Friday, June 14 to Sunday, June 16, 2019 ~ MN-IL-KY-TN (901 miles)
Minneapolis, MN; Peoria, IL; Paducah, KY; Nashville, TN
I head out in Lorraine, my jet-black Chevy Spark, on Friday morning down the familiar route through Iowa, the separation between the home of my birth (Illinois) and the home of my choice (Minnesota). I ponder the usual worries: Did I pack enough of the right things… Will the cats be OK? Will the apartment be safe? Will my car make the trip?
Am I doing the right thing? Is mom too sick for this vacation?
My road trip will be 850 miles longer than hers because I am coming all the way from Minneapolis. Mom finishes the latest round of week-long chemo shots the day I arrive. We agree to wait on departure from Illinois until she feels able to travel.
As luck would have it, my nephew is home on leave from the army. I have not seen him in over a year, so it is a perfect time for us to stay another day and visit with family. The first of many happy coincidences (karma?) to come in the next two weeks on the road.
To my surprise, mom is ready to go Sunday morning. Naturally, it takes forever to get organized. There is consideration of what and how much to put into the plug-in-no-ice-needed-electric cooler. How much deli meat will we eat before it expires? Road snacks? Sun hat or not? How many shoes? She is not convinced we will fit all our luggage into my postage-stamp sized car but as I had taken a massive road trip to Portland, OR in 2017, I know exactly how to load it.
Finally, we are strapped in and head south to Nashville, TN. The vast fields of the Illinois corn belt do not make for a scenic drive but it gives us time to discuss all the sites we hope to see along the way, where the planned overnight towns are, and the ‘how often do we stop to pee & stretch’ negotiation of every road trip. Mom makes a special request to stop at every official state welcome center to collect a map as a souvenir. I decide to post any funny moments on social media in order to keep family informed of our progress and share a little of the adventure along the way.
Also, to stay sane…
My mom and I generally travel well together. I let go of annoyances easier on the road- no idea why. I sort of accept that it is what it is. Mom is weakened and anemic by blood cancer and chemo. She has symptoms of chemo brain- misspeaking and a little confusion. I know this trip is going to be different from all the others in that I will provide a fair amount of care-giving along with all the driving. I have to. It is the only way to ensure the trip is possible at all.
There will be no rest for me.
I drove I-35 south out of Minneapolis, Hwy 18/218, I-380 east, I-80 east, I-74 east to Peoria, I-155 south, I-55 south, I-64 east, I-57 south, I-24 east to Nashville
Here are some highlights along the route:
In spite of what is promised by its name, Mt. Vernon does not contain any mountains but rather is home to two brothers who I met at a gas station. These boys passionately explained that their parakeet did not like them and bites. Mean bird I guess, but in its defense, if I were only 7 inches tall and around two excited predators, with little hands and full sets of bright white teeth, I might be a little testy too.
Southern Illinois is home to some amazing geographical features. Just south of Mt. Vernon is Rend Lake , a 13-mile-wide reservoir created when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Big Muddy River. Further south, the vast Shawnee National Forest  opens up. Established in 1939, it consists of approximately 280,000 acres and is the single largest publicly owned body of land in the state of Illinois. Most of the land added to the forest in its first decade was exhausted farmland and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine trees to prevent erosion and rebuild the soil. The area is deep within the New Madrid Seismic Zone . Yes, the mid-west gets big earthquakes!
Whitehaven (pictured at the top of this blog post)  is a mansion used as the I-24 Kentucky welcome center since 1983. It is the only historic house in the United States also used as a rest area. It is an impressive site with flower gardens, a gazebo, beautiful architecture, and a real-life payphone in case you have a quarter and anyone to call.
We stop by Kentucky Lake  for a nice cool break in the middle of the hot day. The reservoir was created in 1944 when the Tennessee Valley Authority dammed the Tennessee River. The dam itself is not very interesting but the lake is the largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi River and has 2,064 miles of shoreline. Fishing is good as attested by this 88-pound blue catfish caught and released in December 2018.
The closer we get to Tennessee, the greater the number of deer carcasses line the road. It’s Sunday and the roadkill truck clearly has not gone by. We stay overnight in Nashville and in the morning celebrate mom’s 79th birthday with breakfast at the Waffle House. The distinct cultural shift from the north to the south arrives in the form of a large friendly man who made a point to tell me my dress was pretty. The standard reply to questions is, “Yes/no ma’am”.
Nashville is our longest driving day of the trip and is almost too much for me. We decide to split up the drive home over three days instead of two. With the delayed start and the early return, it means vacation time will shorten by two days.
But we must ensure our safety and endurance. Because of mom’s health, I’m still not sure we won’t turn back toward home prematurely…
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2019
Reference materials for this blog post: