11-Mar-2006 -- Imagine one of the largest gatherings of geographers on the planet--over 5,000 strong, and not one of those geographers visiting a confluence. Determined not to let that happen, I, Joseph Kerski, visited 41 North 88 West in Illinois one cloudy March morning. Having finished this visit before 7 am, I set my sights on 41 North 87 West in Indiana. I told myself that my limit was 9 am, and if I had not located the confluence by then, I would turn around and rush back to Chicago for my 11 am appointment. The Association of American Geographers (AAG) was holding its annual meeting in downtown Chicago, and attendees were giving over 3,000 papers, panels, and field trips. I had visited confluences during the 2003 AAG conference in New Orleans and the 2004 conference in Philadelphia.
I was in the heart of the corn belt, an agricultural region extending from eastern Nebraska on the west, nearly to Ohio on the east. It is crisscrossed by north-south and east-west section line roads, nearly every mile. Therefore, I found plenty of roads heading due east from 88 West to 87 West. I passed through a wonderful wildlife preserve in eastern Illinois, but my deadline prevented me from stopping. I was soon in Indiana, traveling east on State Highway 14, and I turned south on US Highway 231 through the town of Rensselaer, turned east on State Highway 114, and north on County S 230 E. As it turned out, I could have saved 15 minutes by approaching the confluence from the north and avoided the town. But no matter--by 8:15 am, I was knocking on the door of the nearest farmhouse to the confluence. A woman of about my own age answered the door in a bathrobe. She said the field was owned by her neighbor but that he wouldn't mind my trek. I thanked her and left her my business card in case she needed any maps in the future. A friend of hers approached with a gift of a large bag of grapefruit. The farm seemed prosperous, with crops as well as goats and sheep. I drove back down the road to the south and parked near 41 North.
I gathered supplies and hiked a few hundred meters east to the confluence. One exciting moment occurred when I tripped and pitched headlong into the mud. The confluence lies in a field that had the remains of the 2005 planting year of corn, sloping 5 degrees to the east. I could see 6 farmhouses from the spot. The temperature was a mild 53 F (12 C) under cloudy skies. New green mossy ground cover provided a hint that spring was not far away. I saw no birds, animals, or people.
I had been to 41 North several times, in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming. I had been to 87 west in Alabama and Florida. A few years ago, confluence coordinator Gordon Spence told me that I should visit a confluence in every US State. I didn't think it realistic at the time, but now as I stood upon my first Indiana confluence, I realized that of the surrounding states of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, I had visited confluences in every one of them except Kentucky. Perhaps I could realize this goal after all, not that my goal of 100 attempted confluences had been achieved. As it was not yet 9 am, I also began thinking of how many confluences would be physically possible during one single day, on the ground, without aid of a helicopter, and on a long summer day. I might be able to squeeze in four or five confluences. The Great Plains of the USA would be the perfect place to try this, where there are plenty of roads and lots of flattish countryside.
I wanted to linger, but it was now 9 am, my deadline for departure to Chicago. I found a large agricultural operation not 1 km to the west, possibly for pigs. I then drove north to Highway 14, northwest to Chicago on Interstate Highway 69. I bought gas and missed the road to the I-90 tollway. I came in on I-94, drove downtown, now considerably more crowded than it had been at 5 am, and delivered the car to the rental car garage. I ran to the conference hotel, checked out my luggage, and changed my clothes. I dashed to the hotel lobby for my meeting at the conference with 7 minutes to spare. Victory!