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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

It’s more than a little narcissistic, but Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away” feels like it’s about me.

My car is less than three years old and it has carried me about 125,000 miles. I get hours of work done in my car. And, as a burgeoning waistline will attest, entirely too many meals are consumed while behind the wheel.

Driving has become a mind-numbing experience of passing white lines and utility poles.

I logged about 1,600 miles this past week, driving from Harrisburg to Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. It’s a 10-11 hour trip. Despite the long hours in the car, it was still better than flying.

With all the attendant airport hassles, saving time is the only reason to board an airplane. By the time I drive to St. Louis, mess with long-term parking, check in and go through the TSA screening, I’ve already invested 4-5 hours.

Factor in the flight, waiting for luggage and dealing with car rental agencies, it’s just as efficient to drive if the destination is within 10 hours.

Besides, driving gives you more of a feel for America — even if you stick to the interstates.

On the most recent trip, we drove out of the Shawnee Hills in Southern Illinois. The feel of the Deep South begins to fade by the time you reach Mount Vernon, although it’s impossible to determine where the line of demarcation falls.

Then, somewhere between Salem and Effingham you begin to feel the prairie. There are fewer changes in elevation. It’s possible to use a silo as a landmark for about 20 miles.

Again, there are subtle changes as you reach Interstate 80. Traffic seemed to increase as we entered the gravitational pull of the greater Chicago metropolitan area. The landscape didn’t change markedly as we crossed the border into Wisconsin.

Yet, just a few miles further north there were some perceptible changes.

Hardwoods started giving way to pines and firs. The terrain became more irregular. Again, almost imperceptibly, large fields of row crops became uncommon. The roadside was lined with small pools of water, and eventually areas that could best be described as bogs.

Finally, as we reached the North Woods, we entered a world of firs, maples and alders.

Within a span of 10 hours, the world outside our car windows had changed completely. There were no cardinals to be seen or heard — we were too far north. The pools of water along the road were just as likely to hold common loons as Canada geese.

And, in those few hours behind the wheel, we entered bear country. Granted, it’s not all that romantic while you’re logging the miles, but this is a uniquely American experience. Driving makes a person realize the great expanse and diversity of this remarkable country.

A few days later, we got to watch the world change in reverse.

Although I must admit, coming home is never as much fun.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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