Thursday, September 29, 2016

Driving to Wichita, Day 6, Part 2

Day 6, Part 2

A most exciting adventure

I fill the gas tank at a nearby station. I finally remembered to bring something to tie the seatbelt away from my throat (the shoulder strap rides up and threatens to strangle me; I’m constantly having to pull it down), and I’m on I-70 before 9 a.m. It’s already 86 degrees. I begin the exit countdown from 45 to three. I’m glad I have directions from the internet because there are no signs for the Chain of Rocks Bridge. I take the Exit 3 ramp and turn south onto Route 3. Chain of Rocks Road catches me off guard as it is closer to the highway than I expected. 

The road quickly narrows after some small businesses and I pass through an open gate and Chouteau (Shoo-TOH) Island sign wondering if I’m going the right way and if it’s really open to the public. There are no other vehicles around. The road rises and I see a blue bridge. Am I allowed to cross? Earlier reading told me there are hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails on both sides of the river. The right-hand lane is closed and looks to be a pedestrian/bicycle path delineated by yellow stakes making the bridge one-way with a set of lights. I continue up and over.

Over to Chouteau Island
Chouteau Island

Chouteau Island, one mile south of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and eight miles north of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo., is one of three islands in the Chain of Rocks area, and along with Gaberet and Mosenthein encompass over 5,500 acres. The three islands were considered one island (Chouteau) when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (CoE) constructed Chain of Rocks Canal (websites differ with their brief descriptions). 

The floods of 1993 drove out about 40 homeowners living on the island at which time programs were instituted creating recreational areas and trails on the island. Chouteau Island is now a key component in the 200-square-mile system of trails, parks, and conservation areas called the Confluence Greenway in Illinois and Missouri along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. 

(While I knew there was an island, I didn’t realize at the time that this bridge was over a canal. I didn’t even know there was a canal on the Mississippi River! I looked at multiple websites trying to put all the information together and many facts differed between the sites. I’ve gone back and forth so many times between the sites that my head is spinning.)

Building the Canal and Dam (see disclaimer in Day 6, Part 1)

The CoE began constructing the 8.4 mile Chain of Rocks Canal in Madison/Granite City, Ill., in the late 1940s and it opened in 1953. The project was the first addition to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930 which ensured nine-foot navigational channels. (Projects such as this had been halted during WWII.) 

The canal was built on the other side Chouteau Island from the river with Lock No. 27 built on the southern end. This was the last canal and locks needed on the Mississippi River to allow complete passage from St. Paul, Minn., to New Orleans and would bypass the “chain of rocks” which made navigation past St. Louis, Mo., extremely dangerous and impassable during times of low water. 

The CoE constructed the below-the-surface, non-moveable, low-level Chain of Rocks Dam (also known as Dam No. 27 and considered to be in St. Louis) just south of the Chain of Rocks Bridge to supply additional water for the canal. Tons of rocks were dumped into the river to form the first permanent rock-fill dam across a major river in the United States. Its 3,240-foot-width created a 13,000 acre pool upstream providing the necessary water depth for the canal. The dam was completed in 1964. (And what’s unusual about the Chain of Rocks canal and dam is that Lock No. 27 and Dam No. 27 are not in the same location as all other locks and dams.)

Photo of a storyboard map. I wanted to show the expanse
between the parking lot (  I parked near the P) and the
5-span  length of the bridge from the  number 1 to the river.
On the other side of the bridge are dirt side roads and trail-crossings veering off into fields. I pass a good-sized parking area, but this feels too far away from the bridge, plus the road continues. I figure this must be parking to access trails. The website had shown two parking areas for the bridge. One is at the start of the bridge and the other from a fishing area which showed a shorter hiking trail to the bridge. I keep driving straight passing a dirt road to the left with a sign stating U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (CoE) which must be to the fishing area. (I find out later that the Chouteau Island Nature Trail shown on Google Maps from the fishing area actually passes far under bridge and doesn’t access it at that point. Good thing I didn’t choose this way. Hikers have to find another trail around to get to the bridge’s beginning.)

I pass a road closed sign, too, and reach a large paved parking lot. Oh, my, God, there it is! The Chain of Rocks Bridge straight ahead! I don’t know what I expected. Pictures and readings on websites did not prepare me for the real thing. Excitement wars with fear.

The marked parking spaces are in the middle of the paved area leaving a large open expanse to the bridge. Websites said that 400 elm trees once lined the approach to the bridge. I wonder what happened to them and try to imagine how that looked. I pull into a space closest to the bridge, not marked handicapped. My heart is pounding. There isn’t anyone else around. It feels so… abandoned.

Reading stressed not to leave valuables in the car, but I have no choice. St. Louis is a city and just across the river, and cities have crime, and my mind conjures gangs. Yes, I’m a little nervous about being out here all alone. The feeling of aloneness weighs on me. Stop! It doesn’t matter. I am going to do this and I am going to be safe!

I get out of the car. The stifling humidity slaps me in the face! A loud insect-buzzing sound permeates the air. What’s that? It’s so loud the noise muffles the distant sound of I-270 traffic. There is no shade. I put two bottles of water in my back pack which also holds my spare camera lens and swing the heavy pack onto my back. I sling the camera strap over my head and take a moment to position the strap on my upper right arm so the weight of the camera is not on my neck. I grab my walking stick and trudge slowly across the hot, sunny pavement to the bridge’s beginning. At the moment, I am lost for words. I don’t know what I’m feeling. 

This is it! My heart is pounding. Can I walk the mile across?
The first part of the bridge is painted green and the rest is rust. (I like the color of rust.) An old small sign on the top says Route 66 and a bigger one below says Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Green foliage wraps close to both outer sides and threatens to take over if not trimmed back. The blue, cloudless sky above is empty. A bright blue plastic-like barrier runs horizontally below the railing stretching down the length of the bridge as far as I can see; a long, rusted tunnel with no sign of water which, with the outer closed-in foliage, gives it all a tunnel inside a tunnel effect. The bridge feels too narrow for vehicles. I can’t imagine driving this with traffic in both directions. A tall black iron, double-door gate has one side swung open.

I photograph the nearby storyboards to read later. The angle of the bright sun is not conducive to good photos. I’m hesitant, fearful, and I don’t know why. Once I cross this line, there’s no turning back, no escape, or so it feels. What an odd feeling. It’s almost like I’m going to cross into another dimension. 

