WILSON: Wanderlust 2020 tour part 1: On the banks of the Wabash

I could not get out of town quick enough.

I considered running away back in December — when the northern climate made the siren call of the South more alluring. Alas, more pressing matters kept my impulsive side in check. I focused my wandering eye just a few months up the road, hoping to run off in March — perhaps a Spring Break “Old Man Gone Wild” exploit (without the “whoo-whoo” noises and the flashing of my pasty-white, orca-sized belly and man-boobs — try not to dwell on that thought for too long).

Again, alas, the Pandemic Panic crushed those thoughts, like sour grapes under a vintner’s bare feet. However, thanks to my former profession, the “first Sunday after the first Saturday in May” has been the traditional beginning of my wild and carefree summers. I knew I could hold out until then. Double alas…that darn pandemic refused to go away!

By June, I was fed up. I didn’t care what Governor Gretch had to say — or any other governor, for that matter — I had to go! I threw a bunch of freshly washed clothes in a bag, filled a cooler with water and questionably healthy provisions, aimed my pretty red truck toward Michigan’s southern border, and ran away from all of the obligations that should never clog a retired man’s life.

My travels have no agenda — I just go until I get there (and “there” is really just “anywhere”). As a reminder, the rules are simple — no interstate highways, no GPS navigation systems, no chain restaurants or lodging, and all major decisions are decided by the flip of a 1997 quarter, kept safely tucked in my wallet.

I began a previous excursion unclear on how the concept of flipping a quarter at every intersection was ever going to get me anywhere other than traveling in an ever-widening circle. I made it to Logansport (the city of my birth), and decided to follow the Wabash River upstream until I ran out of river (or it grew too boring to continue on that path). On that trip, I traveled past Huntington, before turning south and crossing the river at the Roush Lake Dam.

This time, I decided to return to the city of my birth and follow the Wabash River downstream (until boredom and/or my quarter changed my path, again). The Wabash is a mainstay in Hoosier tradition. The highest civilian honor is to be appointed by the governor as a Sagamore of the Wabash. “On the Banks of the Wabash” is the Indiana state song. From the aforementioned dam, east of Huntington, the river flows freely and unabated for 411 miles, until it splashes into the Ohio River at Indiana’s most southern point. To Hoosiers, the Wabash River is a big deal!

Traveling on US-24, west out of Logansport, if you keep your eyes open, you will find France Park. It offers camping, scuba diving in the crystal-clear waters of a long-abandoned stone quarry, and a waterfall — YES! There is a waterfall amongst the flat cornfields of Indiana! A great place to relax, reflect and begin my sojourn of escapism.

Refreshed by my meditation at the base of the waterfall, I continued on my journey. In an attempt to follow the river along the closest path possible, I traveled along old, narrow roads with names like Lockport and Towpath. In 1843, work began on the Wabash and Erie Canal — a 460-mile waterway that connected Lake Erie at Toledo to the Ohio River at Evansville. A major portion of its route followed the Wabash River and these roads were the actual towpaths, where teams of oxen would pull barges laden with goods from one canal port to another.

By 1874, high maintenance costs (mostly brought about by muskrats that would drain the canal by burrowing holes in the walls) and the expansion of railroads, brought an end to the canal. Now, all that remains of the original waterway is a mile-long section in Delphi that has been rewatered and is the centerpiece of the Wabash and Erie Canal Interpretive Center. If you are into history, check it out.

Once I found Lafayette, I found the “Okay…this is boring – time to do something different,” point of the trip. I flipped my quarter — come back next week and see what happened.

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