My 16 y.o. son and I road tripped down to Atlanta (Sandy Springs), GA to visit family over Thanksgiving. My wife and younger son weren't with us as they flew in from Qatar after doing a World Cup foray. We left Chicagoland early Wed AM (thankfully, NO traffic issues thru Downtown Chicago) and cannonballed it down I-57 as far as we could till we got to Mt Vernon, IL to gas up…. At that point, I let my boy drive (he's on a learner's permit) to Carbondale, IL, home of Southern Illinois University and my alma mater. It took us about 5:20 hours, a record time for me. Back in the day, when the speed limit was a painful 55 MPH, and if you obeyed the law and made minimal stops, the drive was an agonizing 6.5 hours, minimum! We explored around the town and campus then went to the Student Center Bookstore and bought some Saluki souveniers…. We stopped at Mary Lou’s Diner for lunch….see my review.
We left town early afternoon and headed south on US-51, then east to Giant City State Park. This region of Illinois looks nothing like the flat cornfields further north. After a brief stop in Giant City and a climb up the water tower for a scenic panoramic view, we continued east towards I-57. My son really enjoyed driving these hilly and windy 2-lane back roads. I-24 splits off from I-57 about 10 miles south of Marion, IL. The terrain along this stretch looks more like parts of Tennessee, than Illinois. We continued south thru Paducah, then got off I-24 and hooked up with US-68 and cut across The Land Between the Lakes as my son has never seen it before. At that point, we switched and I drove back to I-24, then to Manchester, TN where we spent the night at the Quality Inn….see my review. We hit a bit of traffic in Nashville (surprising, huh?), but it wasn’t too horrible….
Next morning, we headed out, but I drove as I didn’t want him driving over Monteagle and thru Chattanooga, where it can get pretty dicey…. Shockingly, we breezed thru Chattanooga with no traffic issues…. At the first rest stop in Georgia (along I-75), we stopped and switched and he drove the rest of the way to Sandy Springs. We arrived right at lunchtime. After hanging with relatives for a few hours, I picked up my wife and other son at ATL…. While in town, we stayed at the Sonata Suites at Perimeter….see my review.
We left Sandy Springs Saturday around 9:40 AM EST, but my wife and other son wanted to fly home cuz they didn’t wanna make the long drive. Good thing because we took all their Qatar luggage and it would’ve been a tight fit in that Subaru! Anyway, I let my son drive to Calhoun, GA where we topped off and switched as I didn’t want him driving the same stretch mentioned above… We hit a TON of traffic in Chattanooga…wasted a good hour in bumper to bumper traffic. Is it alway like this on a late Saturday morning???? On this trip, I absolutely wanted to stop at the Lodge cast iron outlet store in South Pittsburgh, TN. I’ve passed by this place a half dozen times and I wanted to make sure I stopped there once and for all…see my review.
From there, I drove 6+ hours non-stop to Matoon, IL where we had a bite and gassed up for the final push home. We hit minimal traffic in Nashville, but saw a horrible crash in the southbound lanes on the I-24 bridge over the Ohio River. Traffic was backed up a good 10 miles! I did a little research, and luckily, it appears nobody was killed. Anyway, as we were heading back out to I-57 in Matoon, my son caught a glimpse of a Christmas light show, so we checked it out. It’s one of those drive-thru light shows…. It took about 25 minutes to get thru it, but it was worth it. If you’re in the area around the holidays, I definitely recommend checking it out, plus it’s free (they except donations). It’s a nice little diversion to break up the monotony of the drive. From there, he drove up to almost Kankakee, IL where we switched and I drove home in the north ‘burbs of Chicago.
Total distance driven 1800+ miles. Total drive time to home was about 15+ hours (we arrived around 11:30 PM CST), but we burned an an extra 3+ hours......in traffic, stops at the iron store and light show, and our first stop in Calhoun, which took almost a half hour. The good thing was the weather was good both ways. My wife and other son arrived home only a few hours before us. All in all, it was a long drive for only a 2 day visit, but my son got a lot of driving experience on a good variety of roads, plus he got to see my alma mater and a real college town. And **I** FINALLY got to go to that Lodge factory store!