I take a deep breath and take my first steps onto the bridge. My senses are assailed. Immediately, I feel a huge sense of history. A lot has happened here (including a murder). There are no words, just a thousand jumbled up feelings. A few steps farther and I pass the iron gate with a sign stating closed and locked at dusk. I stop just beyond it. 

Past the iron gate, I pause. This is spooky. There's a presence here.
This is spooky! It’s like the millions of emotions accumulated over the years are hanging in the air like a haunting. I’m not sure I want to move. The non-verbal flood of emotions holds me paralyzed reaching through time and washing over the bridge and anyone on it. And that droning, buzzing insect sound goes on and on never stopping, never changing in pitch.

Looking up
I move forward slowly, one foot in front of the other, and once moving, it’s easier to keep going. I weave from one side of the bridge to the other looking over the rails. Yes, I know I could do one side on the way and the other side on the return, but I want to see both sides now. My pace quickens a little and I’m feeling better. There isn’t much to see over the sides, but green vegetation. 

I don’t get it. Why was the bridge built over so much land? Why is it so high at this point? I’m in the branches of some trees, the canopy of others, while others and the ground is far, far below. (I wish I had a sense of depth to be able to say how far below.) Occasionally I see trails meandering through the thick underbrush and vines. Questions bounce in my head about the area, the bridge; whys and hows and whats.

A woman slowly makes her way towards me, and like me, she is going from side to side. Eventually we meet and stop to chat. She comes here often. Today she is looking for birds saying she saw an oriole earlier. Right now we can hear twittering, but can’t see any feathered fliers. She tells me the insects are cicadas. She says, too, the bridge is sometimes quite busy with pedestrians and bicyclists. Today it’s very quiet. I actually prefer it like this. 

The constant, loud, insect-buzzing drone goes on and on
adding to the eeriness. Is this what makes the noise?
When I mention stopping at the Missouri Visitor Center off I-270, she said it’s nothing and advises me not to get on I-270 when I leave here, but to stay in Illinois on Route 3 North to Route 143 and onto Route 100. These routes follow along the river and there are places to visit. She suggests going to the Pere Marquette Park. I’ll see how I feel later, not sure if I should take her advice. I’m usually only good for one adventure a day and this, especially with the heat and humidity, should do me in.

We go our separate ways. I am amazed that I can feel the history burnt into this bridge. It comes up through my feet and hovers in the air. I can’t decipher it, but I feel it; it’s almost like a presence. I take my time photographing the sides of the bridge, broken lights, holes in the pavement and even a big dead bug. Is this a cicada; one of those making that constant drone?

Against self-doubts, I made it to the river!
I look up. Oh, my, gosh, I’ve reached the river! This is the Mississippi and I’m walking high above it. Wow, wow, WOW! Look at it! And then, I really look at it. It’s the color of coffee with too much milk in it, but thicker (I’ve always heard it was muddy) and it does look like soupy mud. 







New Chain of Rocks Bridge from Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

I look up and out. To the north I-270 is heavy with traffic and it’s a much lower-to-the-water bridge. 

(Later reading explains that with the building of the canal to allow safer river navigation around this dangerous section of the Mississippi, there wasn’t the need for a tall bridge when the New Chain of Rocks Bridge (I-270) was built.) 

Add caption


To the immediate south are two castle-looking edifices in the middle of the river. What are those? I am intrigued. These are adorable and “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” runs through my mind. The bottom half of both structures are solid blocks. The upper levels have many windows and tall doors and there is a turret-type area on both, one round, one rectangular. The bigger one is concrete-colored with a teal area under the roof eaves. The smaller one has a terra cotta-colored bottom, with a white building and teal-colored conical roof. Both towers have a metal railing along the walkway of the main floor and look like doll-house castles.

Water Intake Towers
These two mid-river water intake towers are built out of cut stone for the Chain of Rocks Water Treatment Plant in St. Louis. Their intricate stonework and oval shapes make these buildings unique. Intake towers draw water from the river and feed it to the treatment plant for distribution throughout the city.

Tower 2
The older of the intake houses, Tower #1, built in the early 1890s like the plant itself, was constructed in Romanesque style and has a conical roof. At one time there was a dike allowing access, but since the building of Dam No. 27, it is submerged. 

The newer, bigger intake Tower #2, designed in the Roman Renaissance style, was built in 1915 to supply the greater demand of the city. It had living quarters in the tower for the crew who had to keep ice away from the intake port during the winter. This structure is now a back-up to the newer shore intake tower which was built about 1930. 

I look farther down river where it splits around an island which, from this angle, looks tree-covered. The city of St. Louis spreads out beyond. I can just barely make out the famous St. Louis Arch through the haze. Too bad it has to be hazy, hot, and humid. This photo isn’t going to be the greatest.



Looking down river. 
These rapids are formed by the Chain of Rocks Dam, Dam No. 27, 
which is just below the surface.
First view of the bend looking to the Missouri side.
I turn my attention back to the bridge and realize I’m approaching the bend. Suddenly my right knee snaps out. Ow, drat! I stop to let the pain subside. I don’t care. I’m going to make it a couple more yards so I can look around the corner. I limp forward and by the time I reach the bend, my entire upper leg is aching. I am so hot, the sweat is running into my eyes and it burns. But still, I’ve made it a lot farther than I thought I would and I’m going to make it farther.



Getting closer... and my knee goes out. Ow!
This bend is fascinating. Cars must have had to crawl around this corner and considering the bridge is only 24 feet wide... I can’t imagine today’s vehicles accomplishing that on a two-way road. I can’t really fathom any vehicle getting around that corner comfortably. I wouldn’t want to do it in a car, let alone be driving anything bigger. However, what fun on a bicycle!

Readings had said the bend was in the middle of the river, but to me, the Missouri riverbank doesn’t look as far as the distance I’d come already. 

The bend looking back towards Illinois
I push myself to walk a few yards more to get a picture of the bend looking towards the Illinois side. 











On to the Missouri end



Then I force myself to keep going to the end. I use taking pictures as an excuse to continue. I want to take that angle. I want to catch that view. 






Route 66 reminders

There’s a bench and a couple of old Route 66 relics just before the gate leading off the bridge. I collapse onto the bench after taking pictures. Both legs ache horribly by now. I rest a few minutes, write down a few notes, and guzzle some water. 

