We toured the quaint main street, and watched a boat go through the locks on the river. Then we took a look at the state park, with a butterfly garden and scenic outlook (left). Iowa really impressed me with all of its leafy trees and gentle hills.
Let's see, Ten and Eleven were spent fairly quietly, with my grandma in Illinois. We ate out a couple times, visited the Salvation Army (I got a beautiful black evening dress for FOUR DOLLARS. Of course there was no dressing room, so I wasn't sure it would fit. But hey, four bucks, take a chance!), and took a nap or two. Excellent.
Day Twelve, I left the Chicago outskirts and headed further east. It proved to be a boring drive, as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio are very flat states. No hills, a few trees, and not much else.
Around five-fifteen, I saw a turn-off for Edison's Birthplace. So I detoured to Milan, Ohio, where there's a whole mini-village, all old-fashioned and stuff. Sadly, all was closed.
As I returned to the freeway, I noticed an ominous dichotomy in the skies before me. Look--it's still very light out, but that upper half is just black as night. And I drove right into the storm.
Thunder crashed and and lightning crackled, seemingly right above my head. The rain lashed down in torrents, so fast that even the turbo-speed wipers couldn't clear it. I could almost not see the road right in front of me. I switched on my flashers like the other drivers. I slowed down to what felt like a crawl, even though the speedometer read 40mph. My hands were tightly clenched at the 9 and 2 positions on the steering wheel; my knuckles turned and stayed white while my biceps began to burn.
Occasionally, one or two wheels felt like they weren't on the concrete; my breath caught in my throat, my hands tightened even more, until I felt control again of all four wheels.
I was aiming for the Pennsylvania state line that night; that way I would have fewer miles and hours to drive the next day. The last big town in Ohio is Youngstown, close to the border. The signs had read 67, 55, 41, 33 miles to Youngstown. I thought I could stick it out and easily make Pennsylvania. Obviously the rain slowed everyone down.
I pressed on, stubbornly, thinking nervously, "almost there, almost there, I can make it."
I had been driving since ten that morning, and had crossed into the Eastern time zone, so by that time--about 6.30--I'd already been driving for eight hours that day. My back ached and my knee felt prematurely arthritic from sitting in the driver's seat for so long. Again, this was Day Twelve of my road trip, and the twentieth day since I'd left New York.
I was tired, dammit. Impatient to just get home as soon as I could.
I pulled off the road at the thankfully-nearby service plaza, where I ate quick dinner and waited out the drenching rain.
By seven, I was cruising again at 60. Fifteen minutes later, I entered the storm zone again, and I slowed back down to thirty mph, back to my death grip on the wheel.
I saw a gorgeous sunset in the clear sky far behind, from the side mirror. I unlocked my hands and snapped a very quick photo before my hands magnetically jumped back to the wheel.
I was in the far left lane, and a semi was in the middle lane, traveling slower than I was. As I came up on the truck's cab, its front left wheel was spitting out a solid eight-foot spray of water, completely blinding me. I sat forward, holding my breath as my pulse jumped into overdrive. I swore under my breath and tried not to panic, holding the wheel straight. I made my foot press down on the accelerator to get me through the spray. A lifetime of a moment later, I did, and took a sigh of relief.
Not sixty seconds later, I came up on another semi, and the whole thing happened again.
I silently vowed, over my racing heart, to get the hell off the road and I sent up a brief prayer when a blue sign appeared out of the rainy mist in the next mile: "Lodging next exit."
I slept that night at the unassuming Budget Lodge in Warren, Ohio. I recommend it to anyone traveling through, as it had a large television, microwave and mini-fridge, plus wireless internet.
The next morning, naturally, dawned clear and blue and bright, as if nothing had happened. I drove straight through Pennsylvania's gentle mountains, valleys and forests, on through New Jersey. When I saw a sign that read, "Land of Make Believe, Exit 12", well, I knew I had to see that. At first I worried that it was Make Believe in that it didn't actually exist; it took a few minutes to find it. Sadly, it turned out to be an ordinary water/amusement park, expensive admission and everything. So I thought, heck, I'll just go to Enchanted Village and Wild Waves when I'm in Seattle next summer, none of this expensive New Jersey business.
At 5.30, I successfully met the end of I-80 where it flows into I-95, into New York City. Ee!
My excitement to see the city very quickly turned to dread, as I approached within a few miles of the George Washington Bridge, where I was met with a solid wall of gridlocked traffic.
Oh, yeah. New York City. It was nearly 7.30 when I finally arrived in my neighborhood. "Simply the Best" came on the radio right as the main drag came into view. I smiled, and felt a thrill as I remembered that I was driving. In my own car. In my own neighborhood. Wow.