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Another day on the road

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September 16, 2009—I got a fairly good night's sleep—not always easy when sleeping in a strange place. (The only time I tried boondocking in a Walmart parking lot, the noise of cars and trucks coming and going all night made it really hard to get any rest, even with earplugs. I haven't been tempted to repeat the experience.) After breakfast, I took my morning walk. It was a little spooky, because the entire campground was deserted—even the host had left for a doctor's appointment in St. Louis. After a shower, I headed out. Fortunately, Graham Cave State Park, unlike Kanopolis State Park, has easy-to-see exit signs, so I had no trouble finding my way out.

The day's drive was 208 miles, mostly on I-70, across the state line into western Illinois. Tomorrow's run will be 217 miles, after which the distances start to get shorter. When I started this trip, I told myself that I'd take my time, wander around and enjoy the sights, but more and more I seem to find myself in "get it over with" mode. That's not entirely bad, since the sooner I get back to New Mexico, the less chance there is of running into snow or ice on the return trip... but it's not the way I normally like to travel.

Getting through St. Louis was no fun, although it wasn't nearly as difficult as the last time I passed this way. In 1969 I was driving across the country in my 1962 Ford Falcon wagon, loaded to the roof with all my possessions. It was dark, I was on an eight-lane freeway in heavy traffic, and it was pouring sheets of rain, so that I couldn't see the yellow lines, and kept drifting out of my lane. Worst of all, the car had vacuum-powered wipers that stalled whenever I pressed down on the gas pedal. Oh, did I mention that I'd only had my license for six months? Now that was a scary experience. Today's drive, on those same eight-lane roads but in broad daylight, was merely stressful. I was very glad to get past the city.

I noticed several things as I crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. First, that's a BIG river! I had forgotten just how wide it was. Second, it was surprising how the dense suburban environment was replaced by farmland almost instantly. Most cities located on rivers sprawl onto both shores, as with Minneapolis-St. Paul. But here, as soon as I crossed the river, the auto malls gave way to cornfields.

Third, the Illinois roads were noticeably worse than those in Missouri. Oh, I don't mean they were horrible—after all, I was on Interstate 70, one of the nation's main east-west arteries, and they don't let it get too shabby. Just the same, it was not as smooth as on the Missouri side of the river. But what really stuck out like sore thumbs were the bridges and overpasses in Illinois. Brother, were they rough! Much worse than the road—the difference was striking, not to say disconcerting. I had to apologize to Alix for the rough ride.

Alix rarely complains, but I can tell she doesn't like driving. Here's the tipoff: while she's not normally a lap cat, Alix will sit in my lap at a rest stop almost indefinitely. You can almost hear her saying, "I'll be cozy... I'll be cuddly... just please let's sit still for awhile!"


I often tell my friends that every week I find new uses for my beloved iPod touch, and yesterday I hit upon a particularly opportune one: a 99¢ app called Audiobook Player. It gives me access to 2,300 free audiobooks, recorded by volunteers for the Librivox project. These are all public-domain books—it's a sort of auditory Gutenberg Project—but there are some wonderful classic titles there, and the folks who do the reading have quite good voices.

I bought the app as soon as I stumbled onto it, and immediately downloaded Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children, read with a delightful English accent by Karen Savage. (You can listen to it here, if you like—no iPod needed.) Today's drive felt shorter and certainly more pleasant as I listened to the story of three exemplary children. (I turned it off while passing through St. Louis, of course—I needed all my attention on driving.) How I admire these resourceful children, especially Roberta for her sensitivity. If I were as mindful of others' feelings as she was, I'd be a much better person.

I pulled into Fox Ridge State Park as the sun was sinking, and found a nice site for $20. It has electricity, but I didn't bother to plug in for an overnight stay. Even after typing all evening, my batteries are still at 88.9%.

Fox Ridge

The sites here are quite generous in size, and very nearly level. After those cramped, off-kilter sites in Missouri, this park feels like the lap of luxury. Like the Missouri parks, though, it's heavily wooded... so if I were staying longer than overnight, I'd definitely plug in, since not much sun reaches my panels here.

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