Wow, I made it across! I can’t believe it. I really walked across the Mississippi River! And now I have to walk back.

I take pictures before beginning the journey across to Illinois. It’s so hot and I try not to think about the mile back. The sun is now in my face and much higher in the sky. I limp along trying to stay in the narrow strip of shade from the overhead girders. Thankfully there’s a little breeze, but still the sweat pours down. 


View of St. Louis and the arch through the hazy humidty.
I take my time. Instead of thinking about how I ache, I focus on the interesting features of the bridge: the holes in the pavement, the stone patterns in the tar, textures, color, and whatever. My legs cramp even more when I reach the last five spans of the bridge which are over the island. I start counting my steps to keep my mind occupied and off the hurt. It works.

I look out over the sweltering pavement at the end of the bridge. I can see heat waves rising. Oh, my, gosh, it looks a long way to the car. One step in front of the other, I shuffle forward. I can’t wait to turn on the engine and hit the air conditioner button! 

I’m here! I did it! Oh, my, God, I did it! I walked the entire bridge and back. Success and happiness raises my spirits and I no longer feel exhausted. Wow, I can’t believe I really did it. Could this have really been a mile and back? I’ve only been gone an hour. Is it possible? 

I’m so happy at this point I decide to take a little detour down to the CoE fishing area. Part of me doesn’t want to get back out into that blistering sun, but pictures from this angle will be a nice touch to the experience. 

Shore area of the Chain of Rocks Dam, Illinois side
There are a few people here; some sitting in cars and a couple fishing. There are two huge round pilings in the ground at the edge of the river (part of the dam). I get photos and hurry back to the coolness of the air conditioning. 









Tower 2 and bend in bridge from the CoE dam/fishing area














Showing angle of dam shoring, the break in the water over the
dam, Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, and in the distance,
the New Chain of Rocks Bridge
This has been such a success I’m ready for my next adventure. Maybe I’ll take that woman’s advice and continue north on Route 3.

I did it! I did it! I did it! My mind is practically jumping around in my head.

(If you want to know more about the bridge, canal, and dam, type in Chain of Rocks Bridge on the web. I still have so many unanswered questions.)  






Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Driving to Wichita – Day 6, Part 1

Day 6, Monday

Can I do it?

I consider plans for the day. There’s plenty of time as I don’t need to be in Kansas City until Thursday. First up is the Chain of Rocks Bridge, but after that, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I look up Google Maps and wonder about visiting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or taking a river boat day-cruise, but websites say there is a lot of construction in the area and there isn’t any close parking. Riverboat cruises start in the same area, too. I don’t want to deal with traffic, city, and construction, especially if I can’t park close enough to comfortably walk.

The main goal today is to walk the Chain of Rocks Bridge. I discovered it months ago when I was tracing my route to Kansas City on Google Maps which showed crossing the Mississippi along I-270. I saw the Chain of Rocks Bridge listed nearby, looked it up, and was immediately intrigued. The Missouri access parking lot is closed due to vandalism, so I investigated the Illinois-side approach. Google Maps shows a long expanse of the bridge over land; five of the 11-spans are over Chouteau (Shoo Toh) Island. Will I be able to walk that far -- enough to be over the Mississippi River? I want to see the river. Will my legs give out before I reach the river? I am determined to do this!

Author’s Note Disclaimer: I perused dozens of websites before and after, and storyboards  at the site, and found discrepancies between them. I’ve pieced together information as best as I could. Please forgive me if I got anything wrong here below and further in the writing. Thank you.

Chain of Rocks Bridge – a little preliminary history

The 5,353 foot Chain of Rocks Bridge was opened in 1929 providing access between Madison, Ill., and the north side of St. Louis, Mo., allowing drivers to avoid the downtown area. It is 24 feet wide with two lanes, but what is most unique about this over-a-mile-long bridge is that it was built with a 22-degree bend near the middle (there are varying website reports with some saying 24 degrees and others 30, and one says the bridge is 5,348 feet long). There are a total of 11 sections with the two widest across the water. Three shorter ones are on the Missouri side and five on the Illinois side.

The bridge, with its five cent toll, was named after the series of rock ledges 17 miles long in the Mississippi River along St. Louis. These rocks made navigation along this section extremely dangerous and impossible during times of low water. For many years, it was the northern-most port on the Mississippi as ships and boats could not go farther north. As a matter of fact, this was the only area in the Mississippi denying full water-navigable access between St. Paul, Minn., and New Orleans, La., and was one of the reasons for the unusual engineering design in the bridge. 

The bridge could not be built straight across the river because the bedrock would not support the weight of the piers, so the next plan was to build the bridge at a diagonal across the river. However the Army Corps of Engineers did not approve. Another reason for the unusual bend in the bridge was the need for solid rock footings on both sides and one website said it was partly because the promoters 

The bridge became part of U.S. Route 66 in 1936 and in 1955 it became Bypass US 66 as the newly-built I-270 became the bypass in 1965 and became known as the New Chain of Rocks Bridge. The original bridge then became the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. (Route 66 has had five bridges crossing the Mississippi River at varying places leading into St. Louis.) 

The bridge was abandoned in 1970 and left to ruin. Trailnet (a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healthy, active living in the St. Louis area with walking and biking trails) renovated the bridge and it was reopened in 1999 as part of a 300-mile hiking/biking trail system between Illinois and Missouri. It’s now considered one of the, if not the, longest pedestrian/bicycle bridges in the world. 

I love bridges and I love history and the fact that the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was once part of Route 66 fascinates me. I remember watching the old TV show “Route 66” when I was a kid and hearing the tag line in the song “Get your kicks on Route 66.” I have to see this! But the length has me hesitant; I’m not sure I can walk the mile over and back, especially in the heat and humidity. 

Google Maps says the bridge is 46 miles from the hotel. I wish there was someone to talk to about it. It seems funny that such an iconic structure has little advertising attraction. 

I check out of the hotel chatting for quite awhile with Tracy, the same desk clerk as yesterday. Outside I take a few photos of the buffalo on the next property after hearing another guest mention them. 



I contemplate visiting the American Farm Heritage Museum whose access road is right across the street from the hotel. That looks to be a fascinating place, but I want to get to the bridge before it gets too hot. (Later reading up on the museum makes me wish I took the time. See www.americanfarmheritagemuseum.com. If you’re going to visit the area, it would be worth the visit.) 



