Short Drives

It's not the destination, it's the road trip

Road Trips: Riding Solo Through Southern Illinois

There is nothing like hitting the open road. While many find it absolutely nerve-racking to be cooped up in a car for hours, zooming by miles and miles of cornfields and old, broken down farmhouses, taking big whiffs of cow manure into their lungs, and stopping to eat crappy gas station food, others like myself jump at the chance for a country road trip. Many prefer to go with a companion or two. I am one of those rare birds who love riding solo on the open road.

 

I recently got a call from my 86-year-old grandmother to come visit. When love calls, I come running. Mama Veeda is home to everyone in Centralia, Illinois. Her door stays open and there is always a big pot of something delicious and warm on her stove. The thought of her not being around one day just leaves a huge lump in my throat and I quickly rush that thought out of my mind. Though Centralia holds many fun childhood memories and countless generations, it is a town so small that if you blink, you will have missed it. Dirt roads, cornfields, old matchbox sized houses, trailer park homes, one gas station and one grocery store, Centralia is the type of town where you learn hard work, solid family values, and how to sit on a porch in the hot sun, sipping lemonade, swatting flies, and gossiping about the new neighbors.

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It does not sound like much to most, but I love to visit my birthplace Centralia. Packing up the car for a good five-hour drive from Chicago, I get super excited. I prefer to drive it alone because I can roll down all the windows, play my favorite song over and over back to back for hours, and just go into a meditative state while driving. My imagination and creativity begin to flow looking out onto open road. I can figure out any dilemma I might be having without any distractions or having to entertain a passenger with conversation for five hours. In my mind it is just me and God out there.

 

However, this last trip to Centralia, my mother came along. I love my mama, but I do not like her on a road trip. For one, she prefers air conditioning over the wind. Air conditioning makes me physically ill. I get congested and need a rest after exposure to direct air conditioning. I tried to explain this to my mother, but I believe she thought I was exaggerating. She said it was too hot to ride for hours with the windows down. She was gagging at the smell of the horse and cow manure. She forced me to deal with the air conditioning and tried to convince me that I was not getting sick…while I was sneezing.

 

I am also one of those road trip drivers who hates to stop, unless I am driving cross-country. Then I enjoy stopping for a comfortable stay at a hotel in Vale, Colorado somewhere for one night, enjoying a nice waffle breakfast before getting back out on the open road. But for in-state road trips, I pack water and snacks. I only stop for gas and then I am quickly back on the interstate to peacefulness. My mother, however, needs to stop for restroom breaks and Subway and beverages and you name it. It interrupts my flow and takes me longer to get to my destination. And like all Mothers, she nagged and nagged for me to slow down every time I was even five over the speed limit, reminding me that a Black woman out here in the country with no witnesses should be looking out for the police or the Ku Klux Klan every minute to avoid being pulled over and never making it home. She does have a point there, but I was driving the legal speed limit. She argued I was speeding. I wanted to pull my hair out.

 

She complained about my choice in music for a road trip. I was going through a break-up with my boyfriend and wanted to listen to a love song by r&b singer Monica called Just Right For Me. She said,”If you play this song one more time, I am gonna scream! I can’t take it!” All I had left on my mp3 was hip hop artists Rick Ross and Jay Z. The foul language made her question me for a good hour as to how and why I could listen to that kind of music. I explained it is hype music with bass to keep me awake and alert. She did not agree.

 

Oh my God! I could not wait to see the Welcome To Centralia sign. It could not come fast enough. With thirty minutes remaining to our destination, all I could think about was laying down in Mama Veeda’s guest room alone with the lights out, listening to the sounds of crickets outside my window. We finally arrive and pull into Mama Veeda’s gravel driveway. I stepped out of the car to look up at the country sky. It was filled with a kazillion stars. We do not see a night sky like this in Chicago. Mama Veeda opened her screen door, greeting us with open arms and laughter as always. Hugging her and seeing those beautiful brown eyes made the uncomfortable last five hours well worth it.

 

I looked at Mama Veeda and reminded myself that my mother will one day be 86 years old and I will look back on our road trips together, wishing I had enjoyed her while I had her. I suddenly felt guilty. The road trip back to Chicago, I made sure she was comfortable as my passenger and enjoyed herself. I did whatever she wanted. We laughed and told stories. I had a blast for the first time with a passenger riding along side me on the open road. It made for a smooth ride back. I will remember it forever.

Drive from Chicago to Knoxville, Gatlinburg

There is no better way to see the country like travelling by car. In this post, we will hop into our four door and drive from the urban metropolis of Chicago to the jewel of the Smoky Mountains: Knoxville, Tennessee. In between, we will stop in two historic Chicago neighborhoods on opposite sides of the city, Indianapolis, Lexington, and even make an ill advised detour through Gatlinburg.

Our road trip starts on the north side of Chicago in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The area is one of the city and nation’s most diverse, with residents from all ethnic backgrounds and income levels. Million dollar lakefront mansions stand alongside vintage walkup apartment buildings, independent book stores, and corner pubs serving up locally brewed craft beers. The neighborhood has recently seen a mini resurgence, as young professionals have flocked to the area for its lakefront location and commuter rail accessibility to downtown Chicago.

