I miss travel and its unexpected finds from food to friends around the next corner. For decades, I’ve had a thing for leaving the country every year be it next door in Canada or someplace like Chile.
What do you do during a pandemic to keep that streak alive?
Canada’s been my go-to country, especially during my lean salad days and when the year-end realization comes I still haven’t left the country. With it sharing some 58 miles of border with New Hampshire and 90 miles with Vermont, an entryway is within a three-hour drive to even pop over for a poutine or drive Magnetic Hill in Chartierville, explore Stanstead’s stone circle or pedal the Tomifobia Trail.
The Great White North has filled panniers, backpacks and ski boot bags with traveler’s tales. Taking the prize is when the Royal Canadian Mountain Police in its heartland of Saskatchewan tracked down my stolen bicycle helmet on the head of a recently released convict riding a misappropriated motorcycle. He snagged the helmet from my parked handlebars as a way to comply with the province’s mandatory helmet laws.
I remember one time, My wife, Jan, and I were wandering Montreal looking for entertainment and ended up at a theater hosting the opera Madame Butterly. The only tickets left were held for dignitaries.
We were told to come back later to see if they were available. We went to a book shop reading up on the opera we knew little about. We returned, bought the tickets and were just a few rows back from the stage. Surrounded by bling, we wore Chuck Roast fleece and jeans.
I once took an Amtrak train cross country to a ski writers’ conference at British Columbia’s Whistler and didn’t spring for a sleeping berth going there. On the return trip I did, but there was a train strike and we were herded onto buses to complete the trip thus negating getting horizontal.
Jan, and I once drove to ski Tremblant in Quebec’s pristine Laurentians during a snow storm. As the storm raged, one windshield wiper went rogue and jumped ship. Luckily, a ubiquitous Canadian Tire store was nearby in Laval, a Montreal suburb, and the problem fixed.
Carrying a passport during a Jay Peak, Vt., ski trip is always a necessity to pop over the border in North Troy about four miles away for some high octane beer. Once, my wife and I showed up just as the store was closing and the worker reopened it so we could buy adult beverages — but only with cash. Unfortunately, I believe that store in Highwater is now closed and we have to travel a bit further.
All of these adventures have been part of a personal streak I happened upon several years ago. Turns out since graduating from college more than 35 years ago, I’ve left the country every year from living in the Middle East to hiking in countries like Chile, and Ireland, cycling in Arctic Scandinavia, skiing in Switzerland and more. There’s also been the relative banality of a November cup of coffee in Quebec province. Now comes COVID-19. What was a traveler to do in 2020?
When borders and ski resorts started closing last March, so did any hope of a last-minute Quebec ski trip to the Eastern Townships. Once the snow melted, I thought maybe a trip to the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Derby Line on the Vt./Quebec order would do. It’s in both countries. It was closed.
As summer progressed, closures continued and we had no desire to fly anywhere. I looked north again to Pittsburg and the Cohos Trail, with its final U.S. stretch to Fourth Connecticut Lake. The trail wiggles between the countries, with several survey markers designating U.S./Canada boundaries.
With our favorite state campground Deer Mountain 5 miles south of the border shuttered for the season, and the Lake Francis Campground booked, we opted for a lean-to at a private campground, Ramblewood, as a masked base camp,
The hike, one we’ve done before but never carrying masks, didn’t disappoint, the joy found among the markers on the ground with each foot in another country, or, with no one watching, both feet and body in Canada. The streak continues.
I’ve told a few people about the hike. Many thought it was cool. As time marches on, it may get cooler. But not as cool as open borders with new sights, sounds, scents, serendipity and stamps in the passport.