OUR LAST GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIP

I’ve read a lot of posts that wax nostalgic about the old days, of trips down country roads at a slower pace. Driving through little towns. Past farms, fields, woods, and streams. No super highways with their sterile rest stops and fast food outlets. Driving through the real America.

Leaving Jackman, Maine on Route 201

Leaving Jackman, Maine on Route 201

Those were the days, we say. The good old days which we remember from the back seat. Where we were pinching and pummeling our siblings while nagging our parents to stop for ice cream. Or asking the deathless question: “Are we there yet?”

Everyone who ever waxed poetic about the good old days of travel should take the drive from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont.

road to skowhegan Rt-201

It’s 231 miles from Jackman to Danville unless you travel through Canada, which we did not want to do. Just going through the customs checkpoints would have added hours to the journey. Unless you go through Canada, there’s only one route. Take 201 from Jackman to Skowhegan. Hook a right on route 2. Drive. Keep driving. Behind pickup trucks and aging SUVs veering erratically while never exceeding 28 miles per hour … the exact point at which the car changes gears. The engine lugging relentlessly as it tries to find the spot.

There is food to eat and gasoline to be pumped as you pass through all those little towns. There’s always someplace selling pizza, baked goods, sandwiches, and cold drinks. Usually a toilet, too. You will get a chance to visit every little town in the mountains between Maine and Vermont. I found myself staring at the map, hoping a faster road would magically appear.

72-Peacham-Sunday_085

Talk about ambivalence. In the middle of October the trees look as if they are lit from within. The mountains are covered in autumnal glory so magnificent it looks surreal. Reconcile that with an overwhelming urge to blow those pokey drivers off the road. Cognitive dissonance, here we come.

“Wow,” I say, “That’s incredibly beautiful” as we loop around a breathtaking curve in the road. I’m trying to control my peevish aggravation with the current slow driver riding his brakes in front of us.

72-Rt-201_054They must lie in wait for us. As we are about to pass, they pull out in front of us, then slow to a crawl. The beauty of the mountains, lakes, streams, trees, sky, clouds, villages, farms, towns morph into a seamless continuity as we crawl down the mountains behind drivers whose feet never leave the brakes.

It’s a religious experience, but not in a good way. Aggravation wars with admiration for nature and a mounting need to drive at a normal speed. Garry is exhausted, irritable, frustrated. I’m empathizing, even offering to drive.

It took most of a day to make the trip. We crawled through Maine. Crept through New Hampshire. Limped into Vermont.

Autumn road to home

Our most startling moment was looking up and seeing a sign — a huge, brightly painted sign — that said: “WELCOME TO MEXICO.” Mexico, Maine. There were no Mexican restaurants, or at least none we could find. Lots of Chinese, though. After we drove out of Mexico, we came upon another huge, bright sign. “WELCOME TO MEXICO,” it said.

“Didn’t we just leave Mexico?”

“Maybe,” says Garry, “this is the village and that was the town?”

“Or something.” I wondered where the rest of North America had gone. Never mind. It was time to face the inevitable. Garry and I had to fill the gas tank. Ourselves.

Me, Garry, the road and an atlas

Me, Garry, the road and an atlas

Back home — a town which had seemed rural and quaint, but now seemed sophisticated and metropolitan — gas stations provide service. Not the case in very rural New England. Together, Garry and I pondered the problem. We had to remove the gas cap, which was stuck. Garry looked at me. I would manage the gas cap.

I pressed. Twisted. It was the child-proof lid from Hell. Eventually, it came off. Whooping in triumph, I fed our bank card into the pump’s reader and selected the grade of gasoline. Garry, feeling his moment had come, removed the pump from its hook, stuck it in the hole and pressed. Gasoline started feeding into the tank. When it snapped loose, Garry looked at me.

“Does this mean it’s full?”

“Yes,” I exalted. “We did it. We put gas in our  car!”

We gave each other a high-five and continued our journey.  We have developed a deep appreciation for the interstate highway system. And lost every trace of nostalgia for the old days of travel.



Categories: Daily Prompt, Humor, New England, Photography, Traffic, Transportation, Travel

Tags: , , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. I drive to Sydney a lot – 500km each way – and it does take more out of me than it used to. Driving at 110 kph for prolonged periods takes much more concentration that drifting around at home! There are entertainments though – the people I overtake who then overtake me minutes later because, I swear, their pride can’t stand the idea of being overtaken by an old lady with white hair and a battered car.

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  2. I admire the beauty and wholesome experience of this journey of yours. Though it was full of challenges but worth going all the way to capture the mountains at least once in life. All good things comes with a price.

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  3. You’re talking about my neck of the woods (literally!) here. I’m still such a noob to the area that I like the smaller roads. I *have* noticed that there is a tendency of the slow drivers here to pull out in front of you, so you slam on your brakes, and they putt putt in front of you on roads where You Shall Not Pass. It is annoying. But lord, is it beautiful. Your pictures look like my short drive to work. 🙂 (PS: Also noticed that on nicely surfaced interstates, with a 65 mph speed limit, that as soon as it hits dusk, everyone travels at 50 to 55 mph, with fine visibility and dry roads. I have not figured that one out. At least you can pass them.)

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    • They SPEED UP under snowy and icy conditions. I think it’s the New England version of “macho.” Mainly, it means the roads are like amusement park bumper cars and everyone’s got a ticket to ride.

      I don’t argue with the beauty. It’s what has kept us here despite the chronic unemployment, high taxes, inept local government, and often dreadful weather. It’s so damned beautiful sometimes I can barely breathe. It’s just … the roads. The drivers. They are so BAD. So tragically horribly bad. Not only do they drive slowly where they should go fast and fast where they should go slow, but they aren’t very good at controlling their vehicles.

