We have adopted a ritual that our friend Bill Pollak started on his roadtrips, which is to play Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again in the morning when we set out in the van.
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
Here we go, on the road again
Like a band of Gypsies we go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way
This trip we are out for three months or so. The beginning of the trip a combination of sad and happy. Sad to attend a memorial service for a friend in Grinnell, Iowa. Happy to attend a family reunion and wedding party with 30 relatives in Kennebunkport, Maine; and then to spend time with my college roommate and his wife Robin in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Our loop takes us up to Newfoundland, possibly to Labrador, then back north through Canada.
The big change in this trip is traveling with our new malamute/husky companion Nicky. We adopted her from a rescue in May and were uncertain how she would adapt to vanlife. She has been amazing, including putting up with an eight hour ferry crossing alone in the van on our way to Newfoundland (the ferry’s pet regulations!). We have discovered she is up for kayaking with us in our inflatable Sea Eagle. She has also turned out to be a people-magnet, so we end up having lots of spontaneous conversations with people who have a need to meet her.
We are now in the heart of the trip, roaming around Newfoundland. It is everything the tourist’s office would say: stunningly beautiful and rugged, remote, super friendly, historically and culturally rich. It is a very big Province and we are not sure we will do it any justice even in the month we have allotted. Hoping to get to Labrador too if all goes well.
Some highlights and lowlights so far:
Best conversation: a movie make-up artist from Montreal we met in Nova Scotia who is in the process of building out her own van. She lives full time in the van, following movie sets and increasingly exploring North America. Her van is amazing, a fully decorated and appointed tiny home. She was a hoot.
Also best conversation(s): a couple from eastern Newfoundland who adopted us and schooled us because of their instant love for Nicky. We learned the history of the fishing villages on the coast, rural electrification (only since the late 1950s), the realities of subsistence living in Newfoundland, and the details of moose behavior, hunting, and eating (we tasted our first grilled moose).
Best breakfast: Kathy’s in Westville, Nova Scotia. Food was huge and wonderful, but the setting was akin to a family dining room. All of the family pictures, the town’s history and sporting achievements (a top women’s hockey town in Canada), and service to die for.
Most distressing social observation: the state of Syracuse New York. We had the paradoxical experience of touring some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods and hearing on the news that Syracuse was ranked 4th in the top ten destinations for millennials to move. Context: the overall poverty rate in Syracuse is 32 percent, the child poverty rate is over 50 percent, making it the ninth poorest city in America.
Best architecture: the Darwin Martin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Buffalo New York. A complex of six structures originally built between 1903 and 1905 that evoke the most classic prairie principles and details of the Robie House in Chicago, just at much larger scale. Wright called this project his “opus,” and thought it was a “well-neigh perfect composition.”
Best camping spot: the Stoney Ridge Winery in Bryan, Ohio. Thanks to our membership in Harvest Hosts, we were able to stay free and alone, in this magnificent setting amongst the grapes. Excellent wine, wonderful people, and the first chance Nicky has had to run free like a crazy dog. (Runner up: Schodack Island on the Hudson River in New York).
Biggest and most expensive pain: replacing van batteries in Moncton, New Brunswick. A major logistical and scheduling challenge to get lithium batteries shipped on the road and find an installer, only to find out they were a half inch too big to fit in the van. Needed to build custom brackets. Much welding and labor. Ouch. Betsy says it is like owning a boat.
Biggest hazard: the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant which has the ignominious distinction of lodging 2 or the worst 5 nuclear accidents in U.S. history (as well as many lesser “incidents”) according to the NRC. We also drove by the R.E. Ginna plant, the oldest operating nuclear plant in the U.S.
Best cheese: We visited the Maytag farm in Newton, Iowa, home of the incomparable Maytag blue cheese. Interestingly, Newton is also the former home of Maytag washing machines. At its peak, Maytag employed over 3000 workers, earning the town the title “Washing Machine Capital of the World” at the beginning of the last century. Whirlpool acquired Maytag in 2006, shutting down the manufacturing operations in Newton the following year.
On the road again…