11-Mar-2006 -- Imagine one of the largest gatherings of geographers on the planet and not one of those geographers visiting a confluence. Determined not to let that happen, I, Joseph Kerski, made plans during the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in Chicago to visit 41 North 88 West. Over 5,000 of us had been presenting papers all week in downtown Chicago on topics as diverse as water quality and population studies, yet it was all geography.
Actually, Nikolas Schiller, Geographer with the AAG, and I had been discussing plans to take a group of geographers to the unvisited 42 North 87 West on the waters of Lake Michigan. However, this all-day trek required summer waters, and a whole day, which we had neither. I realized as I walked along Lake Michigan that all of the small boats are removed for the winter due to ice and wind. As it was, the 41 North 88 West solo expedition that I decided to take in lieu of the lake voyage took a fair bit of planning. However, my plans are humbled by the multi-week international expeditions by other confluence hunters.
On Friday afternoon, I walked to a rental car company, rented a car, and drove it to a parking garage. The distance was one city block to the garage, but as it was in downtown Chicago at rush hour, that was enough for me. The rental car manager stopped traffic on Lake Street so I could turn left out of their lot. I parked in the nearby 24-hour garage for $25. I parked there because the rental car company would not open early enough for my expedition. This was turning out to be a rather expensive confluence: I had paid for a car, only to park it in a lot, and I had to pay to park it! However, I now had a car, and I had it in a place where I could retrieve it very early in the morning. Everything was set.
I awoke with the alarm at 4:15 am, checked out of the hotel, and placed my luggage in storage. Not many people were out on the street, and the parking garage was deserted. I paid the machine and was driving underneath the "elevated" train south on Wabash Avenue by 5:09 am. I drove west on Congress, south on Interstate Highway 90, and south on Interstate Highway 57. I drank some Arizona tea and ate some cashews.
Lines from the Woody Guthrie song "all along the southbound odyssey, the train pulls out of Kankakee..." came to me as dawn broke in Kankakee, Illinois. "Broke" was not an appropriate today, as conditions were rather murky: The night gradually slid into dawn. One of my goals in visiting this confluence was to provide some clear photos, but this confluence seemed destined to remain shrouded, at least for now. I was a bit concerned that it would begin pouring at any moment, but the weather held as I traveled through the peaceful community of Chebanse, where Jeff was celebrating his 40th birthday. I drove due west along County Road 3400 North, which was the Kankakee-Iroquois County Line. I arrived at the site at 6:30 am.
I gathered my supplies and walked east and south, arriving at the confluence in less than 5 minutes. This was therefore the easiest confluence I had ever visited, even easier than the roadside Colorado confluence at 40 North 105 West. Even though it was early, I had the presence of mind not to have worn my work clothes on this expedition. I suspected muddy conditions, and sure enough, after a few steps, my shoes felt like cement galoshes. It was amazing how sticky this good black "corn belt" soil could be. The field was cleared due to it being the late winter season. I had stood on 41 North several times before, in Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming. I had also been to 88 West a few times, in Illinois, Alabama, and Wisconsin.
The confluence lies on level ground in the corn belt agricultural area that extends from eastern Nebraska to the edge of Indiana and Ohio. When one studies an elevation map of the USA, eastern Illinois shows up as one of the flattest areas of the country. However, it was slightly hillier than I thought it would be; with a few low rises here and there. I believe that this field I was standing in had been planted in beans during the previous year. The temperature was 45 F (7 C) with a moderate breeze under cloudy skies; rather pleasant for late winter. Farmhouses in this agricultural area were about 1/2 mile apart. I did spot a new house that was clearly not a farmhouse about 3 km east of the confluence. I saw no animals, birds, or people. One car passed. I reflected on the momentous occasion that I was now celebrating:
My four year goal of 100 attempted confluences was now met!
I eyed my watch. It was not yet 7 am, leaving me a small window of time before
I needed to return to the AAG meeting. Could I squeeze in a visit to 41 North 87 West in Indiana yet this morning? What do you, dear reader, think that I decided to do?