Apr 142011

With the motorcycles loaded on the trailer and securely tied down, we swing the compass heading southeast and start our quest to escape Chicago’s weekday morning rush. An hour later and we cross over into Indiana. Before long, I’m reminded why we decided to trailer our bikes to Nashville, Tennessee.

Indiana landscape

If there’s anything more depressing than hour after hour of driving through the endless sea of corn and soybean fields along Interstate 65 in Indiana, it’s doing so in April. Before the land is tilled and the seeds are sown, the farms’ spring harvest appears to be a plethora of all things discarded and man-made: mainly tons of plastic bags, bottles, cans, and fast-food wrappings. And the crop is bountiful this season. It’s difficult for lily-white McDonald’s bags or Big Gulp cups to hide in the monotone grey/black moonscape that extends to the horizon in all directions, occasionally punctuated with the lone farmhouse, silo, or tree. The only way to minimize the illusion of driving through a dump is to do so at night. Or wait until the corn is “knee high by July.” Akin to The Stooges sweeping their junk under a rug, the trash is merely out of sight but not where it belongs.

Which begs the question, “Where are all of the low-risk offenders in their orange jumpsuits?” One would think they would be out in force, picking and shipping the limitless harvest to the local landfill. But there’s not a jumpsuit in sight. Collecting garbage must be too demeaning to their self-esteem. Add to this scene a constant stream of billboards, and it’s truly a blight on the landscape.

It wasn’t always this way. As it entered the Union in 1816, Indiana was a pristine land comprised of wetlands, hardwood forests, and prairie. In the 19th century, much of the forest was felled for farms. By 1997, 85% of the original wetlands and virtually all of the prairie were wiped out. Today 63,000 farms cover 66% of Indiana territory placing it 5th and 4th in US production of corn and soybeans respectively. By any measure an agricultural powerhouse. But is the plowing under of so much natural habitat worth it? One need only shop for soybeans at a local Jewel grocery store for the answer: amazingly, they’re imported from China.

Thankfully, the eye-sore eventually gives way to undulating hills and forested countryside in Kentucky. Here, dandelions have a white tuft of seeds on their crowns. In Central Indiana they had brilliant yellow flowers and in Chicago, not even noticeable.  A few hours later and we’re rolling into our destination: Nashville, Tennessee. In the parking lot of our hotel we unload the motorcycles from the trailer and reattach our windshields and mirrors. Being an enclosed trailer, these items had to be removed for clearance.

Having a strong presence in the music industry, Nashville is known as Music City. It was incorporated as a city in 1806 and became the state capital in 1843. As the Civil War drew near, Nashville was a prosperous city and strategically important as a shipping port on the Cumberland River. It was evacuated and subsequently occupied by the North soon after Fort Donelson, seventy miles west, was forced to surrender on February 16, 1862 after two days of withering iron-clad artillery fire. The victory at Fort Donelson produced 12,000 Confederate POWs and Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to major general.

Nashville made national headlines during May 2010 when severe thunderstorms and tornadoes devastated the city. An average of 13 inches of rain fell and the Cumberland River crested 12 feet above flood stage. Damage estimates exceeded $1.5 billion. Talking with the locals, a large number of people were displaced when they lost everything. Many have yet to return and hotels are often full with transient workers in the reconstruction business. In fact, our hotel has the “No Vacancy” sign out tonight.

Whereas we had fantastic weather on the drive down and have the air-conditioning on in our room, tomorrow is not looking so great. The forecast is for very nasty wind and rain, with possible hail and even a tornado tossed in for good measure. Well, it’s eight hours before we’re to set off in the morning. Hopefully, the morning report will be more favorable.