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It was the third day of my trip from Saranac Lake to Logan, Utah and I had traveled less than 1,000 miles. I awoke in my worn out dome tent at about 5 a.m., feeling the steady wind off the shore of Lake Eerie in Port Clinton, Ohio. In my younger days, I'd always heard horror stories about pollution on this Great Lake, but I was determined to squeeze into my six-day trip as many natural wonders as a human could absorb. I had seen the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already, and I was on pace to encounter "middle America" in its truest forms within the hour. A trip like this depletes rapidly into a series of to do lists. When you first start out, you think to yourself what fun it will be to discover the true America in all its glory. Then, somewhere between Peoria and Des Moines, it dawns on you that the true America is pretty much just like high school: full of people you'd just as soon avoid, with no end in sight. I prepared to camp on the lake, ringing the bell to the attendant's trailer twice before my urban catcalls retrieved her from her back yard. She took my traveler's check with a look of suspicion and asked me why I'd come all the way from New York (she noticed my license plates) to sleep next to Lake Eerie. "The walleye capital of America," I answered. She knew as well as I did that Port Clinton was one of dozens of American destinations claiming that title. "Could you recommend somewhere to get food?" I asked. Just then her husband emerged from the back yard, where I could have sworn they were cooking an entire cow. "You mean a restaurant or a grocery store?" he asked. I didn't have the heart to admit I only wanted to buy some beer and a beef stick. "A grocery store," I said. "Got one?" "One mile down the road on the right." In the grocery store, I discovered the most dazzling assortment of alcoholic schwill I'd ever seen. There must have been 100 varieties of beer, not one costing more than $3.50 for a six-pack.
That night I slept like a baby ... who's getting acupuncture with a rusty needle. The sight of a nuclear power plant across the water gave me some food for thought, but the main problem was the wind, which tossed my tent around all night. It should come as no surprise that after a quick dirt bath on the beach at 5 a.m., I departed Port Clinton in a hurry. Shortly after beginning my day, I turned south in order to avoid Chicago. It would be nothing but two-lane roads for the entire day, through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Farm country. As a former Vermonter, I'm no stranger to the American farm. The only difference is that in Vermont, most of the crops are harvested to fight glaucoma. It may sound melodramatic to say that my time on the prairie felt like the longest days of my life. But the truth is that each day was an hour longer than I was used to because of the time zone changes I drove through. The only benefit of driving from a town where it was 11 a.m. to a town where it was suddenly 10 was that I mysteriously found myself on time for the McDonald's breakfast menu. The most memorable aspect of the prairie was the interminable sun insisting that human comfort is not appropriate on the road. It mocked me for my weakness at every rest stop and chided me to go on, daring me to attempt an escape. Each day on the prairie, I felt as if I was racing the sun across the vast sky. And each day, coincidentally around noon, the sun would pass me by, edging me lightly as if to say, "tag, you're it."
Matt Lavin is the creator/editor of "Bosworth: An Online Humor Magazine Brimming with Unearned self-Importance." [http://www.bosworthmagazine.com] He is also working toward a PhD in literature at the University of Iowa.
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