Part III: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio via Route 50

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Kathy Myers

For the better part of our journey across the United States, Kathy and I have felt that we were being followed. Like the incessant footfalls of an unseen pursuer, the potential for rain and nasty weather has plagued our daily routine. Though drops have not always fallen, the need to keep the raingear handy has loomed all-too-large. But for a day, at least, we seem to have shaken that specter.

The mid-May sun’s warming rays slowly evaporate the dew from the seat of the Victory Cross Country as Kathy and I lug our gear from the Best Western Camelot in Fairview Heights, IL. The big V-twin effortlessly rumbles to life and soon has us again rolling east. The graceful arcs and bends that so recently wound Route 50 through the northern toe of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains have once again succumbed to farmland flat. The occasional cross streets intersect the highway with grid-like precision. Little stands in the way of keeping the asphalt pointed anywhere but straight.

While not especially curvy, this terrain is perfect for agriculture. All around us, farm machines of all description are busy tending the spring planting. In fact, traffic between the furrows seems to outnumber that on the asphalt. Interstate 64 to the south has obviously siphoned off much of the east-west commercial vehicles. On this beautiful morning, we’re happy to leave the billboards to the speed demons and the big rigs. Today, we’re just loping along with the locals.

Through this part of Illinois, we found great enjoyment watching for Old Highway 50. These even more aged sections of the road are obviously part of the route’s original alignment. Street signs indicate where the pavement splits and time slows down even more. Small towns like Iuka and Xenia exude far more charm in person than as exit names out on the bypass. Truly good coffee and pie are much easier to find along Main Street than at the newer road’s compliment of convenience stores.

Having only had a quick taste of the Best Western’s complimentary breakfast, our lunch whistles are ringing early. We resolve to find lunch before tackling Indiana. Not far from the state line, we veer from the stated course toward downtown Olney. A sign above an odd mélange of tool shed-looking buildings indicates that two of the major road-food groups are represented here, the Hog and Dog. Our choice is a good one, as the tender pig is delicious and gives us that needed boost in energy to push on into the Hoosier State.

Highway 50 carries us across the state line, high above the muddy waters of the swirling Wabash River. I tell Kathy that for twenty dollars, I’ll leap from the bridge and show her a Wabash Cannonball. Apparently she’s not impressed with my pun-tastic knowledge of folk music and juvenile, poolside high jinks and refuses. I then offer ten, but by then we’re back on terra firma.

Our eastward trek continues across the gently rolling hills of southern Indiana. The sun, now at our backs, flings our shadow well ahead of us. Many interesting places tempt us with stops, but our planned stop in Cincinnati, OH remains a fair stretch away. Still, the bright hanging baskets and inviting gliders in front of a small Amish grocery store are way too inviting. Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the geraniums.

As we enter the confines of the Hoosier National Forest, I lament having such a tight schedule. I’ve been told there are some truly beautiful rides in this area, but exploration will have to wait for another journey. Vacation days are few, and miles still many. Though the afternoon is waning, I can’t resist a quick loop through Seymour. Singer John Mellencamp grew up here and based a number of his songs on the things he learned and experienced in this Small Town. And while I did keep an eye open for the Tastee Freeze, I doubt Kathy would have been as trusting as Diane was of Jack in the song. There’s no way she would let me be suckin’ on a chili dog while she was sitting on my lap – I have a tendency to wear (and often share) my dog-toppings.

East of Versailles, the road transitions to four-lane and the fun begins fading with the daylight. As the mileage sign numbers for Cincinnati grow smaller, traffic increases. The roadway drops down along the banks of the mighty Ohio River, and soon, the Cincy skyline appears. It’s been a very long day, and honestly, we’re glad to be so close to a hot shower and nice glass of wine.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2011 back issue.