The judges have decided—the votes are in! Having traveled more than 8,000 miles and scoured the country for the very best, here are the 2015 DOWNING ROADTRIP AWARDS…in order of encounter. Continue reading
Some years ago, there was an episode of West Wing in which the Alison Janney character is asked how a multi-billionaire might use his money to help emerging nations. “Roads,” she answered, “it’s not very glamorous but…” As someone who has now traveled some 7,000 or so miles through the United States and Canada on one trip alone, let me tell you something: it’s not only emerging nations that need new roads. It’s developed nations who are now declining. Like the United States and Canada. Sorry, but if you’ve driven on the roads that I’ve driven on over the past five weeks, seen the questionable bridges and highways of our beautiful country, you’d be as worried as I that our infrastructure is in sad decline. And I’m not talking about backcountry gravel or dirt roads here; I’m talking major highways. These roads will keep you awake while driving because the sound of your tires on them is not only unbearable, but stops all conversation so that you put on blaring music. And these roads will keep you awake at night because you’ll be wondering when you’ll next get a flat tire or, worse, be on a bridge…well, you get the picture. As Alison said, it’s not very glamorous, but…
After one hour on one of these roads, we found relief by making the two hour ferry ride to Tobermory,
a delightful town on Lake Huron known, apparently, as The Big Tub. It’s apparently a freshwater diving centre and resembles so many places on Cape Cod or even the California coast, seagulls and all. And we are very, ferry happy to be here.
We’ve been on treasure hunts today. Gore Bay, where we’ve been staying, has a Friday morning market; it proved too inviting to miss and Cristal soon found some woodwork bowls she wanted to buy. But the walk to the bank for cash only led to a garage sale and, as fate would have it, it was huge and impressive. Combing through junk to get to the good stuff was fun, and we each finally made decisions to buy some glassware that was going cheaply—all thoughts of woodwork bowls gone.
Early afternoon found us once again combing a trading post on the far side of the island. I’ve been after a porcupine quill basket I could afford and finally found one, while Cristal grabbed a deerskin purse. At long last, we drove over to the Spirit Circle Centre for a medicine walk, to learn about the various properties of the plants the First Nation peoples use.
I should explain that Manitoulin is considered a sacred island by the various sects of the Ojibwe who live here. Our guide, Red Sky, showed us how to ‘smudge’ to protect ourselves before going on the walk. He had us taste cedar leaves and balsam and feel the bark of birch and other trees, and he ended the session giving us bannock and jam and a mint tea. But what stays in my mind the most is how he said the native people must live in two worlds, the everyday world of paying bills and driving cars and dealing with modern problems, and the spirit world of his ancestors and how they would exist in the old ways. And it struck me that, that is true of authors as well: we live in the everyday world of our families and jobs and the domain about us, but in our heads we live in our books with our characters and the world we’re creating.
So if I’m taking any treasure home from Manitoulin, it’ll be the memory of this afternoon spent learning not only about the plants, but a little bit more about myself as well.
view from B and B
One of the good things about a road trip is that if you’re unhappy in one place, you know you’re moving on. And conversely, if you really love someplace, you also know you’re sadly moving on. You trade the plastic smell of identical motels for the luxury of a well-furnished room in a Victorian B and B; you exchange long scenic walks through breathtaking scenery for long tedious drives on horrific roads; dinners in city top spots become pizza in the room and, occasionally, an overindulgence in historical sites becomes a relaxing day ending with a bottle of wine, fresh fish and a man with a guitar.
even the birds have shoreline houses
We’ve tried to take it easy today, did a bit of touring of this immense rural island set on Lake Huron, got a taste of the First Nations here as native Americans are called, and now look forward to returning to restaurant nirvana. Last night, we walked down to the harbor to a place called ‘Buoy’s’ We sat in the marina restaurant, a bottle of highly quaffable wine by our side, watched the sun go down, enjoyed a cooked-to-order meal of fresh fish, and listened to the melodious voice of some guy with a guitar singing Leonard Cohen and
Elton John. In the end, we closed the place down.
As we shall no doubt do tonight.
Three nights ago—on Sunday—I suddenly awoke in a panic. I had diligently made sure that my car insurance, which comes due July 28th, would be paid on time and would cover all fifty states. I never thought to ask about Canada. Sweat seeping out of every pore, I checked my policy, which I had brought with me, and sure enough it covered Canada. Sigh of relief. Then a hasty look on the internet revealed I needed an extra card proving this insurance. An early Monday phone call to my insurance agent was promptly answered and the response was, you no longer need one. Bigger sigh of relief. As I put the phone down, I suddenly thought, but what about Medicare? Cristal’s UN insurance was still operative and valid throughout the world, but me? To the internet again, and to my horror discovered Medicare doesn’t cross the border. Off I went on an internet search to get travel insurance. That was swiftly accomplished. Then Cristal asked, what about our phones? Is Canada a foreign country as far as Verizon is concerned? It is! Of course it is; if Verizon can get an extra buck out of you, it will. So, global data plan added on. And, at that point I had to ask myself, how could someone as well-traveled as I be such a total idiot?
The answer seems to be that somehow Canada doesn’t seem foreign. As I said yesterday, for the most part they speak English. They have the same shops and malls along the roads and everything, when you’re sitting in NY and planning, just doesn’t seem foreign the way, maybe, going into Mexico seems. But look again! The roads are marked in kilometers, temperature is measured in Centigrade, and the money…what is this plastic see-through stuff and the funny coins with the Queen on them? Forgive me, Canada: you’re not an extension of the USA even if your television seems to have more of our news than yours.
We are on Manitoulin Island, no thanks to Betty who wanted to get us here by a scenic route of gravel back roads. I think she knew full-well we dare not use Hilary because of the costly data plan.