The hills slowly gave way to an interminable flatness. Route 86 west, straight west, as the crow flies, swooping south only slightly enough to avoid driving directly into a Great Lake.
We found ourselves in Cleveland a few hours after sundown (given that the sun sets around 4.30p nowadays) and stopped at The ABC Tavern, an unpretentious hipster-slash-old regulars joint with an open kitchen and black-and-white pinups of naked women on the walls. The question of the night, via our hoarse barkeep: "Where are you guys staying tonight?" We had no idea.
We drove roughly a half-hour outside of Cleveland and inadvertently took a toll road. We've been avoiding these for two reasons: 1, the cost and 2, the scenery. However, the service plaza proved to be an excellent place to sleep. When the rainstorm hit, the monotonous pattering drowned out the turnpike traffic. When the windows fogged from our body heat, the halogen parking-lot lamps became a hazy glow. And when morning came and we got off the earliest exit, we reveled in the fact that we'd paid fifty cents for a cozy night's sleep.
Our unending oblate road continued through the remainder of Ohio and the crown of Indiana. Cornfield upon cornfield, already harvested and littered with decapitated stalks in faded hues of once-green/gold/brown, occasionally broken up by acres of tilled soil and enormous silos. The heartland. Purple clouds rested lazily on the horizon like mounds of fabric on a cold wood table.
Prairie towns led into brick-laid villages led into rustic hamlets led into... miles of nothing, interrupted by the occasional long-haul trailer or Amish buggy.
And then Jen started recognizing town names, and the farmland turned into suburbs, and our westerly course abruptly veered north -- to