Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 17, 2022
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The scenic route

The drive down to Disney World is a wild ride all on its own

If rising airfares kept you stranded in snow country last winter, consider heading to Florida by car. Yes, the thought of a 30-hour drive from Ottawa to Orlando is painful, but stretch it out over three days and the journey becomes half the fun. You'll experience some real-world USA on the way to Disney's fantasy land. During March break last year, while my wife and children took the plane, I headed south in the car, listening to country music and Southern preachers, taking pictures and driving till midnight.

The round-trip touched 12 states with side trips into the countryside and small towns of Appalachia and the Deep South. Interstate 95 (and its many tolls) was the main corridor south along the coastal plain. Returning north, I-81 was the toll-free highway through the mountains. My average driving distance was 1000 kilometres a day - 2700 down and 3100 back.

Leaving Montreal or Ottawa after work on Friday gets you to the bottom of New York State by the end of Day 1 and lets you whip through the East Coast metropolitan region on the weekend; avoiding the weekday rush hours of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond is a major consideration on I-95.

You can't avoid traffic close to home if you're leaving from Toronto, but once into Pennsylvania, you can follow the Susquehanna River that cuts through the mountains to Chesapeake Bay.

By the middle of Day 2, you're across the Mason-Dixon Line and into the South along Chesapeake Bay and the Virginia coast. Side trips here lead to some of the US's biggest tourist attractions: the homes of presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and the original British colonial settlements of Jamestown and Williamsburg.

For an up-close look at the Virginia countryside I turned off the four-lane highway near the North Carolina border. My imagination filled with Hollywood stereotypes of the South - rednecks, Ku Klux Klan and crazy moonshiners - I drove the back roads on high alert, cell phone ready in case some big-wheeled pickup with an orange Confederate flag pursued me.

Tall loblolly pines lined the roads and the bare fields were bright orange. Clumps of cotton stuck out of the earth, remnants of last year's harvest. Amid overgrown fields and patchy woods, old shanty homes with bucket-and-rope wells were still in use - holdouts among the luxury developments that are taking over this lake country. On a causeway across a backwater bay, an old black man sat with two rods waiting quietly for a bite, while good ol' boys towed their huge fishing boats to Lake Gaston behind their four-wheel drives. In the end, I did see a pickup with a rebel flag on its tailgate, but no one paid any mind to my passing.

The coastal plain forest can be experienced on foot at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park near Goldsboro, North Carolina. Along the easy trails that lead to the Neuse River, stalwart oaks reached skyward in antebellum majesty draped with Spanish moss, and leafless sycamores leaned out over the river where a mockingbird mimicked its own queer call. The oddest species of Southern flora, the bald cypress, rose out of the swamp here with woody "knees" protruding for oxygen.

Along the park's Bird Trail, cardinals flashed red in the treetops. Fortunately I didn't see any rattlers, cottonmouths, copperheads or coral snakes during my short walk. Recognizing visitors' fear of snakes, one old naturalist told a group of youngsters, "You have to keep your eyes open around here." "Why?" they asked. "So you can see," he replied enigmatically.

South of the park, North Carolina's heartland can be seen along secondary highways that pass fields of tobacco and pick-your-own collard greens, stands selling gourd birdhouses and "boiled fried peanuts." Big business, tobacco fields and cotton plantations are also reminders of the sins of the South - lung cancer and slavery.

On Sunday morning in the Bible Belt, all the church parking lots were full. Whether you attend to be saved or born again depends on whether the church is Baptist, Pentecostal or Holiness. In Smithfield, the title of the pastor's sermon was posted outside: "Wal-Mart is not the only saving place."

A town sign with a picture of a pheasant greeted me in Faison, NC where Hispanic farm workers have taken up permanent residence. Latino men in cowboy hats and a tortilla shop have changed the face of this town whose classic Southern homes and magnolia trees are listed on the National Historic Register.


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