I pulled opened the door of my big, beautiful Peterbuilt straight truck and climbed inside. The envelope on the seat and paperwork state I was destined for Chicago, Illinois. A place I have visited many times, and has always been a great experience.
After a quick circle check, I adjust the seat and mirrors. I hear the trucks large diesel engine come alive. I pull on the lever and hear a loud “burrrrp!” of the air horn. Everything is in check. I press the “D” button on the instrument panel (for drive) and pull out onto the highway heading towards Detroit, Michigan. The trip will most likely take about four hours, with an additional four hours drive when I cross into the United States.
For some reason, the GPS unit decided to take me on the scenic route through Michigan and Indiana. A beautiful country back road with only a few traffic lights to slow me down. This was okay because I was not in a real hurry and enjoy seeing parts of the countryside I normally would never get to see. I love the large expanse of farms and machinery that you can see on old country roads.
After a few hours of driving on the back roads, I decided I should really take the highway and get a move on. Perhaps the Interstate highways would cut an hour or two off my time. I turned off the country road in hopes of the GPS unit sending me to the highway. Or so I thought.
When I was in flight school, I learned to never “fly by the seat of your pants”. This means you trust your instruments over your judgement at all times. I use this philosophy on the ground, especially when navigating with GPS unit.
Turning off the county road, I followed along a side road until I arrived into a city. I could see the interstate highway off in the distance. My plan was to find the nearest on ramp and head to Chicago using the toll roads.
Turning to follow the highway, I was brought into what I would at best consider a “bad part of town” and at worse, a scene from a war movie.
There was a small amount of car traffic and buses along the road, but something did not feel right. Everywhere I looked there were abandoned buildings. Both sides of the road were abandoned. There were cars in driveways burnt out. Caved in roofs of buildings. Entire apartment complexes completely gutted.
Looking around, I could see there were a few people wandering about on the streets, but for some reason the entire area was completely abandoned.
Unlike most places I have visited that may have only one or two abandoned buildings scattered in an area, this abandoned area could easily be measured in kilometres. It was very disconcerting seeing nothing but wreckage everywhere.
If I had woken up in this place, I would have thought the world had ended overnight. Something straight out the old movie Mad Max with Mel Gibson. It was certainly difficult to believe that I was in America – one of the wealthiest nations in the world.
If there were no people on the streets, I would have honestly believed I was on the set of a zombie movie. I have never seen such abundance of abandoned buildings anywhere.
Somewhat disturbed by the situation, my GPS unit stated that I was able to get on the highway at the next intersection. Stopping for the red light and gazing at an abandoned, burnt out apartment building, I noticed in the distance that the highway entrance lay on the other side of a bridge. A low bridge marked off with yellow sign. There was no way that my 4m high truck would fit under a 3m high bridge without making it into a convertible.
I decided it was in my best interest to go straight, still following along side of the interstate, in hopes to pick it up further down the road in a more safe environment.
The road weaved and turned, and led me to a heavy industrial area. There were large tractor trailers everywhere. This is a great sign for me because I was not concerned about the low bridges anymore. I kept driving along with the tractor trailers, and saw my highway entrance ahead. The entrance was blocked! Blocked off by large concrete barriers! I had no way of getting onto the Interstate.
Following along the Interstate, I could see it was totally empty. My GPS unit kept re-routing me to find new entrances, which were also blocked off.
The fourth entrance to the Interstate was not blocked with concrete barriers. It simply had a sign on it that said “CLOSED”. A sign that I was eager to ignore to make it out of this wasteland and back to an area of Chicago which was considerably less abandoned.
Driving onto the on-ramp, it was quickly evident that this section of the highway was closed. Four lanes in each direction were completely empty except for me. I drove the stretch of highway at a very slow pace in the event there was a piece missing, or some other reason I needed to stop quickly. I looked around frantically trying to figure out if this was a safe place to be.
My GPS unit however, insisted that everything was okay and in just 5 kilometres I would meet up with the interstate and be where I wanted to be. It was very difficult to “trust the process” and hope everything was going to be okay.
After about 10 minutes of wondering if perhaps the world had abruptly ended and I was completely alone, the occupied section of the highway came into view. With a huge sigh of relief I seamlessly merged onto the highway and continued on my journey like this bizarre world did not even exist.
I am a pretty tough individual. I have traveled through some amazing places and spaces. Some people even call me a “bad-ass”. However, visiting this area of the United States alone in a large truck was certainly one of the most taxing things I have done in a long time. Thankfully I came out unscathed and ready for my next adventure.