Caravan weekend fast approaching

17 years ago

 On Feb. 9 through Feb. 11, the Maine-Quebec Winter Carnival Caravan 2007 will rendezvous at Dean’s Hotel at Portage to observe the 50th anniversary of the first Maine-Quebec Highway Caravan held in February 1957. 

    Sarah Brooks and Tim Crowley are co-chairs of the event and have requested persons interested in making the trip contact 768-2760; there is a $25 registration fee. Breakfast will be served at 6 a.m. and departure time will be 7:15 a.m. Dana Cameron, trail master, will make the decision on whether to return to Ashland or to start the trip at Portage. Proceeds from the registration fees will go to the Ashland Rotary Club and eventually will be donated to the Veterans Cemetery in Caribou.
I made that first trip and several others after that. Brooks and Crowley, co-chairs for the caravan, who’ve made more recent trips, have asked me to recall those earlier trips. Only 23 people in 15 cars pushed their way through the wilds of the Maine woods westward to the Canadian border. After dawn it was a nice sunny day, but boy was it cold.
My old newspaper clippings and my negative file show that I made the trips in 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1964. It was 1958, I think, that I only drove in as far as Russell Crossing. I took my photos then started back to Ashland. However, on the return trip the road was icy and had not been sanded and with my little red MGA I met a huge lumber truck on a curve and didn’t quite get by him. One of the big wheels creamed my left rear fender and broke my glasses. Otherwise I was okay.
I’ve been trying to recall things that occurred on earlier trips that I made and I’ve been looking over some old newspaper clippings of other trips. In 2004 Mariah Lancaster and Joe Patterson were married at Clayton Lake by Sarah Brooks, who was a justice of the peace. The couple had met when Lancaster was a reporter for the Star-Herald.
In spite of all the problems of the past, the roads are now much better, according to Brooks. She is as crazy about Quebec City as I am. I made my first trip to Quebec when a friend and I, Al Roberson, hitch-hiked there beaucoup years ago. I wrote one of my first feature articles about the city and have written several others since, including a trip to the Gaspe for Yankee magazine. A good number of my photos of Quebec have been printed in Canadian guide books.
Entering Quebec City is more fun when you take the ferry across the St. Lawrence River from Levis. As you cross the river the Chateau Frontenac, a castle-like hotel, and La Citadelle, the fort, draw your attention. The chateau is like the Eiffel Tower for Paris and the Empire State Building is for New York, the icon for Quebec City. The hotel where the caravan will be staying is the Hilton.
In 1985 UNESCO named Quebec City as a “World Heritage Treasure” in recognition that the city has the largest collection of 17th and 18th century buildings on the  continent. They have restored some of the former old buildings at Place-Royale and at Le Quartier Petit-Champlain. This is one of my wife, Darlene’s, favorite shopping streets. The street is real narrow with hardly room for one car and the street is in Nouvelle France style with thick stone walls, bright tin roofs, wooden doors and shutters. There are cafes, boutiques and ice sculptures. There are two ways to get down to the quartier: 300 feet, which is below the terrace, is to walk down B reak-Neck-Stairs, or take the funiclar, a glass-enclosed elevator that runs down the cliff face.
A tall white character, looking like a walking  snowman, is Bonhomme Carnaval, the mascot for the carnival. He is the a host for the carnival and he is everywhere. Try to see as much as you can during the festivities: visit the ice palace, watch the contestants as they work on their snow sculptures, watch and cheer the bateaux races across the river. The paddlers paddle like crazy through the ice flows, jump on to an ice flow and pull their bateaux across the ice then jump back in their bateaux and go like crazy for the next one.
And if your like excitement to be a little more personal, try a flight down the toboggan run from way up on Promenade des Gouverneurs, down to Terrasse Dufferin (the boardwalk) to the Chateau Frontenac. Three toboggans and their passengers take off like a bat, head down an icy chute, screaming all the way, to end up in a pile of sand. Wow. And that’s fun?
Now outside the city there is also much to see. Take Route 138 north along the river toward the shrine Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre. The huge church has two steeples and thousands of visitors. En route to the shrine you will pass Montmorency Falls. It’s a narrow falls but its 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls. And in winter, like right now, the falls freezes and people try to climb the frozen water. The mist from the falls blows and freezes into snow and forms a pile, that is called ‘sugar loaf,’ and the kids slide down it.
If you haven’t signed up for the trip yet, do it now . I’ll see you in Quebec City or Portage. Bon Voyage.