St Jacques La Mineur, Canada. Mile 1016

The campground murmerings this evening are in French and someone is cooking something that smells truly delicious somewhere here. Zut alors! Zis must be Canada! Its amazing how different it feels in fact – more Europe than Americas somehow, with smaller roads, smaller fields, smaller houses and more wildflowers by the roads.

Having learned from recent experience we turned on the satnav straight away this morning but selected “no motorways” for the route. Freeways all too often leave you with no sense of where you actually are, like that vaguely disconnected feeling you get when you change planes and don’t leave the airport. It may say “Welcome to Atlanta” on the sign, but the terminal could be anywhere.

Our drive was to be just sixty miles but crossing borders always gives a trip an extra frisson. We sorted through our passports, hid the consignment of weapons, put the drugs in the fridge and stowed the Mexican family in the roof box. All set.

Northern New York State very quickly became agricultural and rather well-to-do. Every so often we passed a freshly scrubbed nineteenth century farmhouse, perched smugly on a hillside, gleaming grain silos looming in the background like an alien invasion. Fields of maze looked full to bursting, the soil in a couple of ploughed fields was so rich and black it looked like dark chocolate. The region felt established and confident in itself in a way that so many places in the Adirondaks did not somehow. This was not a hand to mouth existance that relied on the whims of travellers, but something more deeply rooted and dependable.

Sticking to the small roads meant that we drew up at a tiny little border post, with no line and no-one waiting for us. Eventually a friendly immigration officer appeared and bid us bonjour. He asked about our journey, flicked through our passports and sent us on our way. Ah Canadian border posts. Always a pleasure. We hopped back in to Harvey, I turned the key and…nothing. Dead as a doornail. I flicked over to “Aux battery”. there was a click and then a painful silence. Great. We would have to be towed into Canada. Then I noticed that I hadn’t selected “Park” when I turned off the engine. I clicked up the selector and turned the key. Harvey fired right up, and the immigration man smiled at us.

Everything changed when we entered Canada. The road was suddenly a bumpy little rural byway, picking its way through apple orchards, granaries and small farms with cottages. We passed a broad stone church with a village green in front of it planted with an avenue of trees. It was like being in Normandy. We cruised along, marvelling at the Frenchness of it all until we turned off to our little campsite, smack in the middle of nowhere. Both Philippa and I had talked confidently about relying on our school French in our dealings with the natives, who everyone has told us will not speak English. From the machine-gun delivery of the girl who checked us in, one thing became quite clear to me. Unless our conversations with local people consist entirely of remarks about Monsieur Tremblant dans la jardin/chambre/cuisine, I am going to be somewhat out of mon depth. Philippa though speaks far more French than she is willing to let on and my accent isn’t bad, so we shall survive.

This is a nice little place with three rows of sites, many of which are occupied by weekenders with big rigs parked here more or less permenantly. Some have little gardens and log piles outside. There is a small lake at the end with two long water slides, so Tom had a very happy afternoon. I did too. Having crossed the thousand mile mark I pulled up the engine hatch and checked the transmission and steering fluid. Philippa did the laundry in a hot, fly-blown basement.

We are plugged into electricity, sewer and water for the first time in ten days – the longest we have ever “dry camped”. Oh but it is nice to have a long hot shower, charge up everything that needs to be charged and turn on the airconditioner, without starting the generator. Its been a hot sunny day but our little home is deliciously cool and we are thinking of leaving the airconditioner on all night just because we can. Quelle decadence!

Author: Richard Lister

Chasing horizons...

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