I enjoyed a rare taste of freedom yesterday. Pete Yoder, whose hospitality I'm enjoying at the moment, ferried my backpack here in his car, allowing me to walk for half a day with nothing to carry for the first time. It was a real treat. I don't mind my pack, but it weighs 40 pounds and sometimes, especially towards the end of the day, it can be a real burden as I constantly shift it around in an attempt to get comfortable.
I was in a bookshop the other day reading a book on ultra-lightweight camping, and it had a whole chapter on how to reduce your pack weight to 5 pounds. That's the kind of thing I can only dream of. I'm usually good at travelling light, and I constantly review the contents of my luggage (a couple of days ago, my 700-page guidebook was consigned to the bin because it's mainly about big cities, and this trip is mainly about small towns), but I really feel I need all the stuff I have.
As I walked, I spotted a hidden bend in the river beside the road. Show me any expanse of open water, and I feel a compulsion to immerse myself in it, so I dabbled for half an hour as the cars sped by a hundred yards away. The opposite bank was a firmament of star-shaped purple and yellow flowers, the air filled with pale-blue mayflies and monarch butterflies and the hum of crickets. So much goes on unseen by human eyes, especially in this vast country.
The landscape changes abruptly west of Columbus: horizons broaden, the sky and the clouds assume a more dominant presence, and the road is lined with huge expanses of corn and soybeans. It's beautiful, but you can have too much of a good thing.
After Pete had shown me round some of his own farmland, we sat down at the dining table with a pile of maps. 'There's lots more of this on route 40,' he told me. 'Basically, it's like this all the way across Indiana and Illinois. If I were you, I'd start heading south. Go to Kentucky. It's much more scenic - it even has hills.'
So that's what I'm going to do. Route 40 has served me well for more than 300 miles, and it could have taken me to Salt Lake City, but it's time for a parting of the ways.