Difficulties in Writing the Chapter for Day 6


Today I want to write again about this issue that’s been plaguing me for a few days. Sometimes words flow easily and I write and write. Other times, an issue can block the writing flow and it will spin around and around. Writing blocks depress me. I have so much I want to write about that to fall into this pit makes me frustrated. I feel I can’t move on until I resolve this. Here it is 19 days since I returned and I’m stuck on Day 6!

Writing this chapter is proving to be a huge challenge. I posted Day 5 four days ago. Usually I can get through a chapter in a matter of hours, or once in awhile, over a couple of days depending what else is going on. After all, some of it is already written as I journal during the trip. I just have to tighten up the writing and write it more as a story. I also use photos taken at the time to help me remember other aspects and the feel of what it was like when I was there.

Day 6 has my head spinning. (I wrote a little about this the other day.) One reason is because of the Chain of Rocks Bridge and the dilemma of where and how to add in the history segments. This was one of the biggest highlight in the entire trip and I’m stuck writing about it! It’s aggravating me to no end. I want to move on, but I also want the writing to convey my full experience at this place.

Yesterday’s issue was whether to write about the bridge as I initially experienced it, giving the reader the same experience as I had then doing the history segment as an added piece to the chapter. Or should I weave the history segments in with the story itself?

I posted to a writing group asking for feedback on the issue of the history segments. I received three responses advising to weave it in with the story and one to make the history a subchapter.

The advantage to weaving the history in with my personal story would break up the personal with the history and vice versa. When I was actually there, I had so many questions that were later answered when I did the heavy research. This way, the answer to those questions would be immediate to the reader.

On the other hand, would having the immediate answers take away from the personal experience of the journey? If my intent is to take the reader on the trip with me and letting them feel what I felt at that moment, then giving the answers away early isn’t allowing their “I felt I was on the journey with you” moments.

Yet another issue is, in the perusing of multiple websites and the storyboards at the actual site, I am finding they don’t all have the same claims. Some of the numbers are different like in the length of the bridge, the number of spans/trusses, and the degree in the bend. I’ve looked at so many websites my eyes are spinning. All I can do is apologize if I make any errors. I do the best I can. 

And to add to all this, the Chain of Rocks Bridge wasn’t the only site visited that day. I’m usually only good for one stop a day but this day I explored three other places and need to give them their due, too. 

So, back to it…


Monday, September 26, 2016

Planning vs. Spontaneity

Whenever I am getting ready to go on a trip, or even taking off on a day’s adventure, I am of two minds. One mind can spend hours perusing maps and routes. (I love maps!) However, I seldom make complete concrete plans or set exact dates (unless I have to). I don’t want what others have written to color my experience. The other mind wants to be totally open-ended with little research beforehand. This allows for in-the-moment choices and detours. Both concepts have their pros and cons.

Research beforehand lets me know what can be seen in a specific place. I’ll know ahead of time what’s open and when. That also means I might have to follow a stricter schedule.

But I enjoy being spontaneous and making those in-the-moment decisions. There are times when I plan on going to a particular place and, at the last minute, decide to keep driving. There’s not usually a specific reason. It’s that moment of choice, and it’s exciting that I can be free to do so. Then there are those times when a desk clerk at a hotel or someone I meet along the way will advise a visit to a certain spot and often these places are not something I knew about. 

This leads to another aspect I like about spontaneity and also a reason to not plan everything ahead of time – being surprised. My trips are about discovery! It’s my chance to be an explorer. There’s an excitement to being on the road and not knowing what will come up. What will I find? How will the experience affect me personally? And yes, sometimes there are disappointments, but it’s still an experience.

So, before a trip, I like to get a brief general idea of what is in a particular area. I’ll do some quick research, but won’t spend a lot of time reading websites before I leave. I am out to make my own discoveries!




Friday, September 23, 2016

An Interruption in the Trip Tales

I started working on Day 6 of the trip yesterday. This was the day I visited the place I wanted to see most during the journey – the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River. This day was a huge exciting point in the trip and I spent the entire day sightseeing along the river, mostly on the Illinois side. I visited some amazing places, but the Chain of Rocks Bridge, for some reason, is a place that will stand out in my mind forever… or at least for a very long time.

I had found out about the Chain of Rocks Bridge when I was doing pre-trip research and was immediately fascinated. I even printed out a little information about it. However, visiting the site and now trying to do further research, I am totally blown away by it all. There is so much more to cover.

Usually in my writings I like to do little history segments about the places I visit. I gather info from the storyboards at the sites plus I review multiple websites. Yesterday’s detailed research is flooding me with more information than I could have imagined, and it’s no longer just about the bridge and the fact it was once part of Route 66.

There’s an entire history/issue with this section of the river. There were canals and dams built (which I didn’t realize before or during my trip). There are castle-looking buildings in the middle of the river and I didn’t know what those were. (While I was on the bridge, all I could think when looking at them was “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”

One of my – ways – of traveling is to not do a lot of research beforehand of specific sites. I don’t want my visit to be colored by previously written articles and historical facts. I want to experience the feel of the site just for myself in that exact moment. Later I will study websites and photos of story boards to add to my own story. Sometimes, though, I might have spent more time at a place and explored further had I known some other facts. This was true about this place.

The Chain of Rocks Bridge and the subsequent research have my mind spinning. I spent hours yesterday viewing various websites. The websites are separate (bridge, history of the area, constructing the canal, Route 66, and other people’s accounts of visiting) and there are lapses in tying it all together. How can I write just about the bridge when there is so much more to it?

Oh, I know, I could, but I don’t want to. I am extremely fascinated by this. It could almost be its own chapter (sub-chapter). I may have to divide Day 6 into sections because there’s too much to write about for one chapter. Plus, I took soooo many pictures and I want to include a lot.

And if any of you have ever been here, please share your story.


Just wait until you read the whole story.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Driving to Wichita – Day 5

Day 5, Sunday
Comfort Inn, Greenfield, Ind.

An enjoyable, less stressful day

I am on the road by 9:15 a.m. after editing one article and doing the regular morning routine. Patches of blue are peeking between feather-whisps of a mostly overcast sky. I make a quick stop at a Circle K for gas and am quickly on the interstate. Surprisingly, getting through Indianapolis isn’t too bad, not scary like the other big cities. I pass the stadium where the Indianapolis Colts play.

