Columns

2007.07.25 Memories of a great road

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

The International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie connects the two longest highways in North America. I learned that in the Observer’s Decade Review on page 2.

Interstate 75 ends at the Sault where it intersects the Trans-Canada Highway.

That tidbit of information was from the 1967 Observer and it’s long out of date. I don’t know how many U.S. highways are longer than the 1,786 miles of I-75, but that road now pales in comparison to I-90 with 3,099.

I-90, the longest road of the interstate system, falls far short of the Trans-Canada at 4,860 miles.

A funny feeling came over me when I typed the word “Trans-Canada” last week in the Decades. I felt a little breeze of fresh air off Lake Superior.  I sensed adventure, the open road, the long journey west.

I’ve pedaled a bicycle along portions of the Trans-Canada in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I’ve driven a long stretch in Ontario and Québec. I’ve hitched across most of the remainder to Vancouver. Thinking about that road stirs up something from the past.

I had finished college, I had finished two years of service in inner-city Saginaw day care centers, I had bicycled back to Morenci after working for a year in a small rural school in Maine. It was time to hitch west.

Somehow I made my way north to Bayview to visit friends I made during a college summer job. They took me to the Sault, drove a few miles up the Trans-Canada and let me out.

I said good-bye and stood alone in the late afternoon. What an incredible feeling. Standing by the side of the road in another country. No one else around. The sun shining off Lake Superior. The excitement of the adventure ahead.

What’s a person to think at a time like that? The day was ending. The sun was getting lower. No one was picking me up for a ride.

It was a combination of exhilaration and trepidation, of anticipation and worry, of knowing a great undertaking is about to begin and wondering what I got myself into.

There weren’t a lot of cars on the Trans-Canada that afternoon. Traffic was rather sparse for the great cross-country route, and the few cars passing by were not interested in a young man and his backpack.

Finally, Don from Nashua, N.H., arrived on the scene and I guess he was looking for company. He was going to Portland, too, but not in a straight-away fashion. He had a side trip to Banff planned, but he would gladly take me to the turnoff.

I think we made it to the Kenora area before stopping at a little roadside park. Don slept on his front seat, but the back seat was full of his stuff, so I slept in my tent with it half collapsed so as not to be obvious for camping in an area that wasn’t for camping.

That was the night I had the encounter with a mother black bear who lightly bit my right leg to see if I was anything good to eat. Apparently not.

I remember another night with Don where I slept out in the open in my sleeping bag, half suffocating with a shirt over my face to keep the cloud of mosquitoes off.

Traveling with Don wasn’t the best, but in my mind I can still see the plains of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I’d heard the plains were endless boredom; I thought they were fascinating. You could see forever. You could watch storms move in from far away.

Eventually it was time for Don to kick me out. I got a ride down the west side of the Rockies in a smallish sports car with a driver who had no fear. I spent the night in a hostel in Kamloops, then hitched a ride on down along the Pacific coast with Pam, a nurse from Boulder, Colo. Finally, one more ride inland to Portland and the journey was complete.

After a shaky start north of the Sault, the open road proved to be everything I’d hoped for. It was such a fantastic experience that even now, 30 years later, I can’t write the words “Trans-Canada” without seeing the sun getting low over Lake Superior and feeling that nervous sensation in the pit of my stomach.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2014