Saturday, June 14, 2014

Forever Young # 23: "The Journey"

Title: The Journey

 Song:  Ride My Llama
Album:  Rust Never Sleeps
Released:  July, 1979

I have had the fortune of travelling to a number of amazing destinations in the course of my life.   In the process, I’ve come away with several key insights to enhance the travel experience which I have tried to instill on my children:  Know your history, know the cultures you are visiting, and develop a strong sense of place.  The more you can identify with this type of knowledge, the better the venture will be.  You’ll find the ability to immerse yourself in your surroundings no matter the locale.  Your travel mates will appreciate it, the locals will appreciate it, and most importantly, you will appreciate it.

There is another part of the puzzle, however, which for me has always been assumed:  Try to make the journey itself a part of the story, so that in the end, getting there is at least as adventurous as being there.   Looking back, some of my top travel memories were while en route.  Perhaps it’s because these moments are when you have the best chance to bond with whoever it is you are with.  Perhaps, if you are alone, it’s the most likely chance you have to connect with your own thoughts.  Perhaps you will learn that the journey is far more than a geographic one. 

When I read Neil Young’  ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ a year or so ago, one of the take-home messages was how much he values the journey.   If there’s a rock and roll musician who embodies the spirit of Thoreau and Kerouac, it is Neil Young.  I’m willing to bet that few have crisscrossed the continent as frequently the past 30 years as he.  From all appearances, Young minimizes air travel, taking in America and Canada one pit stop after another.  It appears to be a key factor in his ability to stave off the rust.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go on a rust-free journey with my Dad.  And what a journey it was.  As with many great road trips, it turned out there was no ultimate destination, just a series of stops along the way.  In such cases, I usually refer to the farthest point as the ‘destination’, so in this case that would be the Saguenay River region in Quebec, a large tributary to the St. Lawrence River several hundred miles north of Quebec City.  With its fjords, wilderness and beluga whales, it was quite the end game; a never-to-be-forgotten hidden jewel of Atlantic America.  

But it was just part of the story.

First off, there were the pit stops.  There was ‘The Basin’ in the Franconia Notch section of the Green Mountains with its water-eroded, smooth, circular, cave-like formations, frequently visited by Mom and Dad.  Next, West Glover in the majestic “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont and a panoramic view on an isolated hilltop, which just happens to be the idyllic home of a bighearted friend of mine at USGS, Don, who has always insisted I make myself at home on my travels through the region.  Then it was on to Sherbrooke, Quebec - a city I have had the pleasure to visit on a handful of work trips in recent years - for a sun-drenched lunch on the balcony of an Irish pub (my only regret on the trip was not stopping by the offices of Natural Resources Canada to introduce Dad to my gracious French friends there).  There were the immense Montmorency Falls the following day and later a revisit to La Malbaie, a Saint Lawrence River community that I had last crossed paths with on a family vacation in the summer of 1979.  Still later, there was the highway-interrupted ferry crossing to Tadoussac which had us in the realization that we were blazing into virgin northern territory.  Every pit stop was an experience with Dad, be it a gas station, a general store, a roadside diner, or an information center (one of which included a bee-swarm escape).

