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A Trek for the Troops: A report on my trip to Riverside Iowa's TREK FEST XXII (Jerome A. Holst © 2006)

"The Journey There"

We started our trip on the morning of Wednesday, June 21st, 2006. Our vehicle: a black 1998 Chevy Prizm (stick shift) that gets over 40 miles to the gallon on the highway. Our provisions: a satchel of clothing for five days and a red and white cooler containing a days worth of iced beverages - ginger ale and diet Doctor Pepper Berries and Cream sodas. Food: We'll pickup along the way.

At 7:00am, I pulled out of the driveway in the Akron, Ohio area. The temperature gauge on my car read 84 degrees Fahrenheit. As the day progressed, the temperatures would climb into the 90s and stay that way for most of the trip.

For entertainment while driving the nearly 1700 miles to and from Iowa) I relied on the radio, but I brought along a few of my favorite cassette (yes, cassettes! I haven't graduated to CDs/DVDs just yet).

My cassettes featured such entertainers as The Pretenders, Garbage, Pink, The Beach Boys, Belinda Carlisle, The Cranberries, Enya, and The Brian Seltzer Orchestra (they do a great swing band version of Route 66) and, of course, a collection of TV show theme songs.
Now how could I even think of hitting the road with out listening to "Green Acres is the place to be" or "It's a story about a man named Brady" or bopping to the cool beat of Lalo Shifrin's "Mission Impossible" or the rugged sounds of the western series RAWHIDE.

Rollin', rollin', rollin'
Though the streams are swollen
Keep them dogies rollin'
Rain and wind and weather
Hell-bent for leather
Wishin' my gal was by my side.
All the things I'm missin',
Good vittles, love, and kissin',
Are waiting at the end of my ride

As for my route, I could have taken highway 80 across the northern stretches of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and finally into Iowa, but I felt the ride would be more enjoyable if I could drive slower and see the sites at a more moderate pace. So over the length of trip, I averaged 55 miles per hour as I cruised the back roads and small towns that paralleled the major interstate highways.

Ohio Farmscape
A farmscape in Ohio

Our first day out, we traveled route 224 which took us through the Ohio towns of Findlay, Ottawa, and Ottoville. As we crossed the Ohio state line, we passed through the Indiana towns of Decatur, and Huntington where 224 ended and I continued west on route 24.

Reaching the far side of Indiana, I decided on a whim to drive south to Vincennes to revisit the hometown of Red Skelton. This was a lucky decision, because, later that day the route I had originally planned using (24) was hit with harsh thunderstorms which caused high water on the highways which blocked access to points west.

Towards evening (about 8:00pm) I stopped to watch a little league baseball game in the town of Bricknell, Indiana. I parked in a field riddled with muddy tire tracks from the previous rain, but the ground was dry and sturdy enough to negotiate my way to the baseball diamond.

I took a few snapshots of the game, and soaked in the ambiance of a quiet summer's night in a quaint Midwest town. As the game proceeded, a crowd of supportive friends and family cheered on the hometown players.

Off to the side of the baseball action, a groups of teenagers standing near a concession stand - selling hotdogs and pop - gazed awkwardly at each other as they performed a flirtatious mating ritual of shy glances and nervous giggles.

After snacking on a few hot dogs, Joe and I drove through what was left of the evening sunset to Vincennes, Indiana where we found room at the inn (Super 8 Motel) and settled in for the night.

Little Leaguers Batter Up!
Little Leaguers Batter Up!

The next morning, after eating a man-sized breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, orange juice, toast and jam, we crossed over the Wabash River into Illinois and worked our way northwest towards Iowa.

Within no time, we came upon a most unusual site - a garage covered entirely with license plates. This multi-colored roadside icon needed exploring, so I made a quick u-turn back to the garage to take a few photographs.

License plate-covered garage

The owner of the garage, Doug Tolen, explained that one day his wife mentioned that the garage needed painting so instead of messing with paint cans and brushes, he decided to start covering the garage with old license plates that he had collected over the years. Some of which he learned were valuable and so he sold them to collectors who had passed his outdoor shrine to automotive metallica.

Doug Tolen with license plate
Doug Tolen, owner of "Caleb's Attic" in Shelbyville, Illinois

During our visit, Doug showed us a 1944 license plate made from resin and vegetable composites. These type of plates were issued during World War II so that the metals normally used for the manufacturing of plates could be allocated to the war effort. Before I left, I retrieved an old license plate that had be languishing in my trunk and donated it to the cause.

A bit further down the road, we came across a field of wheat. For fun, I took a picture of Joe reenacting a scene from the movie Gladiator (2000).

In the film, Russell Crowe plays a weary Roman soldier who daydreams of his farm in Italy by imagining he is walking through his wheat fields and lightly skimming the tops of the wheat stalks with the palm of his hand.

Joe in wheat field
Joe scans the amber waves of grain

Just as I finished taking the snapshot, the owner of the farm (a man named Vandevere) pulled up in his truck and asked if we needed help. He had seen my emergency blinker lights which I engaged when I stopped my car.

As we talked, I learned that he and his brother owned 2000 acres into which they had planted corn. "It's not as big as some of the other outfits around," said the farmer, "but its enough for my brother and I." Their entire crop would be sold to make popcorn.

The farmer, whose hands were covered with dirt and grease from a hard days work in the fields, said his goodbyes with a firm handshake but then apologized for his dirty hand. Quickly, he dashed off to his truck and returned with a paper towel, so I could wipe away the grime. But it was not a problem for me. It was a pleasure to meet a man so dedicated to his craft.

As evening ensued, I was close to the border of Iowa. The sky had turned to layered hues of raspberry, peach and cotton candy blue. Continuing through the darkness, the fields became alive with the sparkle of fireflies.

With a drop in temperature, a foggy mist soon covered the surrounding fields corn. The fireflies within the mist exploded with flecks of amber and gold as if an army of fairies were carrying a thousand little torches to light their way though the dark.

Shortly after midnight, I crossed over the Mississippi River into the town of Muscatine, Iowa where Joe and I spent the night at the Muskie Motel. After watching some TV, Joe decided to sleep inside the drawer of the night stand, covered up snuggly with a white bathroom towel.

Joe sleeps in drawer
Joe bivouacs in a night stand drawer

The next morning, before continuing on our "Trek", we drove through the town of Muscatine to take a closer look at the Mississippi River. The town is believed to be named after a tribe of Native American Indians who once roamed the area.

In the 1880s, Muscatine was a center for pearl button manufacturing (harvested from clam shells found in the river) thus earning the nicknames "The Pearl of the Mississippi" and "The Pearl Button Capital of the World."

Joe surveys the Mississippi river
Joe surveys the Mississippi River

Famous American humorist Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) once visited this river town and wrote in his 1883 memoir Life on the Mississippi that "I remembered Muscatine for its sunsets. I have never seen any on either side of the ocean that equaled them." Based on the sunset we experienced the night before, things haven't changed since Samuel Clemens days. The sunsets are still striking. Now, off to Riverside...

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