February 22-24: The trip home
Here are pictures from the trip home after our visit with Leslie's family in Georgia this February!
We start the long trip home toward the end of the Monday rush hour. Approaching Georgia 138 in Conyers, traffic is not bad yet, but it will pick up some before we get to downtown Atlanta.
Traffic is heavier now as we approach the Interstate 285 bypass around Atlanta. While bypasses can sometimes serve as a less congested alternative, I-285 is the opposite, as it is continually busy with people going between the suburbs, and it also carries considerable traffic to or from Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. We are better off in our case taking the direct shot along I-20 westbound through the heart of Atlanta.
Having two of us in the car, not counting the cats, allowed us to use the HOV lane designated on the far left edge of I-20 and bypass the more congested right lanes. Approaching the major I-75/I-85 intersection in downtown Atlanta, though, the HOV designation will end, and we will merge back into the general flow of traffic. This would have been heavier even an hour earlier, and on top of it this morning had some showers and thunderstorms pass through which slowed things down more. Instead, we had a pretty easy time of Atlanta's traffic compared to how bad I've heard it can be.
Now well past the build-up of the Atlanta area, we are in far western Georgia not far from the Alabama state line. From here to Birmingham I-20 follows a generally wooded, scenic route.
The Alabama state line. It really was a beautiful state, and I had been looking forward to seeing it for a long time.
My supervisor works out of her home and, until last year, lived in Riverside, Alabama before moving to another town not far from Birmingham. This exit coming up was very familiar to her over the years. While it didn't work out for us to meet up on this trip, I enjoyed seeing the area.
A scenic view along the long downgrade west of Pell City
A view of the downtown Birmingham skyline as we approach the junction with I-65. We will follow I-65 north for the rest of the day to our overnight's stop in the Nashville area.
This is typical of the scenery north of Birmingham along I-65
I-565 splits off to serve the city of Huntsville, so we did not go through it directly.
This rocket is on display at the Alabama Welcome Center on southbound I-65 just south of the Tennessee state line. The aerospace industry is the major industry in nearby Huntsville.
The Tennessee state line. Leslie informed Baby and Gimli that we were now out of the deep South. The area including Nashville and Memphis is often referred to as the "Mid-South" locally.
This chicken can be found outside the gas station at I-65 Exit 6 in Elkton, Tennessee
Approaching I-65 mile marker 26 in Tennessee, the landscape has once again assumed a more rolling character that will be found throughout most of the rest of our trip through Tennessee.
Approaching our stop for the night in Brentwood, Tennessee. Brentwood has the distinction of having the highest per-capita income of any city in Tennessee, and perhaps not coincidentally, was our most expensive night's motel stay. But it was the least expensive place in the area that took pets and was a very nice stop for the night.
Leslie in our motel room in Brentwood, Tennessee
Leslie soon after took the camera and got this picture of me
We left the motel at 8:01 a.m. on the longest of the three day's drives back home. As such, we soon hit slow moving, nearly bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic on its way into Nashville.
Brake lights go on again as we reach the split for eastbound I-40. But the downtown Nashville skyline isn't far ahead, and with it, a noticeable drop in traffic will come.
Despite westbound I-40 having joined the flow, the traffic actually lightens up some, and we pick up speed.
Traffic the other way is now heavier as we approach the next major split. We will stay on I-65 for a little while longer but we see our first sign for westbound I-24, which we will take from Nashville all the way to its western end in Illinois.
Now on I-24, we leave the Nashville area behind
With only two more exits left in Tennessee, we will get off here to fill up with gas. Interestingly, US-79 starts not far from here on its northeast end and runs more or less southwest for hundreds of miles into the heart of Texas; stay on it long enough and you end up 33 miles away from my uncle's place in Somerville, Texas.
Not far from the Kentucky state line. The car two cars ahead of us is a late '60s Dodge Dart that probably plied this highway when both the car and the highway were new.
The relatively sparse landscape of western Kentucky
We pass this rail yard in Paducah, Kentucky
Approaching the bridge over the Ohio River
The Illinois state line once we reach the opposite shore of the Ohio River
Approaching Metropolis, Illinois
Unlike much of the northern part of the state, extreme southern Illinois is somewhat hilly and is very scenic. Going by driving distance, Illinois stretches 438 miles from its southernmost point to the Wisconsin state line. We entered the state a little bit north of the southernmost entry point, and we will drive to within 75 miles or so of the Wisconsin state line before the day is out...a day that will turn even longer than we thought. Keep reading on to find out why.
