Across the Big Sandy, Kentucky greets us with an oil refinery. It’s a Dante-esque scene, with flames blazing from pipes that pierce the skyline, steam and smoke everywhere. An orange backdrop of the setting sun compounds the effect. Storage tanks up on the hill are blithely painted with a big “Welcome to” sign, which is bracketed with corporate logos of the refinery. But the human engineered landscape dissipates quickly. Kentucky assumes a fine bucolic appearance of gently rolling hills and forests for what’s left of the rest of the day.
Yesterday at 5pm in Maryland, Emily left work, emptied out her Park Service housing, and drove four hours home to Scottsville. Meaning she couldn’t even start the process of packing up her life and putting it into the car until the morning. We didn’t get on the road until noon. A late start for a cross country drive, but pretty dang good, considering. She sorted out the accumulations of her 23 years into three piles: this pile to take, this to donate, this to keep if she ever comes back for it.
So we’re only a just into Kentucky and already losing daylight. I don’t know where I heard this, and can’t find any reference to it, but there’s a saying I grew up with: “Everything’s all Kentucky.” Means everything is just right, as it should be. Don’t know why. There’s not much reason to it. Maybe it comes from growing up in Appalachia, but for some reason it feels good to say it. It’s all Kentucky.
At a rest stop welcome center, which is closed, we switch drivers again.
Lexington goes by in the twilight.
East of Louisville, at 590 miles from home, we stop a second time for gas and food. In the truck stop store I realize there’s a pattern we’ll see repeated over and over at every gas station throughout the trip, so begin a series of photos to document it. I realize this will amuse me and confuse others, and determine it’s best not to tell Emily about it. She still needs confidence in her co-pilot, unshakeable faith in his good sense. So fragile, that.
It’s spitting rain in Louisville. We bump into the Ohio River again, see barges, tugs and riverboats silhouetted against a dull sky.
Crossing the river we enter Indiana, where we see: nothing. Indiana is all darkness. No billboards. No other cars or trucks. The road is just empty darkness. Shadows of woods and cornfields. Reflective lines flick by like a ticking clock for mile after mile. For some reason, this reason, it’s one of the most pleasant parts of the trip. At some unremarkable place, marked by a small sign, we pass into Central Time.
An hour and forty minutes later we enter Illinois, which is indistinguishable from Indiana, except there are, remarkably, more cornfields. Frozen ponds reflect the dark sky with just enough light to show black flecks of sleeping ducks and geese. We decide to keep going, make this day a long one. Partly because there’s no place to stop, and partly because we’ll be freshest on the first day, the reasoning goes, and should make as many miles while we can. Which will prove true.
Two hours later it’s midnight on the near side of St. Louis, and time to find a hotel. The snow is heaviest here, piled high along the side roads and parking lots. Navigating is a challenge, and the sudden kaleidoscope of lights disorienting. Intersections are featureless, roads not where you expect them. We’re tired and make mistakes.
The hotel lobby is roaring with big industrial fans and vacuum cleaners, carpets are rolled up, furniture out of place. The night clerks, three of them, seem confused by our sudden appearance. The Polar Vortex that passed through days ago, a combination of arctic lows and high winds, froze and burst the water mains in the building. It was like firehoses shooting water down the hallways and stairwells, they said. They had just got everything back under control. Other businesses suffered the same fate. The manager looked ashen, said he’d been up for 48 hours without sleep. He gave us a nice double room for $50, including breakfast and coffee, as though we might be thinking we should head somewhere else; but at this point he could not have paid us to get back in the car.
Daily Tally ~ Day 1
- States Seen: 6
- Distance Traveled: 759 miles
- Drive Time: 12 hours 53 minutes
- Starting Elevation: 421 feet
- Peak Elevation: 2824 feet
- Total Miles Traveled: 759 miles