After a long break from my writing, I finally have something worth writing about. Join me on my recent journey from Illinois to California and all points in between.
Up until the beginning of my vacation, 2016 had not been a very good year for me. Multiple car repairs at the start of the year drained my hard-earned savings, forcing me to pick up a second job. Between my two places of employment, I was working roughly 80 hours a week. Then in late April, my Dad suddenly collapsed and was rushed off to the hospital for a week of treatment. A few weeks after his return home, my Mom, who had been battling ALS for a number of years, passed away. After a few days off to mourn, I was right back to my ruinous schedule. I write this, not to garner sympathy from the reader, but to make clear my mindset as I approached my mid-August road trip. Needless to say, I was worn down physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I felt as if my life was being torn down to its foundations. Even my Christian faith and beliefs, which had always been my bedrock, had been taking a hit. Like the patriarch Jacob, I had been wrestling with God.
As my day of departure approached, I knew that this vacation would be different from the ones in the past. I didn’t just need time to relax and sightsee, I needed to hit the reset button on my life. I needed time alone to figure things out; to “find myself,” I suppose. I didn’t know if I would find the answers I was looking for along the way. Only time would tell.
Despite the underlying seriousness of my quest, I was still quite excited to be making the journey into unknown territory (unknown to me, at least). Always ambitious when it came to travel plans, I had decided to use my two weeks off to drive out to California. However, I would not be taking the direct route there. There were a number of places in between Illinois and California that I had never visited and I was determined to see as many of them as I could.
And so for your amusement and bemusement, I present the story of my travels. Some parts may be of interest to the reader, some may not. Many tales might leave you wondering just how someone as naïve as I was managed to survive the trip at all.
Monday, August 15, 2016: Old Home to New Ulm
They say that there’s no place like home. I suppose that is true after spending a significant time away. However, on the day of my departure, I was more than willing to be anywhere but home. My apartment (the second floor of an old house) had recently become a source of consternation for me. As a result of my landlord’s strict prohibition on making any sort of improvements to the place, my apartment had been more or less crumbling around me since I first moved in. In addition, the heat during the summer months would make my apartment virtually unbearable, even with all of the windows open and my little box air conditioner running at full blast. Normally, these were annoying but livable imperfections; that is, until this summer. Perhaps it was the stress I was under, but the inconveniences of my apartment were really getting on my nerves. The thoughts of being stuck in my car hour after hour seemed pleasant in comparison.
To be honest though, I had always enjoyed driving. Not that I had any sort of problem with flying or taking the train, per se, but I had always felt that you missed so much in doing so. For me, the journey was just as important as the final destination. It was the little things, the chance encounters, the places off the beaten path that made the memorable stories.
Unfortunately, my first day on the road did not produce anything particularly memorable. After some final packing and tying up some loose ends, I left my aged little hovel around 10 that morning. I made a leisurely drive through northern Illinois and into the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, occasionally stopping for gas and bathroom breaks.
Speaking of bathrooms—if you will forgive the digression—but I’m sure that I have not been the only one to notice that in many public bathrooms, there are signs posted over sinks that concern hand-washing. Not a reminder to wash your hands, mind you, but step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
Just who are those signs for? Are we in this country so inept that we are unable to successfully wash our hands without written aid? It wouldn’t surprise me if our ancestors (who probably never washed their hands) rose from their graves and slapped us all in the face with their dirty, bony hands. Thankfully, in case of such an event, we have hand sanitizer (with instructions on how to correctly use it printed on the bottle).
All right, digression over.
It was late afternoon when I entered Minnesota. I made a brief stop at the Dresbach Information Center just across the Mississippi River. Along this stretch of the river was a habitat for bald eagles. I strolled the nearby viewing platform, camera phone in hand to see if I could catch a sight of our national bird.
No such luck. I moved on.
Thanks to some delightful construction detours, I was a bit later than anticipated when I reached New Ulm.
Feeling a bit travel-worn and not up to exploring the town, I went directly to my hotel, cleaned up, then went to dinner at the Applebee’s across the parking lot to sample the exotic Minnesotan cuisine (the 4-cheese mac and cheese with honey pepper chicken tenders—Sorry, no lutefisk).
All in all, an uneventful beginning to my trip.