I’m a perfect example of a writer who enjoys being alone for hours at a time—which makes taking a road trip by myself a guilty pleasure. Last week I drove from Chicago to Columbia, Missouri. I like to take the scenic route, turning west at Springfield, IL (Starbucks!) and heading toward the Mississippi river-crossing at Louisiana, MO.
There’s something about highway driving that allows my thoughts to drift and ideas to form. I put gentle attention on my current project while taking in scenic details. I’ve waxed rhapsodic before about loving the July sky. That day delivered a spectacular display of white cumulus mountains. At one point I was driving between two soybean fields that sloped up. The green extending to the horizon and topped by an expanse of blue sky and those clouds was stunning.
West of Springfield and about twenty miles from the Mississippi, I encountered the Valley City Eagle Bridges. These sleek bridges arch high over fields and the Illinois River. They have the magical quality of a temporary “time-stop,” as special places can do. I love driving over them! (Incidentally, I just read that Valley City, at population 13, is the smallest municipality in Illinois.)
Not long after, I crossed the Mississippi on another high bridge. This one was hold-your-breath-as-you-pass-an-oncoming-vehicle narrow. On the Missouri side I breathed a sigh of relief, patted my Chevy Equinox, and turned left into Louisiana—a picturesque river town that has some lovely old homes. I ended up at a small park situated on a bluff high above the river and bridge I’d just crossed. The view extended for miles. And, oh…that sky.
On the way out of town, I stopped to top off my tank. (Because, after paying Illinois gas prices, it’s the right thing to do!) From there, I followed highway 54 west and south past pretty woods and fields, and through sleepy farming towns with names like Bowling Green and Vandalia. I was happy to see a few bloom-laden mimosa trees, and even rolled down my window hoping to smell their peachy perfume. (Actually, I was hoping to see one close enough to the road to hop out and pick a couple blossoms, but no such luck.)
I eventually merged onto I-70 about thirty miles east of Columbia—as always, a jarring leap back to reality. Luckily, it was tempered by the anticipation of seeing my mother and sisters…and knowing that in a few days I would be retracing my route under another July sky.