Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area, IL
You know we’re on a serious mileage-conquering roadtrip when we drive until 9 p.m. and spend the night at a Cracker Barrel. That was yesterday. It’s not as bad as it sounds, since our drive was pretty pleasant and the night was reasonably quiet, but still it’s not an experience I care to repeat any time soon.
We’ve been lucky this year because the weather has been extremely nice as we have descended slowly from the altitudes of Colorado and into the plains and river valleys. Even tonight, east of the Mississippi, the humidity is low and it hasn’t been scorching hot, so we can boondock without the dramatic suffering of years past, if we care to. The forecast for Jackson Center OH (the home of Airstream and Alumapalooza) is surprisingly good too, without a lot of thunderstorm action predicted. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The story of today is high winds. It started off as a light breeze but by 11 a.m. it was a nasty crosswind out of the south and it just wouldn’t let up. White box trailers were dancing around in their lanes and it made me extra cautious even though our Airstream was handling very well. By 3 p.m. the wind was a solid 30 MPH with gusts, and by 4 p.m. the gusts got to 40-45 MPH (according to the weather service). We were trying to make it to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois but around 4 I decided to cut the drive short and look for some other place to spend the night.
I did this not because the Airstream couldn’t handle the weather, but simply to maintain my safety margin. I’ve done a lot of high-risk activities (ultralight flying, diving, motorcycling) and I know that safety does not come from any single choice, but from multiple layers of good choices. I’m talking about things like good skills, driver fitness, appropriate speed, safety equipment, and situational awareness. Make all the right choices and you’ve got a padding to help keep you out of trouble—or resolve it successfully.
When layers of that safety padding start to fall apart, it’s time to end the trip. This time I saw extreme high winds, driver fatigue, and increasingly rough roads with heavy truck traffic as we approached the Chicago area. Three bad factors are my limit, so even though I have high confidence in our tow rig and high confidence in my own abilities as the driver, we looked for somewhere to call it a night.
This turned out to be a fortuitous move. We discovered a park we’d never heard of before, Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area in Illinois. It’s a very nice park set inside a pine and oak forest, only 6 miles off I-80. The campground is a large circle of widely-spaced sites surrounding a tranquil grassy center. We got an electric site for $20 and the Airstream is pointed into the wind so, although the wind is howling, we aren’t rocking on the stabilizers.
Stopping an hour early has given me some time to catch up on some work, and Eleanor has time to make us all a nice dinner. We’ll have to get started a little earlier tomorrow in order to make up the lost time, but otherwise this was a nice tradeoff. I don’t envy the folks who are still on I-80 in Iowa or Illinois this evening.