After a 3 month hiatus from travel, I’m finally back on the road again. During my non-travel time, I attended to some routine maintenance on my rig, helped my sister organize and pack for an upcoming move, got the animals to the Vet, and had my own yearly check up. I did visit with a few close friends while wearing a mask and socially distancing. It is very hard not to hug someone, laugh out loud, and share a meal or play a board game indoors with friends and family- Very Awkward! But such is life in our Pandemic Times. (We will laugh about all of this later, Right?)
I spent the first week of October in Chicagoland doing some gardening with my friend, Fran, who always has major projects planned when I visit. This year it involved moving and planting trees. It was a glorious week with 70 degree temperatures during the day, and cool, crisp 50’s at night. Perfect sleeping weather after a hard day’s labor digging holes. I didn’t mind the trees so much, but the rose bush that had to be moved 3 feet over, left me scratched and bleeding! When I wasn’t laboring in the yard, I had ample opportunity to enjoy walking the dog through the abundance of sugar maples, oaks, red sumac, and locust trees lining the streets of Warrenville, and glowing in the autumn sunlight. Even after I left, traveling south, I continued to enjoy the colorful delights of “peak season” well into November.
I stopped for a weekend visit with Sally and Joe in Brownsburg, Indiana. Gemini got to play with Teddy, a 10 month old Bernedoodle that feels like a soft plush toy when you pet her. She ran Gemini around in circles until he laid down exhausted from her puppy energy. Sally filled my freezer with homemade dishes and sent me on my way.
Unfortunately, my next two stops were at 2 different tire shops attempting to get a nail removed from the back-inside tire-Ugh!
The first shop couldn’t repair the nail hole because it was in the sidewall and they couldn’t replace the tire because it was too big. Ahhhh……the complications of RV travel. At the second shop, they were so busy and understaffed that I had to wait in line for 3 hours with Semi-trucks, city-owned asphalt trucks, and huge tow trucks. For some people, waiting in line for 3 hours would be a nightmare situation, but I made good use of my time- I cooked soup for lunch and did the dishes afterwards. I put away my laundry. I cleaned the bathroom. I fed the dog and brushed the cats. And, I even had time for a 20 minute nap!
When I left with the new tire in place and my wallet lighter by 300 bucks, I only had one option for an overnight stay that was about 4o miles away. (Side Note: For Safety reasons, I don’t drive after dark and I don’t drive in bad weather). So, I pulled in to an overpriced campground in Cloverdale, Illinois at dusk. The owner was grumpy and unfriendly (just this side of rude) but still took my money. As I was settling in for the night, I kept wondering why he wasn’t more friendly. Then I remembered my Biden/Harris sign in the back window. Mmmmmmm…….could that be the reason? Had he made a judgement about me based upon a political sign? I moved on the next day and found myself, again, driving through some of the best fall foliage that I have seen in years. The colors were brilliant shades of scarlet red, warm brown, bright orange, golden yellow, and that “pinky” color that is a combination of red and orange-FANTASTIC!
My Garmin GPS that I use for navigation is mounted to my dash just to the left of my steering wheel. Part of the wheel covers the indicator that tells me what direction that I’m heading. I have a love-hate relationship with the Garmin as it often takes me down roads that I have no business being on with a 7 1/2 ton, vehicle that is 11 feet, 6 inches high and 8 feet wide. Many older cities and country roads have weight restrictions on bridges and height restrictions on overpasses-the Garmin doesn’t care! So, I read signs carefully. I’ve had to turn around and find an alternate route while the Garmin is repeating,”Turn right, turn right, turn right” or “Make a U-turn, now”. It usually ends up in a screaming match that gets the dog barking and me yelling curse words at an inanimate object. I turn it off-I win!
On one such frustrating day, I was ignoring the Garmin and she was mad at me for not communicating- I had set her on map mode so I could see what was up ahead and monitor my speed and direction. I had looked at the atlas the night before and knew what roads to take to my next camping spot. It was a beautiful day and I was enjoying the drive through the rolling farmland of southern Illinois, until I realized that I had driven 50 miles in the wrong direction! (remember when I said the steering wheel blocked the direction sign?) Ooops!
I pulled over and checked Google maps on my phone, which is often my back up for the Garmin. It indicated that I was 2 1/2 hours away from my campsite. Also I only had 1/2 tank of gas, and since I get about 8 mpg, that could be a problem. To add to the drama of the day, I could see storm clouds in the horizon and a quick check on the weather app informed me that a storm was expected within the next hour. I had 2 options for an overnight stay in the local area: a formal campground at Garden of the Gods or an informal free site listed as “Cave on route 34”. I opted for the sure thing and drove the 10 miles to the formal campground. Once there, I found it packed with people, tents, pop up campers, kids running around and dogs barking as we drove through, and no empty site available. Rats!
Option 2 it is. I plugged in the coordinates to google maps and off I went towards the roiling storm clouds in the distance. As luck would have it, I found a gas station 2 miles before I reached the cave. (Another side note: For safety reasons, I keep my gas tank at least 1/2 full, because my generator won’t start if the tank goes below 1/4 full). After filling the tank, I drove the 2 miles and pulled off the road into the large gravel area in front of the cave. I maneuvered my rig as close as I could to the opening, grabbed Gemini, my water bottle and a chair and made it inside just as the heavens opened up. It poured rain while thunder rolled and lightening shot through the darkened sky. We sat there dry and safe in our cozy cave and watched the storm-AWESOME!!
I like to say that I took a wrong turn and ended up in the right place!
The next morning, a middle-aged man wearing a dirty, torn hoodie, a baseball cap and jeans showed up in a beat-up pick up truck. Uh, oh! Was I trespassing? Had my camping App been wrong about this being a safe spot to stay?
I was sitting in my cave having my morning coffee and writing. He introduced himself as Steve Crabb, the caretaker, as he emptied the nearby trashcan. He went. on to tell me that his grandparents owned and operated the Fairy Cliff Cafe that once stood on the grounds in front of the cave, and pointed to the remains of a chimney. He walked me through the ruins of a cafe that once thrived in the area, but was now marked only by a crumbling foundation and a wall overgrown with ivy. He showed me where the cave had been deepened to about 30 feet by blasting with dynamite by his grandfather in the 1920’s. His grandparents operated the cafe until 1966.
Steve and his wife live across the road, across the creek and up the hill from the cave. His house overlooks many acres of pastureland, hardwood forests, and an abandoned house with old chicken coops, a large pile of scrap metal, and an old foundation that used to be a dance hall in the 1930’s. His long story of men from the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.- a work relief program during the great depression that operated from 1933-1942 for unemployed, unmarried men ages 18-25.) was fascinating. He lowered his voice a bit when he told me that rumor had it that the abandoned house had once been used as a brothel.
He came back later that day and took me for a 10 mile drive on bumpy back roads pointing out hunting spots, old CCC structures, and reminiscing out loud about growing up in the area. We drove up Williams Hill, (the highest point in southern Illinois at 1064 ft.), and back down through hardwood forest which were at their peak of color. It was exhilarating and frightening driving too fast down the middle of the road even as we topped a rise, blind to any oncoming traffic- but there was none.
Steve came back the next day as I was packing up to leave. He brought all three of his German Shepards riding in the back of the pick up truck, and told me one last story about the lineage of his dogs.
My journey continues driving south to the next adventure through Mississippi to the Gulf Coast.
Stay Safe, Wear a Mask, and Go with the Flo!