Our trip continues down Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive to the south side Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. Home to the academically acclaimed University of Chicago, Hyde Park boasts tree lined streets with turn of the century mansions, quaint coffee shops, and the award winning Museum of Science and Industry. Though the area once had a reputation amongst locals for its insular culture and ivory tower vibe, it has recently undergone a development boom, including a new 15 story apartment complex designed by famed architect Jeanne Gang that will house a Whole Foods on the first floor.

We continue our journey into Indiana and its capital city of Indianapolis. No trip to the city is complete without a visit to the central canal. For too long, the canal was a secret known to few outsiders. However, word has spread. Now, on a sunny weekend afternoon, the canal and the area around it is teeming with visitors.

Next, we journey into Kentucky and the horse racing capital of the world, Lexington. The city is home to historic architecture and an urban core worthy of an afternoon stroll. Stop at one of the local coffee shops or if you are in the mood as I was, a bar serving up some delicious Kentucky bourbon.

Finally, we reach our destination of Knoxville. For too long, Knoxville has been a hidden gem tucked away in an Appalachian valley. The remarkably walkable and bikeable riverfront is home to nearly a dozen coffee shops, restaurants serving up southern cuisine with a modern twist, and a one of a kind market square.

No trip to Knoxville is complete without a bike tour of the city’s extensive greenway system. Be sure to save enough time to visit the Ijams Nature Center, home to an elaborate network of biking and hiking trails surrounding several quarries. There is even a little beach!

The Smoky Mountain National Park is only an hour or so from Knoxville. It is one of the nation’s most visited national parks, so avoid the weekends. In addition, the city of Gatlinburg sits immediately next to the northern entry point, and it is to be avoided. Gatlinburg is in many ways the polar opposite of Knoxville, a tourist trap stopover where the most noteworthy attraction is a location of the steakhouse restaurant chain Texas Roadhouse. The Smokys are worth a visit, so if you do decide to go, see the park by taking the Gatlinburg bypass.

 

Best Lookout Points When Traveling to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is filled with many attractions and beautiful views. When taking a road trip up the state of Michigan, travelers can stop at many lookout points to view what the nature of Michigan has to offer. Of course it is beautiful any time of year, many prefer to travel during the autumn season because of the beautiful colors. Leaves begin to change colors in the fall, and look out points by the Upper Peninsula provide an assortments of reds, oranges, yellows, browns, and a little bit of green when it comes to the colors of the trees. Here are some of the best spots you can hit up for a beautiful nature experience.

Mt. Arvon

Mt. Arvon is Michigan’s highest point and located in the Huron Mountain Range in the north-central Upper Peninsula. The mountain actually rises over 1300 feet from the shores of Lake Superior. Previously, Mt. Curwood was said to be the highest point, however surveys show in fact Mt. Arvon is taller by just eleven inches. In recent years, there have been many improvements made for people who wish to reach the highest point of Mt. Arvon, including blue signs to help guide hikers in the right direction. Even though the road up to Mt. Arvon is very steep and rocky, it can be reach by vehicle. Once you do reach the top, you can take a look out and see the entire openness of the state. The views are absolutely breathtaking, which you do not want to miss if you are traveling to the Upper Peninsula. For further information and directions, click here.

Bridge View Park

This location in St. Ignace, Michigan is exactly as it sounds. A look out park to view the most famous Mackinac Bridge. The park was actually created by the Mackinac Bridge Authority in order to accommodate guests who want a dramatic view up the bridge. Telescopes are set up to provide guests with a close up, detailed view of the bridge. This is a great lookout spot for those who will not actually make the trip over the bridge. The Mackinac Bridge is currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the entire world. It spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan. More information can be obtained by the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Pigeon River Country State Forest

If you are traveling from the south to the Upper Peninsula in the early months of September, a great point to stop at is the Pigeon River County Elk Range. This is home to one of the largest free- roaming elk herds east of the Mississippi. Located in a 100,000 acre state forest, the Department of Natural Resources maintains the elk habitat through wildlife management. Although elk inhibit this site year round, September is the best month because the males are trying establish dominance over the females, making them very active. Elk are active during the daytime, and are best viewable from inside a car. These elk are accustomed to seeing motor vehicles, but are not to be approached due to their large size and timid nature. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has more information about visiting this great nature animal lookout point.

Topinabee Rest Area 407

Now I bet you are thinking, a rest area as a lookout point? Well this rest area not only allows travelers the chance to use the bathroom and stretch out their legs. It also provides travelers on their way to the Upper Peninsula a great scenic overlook from an observation deck. The rest stop is located at mile marker 317, on highway 1-75 North Bound, in Cheboygan county. This area provides a great spot for travelers to get a great view above the highway, expanding across the area. It is especially beautiful in mid- fall, once the leaves transition in color. The observation deck provides a safe spot for adults and children to take photographs before they continue their travels to the Upper Peninsula. You can learn more about this scenic rest area and their additional accommodations at the State of Michigan website.

There are so many wonderful sights to behold throughout the nation, and Northern Michigan provides travelers with some of the best. These lookout points allow travelers the chance to really get in touch with nature and provide a relaxing feeling most people are looking for when they take a vacation. Several other locations on the way to the Upper Peninsula, and located in the Upper Peninsula really give travelers a look into what the state of Michigan has to offer. If you live in a surrounding state, a road trip to the Upper Peninsula can be a great travel destination for you!