This was it. I was totally committed at this point and there was no turning back. Actually, “turning back” would have entailed about two and a half days of driving. Once again, I found my self in a spot that I never would have predicted in a million years and the key component in this current misadventure was my friend Mountain Man.
“Are you sure this is right?”
I had been saying this pretty steadily for the last hour or so and though Mountain Man had always asserted that, yes, this was the way. I was having trouble believing him. The roads continued to get smaller and smaller and I was now looking over the steering wheel at what appeared to be an abandoned rail road cut.
“Trust me. It’s right down this abandoned rail road cut. We’re almost there now”
The destination which we were supposedly closing in on was a small patch of land purchased by Mountain Man’s father and uncle. It was located way out in the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota. Essentially, it was swamp land. Our job was to help put a cabin on it. Two days previously, we had packed our camping gear and various hand tools into my friend’s aging Toyota hatchback, tacked on an empty motorcycle trailer for a recovery mission in California and headed off to a distant swamp. Mountain Man had been to the site once before when he was a kid, so he was sure he could find it again. For some bizarre reason, I believed him.
Why do I always believe him?
The trip began with no untold dangers in the wind and though his car was… I’ll call it “venerable”, for the sake of tact; we figured that we could figure out anything that might come our way. After all, we had youth and stupidity on our side! Departing from our hometown in New Hampshire, we traveled north, heading for the Canadian border. A few months prior to this trip, I had driven with my then girlfriend, now wife, Action Girl, to the summer job she had taken in Wyoming. The trip had been a lot of fun with one notable exception. Pennsylvania.
I’ll take this opportunity to apologize to any Pennsylvanians out there for what I’m going to say next. Honestly, I’m sorry. But it’s true. If given a choice between dental surgery and driving across Pennsylvania, well… I’m heading for the drill. To add some additional weight to this statement, I’ll also disclose that I’m partially immune to Novocain. Really. I’d pick the dentist every time. It’s not just that Pennsylvania goes on FOREVER, leaving you with an uneasy notion that Ohio doesn’t actually exist and will never be reached.
It’s not even the incessantly repetitive rolling terrain that you must traverse like a frozen, undulating ocean. It’s Scranton. Specifically, it’s Scranton and Wilkes Barre. On my previous journey out west we had passed though the Scranton-Wilkes Barre region only to find it both an incomprehensible tangle of roadwork and off ramps as well as clogged solid with traffic that was going no where fast. It was a nexus of confusion and vehicular induced high blood pressure. I was determined never to return. I still am. So, when it was time to plan our journey to “Middle of Nowhere” Minnesota, I energetically endorsed the idea of traveling north of the Great Lakes and through maple leaf country, thus avoiding the Pennsylvanian nightmare. Mountain Man agreed and we were off.
Getting to the Canadian Boarder was not a long haul. Though we were in southern New Hampshire, our state is a diminutive one and reaching it’s northern boundary only took a few hours. The little hatchback behaved well and the motorcycle trailer, needed to retrieve Mountain Man’s Honda on the second leg of the trip, obliged us by not catching on fire. Yet.
We decided to travel through Montreal and then onward to the west. We amused ourselves by attempting to recite street signs with the thickest and campiest French accents possible and shouted triumphantly when highway twenty appeared in the knot of intersecting roads on the outskirts of the city.
“Vingt! Vingt! Sacreeeebleuuuuu! Oui! Oui! Vingt! Bon!”
I’ll blame the obnoxious behavior on being young and foolish. Oh, and oxygen. It has that effect on me.
Once out of the Canadian metropolis, things get rural very quickly. It catches me off guard every time I go to Montreal how like an island it is, sitting on a green ocean that rolls away for miles out of sight in every direction. As we crossed the grassy sea, the small towns came and went at uneven intervals but they seemed to be spaced farther and farther apart as we zipped westward. We had been driving now for the lion’s share of the day and had made good progress. Although we didn’t have any hard and fast goals as far as how much ground we needed to cover per day, we felt like we were nearing our quota and deserved some dinner. That, and I had eaten all the granola bars I could look at in a twelve hour period. It was time to stop for some warm food and fizzy drinks. As the next truck stop came up on the horizon, we decided to pull in. We nestled the little blue car and empty trailer amongst the idling rigs, locked the doors and stepped inside. Instantly we were being greeted with an enthusiastic, “Hey there, boys! Sit anywhere. I’ll be right wit’ cha” A woman in a neat apron and big smile was gesturing to the few remaining open tables and we happily stepped inside, sat down and started to review our dining possibilities.
A few moments later the same smiley waitress was back and asking questions.
“So, What would ya like ta drink? Yer not from aroond here arya? Whatcher names boys? We have meatloaf tanight if yad likeit”
I was amazed at not just how warm and personable she was but also her level of curiosity at our mission. Within ten minutes she knew not only our names and where we were from, but also our itinerary and why we were going. With her seemingly endless enthusiasm, she directed us to a good place to stay about two hours down the road and where we were to eat breakfast the next morning.
“In the town just afta the motel deres dis great lil diner. My friend Cindy works dare and I’m pretty sure she’ll be on in the monrin. You be sure to say ‘Hello’ for me when ya git dare, ok?
The happy chatter from our newfound friend made dinner all the better and we promised that we’d stop at the diner she specified. After we paid the bill and headed back out on the road we discussed our sleeping options for the evening. It was two hours to the motel we had been instructed to stay at and this being high summer, there was plenty of daylight to go before we might miss it in the dark. Mountain Man was espousing the virtues of sleeping in our tents by the side of the road. The only real virtue seemed to be that it was free. I’m not a cream puff when it comes to camping but as the day started to fade, the weather started to look less and less rosy. A thick layer of clouds had descended and the underside of the grey mass was bubbling menacingly. Things were not happy in the upper atmosphere. With some trepidation, I started to observe the cloud layer rolling over in tight swirls. Some of them seemed to dip down and I wondered aloud about the possibilities of tornados.
“Do they even have tornados in Canada?”
“What, do you suppose they stop them at the border? Maybe Canadian tornados are more polite.”
“Yah they probably just ruffle your hair and then apologize. Let’s stay at the motel.”
“But it will cost money! Camping is free!”
“So is dying in an airborne tent.”
I could understand Mountain Man’s problem with staying at the motel. I was only going as far as Minnesota with him. He would be continuing on to California after I left. There were going to be a lot of other places where he would need to spend his finite pile of money. I pulled my trump card.