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A return to the sea, part I: A Journey in Darkness

January 16, 2012

As noted, I have more travel stories (with photos, although this first part will be light on photos, for reasons implicit in the title).

As with Fayeteville back in 2008, the reason for the journey was a friend’s wedding, on the coast of Maine. Not a friend I had never met before (he came up to Montreal to visit me in early 2011, with his fiancée), but a long-time online friend all the same, Matt. (one of many Matts around me these days). Plane (price) and train (doesn’t go there) were not options, so it was time to try yet another way of long-distance travel, the bus.

Since the only bus from Boston to Brunswick run in the evening, and since on the whole I prefer leaving at eight PM than leaving at four AM, I decided to spend a day in Boston along the way. (on the return trip, I spent  only a few short hours, because I thought a daytime journey through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont would be good thinking. Which I was right about.

For obvious reasons, the first several hours of the trip are going to be light on pictures. Aside from the stopover at White River Junction, and a few pictures taken in the gray, rainy light of dawn, I just couldn’t take much. On the flip side, I could probably fill several entries with Boston alone, and the return journey (in broad daylight from Maine til the valley of the Winooski (see : half a dozen other entries)) also has a great deal going for it.

I’ll admit outright that there is little to say on the first leg of the journey, from Ottawa onward. The road from Ottawa to Montreal is one of the most boring in this part of Canada even in full daylight when you can actually see what’s around you; at night, when the sky is covered, there is fundamentally nothing once you leave the city lights of Ottawa behind, until you reach the outskirts of Montreal. Not even a car on the road: at this time of the day, three sets of car lights on the road is already a lot. The island of Montreal at least offer many strange buildings to gaze at, and the occasional plane flying low as it come for a landing at Dorval airport: still largely boring, just…less so.

At this point, my attention is mostly on the internet, and discussion with my mother via MSN. You see, it so happens that while I was moving to Ottawa a month before, I accidentally left my dress pants at my parents. As I rather need them. fortunately, I have a 1:10 layover in Montreal (half an hour’s drive from my parent’s, and a mother who’s the very soul of generosity, so she agrees to catch up with me in Montreal with the pants. Admitedly, I think that “seeing my son whom I haven’t seen in a month” featured in her reasoning somewhere, too.

The meeting goes without a hitch once we’re in Montreal: she stays around for maybe half an hour, then leaves. I spend the rest of the layover re (re-re-re…etc) reading the Lord of the Rings, while listening to various recording of Tolkien reading his own writing – I have a collection of them on my iPod. It’s a rather interesting experience to be reading Tolkien’s words while hearing his voice at the same time.).

It’s honestly not long before we’re off again, down a somewhat more interesting road (keeping in mind that in the middle of the night, “more interesting road” remains a very relative term). We head out of Montreal, past the grain silos of Five Roses flours with their immense red neon signs, over the immensity of the Saint Lawrence, which is a good two miles wide at this point. The other bridges, and the lights of the city, are visible in the distance, some reflecting in the cold water. Then, we speed past the suburban shopping districts, the empty fields broken by the occasional used car store (with neon pink signs!) or roadside motel, past the Richelieu river and down its length until at last (loooong last), after many stretches of pitch darkness, we come to the American border.

Crossing the border is a complicated ritual that involve making sure to take all our things off the bus, go through custom on foot, then step back in the bus on the other side of the border, after anything forgotten on board is left at the border. Despite many questions from the custom officer, I’m allowed through (as is everyone else on the bus).

The road goes on through darkness, only broken when we stop in one American town or another. Burlington (Which I had the chance to visit again over the summer, and would visit again again at the first sign of a chance. I just love that town), where we stop twice, by the University and outside of town by the airport; Montpelier (which, in the darkness, reminds me a great deal of a miniature version of Ottawa) where the bus stop is right in front of a theater putting together a play of Metamorphosis. I doze off past Montpelier, and back again, sometime chatting with friends on my computer (to resolve this or that crisis involving them).

Finally, sometime past three in the morning, we reach White River Junction, where we have a half an hour pit stop at the local bus station. A welcome stop, as I ran out of bottled water some hours ago, and also on the account that, the station being lit and vaguely interesting, I can finally share pictures. As far as these things go, it’s not a bad bus station (beats the Horror in Ottawa, anyway): it has a nice convenience store (Ottawa does not), large photos representing the history of the region (Ottawa doesn’t) and the customary benches (Ottawa has them, miraculously enough). One of the pictures even depict a visit of Amelia Earhart to the White River Junction region way back when).

White River Junction station. It's actually decent as far as bus stations go (see: Ottawa)

(Also of note: judging by the local bathrooms, there have been Quebecers through since the last time the place was cleaned. There’s a huge “FEAR MTL 514” in big black letter on the paper distributor. (For those not from the region: MTL is the usual three-letter code for Montreal, and 514 the phone area code).

It’s still very dark when we leave, going over the Connecticut river into New Hampshire, along winding paths at the foot of steep slopes topped by rows of red lights (I don’t know what they are). I nap a great deal more as we head through the mountains (I promise, I’ll have a lot more to show on the way back). By the time I wake up, we’re staring at the control tower of the Manchester airport in New Hampshire, lit blue under a hard rain.

This is more or less what the thing looks like. Or fails to look like.

Darkness finally gives way to a gray dawn, somewhere near the border between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, around the time we cross a darkened river (which I’m guessing might have been the Merrimack, but that’s no more than a guess). It’s still hard to get good pictures with so little light, but finally we get to see something: thick growth covering the roadsides, dripping with rain, still rich green despite the fact that the autumn has begun.

A roadside in Massachusetts, early in the gray morning

We’re in more urban areas now, by which I mean it’s not long before we get caught in traffic, long line of cars crawling down the roads to Boston (one has to admit, a crawl is still faster than what you’d usually manage during heavy traffic around Montreal). More to the point, there are countless houses and churches, schools and factories along the road.

Eventually there are even monuments, like a great obelisk, followed three seconds later by a trio of wooden masts (not pictured…yet) that makes me realize we’ve actually been in Boston for a while now. (I knew we were in Bunker Hill a little earlier, but in my mind Bunker Hill was more outside Boston than right next to downtown Boston).

Further (tragic) evidence of actually being in Boston.

Having finally reached Boston, under (very, very, very, very, very) low clouds, here ends this first part of the journey, to be continued whenever I have time to recount (possibly over multiple installments) my adventures in Boston.

Pictured: low clouds. (You may notice the vague outline of a few buildings)

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