Day 3: Tully, New York to Norwalk, Ohio (~399 miles)
It rained a little overnight but by morning it looked like we’d have another nice day like we’d had in Massachusetts. But patchy clouds had rolled over by the time we got to the Finger Lakes Region, with its prosperous little hamlets of Auburn, Seneca Falls, and Geneva. West of there, US20 alternated between two- and four-lane road and we made good time to Lancaster, New York, just east of Buffalo, New York. The rolling hills, small towns with their classic old houses, and forests in Fall colors made this a particularly attractive stretch of US20. We had lunch at the Broadway Deli (very good soup and salad!) in Lancaster and then followed US20 – slowly – through Buffalo’s eastern and southern suburbs. Then it was along the shore of Lake Erie (which you can’t see from US20) and into Pennsylvania. We entered Erie, Pennsylvania as its schools were letting out and rush hour was beginning, so we crawled through it, hitting stop light after stop light. We’d gotten through Springfield (MA) and Albany (NY) on the weekend, so this was our first experience with regular, weekday urban traffic on US20. The glacial pace we were forced to assume made us question the practicality of going urban on US20.
After breaking free of Erie, we crossed into Ohio and went looking for the Ashtabulah Lighthouse – we found Lake Erie but not the lighthouse (and learned later that it was closed to visitors anyway). Shortly after that, just east of Saybrook, Ohio, we hit our first major closure and detour on US20. It was now later in the day than we’d hoped, our nerves were a bit frayed, and we still had to get past Cleveland, Ohio. So when the detour took us near I-90, we hopped on it (thank you President Eisenhower!) and zoomed into Cleveland, reconnecting with US20 in Lakewood on Cleveland’s west side. We didn’t realize it at the time but the opening game of the World Series was the next day, so we missed a massive traffic jam by just 24 hours! Then, just west of Cleveland, another closure and detour on US20 pushed on to Ohio 113 and Ohio 60, so we didn’t make it to our hotel in Norwalk, Ohio until well after dark. After dinner at Casa Fiesta (good Tex-Mex, generous portions) – the only non-chain restaurant near our hotel – we collapsed into bed.
Day 4: Norwalk, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois (~320 miles)
The next day dawned clear but cold and some ice had to be scraped from the car’s windows. Up to now, US20 had been a mix of two- and four-lane roads, some limited access, some not. And there had been stretches of two-lane that rolled romantically through the Fall foliage and small towns of western Massachusetts and eastern New York. However, just outside Norwalk, US20 became essentially a four-lane, limited access “freeway” all the way to Toledo, Ohio. It did neck down to two-lane through some of the small towns along this stretch, but otherwise we were zooming along through open fields and industrial facilities. We went along the far west side of Toledo and headed west on US20 in a straight line for the Indiana border, through wide-open farm lands. We were pushed along by fast moving 18-wheelers using this section on US20 to avoid tolls on the I-80/90 turnpike to the south! We crossed into Indiana and stopped for lunch in South Bend, Indiana. We opted for fast food so we could indulge our cellulose addiction by visiting a couple of bookstores (Griffon Books has a amazing collection of military history books) – our first chance to do so on this trip.
Just west of South Bend, we crossed the North/South Continental Divide, formed by the Valparaiso Moraine. Water on one side of the moraine flows into Lake Michigan, through the Great Lakes, and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean, while water on the other side flows into the Kankakee River which flows into the Mississippi River, which eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. From South Bend, we worked our way on US20 over to I-94 and decided to take that around Gary, Indiana (sorry Gary, but we feared the slow, street-level crawl) into Illinois and up to the south side of Chicago. There we rejoined US20 at street-level and immediately encountered another construction project – the crawl was back! There are a string of interconnected, but different, towns along this stretch of US20 where old, local businesses are rapidly giving way to national chains. As we said, any nostalgia attached to US20 seems to be rapidly evaporating. We reached our hotel in Hillside (on Chicago’s west side), had a surprisingly good hamburger in the hotel’s restaurant, and then packed it in for the day.
After our experience crawling through Erie, it became apparent that we didn’t have time to follow US20 through every urban area. So no disrespect to Gary, just no time for it. And we were real lucky to get through Cleveland a day ahead of the World Series (and a Cavaliers game)!
Enjoying your road trip report. You didn’t miss a thing by skipping Gary. Despite its supposedly bucolic and folksy reputation (as described in “The Music Man” song), it’s pretty grim. We went through the heart of Gary on a motorcycle trip several years ago, and it was block after block of boarded-up businesses and unhappy-looking people.