Searching for Sugar Man

Last week, the Voyager exited the Great plains, visited several breweries and caught its first glimpse of the Windy City. In week nine the journey pauses in Chicago for a name-day celebration and some pizza pie before heading North to see whatever is left of illustrious Motown.

Day 57 – Chicago, IL

Chicago town. America’s second city and our home for the next few days. Driving through downtown Chicago is like navigating through a Mondrian painting. Every block and building is ridiculously square and interlaced by perfectly parallel streets; its precision is something I greatly appreciate.

Willis Tower

Lake Michigan

The only building that does not follow the traditional Chicagoan model is Trump Tower; a glass monstrosity built in-between two city blocks so that it can be seen from every angle that ruins the view of the magnificent time-honoured brick structures that surround it. If Donald’s foreign policy making is as subtle as his buildings, America will be at war with most of the world and its surrounding planets before you could say “I wish I voted for Hillary”.

Trump Tower

Lake Michigan

We walked up-and-down Navy Pier and followed the Chicago river that runs right through the heart of downtown before reaching the infamous Chicago theatre which was, rather depressingly, presenting America’s Got Talent rather than a world-renowned musical or opera, not that we had the spare funds to watch either. However, the theatre is conveniently situated right next to the city’s most popular tourist destination, Cloud Gate.

Chicago Theatre

Cloud Gate

The iridescent bean appeared as popular as ever as scores of tourists literally clambered over each other to get a suitable photograph of the reflected Chicago skyline, admittedly as did I. As day turned to night we meandered through Millennium Park, watched two electronic sculptures blow water at each other and headed back towards the outskirts of the city, our Costco home.

Cloud Gate

Millennium Park

Day 58 – Chicago, IL

A chance reading of a single page of ‘Illinois Oddities’ at a Chicagoan bookshop led us to this morning’s fun-filled location. A few miles West of the city – although the only thing that’s East of Chicago is lake Michigan – sits The World’s Largest Laundromat. Capital letters were intended as that is the actual name of this modest, brilliantly American establishment.

World’s Largest Laundromat

A twenty-four-hour metropolis filled with the sound of whirring machines, buzzing televisions and crying children in the play area; dismayed because they were promised a trip to Disneyland. Free pizza and doughnuts are provided BUT the magician and face painter only make an appearance on Wednesdays. A shame because I quite fancied getting my face painted as Donald Trump and seeing how long it would take before I got kicked in the face.

World’s Largest Laundromat

Enough Trump jokes, at least for this week. After gathering our garbs, Shu announced that she had booked us all in to a hotel for a couple of nights and that we could check-in, wash and shower within the hour. You could almost hear the rapturous cries of joy from all within smelling distance of us four as we would finally be able to wash our malodourous torsos.

That was exactly what we did. Whilst Shu visited another Korean friend, this time in downtown Chicago – she has remarkably more connections in this part of the world than I – Aaron, Jess and myself stayed at the hotel and ordered a veritable smorgasbord of delectables from room service… pizzas.

Reviews of the hotel, which we only read after booking, claiming that it was dirty, raucous, dangerous, bug-infested and a drug trafficking brothel were a long way off the mark; it was a real joy. Upon Shu’s return, Aaron and I played midnight Frogger across the highway in order to replenish our dwindling beer stocks before toasting the arrival of my twenty-fifth birthday, huzzah.

Day 59 – Chicago, IL

October 10th. A quarter of a century old and I still haven’t established how to remedy a ruthless hangover. A Wales win against Australia at the World Cup would have assisted my situation, but that did not come into fruition so my own weight in water, a boat-load of pills and hair of the dog had to suffice.

Wales V Australia

Following birthday communiqués with my family at the hotel we had the unenviable task of reaching downtown Chicago – a forty-minute journey by car – through the use of public transport alone. Anyone who has travelled on peripheral city bus routes in America will know they are about as reliable as a smiling Greek bank manager.

Just the one bus no-show, the next twenty minutes late and a lengthy layover in Harlem got us into the city just shy of my twenty-six birthday, but at least it took us right to the very start of everybody’s favourite historic highway. It only felt like seconds ago that I was clutching the Route 66 starting sign on Santa Monica pier in California. Yet here we were, already at its end, having driven a great deal further than even the Mother Road can offer. A major bucket list tick and even more cause for celebration.

The Start of Route 66

Downtown Chicago

After visiting the Chicago Tribune – a building made from bits and pieces taken from other famous global structures – we headed for dinner at a Chicagoan institution. Pizza pie from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria gave us great insight into the obesity epidemic in the United States. I highly doubt I have eaten as much cheese in an entire year of my life as I had in this one sitting and, following a few more celebratory beverages, I conceded that I was in a hungover dairy coma and needed a bed – Chicago had beaten me.

