I left home in the afternoon and powered by Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi®, made it most of the way to Nashville, sleeping in a truck stop parking lot somewhere outside of town. I awoke at dawn and made my way into the city. When I rounded the bend on 24 and the skyscrapers came into view, I actually said to myself "Nashville Skyline." But I bet it looked a lot different when Dylan saw it.
First stop was the Handmade and Bound Festival at Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film. I wasn't sure what to expect, but part of the fun is bringing comics to people who may not be expecting them. The Festival was a melange of zinesters, handmade book artists, poets, craftspeople, and me. It was great. Everyone was super nice, and people were very happy to see all the comics I'd brought along. The day went by quickly, and I headed out into the Nashville twilight feeling good.
Spit and a Half table, Nashville.
I thought I'd head downtown to see if the Ernest Tubb Record Shop was open, and just to check out the city. The only other time I'd been in Nashville was on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and this was a beautiful Saturday night, so I had high hopes.
Whoa, though, Broadway was crawling with tourists. There was no way I'd find a cheap place to park, so I headed back out on the interstate to find the BBQ place that was voted best in town. (I saw the billboard on the way in.) After some doing I managed to find it -- Jack's BBQ-- and treated myself to a hot, spicy meal. Afterwards I decided to hit the road. I slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Clarksville, and headed back out at dawn the next day.
I'd been wanting to visit Carbondale ever since High School, when my friends Fred and Mark and I tried to make it down there for spring break (with hilarious results-- look for a comic about that story soon). Well, by late morning, there I was, in the home of the Salukis. I drove around the town a bit, listening to sports radio for NFL updates (Bears Win!), found a nice health food store and stocked up, and then wound my way back out to Giant City Road.
Shortly after entering the State Park, I found this idyllic pond and prairie, with a well-mowed path through it, and thought it would be a nice place to start.
I walked the path, looking at weird plants and listening to weird birds, when, from up in the trees, I heard someone mutter "Really?!?!" I kept walking. "Hey!" It was some camo dude in a tree-stand with a bow and arrow. "You know it's the middle of deer season, right?" I said, "Nope" (which was true) and kept walking. Fifty feet down the road he came running up to me, all flustered. "You've ruined everything! You can't just go walking through here! This is hunting grounds! Didn't you see the sign at the parking lot!?!" I told him that the only sign at the parking lot said the area was for day-use only, with no overnight camping. There was nothing about hunting grounds. He got more and more agitated. "I have to do all kinds of stuff to cover my scent! I use special shampoo!" I told him to spare me, I knew all about it. He told me I was breaking law, that in the State of Illinois it was illegal, that I was "interrupting the hunt." I shrugged and decided to get out of there.
A few miles down the road I came across another lot in the woods, this one clearly marked as a trailhead. A short hike down the path I got what I came for... Ever since I was a kid, I've been looking at pictures of the crazy cliffs and rock formations of Southern Illinois. And here I was, on the edge of a sheer, 50-foot cliff, looking down onto wild boulders and enormous trees reaching for the sky. At last!
Balanced Rocks overlooking the cliff.
The pictures don't do justice to the dizzying heights shown.
I met some other hikers who congratulated me on the Bears win, and mentioned they had started their walk at the bottom of the cliff, but couldn't find their way down. Some rock climbers showed us a gnarly half-path down the slope, and we all followed it onto a paved park road. The hikers headed to their car, and I took another path into the woods to follow the cliff's base.
Underneath a massive overhang at the foot of the cliff, blackened by centuries of soot.
"A path is made by walking on it."
Anyhow, I wandered through the woods, coming to dead end after dead end, looking for the path up to the top of the cliff that the other hikers had told me about. No luck. And it was getting dark. I found myself back at the paved road, and reckoned that if I followed it around, it would eventually link up to my parking lot. But I walked through the growing darkness for what seemed like forever, with only raccoons as companions. Not only was it getting dark, but cold. After finding the official "Giant City Nature Trail," which I made a note of to come visit the next morning, I relented, and decided to try to backtrack up the half-path I took down the cliff. My main worry was finding the right trail in the dark.
I did manage to find the path, and confirmed it was the correct one with remembered landmarks. Scrambling up the slope, I found the trail at the top of the rise, and headed back towards the car.
A view over one of the cliff-edges in the dark. Yikes.
Lo and behold, I came to the parking lot at last, and headed back towards Carbondale, where I had Chinese food for dinner, and, peering through darkened windows in empty strip malls, I scouted out the two comics shops in town. At Wal-Mart I brushed my teeth and made myself cozy in the corner of the lot.
NEXT: Giant City Part Two