A nine-hour drive

Nick Drake, c. 1969.
Nick Drake, c. 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, that was an odyssey!

As some of you know, I could have crossed the width of Ireland three times in the time it took me to get from my Dad’s house in Canada to the house in Vermont where I’m now house-sitting til the 29th, responsible for a pool, a charming small dog and a huge garden.

I started at 8:45 a.m., dropping my Dad off at the car rental place to start his day. As it would turn out, I was driving in tandem with a convoy of tour buses filled with chattering, texting, flirting 13-year-olds…and every rest stop I made, they made as well.

The 401, which runs east-west in Ontario, might be one of the world’s most boring highways — a straight line of asphalt with farm fields on either side for hundreds of miles. (Kilometers, there.)

So, if you’re alone, as I was, tunes are key. My new radio wasn’t working (!?) so it was CDs that would keep me energized and awake for the next day.

Corelli. Martin Sexton. Some Indian instrumentals. That was enough to get me to the Quebec border, where a big blue flag said “Bienvenue” and I switched to the Indigo Girls.

Montreal traffic at 3pm was no pique-nique…especially when the first road sign telling me to look for Route 10 never re-appeared. Nope. Nowhere. And Montrealers, where I learned to drive in 1988, drive fast. At least I could read the road signs in French and knew which streets were which as the exits whizzed past.

Finally, I hit the Champlain Bridge…and was overpowered by a terrifying memory of a story I  covered as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. There is a lane on the bridge that’s a dedicated bus lane during rush hours, the same one I was now using to head south to Vermont. A car filled with young people had smashed head-on into a bus heading the other way…and I had taken (and passed) my driver’s test the following day.

The minute you cross the bridge, you’re in flat, green farming country, surrounded on both sides by barns, silos, cows. Enormous churches whose steeples gleam in the sunshine. I stopped for a breather and flopped into a deep bend to stretch out my back. I stood and caught the eye of a man in a purple polo shirt driving a flatbed carrying a tractor.

It’s fun to be out on the road alone, a redhead in a Subaru packed to the rafters.

The perfect music as I passed through towns whose names would take longer to pronounce than to drive through, like this one,  St.-Pierre-de-Veronne-a-Pike-River, was Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, (his third and final one, whose title track was used for a Volkswagen Cabriolet commercial.) I adore it — meditative, soft and quirky.

It’s barely a half-hour from Montreal to the U.S. border.

I offered my passport…which I had forgotten to sign after I got it two weeks ago. I showed my green card (which actually, now, is green, which allows me the legal right to work and live in the U.S.) in which I’m still a blond.

“Why do you have so much stuff in your car?” the officer asked. I stayed calm and perky and confident, the way Jose has taught me to be: “I’m away from home for a month.”

“Do you have receipts for all those things?”

I actually did. Even my auction goodies.

I figured for sure I was due for a complete shake-down, but was waved through.

It’s always an odd moment when I cross the border between my two homes, the one where I grew up to the age of 30 (Canada, and where my family still lives) and the U.S. (where I’ve married twice and re-built my career despite three recessions.) I treasure elements of both countries and find deeply irritating elements in both.

Toronto pals wonder why I’m “stuck there” and New York friends wonder about the appeal of that 10-hour drive north.

I end up trying to explain American political gridlock to my Canadian peeps and Canadian health-care to my bewildered American friends who desperately crave a better solution but many of whom loathe and distrust any solution involving government.

As I faced my final few miles, I turned the wrong direction and drove another half hour the wrong way, The Doors blasting loud to keep me awake.

I finally pulled into my friend’s driveway after nine hours, grateful for a huge glass of red wine and Chinese food for dinner.

What’s the longest drive you’ve ever done on your own?

14 thoughts on “A nine-hour drive

  1. excuse me miss, but if you’re going to be the second most accomplished writer “friend” i have, then you have to correct something:

    a straight line of asphalt with farm fields on either side for hundreds of miles.

    “either” means one or the other, not both. in that sentence, the fields are on both sides, so it would be correct to say “both sides” or “each side.”

  2. Maybe he’s correct, but I’d have to argue that common usage would make “either” correct. I don’t usually go for that cop-out, but it didn’t phase me to read it so it must be an extremely common error.
    Longest I’ve ever driven was about 15 hours straight, Kansas City to mid-New Mexico. I was by myself but had someone significant at the other end waiting for me. I’ve done that one several times. I did another awfully long stretch another time when I was headed from Colorado to Oregon, but my daughter was with me (although she was too young to drive and mostly asleep). I didn’t intend to do it that time, there just wasn’t any good place to stop.
    I’m going on another long one in July, heading to the west coast. I’ll see how long I can go, if I don’t find a good place to stop.

  3. Road warrior! I could not imagine a day as long as 15 hrs, esp. alone. I do stop for naps, and lock all the doors and windows and snooze for a half hour or less, as needed. I only napped for 15 mins. early on in that trip and it helped a lot.

  4. All of this intrigues me. I don’t drive. In Ireland I walked everywhere, or waited for a curvy double decker bus to take me to my destination. In Germany I hop on an underground train and I’m transported like magic to another part of town. I know that some day I will have to learn to drive but I am so attracted to the pleasures of people watching on public transport, that I approach the task without any urgency. I’m glad your CD player was working!

    1. I hear you!

      I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30 because I lived in Toronto and Montreal…between buses/trains/taxis/bikes and walking, I had no need to. But then my husband-to-be moved to a rural place and another country…I had to learn. I love driving! I love road trips and the independence it’s given me. I’ve had so many great adventures since then. I keep a cooler in the car with water, food, ice, so I can stay healthy and hydrated.

      As I type this I’m listening to one of the US’s most popular (and soon to go off the air [sob]) radio shows, Car Talk. An hour of people calling in with car problems? Yup, it’s fun. 🙂

  5. I drive 16 hours to Tennessee a few times a year to visit my family. My dog keeps me company on the ride – so I’m not really alone, but he doesn’t share any of the driving. 🙂

  6. I can barely survive the 5.5 hour drive from Toronto to Montreal when I go back to visit family, and that’s usually as a passenger because my husband will do the driving most of the time! But I admit, driving alone is kind of fun. I love the solitude. When I had to drive from Toronto to Sarnia for work some time ago, I was dreading the 3 hours in the car, but it turned out to be the most relaxing drive ever, not having to worry about how to keep my 5-year-old busy in the back. And funny enough, the longest drive I ever had (although again, my husband did the driving!) was from Stowe, Vermont to Toronto. It was also one of the most beautiful drives ever, through the stunning Adirondacks. This scenic route took us 11.5 hours – it was worth it. It was fun to read this post and hear about all the landmarks that are so familiar to me (e.g. Champlain Bridge – I grew up on the South Shore!).

    1. I love the solitude — all the tunes I want, in any order, at any volume. The 401 is the WORST highway…so boring, no?

      Glad this post brought back memories. I lived in Montreal when I was 12 and in my late 20s. I may go north from my vacation here in northern Vermont for the day, about 90 minutes drive from here.

  7. I fairly regularly do the four hour drive from Wellington – where I live – to Napier, where I have family. My wife can’t always come with me because of work obligations so it’s usually a solo journey. I used to entertain myself with audio books, but these days usually focus on the road.

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