      I think the slow drivers do it just to annoy us. I could be wrong, but it’s either a conspiracy (Garry’s theory) or a form of stubborn control (“I’m going as fast as anyone needs to go, so there!”)

      We’ve all got a theory. Maybe it’s aliens.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’re on to something about the stubborn control, the Live Free or Die mentality. They drive the way they want. That’s all that matters. You want to drive faster? Too bad. The ones that pull out in front of you… I forgot to add that they do that when right behind you is a mile of open road and all they had to do is wait 30 seconds and everyone would be happy.

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        • New England is a weird place. I’ve gotten so used to it in the 28 years I’ve been here, I’m not sure I’m fit to live elsewhere. But I do NOT drive too close — and I do NOT intentionally block the road. I’m not THAT well-adapted 🙂

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  4. When we used to do road trips traffic was the least of our worries. It was rare to be in traffic outside of a city and speeding vehicles were more of an issue than slow ones. We might sometimes find ourselves behind a road train for longer than we liked and then the solution was sometimes to stop for a break and let it get further ahead. My least favourite drive was the Western Highway between Adelaide and Melbourne with long stretches of nothing. I found it more boring after the road by passed the few towns there were. I don’t enjoy long trips without a break as much as I used to when we were younger and thought nothing of a 600km round trip in a day.

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    • I didn’t mind long drives either. My back wasn’t so bad and I had a lot more energy. Also, traffic has gotten bad just about everywhere on the east coat of the United States. Cars keep proliferating and the roads haven’t kept up with the number of vehicles which use them. Especially in the northeast, where winter causes frost heaves that crumble even brand new paving into shards.

      Our major roads were built in the 1950s. They were a miracle, linking rural and urban areas for the first time and making it possible to drive coast to coast, more or less non-stop.

      In this part of the country, 90% of our roads run north-south because the Atlantic ocean is always on the east and the east’s major cities all lie north and south of one another. When you need to travel east or west, there aren’t many roads to choose from. A few, usually one in each state and believe me, that’s not much. Not compared to the amount of traffic. Most trips between smaller towns and cities are done on single or two-lane country roads originally built for horse and buggy.

      Where most families in the 1950s felt lucky to own a car, most families now have more cars than people. Americans are addicted to driving on their own schedules and in their own personal vehicles. This should be no surprise, because we don’t have a rail system and buses have never been a great way to go. Air travel is not fun with all the security. Over all, travel ain’t what it used to be. It’s not fun, easy, cheap, or comfortable. It was. When we were younger.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I get the frustration, but it still sounds magical. You pumped your own gas………….here in Australia we have no choice, we HAVE to pump our own, long gone are the days where someone will do it for you!

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  6. When we used to go on our summer trip to Scotland the first part of the journey was on the A30 (the only “big” road out of Cornwall, then and now). In those days it wound through all the tiny villages which was very picturesque but took forever. I’m glad it’s now mostly dual carriageway and no longer goes through any towns.

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    • The good old days weren’t always all that great. It’s fine for an afternoon ramble looking for pictures and maybe the odd antique, but if you need to actually arrive at a destination within a time frame, it is maddening. It was the most beautiful drive ever … and the most frustrating.

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  7. This brings back memories of travelling down to visit my grandmother. We had the same stops every time both ways. We knew where the best pies and ice creams were, and on the way home we would always stop of at a bakery and buy fresh bread and cream donuts – they were to die for. But then we were tortured with the smell of freshly baked bread which we were not allowed to eat until we got home. It seemed forever until we got home. Lovely photos.

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    • It was a beautiful drive … at 35 mph. How something could be so wonderful and horrible at the same time is hard to explain 🙂 I know that smell of fresh bread. No loaf of fresh baked bread has ever survived the trip home from the bakery uneaten. There’s something about that scent …

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  8. I actually admire the beauty and the experience of whole journey. Though it had its challenges all the way. All good things comes with a price.

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  9. Isn’t America a country that is permanently on the move? It seems to me.No-one stays put, they explore and that is fun (if you are young and fit enough to enjoy it). I think the best trips Mr. Swiss and I had were when the kids were somewhere for a few days and we just got in the car and drove off and found a hotel on the way. I remember a return journey where we were haveing a drink in Lugano and the sun was shining and we still had a few days without kids. What do you think? I asked Mr. Swiss and he needed no invitation, we booked in a hotel in Lugano for two nights before leaving. To be free on the road one of the best feelings, even if we still were in little Switzerland.

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    • We ARE a nation of roads. In the cities, you have public transportation, but out here, you can walk, drive, or hitch up the horses and taking the buggy to town, but there are no buses, trains, or even a taxi.

      People our age don’t do so much traveling. We have more or less given up long drives. It’s not fun anymore. We get tired. Our aging knees, backs, and hips don’t like sitting in the car for hours at a time. Trips I would have taken without a second thought when I was young, I will only do now if absolutely forced. Because that’s true of most of our friends, we don’t see each other very often. Perils of aging, I guess 🙂

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  10. Ha! I’ve always been amazed at how metropolitan and sophisticated Buffalo, NY looks when I return from just about anywhere else in New York State (well, except for The Big Apple, of course). My husband used to train security guards, and those that would come in from the outlying towns would complain about our suburban traffic. He thought that was hilarious (Traffic? What traffic?). Meanwhile, I’d go to visit my mother in Jamestown and find myself driving the only vehicle on a road winding through wooded hills. That always unnerved me a little.

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