The end of I-24 as it merges into I-57 near Marion, Illinois
Now northbound on I-57. We won't be going all the way to Chicago.
Here we are approaching Benton, Illinois, a place Leslie would just as soon forget. It was in Benton, at this exit, on Leslie's trip moving up here in 2006 that the transmission in her car went out, and she ended up having to spend the night and buy a different vehicle that would take her, Baby, Gimli, and everything she had with her the rest of the way to Duluth. This time, though, we just stopped here for lunch. There is one more town in Illinois Leslie would rather forget...more on that a little later.
Jody had taken part of I-57 in Illinois before--in 1997 on a trip to Texas (via an overnight stop in Memphis) he took the stretch of I-57 from this exit here in Salem, Illinois down to the southern tip of the state in Cairo. Beyond this point was new territory for him.
Approaching I-70 near Effingham, Illinois, the traffic will pick up again for a little bit
Just north of Effingham and the short run with I-70. Notice there is no snow visible here, though we had started seeing the first little piles of it in shaded areas about 30 miles back.
Near Neoga, Illinois, you can tell we are getting back into the heart of corn country.
We will leave the Interstates behind for a while as we will get off I-57 in Mattoon, Illinois. US-45, incidentally, runs somewhat parallel to I-57 for a good portion of its length in Illinois, as evidenced by the number of times it has crossed I-57 just in this picture set. Notice that there is now noticeable snow cover in places along the roadside.
The heart of Mattoon, Illinois. We will follow Illinois 121 as a short-cut between here and Decatur before heading north to Bloomington-Normal.
Headed northwest along Illinois 121 between Mattoon and Sullivan.
Entering Decatur and about to turn onto US-36
Headed north on US-51 toward Bloomington, we pass this grain elevator in Maroa, Illinois. Billboards for radio stations in the area advertise the fact that they carry "ag" (agricultural) news updates and commodity prices.
Just north of Heyworth, Illinois, we see our first mention of Rockford on a sign on the northbound trip. We have come a long way in Illinois today.
We are now getting back to the portion of the route that we will duplicate. Over a week ago we followed I-74 east from this junction up ahead. Now we will more or less retrace our route, except for some local travel for our various stops.
Having taken Veterans Parkway again and made stops for Krispy Kreme doughnuts for Leslie and some gas in Bloomington, we get back on the short section of I-55 before turning north again onto I-39.
This unusual sign is found at the beginning of I-39, naming the area we are now leaving behind (may be the only sign that indicates where you've been) and has the more generic "Wisconsin" as the ending destination. I-39 extends well into central Wisconsin and ends north of Wausau.
Leslie captures a pretty shot of the sunset as we start up I-39.
Our night's stop will be in Peru, Illinois. Jody stayed there before in 2000, and it should only take us about 50 minutes to get there from here...on a normal trip. We aren't going to make it "on time".
The time stamp on Leslie's camera indicated the following picture was taken at 6:28 p.m.
We are approaching the bridge over the Illinois River in La Salle, Illinois. We were already in trouble at this point and didn't realize it yet. Notice that the picture indicates some motion with the lights...that is not entirely due to the shutter speed. At this point we were feeling a little vibration and had some noise that I thought was from the loud truck behind us. The truck passed and the noise died down a little...but once we got over the bridge it was louder than before. Something was not right. As we cleared the bridge and started the long shallow incline out of the river valley, the vibration increased. I commented that I thought something wasn't right...then noticed in the rear view mirror...SMOKE. Something was definitely not right with the car as by that point the speedometer had dropped to 60 and it was getting noticeably harder to drive. We were only four miles from the motel where we were going to spend the night...we wanted to make it...but couldn't. I pulled over to the side of I-39 about a quarter mile shy of the I-80 junction and got out of the car...I quickly discovered what happened. We had a blowout on the left rear tire which was now in shreds with the unusable ruin of it left on the rim.
It was now 6:34 p.m. as I pulled out my cell phone to call AAA and get assistance. We signed up for AAA at Leslie's suggestion when a mailer from them arrived last September. We thought we'd use it to get hotel discounts, but it came into good use on this night. With the trunk packed full of stuff, two of us, the two cats, a busy Interstate, an air temp of around 20, nightfall, and me not being very mechanically inclined, it was a no-brainer. In case you don't have the service or never used it, once I described the problem and my location they quickly located a wrecker service, suggested a place for tire repair, and advised of other services if I needed them. As soon as I got off with AAA my cell rang, and it was East Side Service of Hennepin, Illinois on the line to let me know he was on the way. About 25 minutes later he arrived, and it wasn't long until the temporary spare was on and we made it to Peru for our motel. We were thankful that we had signed up for AAA last fall and needless to say will be renewing when it comes up again. If you'd like the added peace of mind they offer, their many travel benefits, or even just the eligibility for discounts, we recommend it. We also recommend East Side Service of Hennepin, Illinois for their outstanding service and Jon at the Sears Auto Center in Peru the next morning for getting us in right away to get the tire replaced. In the many years of road trips I've taken this was the first time I have been broken down on the side of the road for something, and everyone along with God's help made it all go as well as it could.
