My Route

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Day 27: Saturday, 28th July. Destination: Watseka Motel, Watseka, Illinois

So here I am in Illinois, home of Barak Obama and title of my current favourite CD, 'Come On Feel The Illinoise' by Sufjan Stevens. I've been anticipating this for some time. Will the inspiration touch me? Will it feel somehow different, more connected to the pulse (or dream) of a Bush-free alternative America? Well, let's see.

These past few days the weather's been overcast and humid. Rain's been lurking on the horizon and caught up with me yesterday afternoon. Probably not the best conditions to enjoy the experience of crossing the farmlands of Indiana. But despite that, people have been very friendly and always willing to start up a conversation. I've cycled past field after field of corn and field after field of soya. I've been chased by more farm dogs than I care to count. One thing's for sure: dogs round here love to bark and chase cyclists. So far, I've survived without any bitten ankles, but those critters sure come at you at one heck of a pace.

I'm currently taking a break from farmland in the Watseka library, Illinois (near Iroquois, just over the state line, and Diversion No.4). No obvious difference between Indiana and Illinois so far - the fields and farmlands continue. The country's basically flat, undulating with gradual ups and downs. The roads criss-cross the land and my route is mostly a series of straight lines punctuated by right-angled corners. Almost all the roads are numbered, so my map directions go something like "twelve miles straight along 900south, turn left, three miles straight along 500west, turn right, ten miles straight along 1125south..." Maybe every 20 miles or so there'll be a gas station where I can fill up on water and cookies.

Getting back to those friendly people I mentioned, at a gas station in Lake City, Ohio, I met a guy who'd lived in Aberdeen in the 1970s while working on the North Sea oil rigs. He had fond memories of cold winters in Scottish B&Bs where the heaters were coin operated. One farmer just outside Hoagland, Indiana (nr. Monroeville) told me that the green, leafy crop I'd been passing for miles was soya. He said corn and soya are nowadays being grown for ethanol, as an alternative to gasoline for cars. Apart from the obvious financial benefits, he reckoned it'd be good for America to be a little less dependant on foreign oil. As we talked, fighter jets thundered overhead from Fort Wayne reserve military base, and the landscape I'd been cycling through took on a larger perspective.

Another farmer, quite an old chap, told me that he'd never left Indiana. I got talking to him at Ma & Pa's Family Diner in Royal Center. His father died when he was 16, and he'd been working on the farm ever since. He reminded me of the actor Walter Brennan:
"I've never met someone from Scotland before. (Pause.) Where did you say you came from?"
I could've stayed drinking coffee with him all day, but those miles won't cycle themselves.