August 16, 2005

Start: Champaign, Illinois
Cincinnati, Ohio
Mileage: 242 miles
Route taken: Interstate 74 through
Indianapolis, exit at Cincinnati.


        When I entered Indiana it signified the furthest east I had ever been on the motorcycle, though I didn’t mark the occasion with any type of formal celebration.

        My concern was not commemoration, but of the storm that surrounded me. I had put off riding as long as I could. It was noon and I figured I had to leave Illinois at some point.

        The hope was the storm would blow through by then, but it was stubborn, sticking around like an unwanted house guest.

        Discerning cloud types and their severity has become a hobby for me and I must say I am getting rather good at the practice.

        Billowing white clouds usually mean thunderstorms in the distance, but rarely are cause for concern. Clouds with any shape whatsoever are often non-threatening. It is the ones with no form, just there, with tinges of black, and little fingers running towards the ground that are trouble.

        The sky can be black, but when it is coupled with clouds that don’t move and take the form of painter’s canvases, than you know you are going to get wet.

        Fortunately I hadn’t seen any of those yet, so I kept riding. Besides I had the rain suit on, precipitation was not likely.

        The rain suit streak continued. No rain, just some threatening clouds occasionally, so I pushed on towards Cincinnati.

        Because of the weather, though, I opted for the interstate. The roads are usually in better shape and the frequent overpasses provide temporary shelter in case of sudden thunderstorms.

        The trade off is the monotony. It is just gray concrete and even grayer landscape. Every now and then you pass a town that exists solely because of the interstate. A gas station, a Subway sandwich shop and maybe a Denny’s if you are lucky will be close enough to see from a distance, as to ensure enough time to pull off the road.

        You are guaranteed of a Subway sandwich shop. They are like cockroaches. Subway has no mile limitation unlike other franchises, so it is possible to have Subways next door to each other.

        Finding a mom and pop diner, however, is more difficult. It appears they have been pushed out. Subway, Denny’s, McDonalds, etc. are the bullies that don’t believe there are enough toys to share and horde them.

        So I make as few stops as possible when on the interstate. I get gas, maybe eat something small, like a bag of chips, and press on, hoping I get to my destination as quickly as possible.

        It appears the other drivers do likewise, maybe with less reflection on why they do it, but still they are part of the machine.

        The interstate system was a brilliant idea for commerce. It moves truckers and goods across the country effortlessly. For traveling businessmen who couldn’t afford to fly in the 60s and 70s, it was a godsend.

        The casualty was the open road. The blue highway as William Least Heat Moon called it. The side roads and small highways took a beating and with it so did a slice of Americana.

        The guilt I felt as I got on the interstate is overwhelming. It is almost like I am betraying the theme of this trip, yet practicality overrules my principles, at least for this stretch of road.

        It did become addicting. The miles clicked off at a rapid pace. The time flew by. When I arrived in Cincinnati, I marveled at how I went through three states in five hours.

        Then the question hit me; what did I see? I had no answer. Just a grimy face from the dirt and bugs of the interstate and a destination reached quicker than it should have been.