Traffic eases outside of the city. The driving isn’t bad except for the tedium and road conditions. The road surfaces are beat up like the hotel I spent last night in. Thump, thump, thump; whine, crunch, rumble, bloops – it can almost lull me to sleep until I hit a bigger bump. I amuse myself by trying to put words to the various noises. Often there isn’t anything that can describe the sounds.

Peaceful driving in Illinois
I cross into Illinois at 11 a.m. Illinois has a more peaceful feel, but there’s not much to see. Coming into Casey at Exit 129, there’s a sign announcing the World’s Largest Wind Chime. I don’t usually go in for these kinds of attractions, but I need a break, and I like wind chimes.

I drive into a quaint little town that is reminiscent of an old west town seen on movies. It’s Sunday and no one is around. A sign points left and I make the turn and up ahead is the end of the downtown area. My eye is immediately caught by a tall rocking chair on the left and I pull into a parking space in front of a shop/café. The wind chime is in a manicured area next to the shop.

The car temperature is 84 degrees. I open the car door and, oof, the humidity slams me in the face. Nearby is a sign that offers free trolley tours on Saturday. Too bad it’s a Sunday. I’m a day late. I grab the camera and start taking pictures then I cross the street for a closer view of the chair.

World's Largest Rocking Chair
(I read later online that this is also advertised as the largest chair in all of America at 56.5 feet and weighs 46,200 pounds! I see also there is a “battle” for world’s largest chairs with a map and info to visit other places in the U.S Casey, Ill., is home to eight Guinness World Records for largest things and touts itself as “A small town with a big heart.”) To see more about big things in Casey, visit: www.bigthingssmalltown.com

My eyes are not only raised to the beauty of the humongous chair, I’m also taken with the garden area around the chair. I like how they’ve used small, smooth, rounded stones around all the plants. This gives me an idea for my own garden back home.


World's Largest Wind Chime
I go back across the street and explore the area around the wind chime. This, too, is 56 feet tall and the longest chime is 42 feet. Unfortunately, the café and gift shop are not open. I’m left to mosey around on my own. There is a pull cord at the wind chime to allow visitors to hear its sound. It doesn’t allow a big pull, just enough to get the deep, mellow resonance of the chimes. Nice!

There’s not much else to do with the stores closed. I head back to the interstate stopping long enough to photograph the big yardstick near the center of town. Half an hour of tedious driving later, I see a sign for a Ponderosa restaurant in Vandalia, Ill., and stop for a delicious steak lunch with salad bar. I seldom eat steak, but when I’m traveling, I crave it. I am very happy with the meal. I’m not brave when it comes to trying different foods. I prefer the familiar when I’m in unfamiliar places.


It's a big yardstick
I’m back on the interstate for a short time when I see a Comfort Inn sign at Exit 45. It’s about another hour to St. Louis, Mo. My goal is to do the Chain of Rocks Bridge from the Illinois side. I don’t need to be in Kansas City, Mo., until Thursday, so I have plenty of time. This might be a good quitting time for today. Tomorrow morning should be cooler and a better time for walking the bridge. If I stop now, I can chill out and take a break from driving. I’ve been really pushing myself the past few days to get west.

There’s an old farm on the opposite side of the highway with farm equipment on display. Have I said how I like farms? I turn onto the ramp and feel I’m in the middle of nowhere. The Comfort Inn is the opposite direction from the gas station and busy section. Just the way I like it. Across from the hotel is a sign about the American Farm Heritage Museum which must be that farm I saw from the interstate. As it’s early, I think about going there, but it’s so hot out. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. I pull up to the hotel.

The desk clerk says check-in isn’t until 3 p.m. and because this is a college town, they were full last night and the rooms are still being cleaned. (College town? Where? There’s nothing here – unless it’s about agriculture.) I ask about the Chain of Rocks Bridge, but she doesn’t know anything about it. She disappears to ask others. They don’t know, either. However, she does find out Room 314 is clean and available.

I thank her (and the others she spoke with about getting me in) for their effort and load my luggage onto a trolley and push it to the elevator and make my way down the hall. I fumble the door open and I’m surprised. This is a room I expect from Comfort Inn! It’s not elegant or fancy, not new or perfect, but it’s good, clean, and under $100.

I settle in, check messages, and decide to go for a swim. If I sit too long, I won’t go. The pool is similar in size and shape as last night’s pool, but it’s much cleaner and better maintained. The handrail extends to the bottom step. I totally enjoy the 15 minutes in the water swimming back and forth and doing other water exercises.

Refreshed, I return to the room, change into a lounging gown, and rearrange a few things before settling in the easy chair by the window. I put my feet up intending to read my book. It feels so good to relax and not feel pressured to do anything. The view out the window is of a farm with barn, pastures, fences, green vegetation. I love that -- no concrete, no highway, nor businesses in sight. And it’s quiet! I don’t do much reading and end up cat-napping. Purr-fect!

Later I post a few photos and one to the Photo-a-Day Facebook page. I watch a little TV bouncing between Food Network, HGTV, and the Travel Channel. I scour the atlas during commercials trying to find a different way home. There isn’t an easier way.

I crawl into the comfy bed at 9 p.m.

End of day overview: 
Average weather: hot and humid, gorgeous clouds; 79/93 degrees
Places visited:  World’s Largest in Casey, Ill.;  Rating: 4
Miles driven today: 227
Trip total: 1,153 miles
Hours driven: 3 ½ 
Hotel:  Comfort Inn, Greenville, Ill., Room 314;  Rating: 4
Meal: Ponderosa, Vandalia, Ill.;  Rating: 4

Expenses:
Gas cost: $11.99    Meals: $23.19    Hotel: $92.59   









Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Driving to Wichita - Day 4

Day 4, Saturday
Comfort Inn Polaris, Columbus, Ohio

Some days the driving is not fun.

Breakfast is lost on me. It usually comes with the price of the room, but there is seldom anything that catches my fancy. I’m not usually hungry in the morning however I grab a biscuit with gravy and eat half.

