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2016-december-8-michigan-highwayDECEMBER 8: CROSSING THE BORDER

For a night owl, it’s impressive that I’m on the blacktop just after 10. I’ve stayed up late the night before talking to my hosts about their travels to the North Pole last summer. Speaking of the North Pole, the temperature has dropped today to below zero and it’s crisp and wintry white. I’ve only been on the road for 20 minutes when I drive into a flurry of snow.

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St. Clair River between Canada and U.S.

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Bluewater Ferry

My first challenge is to cross the border into the United States. My car is loaded with “stuff” for my daughter: suitcases of bedding, curtains, books, two Ikea chairs (conveniently disassembled) and a little cube stool. So I decide to hit the rather obscure border point of Marine City, directly west of London, between Windsor and Sarnia.

I cut a jagged path across southwestern rural Ontario towards Lake St. Clair and catch the Bluewater Ferry across the St. Clair River into the States. Costs me seven bucks and takes five or six minutes. There’s a one-man booth on the other side. I’m asked a few questions and am on my way within seconds.

As I barrel through the state of Michigan towards Chicago, the eastbound lanes of Highway 14 through Ann Arbour are completely blocked. There’s a car in the ditch. There’s a tractor trailer overturned. Snow is coming fast and heavy now and visibility is decreasing. But the westbound lanes are clear, and I have the perfect trekking playlist: Gordon Lightfoot to remind me of home, Passenger’s Rolling Stone, Home (“so many winding roads, so many miles to go”) and Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea about a lone traveller, Garnet Rogers’ Night Drive, and the driving rhythm of Appalachian folksinger Colter Wall’s Sleeping on the Blacktop to keep me energized.

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Chicago

By the time I reach the lower end of Lake Michigan, the snow is coming towards me horizontally, highway signs warn of slippery roads, traffic moves slowly. In Chicago, some time after seven, the snow lightens to flurries and the roads are clear.

While my goal today is to make it past Chicago, I’m so not tired, I decide to just keep on driving, on to Milwaukee, where I will turn westwards on the I94.

I hit the 1500-kilometre point of my trip around Milwaukee. I stop at a Starbucks for a shock of caffeine, but the coffee is so bitter, I throw in a piece of my emergency chocolate to make it palatable. Nevertheless, it jolts me into high functionality and I feel like I’ve just begun my journey, even though I’ve been on the road for 12 hours, eight of them in the darkness.

It’s 10:30, but I love driving at night! I’ve filled the tank, while I’m certain of finding a gas station that’s open. The snow has stopped, and it’s a crisp minus five. The roads are free of snow and the traffic is thinning out. The night’s arms seem to enfold me into a narrow world that is my tiny car space and the few hundred metres of road in my immediate vision.

After spending most of the day circumnavigating the enormous Lake Michigan, I’m really heading west now. As I continue driving through the night, I’m excited about the possibility of the unknown path ahead.

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