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Notes from the road

There was a time I could drive much longer distances than I can today. I recall the time I drove out to the Sierras for a button accordion camp (with some fly fishing along the way). That trip I drove as far as Omaha on the first day. When I finally stopped, it felt as if my eyes were fused open. Since that trip, driving long distances has become more challenging for me – but this time around I was able to relax into some longer drives again.

On day one of my road trip, I drove from Toronto to Escanaba Michigan, on the Upper Peninsula, 994 km. My new strategy was to make many brief stops. I looked for a rest area about every hour  and stopped for only a couple minutes. I’d stop, walk around, get back into the car, and motor on. Each short rest was rejuvenating and I felt comfortable driving the long distance.

I crossed the border at Sarnia to Port Huron, turned north at Flint and headed right up the lower peninsula to the Mackinac bridge. After the bridge, I turned west and headed along the Lake Michigan north shore. At one point, I stopped by the lake and found myself in the midst of a huge midge hatch. I was standing in a fog of the little bugs, and my buggy was quickly being covered with them. I got back into the car, joined by a few hundred midges, and got back on the road. This is when the check engine light came on. The last thing I needed was a check engine light.

There was little choice but to continue to drive, so that’s what I did, and the car was running fine. In fact it continued to run fine for the rest of the trip. I’m guessing the bugs had something to do with the check engine light. I’ll see my mechanic before heading off to Midwest Banjo Camp next Thursday and get it checked.

The stretch from Escanaba Michigan to Viroqua Wisconsin was challenging. Google Maps offered up a route I was not satisfied with, including a mind-bending number of road changes. I chose what I thought was a more reasonable (and straighter) route. This was fine, but it included a stretch of 41 cutting through Green Bay. To say this stretch was  under construction was generous. It was confusing, slow and very ugly. This was an introduction to Wisconsin roadwork. It seemed as if there was roadwork happening just about everywhere in Wisconsin. In fact, my preferred motel near Viroqua was only available 2 of 3 nights because it was booked up with construction workers. They repaint the lines. They groom the shoulders. They fill in the cracks. Wisconsin may be the road construction capital of America.

The good thing about the system of roads in Wisconsin is that the county roads seem to follow the stream valleys, so finding a trout stream usually means simply finding the nearest county road to the stream system you want, and the county road will wind you right down into the valley.

Viroqua to Minneapolis was an easy drive. It seemed to me that La Crosse had sprawled considerably since the last time I was through there several years ago, although perhaps I had selectively forgotten what it really looked like. I took the 90 west to Rochester and then straight up 52 to the Twin Cities.

Most of the drive back south to Chicago was fine until about 20 miles from the big city. At that  point, there is mega-construction, tolls and a remarkable lack of road signs. I stopped at an “Oasis”. I had enough gas to get into Chicago, but I was happy to get off the construction for a short while. the Oasis gas station offered no cash option, so I put in a credit card. Is this a debit card, asked the pump? No. Enter a 5-digit zip code. What? I’m from Canada you silly pump. I pressed the call for help button. The pump wrote back, attendant has been called. After a few minutes of being ignored, I canceled the transaction and opted for an ice cream instead, then back on road. It just seemed wrong they would charge a toll for a road that looked like a war zone.

I was worried I would get hopelessly lost in Chicago but amazingly enough I found my exit, and recognized some of the Pilsen streets from a previous visit. Finding Candy and Stagg’s place turned out to be easy, and I even found parking right near their car. My anxiety about driving into the city in a construction zone dissipated quickly as I downed a been and a super-delicious burrito with Candy at a local taqueria.

The final big drive of my trip was the long day from Chicago to Toronto. I again stopped briefly each hour and had no difficulty with the drive, and it was uneventful. Traffic was light. There was no line-up at the border. I had a great trip, but I sure was happy to be home.



  1. I’ve been enjoying the trip pictures you have been posting on facebook. But reading this post makes me wonder if, in fact, you were not on our road trip, from which we returned yesterday. We also do about 1000 kms in a day (it’s 1065 km to our cottage, door to door). We have our designated stops to get some more coffee, let out the old coffee and attempt to walk in a straight line.
    But what really struck home was the fact that our check engine light also came on after about 400 kms, both on the way out and on the way home. This despite the fact that the vehicle had recently been serviced. Obviously some midges came along for the ride.

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