides, I was dead tired. I had dinner in the lodge dining room (great vegetable beef soup) and turned in early. I’d hoped to be farther along, though I had no solid idea where that would be, but I was glad to be where I was.
I spent that first day alone talking to virtually no one but the waitress at the lodge when I told her I wanted a bourbon barrel ale and the buffet. A day like that is good for me from time to time. I used my solitude to look closely at what was around me listen to songs with words. In the shack I listen mostly to songs with instruments only so nothing gets in the way of these words I’m writing. Perfect for driving are the good lyric guys. In a bag of CD’s were my favorites: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and The Tallest Man on Earth with some Steely Dan and Mumford and Sons thrown in for diversion. I also brought the Singing Bowls for the hell of it. Every time I listen to these old songs I find new gems of language blended with music. Leonard Cohen gave me this on that first driving day from his song "Famous Blue Raincoat".
Thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried
Day two would start in the Land between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Though I didn’t plan it that way, it seemed like the perfect beginning. I’d passed through 22 towns on the two lane roads I travelled in Illinois that first day. On day two I would pass through no towns for a long time.