Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Camping to Toronto and Return

Every two years or so UFMCC holds a General Conference and, in 1985, Toronto was the host. One of the people attending from MCCVancouver was Michel. He never seemed to have much money so he could not afford a Greyhound ticket - let alone one by train or by air. The answer was for him to travel with me in my car and we take camping gear with us.

Both he and I had traveled across Canada more than once so we opted to drive across the US. We drove down to Everett, Washington and then east along US Route 2.

On that first evening we were in Spokane where the city's main campground is down in the valley on the banks of the Columbia River. The date was July 4 and, as we settled into our sleeping bags, the sounds around us made me think that we were in a war zone - firecrackers, rockets and the like everywhere! However, we did manage to sleep and, in the morning, we looked for a restaurant serving breakfast and then continued on driving - this time on route I-90.

Into Idaho, through Couer d'Alene and then quickly into Montana through Missoula, Butte, Bozeman and Billings - all names which were familiar to me due to my love of geography. We camped near to the latter city.

The following morning we passed the turnoff to the Little Bighorn Battle Monument which I would have loved to have visited but my travel companion did not share my love of history so he was not interested - he just wanted to get to Toronto. The Interstate took us around the badlands in South Dakota but we did not stop there either - just kept on driving to Sioux Falls where we located another campground.

We did go into that city and, after some searching, found the local gay bar. There was a formidable looking lesbian who was bar tending to whom I commented that we had difficulty in finding the place. Her response? "It's supposed to be difficult to find!" Sioux Falls is not a major city and it is situated in conservative farming/ranching country.

Our night there was NOT restful - the campground was in the middle of a freeway interchange so there were the sounds of motor vehicles - especially large trucks - all night long.

The next day was Wednesday and we drove on across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and the tip of Indiana on our way into Michigan. We passed by Chicago near the rush hour but kept to the 'Ring Road' which did somewhat cut down on the congestion. By the time it was dusk we pulled into a motel in Benton Harbor for a more comfortable night. On the following day we drove across Michigan, crossed into Ontario at Windsor, and continued on to Toronto.

By this time the Fellowship had grown to a size that merited more facilities than in 1981 when I attended in Houston. The general meetings were held in the larger lecture halls on the campus of the University of Toronto which were air conditioned. The evening services, though, were held in the older St Paul's/Trinity United Church on Bloor Street West. There were hundreds of delegates and friends at the Conference so the main floor of the church was full and the overflow were up in the balcony. It was so hot that some people fainted and it became common to see an ambulance parked on the side street outside waiting in case somebody else had to be rushed to the hospital.

Because of the heat, the final service was moved to an auditorium in the OISE Building (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) which was air conditioned.

Arrangements had been made for billeting the delegates and I shared a room in Annersley Hall (a United Church of Canada residence which is on the campus of Victoria College - one of the 'church colleges' associated with the university).
Ironically, that building is just down the block from where I have been living for these past 15 years.

Before leaving home I had received a letter from the Pastor of the MCC congregation in Auckland, New Zealand asking me if he and his partner could be hosted for a few days in Vancouver while on their way back across the Pacific. I invited them to join Michel and I on our camping trip to Vancouver. We acquired another tent and two more sleeping bags to accommodate them.

The Pastor was a nice man - but his young partner was a spoiled brat! While in Toronto we had gone up to the top of the CN Tower and, on the final Saturday of the Conference, Michel and I took them down to Niagara Falls for the afternoon. The young one got into one of his frequent snits and threatened to leave and walk over one of the bridges to Buffalo. I thought, "Yeah sure! Lots of luck, kid, in getting across the border!"

Monday arrived and we left for the long drive home. I went up highways 11 and 17 to the shores of Lake Superior. We found a camping site along the shore where we spent the night - and went for a dip in the warm water. I had driven past Lake Superior more than once but that was the only time that I have actually stopped along the way to enjoy the spot. The dip was very refreshing.

On the second day we drove west northwest to a campground in the vicinity of Kenora, Ontario - and the home of voracious mosquitoes. We swatted away and survived.

The third day was a shorter drive to Winnipeg and then on across the Prairies. As I mentioned much earlier in these writings, that region of Canada can be hit by fairly violent summer storms. As we were following the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan we encountered a series of them - continuous flashes of lightning, deafening thunder, torrential rain (occasionally mixed with hail) and strong winds.

The Trans Canada Highway rarely passes through any of the towns but is now situated a mile or two north or south with signage and access roads connecting the highway to the settlements. Where an access road met the highway we saw a car that had been towing a trailer/caravan - the latter was on its side.

The next morning, on a radio newscast, we heard that there was a tornado in the area of that accident and it resulted in the overturned trailer. That is the only time in my life that I have been in close proximity to a tornado (and I hope that that will be the only time).

Back in Vancouver the World Council of Churches had commenced meetings on the campus of UBC and two very famous clergymen attended. One was the Rev Ian Paisley from Belfast, Northern Ireland - and the second was Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa. I had no intention of listening to Ian Paisley but I feel honored to have been able to hear the Archbishop. What a lovely and gracious man!

You may have come to the conclusion that I love traveling and meeting various people? Well - I do!

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