Back in the room, I check messages again before doing the newspaper editing. One thing that keeps bringing my spirits down is the water ban issue back home. It seems every day the commissioners are threatening to fine anyone caught using an outside hose. There are constant leaks because of the old system of pipes and with the horrible drought this year, water levels are critical. I’ve got to stop reading that site for my own sanity, but I like to keep track of what’s going on.

I check out of the hotel before 10:30 a.m. The desk clerk says to take I-270W to avoid going into downtown Columbus. I fill the gas tank and a few minutes later, take the ramp off I-71S to I-270W… and I hate it! The traffic is heavy and I can’t see anything! There is a lot of construction, and to make matters worse, it rains – hard. Vehicles don’t slow and I feel like the walls of the concrete over passes and the surrounding construction zones and traffic are closing in on me. Tears don’t help the visibility, either. 

I want to go home! Can I possibly find another way home? Can I get a fine even if it’s raining and there are no workers about? And this is the better way through Columbus? I feel claustrophobic in cities. My mind wails and babbles. Stop it! I have to get hold of myself. Breathe!

I reach I-70W and once away from the city and out of construction areas, traffic spreads out, the land flattens, speed limit rises to 70 mph, the rain stops, and I breathe easier. I can see fields and farms and when I cross into Indiana at 12:20, it’s even better. However, the bridges, as in Ohio, have cement sides that I can’t see over. It would be nice to see water.

Leaving Ohio
The first rest stop comes 15 minutes from the border. I pull in. Hopefully, there will be someone to answer my questions. Indianapolis is getting closer. Uh, oh, another city; do I stay on I-70W or take I-465 which, on the map, looks like it goes around? 

This is another unmanned facility and before getting back in the car, I take a few photos of the ominous, black sky. Hadn’t someone at the last hotel mention tornado? 

A few moments later, the sky fell to earth
A few minutes later, I run into heavy rain again and it is the weirdest rainstorm ever. The landscape across the fields and ahead looks gray like fog, but it isn’t fog or mist. It looks like the sky is actually falling to the earth! 

And it rains so hard, and traffic doesn’t slow down in the least. How can anyone see? I’m scared witless, position myself behind a big rig, and focus on his tail lights. Oh, my, gosh, do I dare drive through Indianapolis in this? Can I take another city in the rain and poor visibility? I am brave! I can do this!

But I see a Comfort Inn sign in Greenfield and decide to call it an early night. It’s only 1:30 p.m. I need to work anyway as Saturday is the busiest work day. This hotel is easy to find right off the interstate, but the front entrance is small and I feel I’m entering the back door. It’s not very inviting. There’s a pool right off the lobby. A swim after lunch will be just fine.

The clerk says check-in isn’t until 3 p.m., but finds a room available -- Room 307. She says the time change to Central time is the Illinois border and to stay on I-70 through Indianapolis. It’s a struggle to get the luggage trolley into the narrow elevator. I push open the door to the room. Ewww, what’s that smell? It’s like dirty socks and reminds me of the hotel in Syracuse, and again I think it must be some kind of cleanser they use. It’s not a clean smell, for sure.

I return the luggage trolley to the lobby and see a Cracker Barrel across the parking lot. It doesn’t take me long to remember why I do not like these places. It’s 2 p.m. and the place is practically empty. The hostess sits me next to a large group of loud-talking people (which I don’t mind them having a good time, but with plenty of tables available, it would have been nice for a quieter place.) And the meal… bland, making me determined to never eat at another Cracker Barrel again.

Back at the hotel, I don my swimsuit and head down to the pool. It looks just OK at first, not very inviting, though. I go to get in. The handrail only goes down the first two steps. I have to let go to make it down the other three. That’s a safety issue, for sure. There looks to be pine needles around the floor of the pool which is weird as this is inside. 

I swim to the deep end and begin my usual swim exercises, but soon my attention wanders. This room is in bad shape and not well maintained. There’s no clock, the walls all have deep scratches and dirt smudges. The floor is painted an ugly, milk chocolate and looks like…. Well, I won’t say what it looks like. The more I look around and notice, the more my stomach churns. I can’t take anymore and make my way to the shallow end.

I struggle up the three steps to where I can reach the hand rail. I don’t want to touch it now that I can see it from the underside. It’s filthy and rusty. Gross! Gross! Gross! I hurry back to my room trying not to drip, but I don’t want to spend another minute in that pool area.

I set up my laptop and can’t get internet service after going through all the directions she had given. I try to call the front desk, but the phone won’t work. I get dressed and go back to the lobby yet again. She says there’s problems with the internet and will come up with me. She gets off at floor 2 because she has to go reset the internet then will come to my room.

She can’t get the phone to work either and after returning with new cables, she finally brings back a different phone. 

I settle down to check messages and finish the work for the week. I post on Facebook about the crappy hotel rooms. Friends suggest swappig to Hampton Inns. But I’m a Choice Hotel member and I loved the Comfort Inns when I journeyed south. I write in my journal while watching TV.

End of day overview: 
Average weather: rainy, humid, 82-73 degrees 
Miles driven today: 168
Trip total: 926 miles
Hours driven: 3
Hotel: Comfort Inn IN086, Greenfield, Ind; Room: 307; Rating: 2
Meal: Cracker Barrel; Rating: 2

Expenses:
Gas: $22.98  Meals: $26.65  Hotel: $106.39   


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Traveling to Wichita Day 3

Day 3, Friday
Comfort Inn, Painesville, Ohio

I’m up by 5 a.m. The work table is small and not comfortable for anyone with a laptop, journal, and logbook. I skip the journal and write up the first two traveling days for the blog, however, I can’t access “new post” on my blog site. I waste time flubbing around with it and finally give up. I fill out Trip Advisor reviews for the Erie Canal Tours and the Comfort Inn in Syracuse before packing everything up for the day’s journey.

I ask the lady at the counter about area attractions saying I don’t want to go to downtown Cleveland and I want some place quiet. She suggests Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio, half an hour from the hotel. 

At 9:25 a.m. the temperature is already 81 degrees under sunny skies. I’d like to drive for awhile before taking a break, but when I reach the exit and see the Holden Arboretum sign I decide to take the woman’s suggestion.

I drive and drive feeling like I’m veering too far from the interstate and getting into the middle of nowhere. Three times I almost turn around, but something compels me to keep going and I finally see the entrance sign. (It really is only half an hour from the hotel; it just feels like a long time.) There’s an overall peacefulness about the entire area that permeates my soul the minute I pull off the road. I need this after yesterday’s stressful interstate driving. 

