Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hampton Inn & Suites, West Chester, Ohio


South of Cincinnati, we ran into a line of severe thunderstorms, forcing us to take refuge


At Big Top State Park this morning, I crawled out at 7:00 a.m. The landscape quite dewy, but no rain yet. Weather forecasts had us expecting a front coming out of the north and west. We had both rested well. I even had a shower this morning (warm water!)

A ranger showed up at 8:00. I don’t think she really bought our story that we didn’t have change for a $20 bill and thus could not self-register last night. To maintain the façade, I asked if she would accept a check for the $15 fee.

I suggested we follow a scenic route marked in my Michelin Road Atlas. It would take us through Cumberland Gap. I led. At a fuel stop, a local fellow looked at our license plates and remarked "those motorcycles are a long way from home. This is God’s country,” he said.

Approaching the Gap, enormous new buildings seem out of place in this historic and verdant valley. Abraham Lincoln College? Unbelievably, the highway enters a tunnel through Cumberland Gap, which means you see little of the historical landmark.

Past Cumberland Gap, in Middlesboro, Kentucky, Jeff spotted a Sonic Burger. We had agreed he'd have to try one of these ubiquitous restaurants at some point in the ride. But it was 10:30 in the morning! I dragged him away - "let's find something with a little more character." He let me have my way. "You lead then." From the highway, Pineville looked like it should have a colorful downtown cafe. We found the usual McDonald’s and Dairy Queen, and one dingy-looking corner cafe on the courthouse square. I was considering the cafe (which really didn't look promising), but Jeff disapproved.

Parts of this region remind me of a Third World Country. Poverty and ramshackle houses. Trashy landscapes. And pioneers everywhere, each clearing their plot in "God’s Country" as though they were 18th century settlers along a wild frontier. You can have it.

In Corbin, Kentucky, we reached Interstate 75 that would take us north to Cleveland. Imagine our surprise at finding a Cracker Barrel restaurant at the junction. (Ah, back to the 21st century!) I swear it wasn't my idea to stop at a chain restaurant! But we did. The high percentage of obese people inside, especially women, was stunning. "Get me out of here!" (Well, let's first have breakfast.) We've been eating way too much, (and spending too much.)

I remarked to Jeff about the weather coming in from the north, the sky beginning to turn gray.

While we were in the restaurant, a major accident shut down I-75 North. The highway was gridlocked. We found a rural road to follow north, beyond the accident.


***

Jeff was craving a milk shake from Dairy Queen. It nearly got us killed as we were making our way through a congested interchange to the restaurant. Though I shared no interest in anything they have to offer, I accompanied him inside. I was incredulous when he ordered a “large milkshake”! This, along with his 16 oz. steak last night and the big combo breakfast at Cracker Barrel left me with a sense of hopelessness. ("It's all going to hell.")

We sat at an outside table. I couldn't even look at him. ("It is ALL his fault," the voice says.) I complained aloud about our lack of goals, the changing directions, Jeff's lack of interest in doing anything. "We’re just driving, and it’s a huge waste."

Here, at the western-most point of our circuit, I suddenly thought of just turning west. What use is there in riding back to Vermont with him? I was prepared to write this all off as one big mistake.

So I asked him, if I decided to head home, "would you still go to East Aurora?" (to visit cousins Kathy, Becky and Priscilla - the reason for swinging this far west.)

"No."

So, it would be my fault that they don't get to see him. I didn't know what was "right action" at this point.

The atmosphere was growing thick, storm clouds building. We continued north on I-75, and right into a fast-moving storm front sweeping from west to east. We were engulfed in a deluge and I sought the first overpass for protection. Lightning was all around us now. Jeff said the GPS showed an exit ahead with a gas station. We were getting soaked even beneath the bridge, so we decided to go for it. I followed him.

A construction zone made conditions even more dangerous. Visibility was near zero, and once again I found myself asking "what I am doing out in the middle of an electrical storm?" Fortunately, it was only a few miles to the exit. The gas station seemed situated on a hilltop right beneath a thunderhead, and I ducked as we climbed the exit ramp to the station. The considerable tension eased as we pulled beneath the metal awning. This was just a bit too much like my experience on the fringes of Hurricane Katrina.

Jeff didn't have to convince me that we wouldn't be camping tonight. Using the GPS, he located a Hampton Inn north of Cincinnati, about 60 miles north. He set the course, and I just followed along. The worst of the storm had moved on, but showers continued into the Cincinnati metro area.

This hotel is located just across I-75 and north of an enormous General Electric plant. We were fortunate to get a room as they are often booked by early evening. The last two cookies were ours – "it was meant to be."

First order of business: drying out our riding gear and washing clothes.

We wandered outside after 10:00, looking for a nighttime snack. The corporate business parks in the area are clearly not intended for pedestrian traffic. We hiked to several restaurants, but found everything closed, save an Applebee’s. Reluctantly went in for an eminently forgettable meal.

I had calmed down a bit. I would see what tomorrow brings, but thoughts of abandoning my brother were fading.

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