Carefree highway: Day 4

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When you have to stop and ask yourself what day it is, that may be the sign your vacation has taken full hold.

After losing myself Sunday in southwestern Wisconsin, I headed south on Monday. The Mississippi and I spent several hours together.

I didn’t get as far as I wanted, but I got as far as I needed. And I had a great time.

I stopped for the night Sunday in Dubuque, which meant one crossing of the Mississippi. Monday morning, I set my sights for starters on the Iowa side of the Great River Road, and I hadn’t left Dubuque before I saw an eagle.

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The river road – U.S. 52 – affords some great views of the Mississippi. I stopped at Bellevue to take a look at Lock and Dam No. 12. Wish I’d seen a boat going through, but no such luck. My next stop was to Sabula, an old river town with a crossing to Savanna on the Illinois side. I stopped on Driscoll’s Island, a small peninsula where a couple of artists had easels up, a family was picnicking and there were herons flying and pelicans – really – floating along. Then I went on in to Sabula. As you might imagine, everything centers on the river. Homes have balconies or gazebos off the back, and I imagine an evening there can be pretty great.

Highway 52 leads you out of town along a two-lane road with a lovely vista on each side, of backwater full of cattails and water lilies. Around a bend you go and suddenly, you are faced with a terrifying reality: You have to drive across that bridge.

It’s painted a harmless blue, but don’t let the looks fool you. It’s one of those bridges that rises to a peak so boats can go under, and the surface is a metal grid. It’s very narrow – I’m glad no one was coming the other way – and the sound of that metal under my wheels had me petrified. Maybe I’m the only one who hates bridges like that but, because I was alone, I was able to shout at the top of my lungs, “I HATE THIS BRIDGE!” over and over.

I made it, and when I was back on solid ground I pulled over and went back to take a picture. Proof of the demon I had conquered.
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I drove to the riverfront at Savanna and just looked at the water. A freight train rumbled by on tracks that parallel the river. I found myself wondering if the engineer enjoys this trip. The Great River Road up close, so to speak.

I drove in to the Quad Cities and stopped for a late-afternoon lunch with my good friends Gaye Dunn and her husband, Steve Trainor. You may remember Gaye  from her days at the Urbana school district, and Steve from his days on “P.M. Magazine” at WCIA. They have renovated a house in a beautiful neighborhood of Rock Island. We ate and talked and laughed and then it was on to Lagomarcino’s, an ice cream shop in East Davenport,  where the black raspberry is out of this world.

Back on the road, I followed highways in Illinois that are not as close to the river as Highway 52 is on the Iowa side. Now and then, I’d catch a glimpse, and there were a couple of wildlife viewing areas where I pulled over.

I stopped here and there just to take a photo of something, and every time I did, I was glad I’m taking this trip. This is a big part of the joy for me. There are little jokes or surprises that you just don’t see on the Interstates. The same distance takes a good deal longer, but speed has not been the point of these last few days.

I did not know there is a Preemption, Illinois. Or a Tennessee, Illinois. You will find both not too far from the Mississippi. There is a silo painted with a three- or four-story fiddle, next to a music barn that I bet can get hopping on a Saturday evening.

As the afternoon became evening, the sky ahead turned darker. The setting sun on my right went in and out of clouds, emerging now and then in a great show of red that highlighted the edges of the gathering clouds. To my left, a waxing moon appeared above the farm fields. It, too, was headed in to clouds, but I told myself I could risk getting caught in the rainstorm I could see in the distance long enough to take a couple of photos. Before long, the moon disappeared behind clouds, too.

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I drove through some rain, but it was never a downpour and it didn’t last long. I was watching my GPS count down the minutes to my destination, figuring I could drive through a storm if that was all the time I had left in my drive.

Monday night found me in Quincy, with lightning along the Mississippi putting on a good show.

It was the first time that Google Navigation let me down. I knew I was within a block of my hotel, but  Google wanted me to go across the river, make a U-turn and come back to the hotel. Those were the exact directions.

I’d had enough of Mississippi crossings and I wasn’t about to try one in the dark and the rain. I drove one more block and there the hotel was. The desk clerk told me I was not the first person to say that a mapping service had given incorrect information.

I’m settled in now and thinking about what Tuesday will bring.

Should be fun.

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