By 9:30 Wednesday morning we had the tire fixed, the car packed, and we were checked out of the motel and ready for the last leg home. Soon we're back on I-39 approaching Mendota, Illinois.
The unremarkable northern Illinois landscape continues as we approach Illinois 64. A friend lived in nearby Sycamore, Illinois for a number of years.
Approaching the Rockford area, directions are plentiful to get us to I-90 and onward to Wisconsin
I-90 has now joined I-39 and US-51 in Rockford
The distinctive water tower in Loves Park, Illinois. Who couldn't love that?
This attractive bridge at the Wisconsin state line was just recently redone by the Wisconsin DOT.
The more common Wisconsin welcome sign, adjacent to the Wisconsin Welcome Center in Beloit.
From the Madison area northwest for a while, Wisconsin Dells becomes the primary destination. It is a popular regional tourist area in the summer and the indoor waterparks keep it busy in the winter.
After I-39 has broken away from I-90 and I-94, Eau Claire makes its first westbound appearance on a sign.
This is one of the older stretches of freeway in Wisconsin, having opened in around 1959 or 1960. Here is a scene from the same area shortly after it opened (courtesy of Flickr):
It's quite a bit busier today
Near Tomah, a Greyhound bus passes. Leslie's first trip to Duluth was via Greyhound with her dad.
We will reach the fork in the road in two miles where I-90 breaks off to the left, and we will follow I-94 to the right. The two Interstates will meet again--at I-94's end in Billings, Montana. In effect I-94 is an alternate I-90 across the northern Plains, routing folks through bigger cities such as Eau Claire, the Twin Cities, and Fargo. I-90, by comparison, tends to go through more smaller cities and bypasses larger metro areas.
One of many scenic views in the area around Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Starting to see signs of home, we approach Eau Claire and the junction with US-53. This is the first mention of Superior if one is headed this way through Wisconsin.
We leave I-94 behind and get on the road that will take us just about all the way home
It is about 3:30 p.m. and afternoon "rush hour" in Eau Claire. Compare this with the Monday morning metro Atlanta scene from the start of the trip. Eau Claire's metro population is maybe 1/50th that of Atlanta.
Though it doesn't have the colored shield, US-53 has been built to Interstate standards and, in the stretch from Eau Claire to Rice Lake, has every bit the look and feel of an Interstate. Here we approach Wisconsin Highway 40 and the town of Bloomer.
Near Chetek, Wisconsin, US-53 has become fairly quiet, and it would be pretty much like this until we get to Superior. It is busier on weekends and especially in the summer as pickups and SUVs with Illinois or Indiana plates pulling boats become a common sight along here, headed for popular fishing destinations big and small such as Hayward, Wisconsin or Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Near Sarona, Wisconsin and close to the northern edge of more widespread corn-growing country where it transitions into thick forest, this view seems to scream Wisconsin...the little farm with a cornfield and probably some cows.
A quiet trip through thicker forest near Minong, Wisconsin
As US-53 approaches its junction with US-2 southeast of Superior, Lake Superior and Minnesota's North Shore are visible in the distance. Home isn't far away.
Along US-2 and US-53 in Superior's East End, the Superior Bank time and temperature sign read a chilly 13 degrees as we passed by folks headed home from work as the sun sets on this late February day and sets on our long road trip.
The end of the road is here. With the car safely in the driveway back at home at 6:19 p.m. on Wednesday, February 24, 3212.2 miles after it left this same point on Monday the week before, along with a new tire and a bout of stomach virus later, feelings are mixed as we get out of the car at home. It is always fun to go on a trip like this, but it is good to get home again too. I think our cats probably agree more with the latter part of that statement, but really they are good travelers and it makes it even more fun when it's the four of us. We'd be remiss if we didn't say that we enjoyed the visit with Leslie's family, and while Leslie loves more of the snow and colder weather it was good for me to get some days with sun and temps in the 60s for a late winter break. While we don't know when our next Georgia trip will be yet, we are looking forward to it. We hope you enjoyed traveling with us through pictures as much as we did sharing them with you!
Jody and Leslie