Illinois was… a challenge. Like Wisconsin, we met with some intense weather that made moving around difficult- that said, it’s still January in the midwest- what did we expect?
We hit our first major city thus far on the trip by heading into Chicago for a few days, having left the trailer at Anna’s family farm in Mt Morris, IL. Huge thanks to Ed and Molly Baker for hosting us those days and for keeping our trailer safe. Thanks, too, to our friend Aly for putting us up in the city!
We’d both been to Chicago before, and more or less knew what to expect- we hadn’t counted on it being so cold, though, or so difficult to capture our experience. Since we’re from Minneapolis, Chicago is often seen as our bigger, better, more metropolitan cousin- close geographically, but infinitely bigger and more globally relevant. While we don’t disagree that it’s bigger (and pretty extraordinary on its own), that isn’t to discount Minneapolis- which, the longer we’re on the road, we miss fiercely and appreciate more each day.
Our time in Chicago was a dance trying to stay warm between destinations; choreographing the van from free parking spot to free parking spot, and doing our best to immerse ourselves in the city. We did many of the things Chicago is known for- went to world-class museums, ate deep dish pizza and brunch, explored distinctive neighborhoods, saw films and walked amongst the formidable downtown skyscrapers. We tried time and again to film it all, but the subzero windchills provided setbacks every step of the way. Staying alive, keeping warm, keeping the cameras running, and having a good time all at once seems to be an elusive equation for us. Although this is always going to be hard, we can’t help but look towards warmer weather as a partial answer to make our new way of life more successful and less stressful.
We left Chicago mid-week to travel through the rest of Illinois, driving down the center of the state through the capital city of Springfield and down into the Shawnee National Forest. We kept Sufjan Steven’s Come on Feel the Illinoise! album on repeat, gleefully pointing to all of the roadsigns for towns mentioned in song. It should go without saying that Sufjan is one of US Anywhere’s patron saints- not only is he one of our favorite artists, but his (short-lived) plan to make a record about all 50 states has fueled our inspiration to take this trip across the entire country.
The weather foiled us again as we camped in the forest- rain meant that hikes were slippery and ill-advised. We were bummed to miss popular hikes like the ‘Garden of the Gods’, but we managed to get out and see a few pieces of this park. The forest was, despite the rain, beautiful; we saw some unearthly, foggy scenery and unexpected bluffs in a state with such flat terrain.
On our way out of Illinois, we took a chance detour to the small town of Metropolis on the tip that there was a Superman statue somewhere in town. As we drove in, it felt as though fate had dropped us there. After several days of feeling as though we’d been going through the motions, traversing the road most expected- here was a place unlike any we’d ever been- uncanny and sad, run-down but letting small rays of light through the cracks. The town seemed to be dissolving at the edges; ragged homes quietly fell, dirty toys tumbled across lawns. It was hard to imagine people living in these structures- what they did during the day, how they went about their business. At the center of town, a cartoonish square surrounds an old government building- Superman stands proudly out front.
A nearby shop and museum boasts the largest collection of Superman paraphernalia in the world; we paid the $5 admission to observe the displays depicting America’s original superhero. The melancholy of this humble town juxtaposed with the grandeur of Superman wasn’t lost on us, and we tried to process all of the conflicting feelings while capturing the beauty it had to offer. We left town feeling revitalized- that we’d come upon something truly unique to punctuate our Illinois story. Cities, towns, forests and superheroes- Illinois was anything but one-note.
Illinois is very, very flat, with the exception of the Shawnee forest at the southern tip.
Illinois is probably not a place to plan a vacation around in the winter. We saw some great things, but were greeted with some poor weather that made traveling a challenge.
People in southern Illinois speak with southern accents! Parts of southern IL are, in fact, south of the Mason-Dixon line.
US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.