Days 61-62/ Apr 28th-29th – Shoals, IN to Vincennes, IN: The flyover states

 

“You’re gonna be in flat land now for a long time,” said Sonny, as we said goodbye to him and Debbie in Shoals.

He was right: after a joyless morning on a misty Highway 150, climbing up a steep wooded hill and down the other side, we came through the town of Loogootee (pronounced ‘Luh-goh-tee’, like a Frenchman describing his facial hair) and out onto a flat pan of open farmland.  This was the start of just over a thousand miles of plains and prairie on our route, running from here to the Rockies in Wyoming.  It’s not a promising sign that by the end of these two days, we were already thoroughly bored of it.

Long country road near Washington, Indiana

Another fascinating hour's walking in prospect

We came out of Loogootee past a small steelworks, and into a vast network of roads slicing up the plains.  We spent 11 miles walking west on County Road 200, every mile bringing us to a junction with a north-south road, numbered in hundreds from 1200 downwards.  It was a like a grid of city blocks expanded to a planetary scale, with little between the roads except hundreds of acres of tilled fields and an occasional farmhouse, grain silo or red-roofed barn.  There were hardly any vehicles, except the occasional UPS truck, and the air was full of small ticks that settled on us whenever we stopped.

Across the fields we began to see little black Amish buggies rattling their way to and from town.  There are about 700 ‘Old Order’ Amish families here in Daviess County (sic), most of whom moved here during the 19th century from Pennsylvania.  Most of them (though not all) live without cars or electricity, and we grew used to seeing houses unconnected to telegraph poles and with buggies parked in their yards beside small stables of horses.  They were some of the loveliest and best-kept homes we’d seen in America, white clapboard farmhouses with immaculate white-fenced lawns and elaborate bird-feeders on high poles.  They were also the only places yet in America where we’ve seen washing drying outside on lines.  Four little blonde Amish children clattered past us in a tiny cart pulled by a donkey; we waved and hallooed them, but in response they only pointed to us and gave us thin-lipped, enigmatic smiles.

Amish carriage and basketball hoop

We were unable to confirm whether Amish can jump

We walked into Washington through affluent suburbia, with basketball hoops on the drives, American flags flying in the yards and the sound of mowers in the air.  The houses were vast and sprawling, most of them with triple garages that still weren’t sufficient to house all of their vehicles.  Still, Washington was a blue-collar sort of place.  When we stopped in for breakfast the next day at the White Steamer, a formica-heavy greasy spoon on the crumbling Main Street, it was packed with tables of middle-aged men in feed store caps, who all swivelled around to stare at us as we walked through with our packs to a booth at the back.  It felt like a very small town indeed.

We walked out of town on an empty dual carriageway with a wide shoulder.  A large sign on the fence of a cow-pasture asked ‘Where Will You Spend Eternity?’, and while we couldn’t hope to know the answer to that great metaphysical question, we dearly hoped it wasn’t Washington, Indiana.  We spent the day walking through bare ploughed fields and under blue skies filled with streaking contrails: truly, we were in the flyover states.  Twice we passed the pitheads of tiny coal-mines, lost among the fields – not an industry that we’d ever associated with the plains of Indiana.

The flyover states

Looking up from the flyover states

This evening at dinner our waitress, Carla, a girl of about twenty-five, mentioned to us that she had been raised in an Amish community, but had chosen to leave and make her life in the outside world.  She faintly resembled the actress Megan Fox, and was wearing a top so low-cut that it was hard to imagine it coming off an Amish sewing-machine.  We asked her about the silent children we had seen on the road.

“Oh,” she said.  “They probably didn’t speak any English.  Most of the kids are brought up speaking German.  They don’t start learning English – I didn’t – until they’re ten or eleven.”

At the table next to us was an Amish family – a gruff-looking father sporting the distinctive trimmed, rounded Amish beard, his wife and six angelic blonde children aged from nine to perhaps three (“I come from a small family,” said Carla. “Just five kids.”)  They were eating together at the table with impeccable manners and without the teasing and fighting that usually happens in groups of young American (or, for that matter, British) children.  It was hard not to envy them, growing up in strong family units, learning practical skills, bound together by an esoteric faith, never getting stuck in traffic and never having to watch an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Sunday afternoon, Sally (sorry, I got carried away there).  They were about the only thing on these flat plains that we’ll be sorry not to see again.

Mattingly feed store near Washington, Indiana

Google Maps has to be used with caution: this comes up as a 'restaurant'

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3 Responses to “Days 61-62/ Apr 28th-29th – Shoals, IN to Vincennes, IN: The flyover states”

  1. JANNA Says:

    Rich, Isn’t this the part of the trip that I suggested a proposal might be in order to break up the boredom ?!?

  2. Christoph Says:

    See, Rich. A little German always comes in handy.

  3. Emilee Says:

    I work a block north of the White Steamer in Washington, Ind. While I agree it’s not the most lovely or exciting place in the U.S., I must say, the people in that area have the biggest, kindest hearts of anywhere I’ve been. And I’ve lived in England for four months and traveled through Europe.

    Having said that, I admit I’m moving away in a month and I’d love to move back to England someday.

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your adventure. Safe travels!

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