I had crossed the Continental Divide at least a half dozen times while traveling through New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming. There’s typically a big sign announcing the Divide and the elevation of that road’s high point. When I was finally rolling east on Route 287 in Wyoming, headed toward Dubois, I knew I’d passed that magical dividing line of watersheds for the last time. I was headed home, back to the east, where waters flow either to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
A week later I found myself in Ontario, Canada. I had always wanted to see the northern shores of the Great Lakes, plus I had a trifling curiosity to know what Thunder Bay was all about. I had wound my way around and through Duluth, Minnesota and along the shores of Gitchi-Gumi and started toward Canada. It was late June and the lilacs were just flowering along the north shore of Lake Superior. I felt a twinge of sadness for those Minnesotans and Canadians who have to wait so long for spring to arrive.
The Canadian authorities detained me at the Pigeon River crossing into Canada and performed a perfunctory strip search of my Mini. The two blue-uniformed customs officials, wearing bulky bulletproof vests, told me to stand aside while they rummaged through the contents of my car. When they were satisfied that I had been truthful in my answers to all the questions on whether or not I was carrying contraband they made a feeble attempt at putting the clothes, the tent, the sleeping bag, the cooler, the books and maps and postcards, the bag of electronics, and the walking stick back inside the car. After six weeks of travel everything had its particular and familiar place so I finished the repackaging for them.
The sky cleared as I entered Canada, the temperature warmed and I just felt like driving. I was anxious to get back home. I passed through and beyond Thunder Bay and headed further north to Nipigon, the next sizable burg with accommodations. I stopped there for the night. The motel was utilitarian and worn. The bold floral polyester comforter on the bed and the Little Orphan Annie plates hanging on the walls were not out of place. A dusky light was still coming through the bathroom window when I switched off the lights at ten. In the morning I discovered that a bridge was closed on the one highway between Nipigon and Sault Ste. Marie along the shore of Lake Superior (a distance of 365 miles) and the detour was not going to be a convenient one. There are only two highways that cross Northern Ontario and my trip along the north shore of the lake was now aborted. A few hours outside Nipigon I passed a sign announcing that I had entered the Arctic watershed. I had crossed another continental divide, one I hadn’t anticipated and one not prominently displayed on maps produced in the US. The Arctic watershed. When I stopped along the road to relieve myself now, to make room for more coffee from Tim Horton’s, Canada’s premier donut and coffee chain, I would be peeing into the Arctic. I was intrigued with that fact, even if no one else would be.
There are more Moose Warning signs than houses in this part of Canada so I had some time to let my mind wander as I scanned the tree line, the rivers and the wetlands on the lookout for moose. I got thinking about what I’d do when I got back home: perching in my favorite futon in the early morning sun upstairs by the window, listening to an oldies station on satellite radio, reading the newspaper with the dog at my side. But then I thought, wait, I don’t have my futon anymore, I gave it away to a friend; the satellite radio is sitting in a box in a storage unit. I don’t own the house anymore; the closing was a few days before I began this trip. And the dog was happy in his new home in Connecticut, annoying the Golden Retriever whose home he had wiggled and wagged his way into. I was headed back to a room I was renting at Tom’s house. Suddenly I felt alone, lost and adrift.
My thoughts turned to Henry Hudson. I was headed back to Albany, New York, the capital city that grew up alongside the river named for the great explorer. And now here I was in the Arctic watershed draining into Hudson Bay where Henry Hudson was last seen alive, presumably set adrift by his mutinous crew. I could only hope my Mini, or an errant moose, wouldn’t strand me in this northern wilderness, setting me even further adrift.