Maybe it’s a function of the age I am, but time certainly does pass quickly. I hope I get some balance before too long between that (time) and my intentions and goals. Because I do have some, and time sure seems fleeting.
This trip is one of those intentions/goals, though I fluctuate daily about just why it is. I am on a pretty grand (as in long) road trip, yes, because I always thought it would be a good idea to drive all over (part) of the continent. And it turns out I am combining it with family history and with current family connections. And yet I quite often feel disconnected (probably because I am, eh?) I’ve temporarily cut off some of my roots in Vancouver, by putting all my belongings into storage, instead of having that ‘home’ to go back to. But that’s getting ahead of myself, I keep reminding myself. (One of the hazards of solo travel is having no one to talk to but yourself.) Soon enough I’ll be back in Vancouver (in a blink, really).
But I don’t only talk to myself this trip. I’ve stopped off in enough places since Ottawa (yes, I left Ottawa) and had a lot of conversations. It’s very true that saying goodbye to my daughter’s family was tough, especially the babes, because it’s hard to explain why Grandma has a place in town, but doesn’t really, and that she’s around most days, and then disappears again, for months likely till she’ll see them again. I felt like a bit of a rat, really, letting them get so used to me being around, and then poof, gone. So, yeah, conflicted, as I don’t particularly want to live in Ottawa, but I do want to know and be known to those little people (not to mention my daughter, who naturally enough holds a very large place in my heart). Life is full of trade-offs, and I hope that doesn’t sound like a cliche.
But leave I did, and followed a zigzag route out of Ontario, going first to see a niece in Prince Edward County, one I don’t know that well, but want to, as she’s my mother’s first grandchild (unknown to my mother, who died before all these other family members were found, and yes, that’s another, very long story). And then to stay with a long-time friend who lives in Stratford, which also allows for lots of going to plays (I managed four, thanks to her booking me a bunch of tickets).
After that I followed some quiet roads through Southern Ontario to find highway 3, which led me to the Peace Bridge, which I chose for it’s name, but also the peaceful approach through farmland instead of crazy freeways around Toronto, which is the route my GPS wanted me to take (don’t you think ‘they’ should program a sigh into the voice, when it says “recalculating”?) The Peace Bridge brought me to a very short line and un-fussed border agent, and then I was in Buffalo, well, on the Interstate away from it, but I could see there was a real city there as I whizzed by, and voila I was really on my way, onto roads untraveled by me. The whole point I guess, to go see what there looks like.
There are many ways to travel of course. Take an airplane and you fly over a lot of decisions, and so the storyline stays focused. Ride a train, and you are in a little cocoon, decisions out of your hands, but a constantly changing landscape out the window, and it feels like you’ve been everywhere.
Taking the car is very different. There are long stretches of easy driving between large urban areas, where rubbernecking is possible, and that sense of the constantly changing landscape settles in. Then suddenly you can be in the midst of heavy traffic with multi-lanes, cars buzzing around you, huge trucks lumbering by, madness really. It reminds me of a documentary I saw recently about ants, all that motion and activity that apparently has some organizing principle that is very hard for the outsider to figure out. A not original analogy, but a good one.
And driving means you have decisions popping up constantly. Road signs tell you about different options, all day long. Viewpoints you can pull over at, cities you’d like to see besides the one you’re aiming for, advertisements for folk festivals you didn’t know were happening, and constantly you have to let it go, and just keep the focus on where you are going. Another loose analogy, for life maybe.
My first day in the US took me to Clearfield Pennsylvania, a spot I’d chosen as a reasonable halfway point to Washington, DC, which was the big city I’d decided I would try and get a sense of. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, not to mention Quebec, and all of the Maritimes in Canada, well, you get my point. I’d be on the road for years. So I decided that having hung around Canada’s capital for the summer, I’d take in the US’s. A very different place, of course. For one thing, you tell anyone you’re going to DC, and they know where it is. Tell them you’re coming from Ottawa, and you have to mention Toronto (not that they maybe know where Toronto is, exactly, but it sort of clarifies).
From Clearfield I picked a route that took me through the Appalachians, and I did succumb to one of those choices that pops up. There’s not a lot of traffic on smaller highways, and regularly slowing down to go through small towns, past farms, up hills down dale. But at one point driving through the mountains, there was a surprisingly large number of cars parked at the side of the road and I saw hikers disappearing into the woods. I drove on for a bit, and then thought, whoa, when will I be here again? (talking to myself again) and so I made a u-turn, and went back, and asked a guy just leaving, what was there.
Seems I’d found myself at 1000 Steps, which was just that, a staircase of stones at an old stone quarry (and more than 1000, if the signs painted on the stones can be trusted), with some very pretty views tossed in. So I put on some proper shoes, grabbed a bottle of water, and went hiking, and I am so glad I did.
After that, driving into Washington was an enormous contrast, into a megalopolis, crazy number of lane changes, shifts from this highway to that, cars flying by, sailing by signs of places that I’ve seen in gazillions of fictional representations, on TV and in movies. And finally, swooping down the George Washington Parkway (The Pentagon? That’s a real place?) the Washington Monument comes into view, and I am pretty pleased with myself.
And then (thanks to my GPS, nicknamed Jack, because sometimes that’s all he knows) drops me into the Capitol Hill neighbourhood, and it’s pretty, and calmish. And indeed, thank the anthill of techies that have created this marvel of technology, or concurrence of technologies (satellite, computers, not to mention map-making, and all the people who enter data…) or I would still be looking for that place I’d arranged to stay in Capitol Hill. But find it I did, and stayed three nights, so I had two full days of prowling through museums and gawking at national monuments that are known everywhere in the world. Pretty cool.