Then there were the people. Dad can make memorable connections with anyone and everyone in one way or another.  A vast majority of folks in this world deserve the recognition for which they are, and Dad makes this happen.  He draws people out of their shell, and it matter not the language barrier.  Witnessing this is a journey in and of itself for anyone with the privilege to have a day with my Dad.  It is a sight to behold, which Mom could certainly attest to.  Where I may tend to ease someone in to my realm, Dad hits people hard, quick, and direct.  I have to say it’s a brilliant trait, one I do not possess.  And it works.   I saw it play out everywhere we stopped, from the Parker Pie in West Glover (a favorite haunt of mine at the bottom of that hill with the panoramic view), where Dad kibitzed with the manager about the beauty of the area.  To the horse rider who stopped to hear Dad’s funny take on Don’s mule who we had just visited.  There was Dad’s humorous exchange with the front-desk clerk in the Chicoutimi Hotel after a long day of driving, and the hilarious back and forth with the French waitress at the Irish Pub in Sherbrooke, and the borderline confrontation with the boisterous ferry conductor (our boat ride back across the St. Lawrence River) who just happened to be a staunch Montreal Canadiens fan that wanted to rub a few comments regarding the Bs/Cs series into our still-open wounds (eventually Dad got the best of him). There was our waitress at the fantastic steak dinner restaurant (2 hour wait) in Chicoutimi on the Saguenay, and the ladies who serviced us at the lunch stop in Les Escoumins (Dad had them smirking with his repeated "C'est si bon!" exclamations).   Dad got to meet some of my fellow workers – Karen, Mike, and Kim - in Fredericton, New Brunswick later, and had them all in stitches.   The gas attendant, the park ranger, the church lady, the scaffold guys, the store clerk, even border patrol …… everyone got a kick out of Dad, and most spoke broken English at best.  With practically anyone else, many of these brief episodes on the road would have been rather ordinary, forgettable affairs.  With Dad they became extraordinary. 

Then there were the big moments; the highlights so to speak (as old friend Bob would call them).  First there was Quebec City for an overnight.  Mom and Dad have had many memorable moments there, including their honeymoon, and Dad knew the walled city well.  For me the memories in Quebec City included Winter Carnival, Nancy and Bonham.  We walked up and down and all around the lower and upper sections as well as the edges of the Plains of Abraham, with the best food in North America wafting through the air around us.  Finally we settled down for an exquisite French meal and then to top it off we trekked to a pub to watch the New York Rangers put the finishing touches on the Habs as we devoured peanuts mercilessly.  Being in Quebec City for this occasion was different than say, being in Montreal.  Quebec wants its Nordiques back.  The Canadiens could soon be mortal enemies once again, so two Bruins fan in the midst was no big deal.  Our next big moment was the awe-inspiring Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica and some more revisited memories for Dad.  Spend an hour inside and you cannot help but be moved by the splendor and glory of it all.  The next day was another big highlight:  A whale/fjord cruise along the St Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers: Humpback, Minke and Beluga Whales, 1000 foot depths, waterfalls, splendor of a different variety.

Finally, the crème de la crème of the journey were the one on ones, including a campfire, two spontaneous and scenic picnic lunches, the boat cruise, the drives, and the dinners.  We toasted everything and everyone from Orr and Esposito to ‘The New Yorker’ to Arthur Fiedler to Johnny Rotten to Eddie Shack to the Saint Lawrence River to snowshoe hares to Ginger, to the Torans, and of course our families.  We discussed the past, present, and future.  Religion, politics and money were not off limits; nothing has ever been with Dad.  These were the moments when I realized just how much the term ‘journey’ can mean. 

Each and every day on the road, Dad gets up at the break of dawn and takes an early morning jaunt around the vicinity of his stay.  It does not matter the location.  On this trip, Dad’s 4 early morning excursions included Quebec City, and 3 majestic rivers: The Saguenay, the Saint Lawrence, and the Saint John.  This past week, as I listened to the album ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, I thought about what these moments do for him.  After all, the ritual has been there as long as I can remember, so there must be something deep to it.   Two songs off the album emerged from the pack as I pieced together thoughts related to Dad’s morning sojourns and our journey in general:  Thrasher and Ride My Llama.  They both equally explain Dad’s passion for the road and his morning routine, but in entirely different ways.  Thrasher is about sticking with your core values, with an emphasis on the effort and the sacrifice.  I’m sure I have more to say about this than what I can pull off now, and so I’ll save it for another day.  Ride My Llama ( ) is a bit more specific to the value of the journey (and after all, we came close to riding a mule in West Glover.  In hindsight, I believe that was what Don's mule was asking us to do when he greeted us).  I’ll run with that.  It’s a musical and lyrical testament to 4 days on the road with my Father.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!  Thank you for an amazing journey.

 -          Pete

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