Side of the road in Eastern Missouri, outside of Hannibal, MO

Kansas City to Niagara Falls Road Trip – Day 1

I’ve taken the first step by having a pre-Memorial Day road trip across the country. My original plan involved a trip to the Virginia Beach, Virginia, area. I realized late that it was Victoria Day weekend and thought it would be fun to travel back to my old haunts!

After making the decision on Friday afternoon (May 18), I put together a quick itinerary that would make the most of a quick trip. I wanted to see as many states as I could while going up through Illinois and back down through Ohio.

Since road trips by nature can be tedious, I decided to break up this post into sections of what I discovered along the way.

First Impressions

Missouri – I started out at 7:30 a.m. to make the 10-and-a-half-hour road trip to Paw Paw, Michigan. It seemed to take forever to make it past downtown and get into the country. This state is bigger than you would think. The Eastern part is beautiful, very rural, and needs more signage. Near Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain’s hometown, is stunning.

Illinois – This was my first experience in coming to Illinois. Southern Illinois looked like a dream. Ethereal, with lots of trees and misty…unspoiled. Once I started getting toward the center of the state, my iPhone navigation gave out so luckily, I had my Atlas. However, as I got closer to Chicago, it kicked back in again. I say luckily because like with Indiana, the speed limit around the area is just a suggestion.

Indiana – I didn’t spend much time here on the first part as I left Chicago and seemed to go straight into Gary, Indiana. I had planned on taking a small detour, but the other drivers were not having it. What I could see from the freeway was very pretty, although more built up and industrial than some of the other areas. Also, I hypothesized that the Indy 500 drivers earn money in the offseason by teaching drivers ed. Goodness. However, I plan on seeing more of it on my way back down from Ontario.

Michigan – I loved the lake branding on the signs driving into the state. Everything looks very green and there were a lot of lakes! I couldn’t see much near St. Joseph due to fog. As I began heading into the Kalamazoo region, I could see more and more of the countryside. I understand that part of the state is more industrial and has more issues, but I can see why Michigan is called the land of natural beauty.

Most awe-inspiring moment

The most beautiful part of the trip was coming across the bridge from Hannibal, MO, into the southern part of Illinois. The gently rolling hills and farmland were surrounded with a mist at around 10:00 in the morning. When I had thought of Illinois, I often thought of the larger cities such as Chicago. The farmland reminded me briefly of what I would have pictured Oakdale, Illinois to be…had As the World Turns been set in real life. I grew up watching the show with my grandmother and had a thought that this is what Snyder Farm would have looked like had it been real. Three hours into the trip and I was already finding ways to stay awake. Once you travel past the bridge into Illinois, it’s truly worth a second look. The area is beautiful and tranquil.

Scariest moments

For me? I would have to say the loop from Chicago into Gary, Indiana. These drivers do not play. The speed limit may say 70, but I missed the memo that it really meant, “minimum of 70 mph.” I was almost rear-ended so many times that finally decided to go with the flow of traffic and forget the gas mileage. One would think that after almost 20 years of driving down I-75 or I-35 in Dallas would have prepared me, but I knew nothing. There is a reason that the Indy 500 is held in Indiana. Rush hour on a Saturday afternoon is called practice. I will say that it was very organized. Organized chaos.

For other drivers? As I said earlier, I love Southern Illinois and was practically ready to buy a farm or something. However, as I was driving around Springfield, Illinois, my allergies kicked in. My eyes started burning and watering. One was watering so hard that I couldn’t see anything. It was lunchtime on a Saturday as me and everyone else in the area was out for a drive. I was in the far-left lane and had to struggle to keep one eye open, turn on my flashers, cross something like four lanes of traffic and try to find a safe place on the side of the road to pull over. Thankfully I was able to maneuver the car safely. I had purchased eye drops just in case since, post Lasik, I sometimes get dry eyes. In this case, my eyes and nose were running, which reminded me of when my West Texas desert body first moved to an area surrounded by trees. A couple of eye drops and a Kleenex later and I was good to go.

What did I I learn? Always bring along eye drops and Kleenex, especially when traveling to a new area. You never know how you will react to the climate.

Why the lack of photos?

Part of my goal was to take frequent stops to take pictures in areas while trying to stick close to the schedule. However, I re-learned a lesson from long ago. That it is impossible if you are the one driving, especially on a long trek, to stop and take photos without becoming tired of it. After hour 3 of a 10-hour drive, you will start just driving in hopes of getting there. From the highway, everything starts to look the same after a while. This is especially true in this section of the country. Look! Trees and a lake! The picture I took in Missouri could be substituted in almost every other state (save for the cars on the speedway in Indiana).

Outside of Hannibal, MO. I pulled on to a dirt road outside of a farm.
Outside of Hannibal, MO. I pulled on to a dirt road outside of a farm.
Outside of Hannibal, MO. I pulled on to a dirt road outside of a farm. It was one of the few times I felt save pulling over to take a photo while driving on the highway.
Outside of Hannibal, MO. I pulled on to a dirt road outside of a farm. It was one of the few times I felt save pulling over to take a photo while driving on the highway.

Road Trip Tips, Day #1

Here are a few quick tips I learned (or relearned) on day 1.

  1. Concentrate on going from town to town, not the whole trip. You’ll start getting extremely bored if you keep thinking, 7 more hours to go. Instead, look at the road signs and go, “Oh! Springfield, IL is only 30 miles.” If you go 60 mph, that’s 60 miles in one hour. Don’t concentrate on 70 mph and start doing math; just think about mileage=minutes. So, you have 30 minutes into Springfield. Once you get into town, celebrate that achievement. Even though you are going 65 mph, you can still say you’ve been there now! (You can always go back to explore.) What next? Chicago? How long is that? This will make the time go much faster.
  2. Audiobooks are great. You can also listen to music, but certain types may mellow you out and make you sleepier. On the way up to Canada, I listened to an audiobook about the Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. I almost wanted to keep driving once I reached Paw Paw, Michigan, because it was so interesting! Just find something that will keep you awake and interested.
  3. Get gas before heading into larger cities, like Chicago. It might be tough to get off the freeway to get gas if you are low. You can also run into patches of city traffic where you will find yourself idling. Better safe than sorry.
  4. When traveling into different regions, keep eyedrops and Kleenex handy. You never know when you are going to find your allergies acting up.

Day #2 will involve driving to Port Heron and driving into Southwest Ontario. Canada, I’ve missed you!