The actual visitor’s center building is farther along. I buy a general admission ticket at a little ticket booth for $10 and for another $4, one for a canopy walk which also covers the 219-step tower. I’m not sure I can handle climbing 219 steps, but a canopy walk sounds very interesting. The young woman says the canopy walk is about a 15-minute hike. 

I find a parking space and a short walk takes me to the visitor’s center. The middle section of the inside is open and cavernous. They offer many educational and research programs here.

Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, Ohio

The Holden Arboretum property covers 3,600 acres with over 20 miles of hiking trails and cultivated gardens, and is considered the largest arboreta in the U.S. The Audubon Society has named it an important bird area. There are more than 120,000 plants documented with themed displays, recommended-for-the-region sustainable plants, gardens, and conservation areas.
They also offer hour-long tram guided tours along with dozens of educational programs and events. Visit www.holdenarb.org for more information. 


One of the trails heading off past the garden
I approach the information area and explain my walking issues to the woman behind the desk. She says she will give me a special pass so I can park closer to the canopy walk. I see a garden out the huge back windows and decide to check that out first.

This is the Holden Butterfly Garden and the view outside the door is more spectacular than what can be seen from inside. I step out onto a terraced deck and immediately begin taking pictures. This is absolutely gorgeous! There are flowers, shrubs and lily ponds, with water tumbling over rocks to the pond on one side of the bridge and a fountain shooting water into the air on the other. The layered terrace leads down to a brick path which slopes down to a pond and over a bridge. Many flowers and shrubs, so many I can’t name, are in bloom on both sides of the trail. The colors are amazing. I would love to have these in my garden back home. I meander across the bridge and onto a grassy rise and paths amid flower gardens with fields beyond. 

I could stay here all day



Across the bridge is there is choice in direction
The colors, textures, and patterns are incredible. The trail continues across a field, but I turn back and loop around to make my way along the grassy path that meanders the far side of the pond. Benches are strategically placed to allow one to sit and contemplate. The chirp of birds and the trickling water sounds are soothing to the soul. Oh, yes, I need this after the busyness of the last couple of days. I take my time even though the sun is starting to get to me.




What colors!

I wander around, up a slope and down and cross another bridge circling back to the building. I sit under a pergola in the shade with the visitor’s center at my back, get out notebook and pen, and look across the pond. I want to write a poem, but my mind is so boggled by the beauty, no words come. I could just sit here all day.
A perfect spot to rest out of the hot sun

What a view from the resting spot

Pink water lilies started popping up
Wait! Where did that pink water lily come from? I didn’t see it before. There’s another over on that side, then another. It’s like they are popping-up right before my eyes only I don’t actually see it happen. The blossom is suddenly just there. Oh, of course, there has to be pictures. I jump up to get various angles of the blooms.








And white ones on the water fountain side

But the sun is brutal and the humidity is getting to me. It’s affecting my breathing. I feel woozy and sick. Uh oh, I am not going to be able to do the canopy walk in this heat. I explain my dilemma inside and the lady returns my $4. Darn, I would have enjoyed the canopy walk.

I leave the parking area feeling a little downhearted that I can’t do the walking I used to do. I would make the attempt, but the heat would do me in. I love this place; these types of places. I hope I can find more places like this. I stop for photos in a couple of places on the way back to the main road. 

I’m back on I-90W by 11:15 a.m. and soon take I-271S which by-passes Cleveland. Oh no. There’s a division – I-271S Expressway and I-271S Local Traffic. What does that mean? Does it require a special pass? I take my chance and stay to the left on the expressway. Even though an expressway, it doesn’t mean it’s easier getting through the outskirts of Cleveland, though. There’s a lot of traffic and the speed limit drops from 70 miles per hour to 60 and is 50 through construction areas (of which there is a lot and few pay heed). It’s funny how a drop in speed limit feels so much slower. This is steering wheel clenching and stressful. My back aches and my head pounds. 

Interstate 271S goes on and on and there’s nothing spectacular to look at and ends up being another day of boring driving. I reach I-71S and it’s not much better. I get a glimpse of a farm every once in awhile. What’s really disappointing is that bridges all have concrete walls on both sides that I can’t see over so there aren’t any river or water views. I suppose it’s good to focus on the traffic and road.
There are various signs before exits: area attractions, lodgings, food places, and the last is places to get gas. I reach the outskirts of Columbus, see a Comfort Inn sign and pull off the interstate. I want to call it an early day because I need to work. However, once off the highway, I have no idea which way to go as there are no more signs. I can see signs above a Hilton, a Residence, and a couple of other hotels from the traffic light, but no Comfort Inn sign. I turn right and drive for a bit then make a turn to try to get back figuring the hotel should be near the interstate. I take another road and then double back again. These are all multi-lane roads with lots of traffic. 

Polaris signs are everywhere and this entire section of Columbus seems to be full of huge shopping malls, all named Polaris. I am totally lost and confused. Did some developer buy up all this land and name everything after himself? 

About Polaris

According to Wikipedia, Polaris Fashion Place, owned by WP Glimcher, encompasses a 1,200 acre retail plaza, outdoor promenade, restaurants, and two-level shopping mall featuring eight major anchor stores and more. There are also over 100 other commercial and residential developments in this area. 

I finally stop at the Residence Inn for directions (Comfort Inn isn’t far) and shortly I’m checked into the hotel. The good-sized room is on the first floor with a king-sized bed; a nicer room than the previous two, but not great. I would love to take the time to go for a swim in the indoor pool. I have too much work, though. (I always panic that I won’t get it done in time, but I manage to do so.) Life is good.

But what is that loud music playing? At first I think it’s from the next room. It’s not, it’s coming from outside somewhere. It’s that level of noise where I can hear the bass and thumping, but not quite loud enough to hear what the songs are.

