Crossing Illinois

In Travels With Myself on August 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Illinois is really quite narrow across the top. Even the southeasterly trip from East Dubuque to Chicago is only 177 miles. The trip from the Iowa line to the outskirts of the megacity of Chicago and its exurbs takes less time than the trip from, let’s say, Elgin to the Indiana line. Traffic started to build as soon as I got past Freeport, began to get fairly congested at Rockford, and then gradually became a crawl as I worked my way through Schaumburg and Oak Park and Oak Lawn toward Lake Michigan.
Admittedly, I had chosen to take US 20 and stay off the faster interstates, because I wanted to see some of Chicago and I wanted to avoid the toll roads. I had also seen that US Routes 20 and 12 run very close to the Michigan shore, and I wanted to get a look at the lake, even perhaps picnic there. Unfortunately, 20 winds through the outlying villages and never even comes close to Chicago proper; and I traveled all the way from Oak Lawn to Michigan City, Indiana and never saw even a glimpse of the lake. Between the highway and the lake are railroad tracks, a few small towns and a great many industrial complexes. Eventually, I followed 20 a little further inland and decided to wait for Lake Erie to see if I can get a better view.
I don’t mind city driving; after all the hours I have spent in the last few days zipping past cornfields, at least the scenery was different and I had time to look at it. But even there I was somewhat disappointed. In “Illini” (I assume this would be a correct term for the language of Illinois) the “village” does not indicate a quaint little community with, perhaps, a town square, a church, a general store and a few houses. A “village” is a city of 20,000 or so people, with a decidedly urban feel, but almost entirely low-rise architecture; and bad roads. I encountered more potholes and rough pavement of a more jarring and potentially destructive character than I have encountered thus far in more than 7,000 miles.
There is also a remarkable shortage of easily accessible parks or rest areas along the whole length of US 20 across Illinois. I would have thought that a state that can easily be crossed in a couple of hours by people rushing through between Iowa or Michigan and Indiana would be some interest in giving people reasons to stop; but unless your interests run to the urban, and the popular mythology of Chicago in particular, there seems to be few attractions worth noting. The only sort of interesting bit of tourist appeal for me was the discovery that the city of Galena, where I stayed last night, was the hometown of Ulysses S. Grant. That at least is a useful bit of trivia I now know that I didn’t know before.
Also, in the last few days I have been through three different cities that can’t seem to decide what state they’re in. This seems to be a mid-western phenomenon. I first encountered it with Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas. Now I have been through Sioux City, Nebraska and Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa and Illinois; and Chicago, Illinois and Indiana, which has the additional feature of stretching over into Gary. Oregon has Portland, which melds with Vancouver, Washington, but at least they have separate names. (Though, technically, to be fair, it is East Dubuque and East Chicago.) But nobody in Chicago even saw any reason to post a sign indicating that I had officially entered another state. Such, I suppose is the nature of human-defined boundaries.

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