I don't often take vacations.
(I know, you think it happens more often than it really does, but it's the truth.)
This Memorial Day weekend, I decided to go visit a relative in Wisconsin. So my choices are to fly or drive or take the ferry. Yes, there IS a ferry across Lake Michigan which makes sense if you're in Michigan and don't want to drive around the lake.
However, the roads from the MOV to Madison all lead through Chicago.
I asked Mapquest what the fastest route was, and boy, I was surprised to learn that it routed me through Columbus to Indianapolis, up to Gary and through Chicago.
Now, you have to understand that I like driving. I enjoy seeing other parts of the country. And I have no fear of driving several hours at a time, provided I have some distraction and entertainment.
By this, I mean either a radio or CD player or, as in past years, a CB radio. For those of you too young to remember the great CB explosion in the 1970s, truckers had them in every cab to talk among themselves before cell phones came into being. And then the general public wanted in on the fad, and everyone had a handle... even my dad! (He drove in a sales capacity across country at times.)
So, I have inherited a CB and I use it to ask questions about road conditions, and what the best route is.
I was told the shortest route was through Chicago and to use the toll way belt-line, I-294. It was under construction, but no one was working this holiday weekend. I went through like a knife through hot butter.
However, the return trip was during the work week, and the traffic slowed to a stop.
Now, a friend had warned me to avoid Chicago at all costs... possibly by driving down state in Illinois and then picking up I-70 across... but I-70 is BORING when it's flat and straight... and high temperatures and humidity means sun glare and flaring temperatures in Chicago.
I chose to retrace my path through Chicago and ran into three separate slowdowns. It ate up at least an hour and extended the ten hours on the road beyond the safe zone for me to be on the road.
So, I pulled over and found a family campground to tent overnight. You may have seen these in the past, KOA or Jellystone park or similar campgrounds for RVs and campers.
I had a pup tent... a small 7 foot tent barely big enough for one man, and not much to recommend it. I even grabbed a pool float mattress and a bedroll, allowing me to sleep in some comfort.
I had forgotten about the birds. They start singing at the first sign of light. LOUDLY.
After laying in bed for about 8 hours, the birds got me up and I struck camp. Back on the road by 7 a.m., I was able to get home in about 3 and a half hours from my campground.
While many people asked me why I didn't stay in Wisconsin longer, the truth is I watch the weather... everywhere I go. And when I heard the local weather people on TV talking about possibly severe storms, I knew it was time to hit the road, if I had any hope of camping overnight when I got tired.
As it turns out, I was right, and led the severe storms across Ohio by only an hour or so... making it all the way home in time to stay dry and turn in for a nap in mid-morning.
It may not have been the best road trip I ever took, but I learned a few things. First, Chicago is too busy to mess with during the work week. Second, there's a new outer belt line, US 355 that might be better. And, third, I'm not as comfortable camping as I was as a kid... and, I'm about 150 pounds heavier.