Chicago Tribune

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

Day 60 – Chicago, IL to South Bend, IN

Following last night’s antics, a nice long lye-in was exactly what was required. But absolutely not what we got as we hurriedly had to check-out of the hotel before paying for another night. With it being a Sunday, Aaron and I went to see American Football in a bar whilst the girls went to see masterpieces in an art gallery. A decision I am sure they regretted deep down as they missed several classic encounters.

The Art Institute Of Chicago

Before leaving the city we needed to take a closer look at what was, for thirty years at the end of the last century, the tallest building in the world – currently called Willis Tower. With a new skyscraper popping up in China every few seconds it is now only the thirteenth tallest but that does not detract from its immense magnificence. It is certainly not as aesthetically pleasing as the Sistine Chapel or the Guggenheim but its sheer size does lend it a similar sense of awe.

Willis Tower

So our brief time in Chicago run out and we now had to head South-East, around Lake Michigan, towards our next state which I honestly have no idea the number of. Let’s say state twentyish, Indiana. We stopped at what we believed was a quiet, anonymous town in the middle of Amish country towards the Northern border with Michigan.

Day 61 – South Bend, IN to Toledo, OH

From thinking that we would have to scour around for anything to do in Indiana we actually woke up, by complete chance, next to one of the biggest and most recognisable colleges in the country, Notre Dame. The main campus is home to over eighty thousand students whilst The Fighting Irish has one of the best college football teams in America – it is taken extremely seriously in these parts. We thought we may as well pretend to be undergraduates for the afternoon, just without the excessive drinking and sleeping.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

From glancing at murals along the walls of the enrolment building we discovered that today was Columbus day; a day marking the arrival of Chris and his team on the shores of the New World in the seventeenth century. Although that gave us little cause for celebration, the Columbus Day Sale Extravaganza did prove extremely useful when replacing my ailing laptop.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Before we all joined a fraternity we decided to move on towards our next state and next Great Lake. We would have felt more at home on the road to Ohio if we were wearing plain, monochrome attire instead of Vancouver Canucks jerseys and driving horse and carriages instead of minivans. We drove straight through the largest Amish community in the country towards Toledo and the shores of Lake Erie.

Upon our arrival Aaron spotted a Tim Horton’s, Canada’s far better answer to Starbucks, and in blind elation missed the turning for it. This was a moment he had been craving for a solid two months since leaving Canada, as he had repeatedly told us… on an hour-by-hour basis. So it was rather disappointing that the food was abysmal. In different ways, we are all missing Canada.

Day 62 – Toledo, OH

Another day and another farewell to Aaron and Jess. After a visit to the East coast they were headed North to Toronto, Canada, to sell their minivan before flying to Florida to finish their journey; hopefully we would bump into them in Miami. So this was the last morning that the Voyager and the Montana would stand side by side before going their separate ways, time is flying by.

For Shu and I we had the far more unenviable drive North to a city we were unsure about visiting from the offset, Detroit. A Google image search shows you why. It does not appear that time has been too kind to the once prosperous Motor City. We thought we would compromise by making a flying visit, but head back to Toledo for the night.



Yes, the gateway of the city does look like Port Talbot on steroids but the downtown area is undergoing major beautification and the ‘dangerous’ parts did not look too dissimilar to that of any other major American city. The Motown Museum was thriving as was the MGM Grand – not only Las Vegas has one – but Sugar Man remained as elusive as ever.

Motown Museum


Don’t get me wrong I would not want to live there, or stay past nightfall, but it is not as bad as we initially feared. This would be as North as North goes for us before our entry into Canada at the end of our trip. Time to warm up and head South as far as South goes, with a few stop-offs along the way.

Day 63 – Toledo, OH to Cincinnati, OH

The Road To Cincinnati

I greatly prefer travelling Southwards. The weather generally gets warmer, the gas generally gets cheaper and the locals generally don’t care where you car camp – as long as it is nowhere near their super-sized, super-unnecessary trucks; all of which are fitted to army spec. and fully prepared for nuclear Winter.

Today we headed straight down Ohio, top to bottom, towards Cincinnati – an All-American city. This means is has, at some point in the last sixty years, been deserving of an award for outstanding urban beauty and community spirit. Given that Anchorage, Alaska has won the award on three separate occasions leads me to believe that if Baghdad was located in Florida, it too would have a superb chance. Blow me down there is a Bagdad in Florida, and it has won the award… twice!


However, upon our arrival in Cincinnati we were extremely shocked to discover that it displayed lots of urban beauty and community spirit. The downtown area was well-kept and un-Minneapolis like in every respect. Whilst the two major sports stadiums in the city are located next door to each other alongside the Ohio river and a rather splendid city park. Forget Bagdad, Florida, we will be returning here tomorrow.


Next week the Voyager follows the Bourbon Trail into the Bible Belt before moving towards the very heart of the deep, deep South.

Total kilometres: 15,752


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