I set up the laptop and call Papa John’s for delivery then check messages. Awww, my kitty, Pele, sent me an email (helped by my good friend Nan McCarthy, Pele’s Auntie Nan, who is taking care of my baby puss while I’m gone). How touching. I miss my fur-baby so much! My eyes leak. How precious is this: 

Hi Mom,
Auntie nan came over yesterday morning for a visit. She brushed me, checked that I had plenty of food, and cleaned out my litter box. Then we had some tummy rubs and sat and watched the birdies out the slider. They looked confused, because there was no food. Auntie said Leo greeted her when she arrived and helped her check the plants, which all looked fine. I ate some of the wet food while she was there. Auntie was wondering what you mix with what for the wet food. I told her she should go get the stuff I like, but she said she didn’t know what brand it was. I’m going to work on that ....
Miss you,
Love,
Pele

Leo is the neighbor's cat who keeps me company when I'm gardening.
Unfortunately I’d run out of Pele's favorite food before leaving home and although I’d gone to three different stores, none had it. (I can’t always find it.) I settled for a couple other different kinds. 

I chow down a couple slices of Papa John’s pizza while I work on the newspaper. We are shooting for a 20-page edition this week as compared to the regular 24. This will be a little easier on me, too. I put together the docket, community calendar, and edit the editorials in the folder for this week.

I next import 63 photos taken during the day, edit four, and post one of the pink water lilies to the Photo-a-Day challenge. 

By this time I’m totally brain dead. I move some things around for the night and settle to watch a little TV before bed. I write in the journal during commercials. The outside music stops about 8 p.m. and I crawl between the clean white sheets of the bed at 9.

End of day overview: 
Average weather: sunny, humid, 81-88 degrees
Places visited: Holden Arboretum          Rating: 5
Miles driven today: 173
Trip total: 758 miles
Hours driven: 4
Hotel:  Comfort Inn Polaris, Columbus Ohio    Rating: 3
Meal: Papa John’s     Rating: 3

Expenses:
Site fee: $10    Meals: $21.99     Hotel: $103   


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Day 2, Thursday

Comfort Inn, Buckley St., Syracuse, NY

It’s a restless night; not that anything is particularly wrong, the bed is comfy ‘n’ all, just after the first two hours I cannot get back to sleep. My mind keeps “writing” all night. I finally give up trying to sleep, crawl out of bed at 3:45 a.m., and make coffee; it’s not good, but not bad. I settle at the computer, and now that I’m ready to write, the words are spent. I struggle with the writing between the journal and the blog and in the end, the blog isn’t done and I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time.

The invoice for the night’s stay is slid under the door. Yikes! This is the most expensive place I’ve ever stayed and as rundown as the place is, it’s certainly not worth the $204. I don’t even want to think about what the holiday weekend price would be. I check Google Maps and find it’s five hours to I-271 which will take me south from I-90. I’m ready to move on from this disappointing place. 

I comment on the price on checking out, and the very nice clerk behind the desk says it’s because today is the start of the New York State Fair and it’s also freshmen orientation at Syracuse University. She said the hotels jack the price. I walk out of a building disappointed, but get a chuckle when I see two guys smoking in front of a No Smoking sign.

In spite of getting up early, I’m not on the road until 8:55 a.m. It’s raining and 75 degrees. I pray this storm makes it to New Hampshire. I’m still upset by the exorbitant hotel costs. It’s not fair when I’m just passing through and I’m not here for the local events. I follow the woman’s directions to get back to the thruway, get the toll ticket and head west. 

What amaze me are the huge billboards along the thruway that are on the farther side of fields. How is that safe driving trying to read those? One catches my eye about the Niagara Falls Museum. From what I can see, it sounds like it’s right on I-90. That would be cool. Maybe I will go to the falls in spite of saying earlier I wouldn’t.

I reach Buffalo, see a sign that says I-290 Niagara Falls, and choose to stay on I-90 looking for that Niagara Falls Museum. All my attention focuses on the driving. Driving through the city of Buffalo is horrendous with the rain, heavy traffic, and construction areas. It’s a nightmare with on and off ramps, over and under, bridges, buildings, etc., and then there is the toll in Buffalo. It cost me $6.50 to get from Syracuse to this point. No, the attendant tells me, this is not the end of the thruway. 

I pass the Exit for I-90 which also loops around Buffalo to Niagara Falls, but I want out of New York. A mile or so down the road is another ticket booth and farther along at the last toll booth it cost another $3.15. The entire thruway system from Albany to past Buffalo cost $16.05 (counting the two times I got off). Oh, I so want to find another way home, but to do so would mean I wouldn’t do Niagara Falls. I’m not sure I want to go there anyway.

Today turns out to be a day of long, boring driving with not much to look at. I did see a few barns and silos that catch my fancy and I even get a photo of one. I cross into Pennsylvania at 12:10 p.m. and stop for lunch an hour later. Golden Corral offers a huge buffet with many choices. It’s not spectacular food, but you can fill up for a reasonable price.

On the Interstate

Tires hum
Making different sounds
Along various sections
Of the interstate

Thumps and bumps
drones and whines
Zzzzzzzoops and clacks
all at 55 to 70 mph

Cement, tar, grooved areas
old broken segments
the noises and the jarring
keep me from dozing

Flashes of green
glimpses of vegetation
eyes need to stay
on vehicles and traffic patterns

On and on
hour after hour
passing some
others passing me

I wiggle in my seat
when legs and butt go numb
shake arms and hands
when back and shoulders ache

Anything to get
another half hour 
putting home
so very far away.
--Sasha Wolfe

Another of those farms I love.
One highlight of the day is that both Pennsylvania and Ohio have real visitors’ centers. I pick up maps and brochures. I consider doing a 13-mile drive around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa., as the lady at the visitor center suggested, but I stay on I-90W. I want to get as far west as possible before turning south.

I end up at a Comfort Inn in Painesville, Ohio, east of Cleveland for the night. The clerks are awesome and offer to help with my luggage, but I turn them down and get everything to my room. This room is small with two queen beds. Fine for a single person, but it would be tight with two people. I unload my gear and return the luggage trolley to the lobby. I change into a bathing suit back in my room and head to the indoor pool. Oh, that feels so good after the 90 degree heat outside. I spend 15 minutes constantly moving and return to my room a little after 4 p.m. I change into a lounging gown and settle in to check messages and work.

End of day overview: 
Hotel:  Comfort Inn, Painesville, Ohio     Rating: 4
Meal:  Golden Corral    Rating: 4
Average weather: 75/90 degrees
Miles driven today: 310
Trip total: 585
Hours driven: 5 ½ 

Expenses:
Gas cost: $20.66   Tolls: $9.65   Meals: $10.90   Hotel: $117.52