The bus left Rochester at 5:30 a.m. on Friday. It pulled into Bloomington – where I boarded – at 7:00. After one last stop to pick up a few more people in Duluth, we continued on to our final destination of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Actually, we had one additional stop, a brief one at the border crossing. We didn’t pick up any additional passengers there, but we did impress the Customs agent – or at least made him smile – when we sang the first few words of the Canadian national anthem.

The reason for our travels was the Toastmasters District 6 Fall Conference. Our District, one of the largest in the world, covers most of Minnesota and part of Ontario, Canada. The Spring Convention is usually held in the Minneapolis metro area, with the Fall Conference at one of the more outlying areas. Thunder Bay qualifies.

As I was preparing for the trip, I was almost as excited about the bus ride as I was about the conference itself, remembering school field trips I enjoyed as a child, and as an adult chaperoning field trips of my kids. Traveling to Thunder Bay, I took a tote bag filled with reading and writing material, and some notes to go over about the presentation I would be giving the following day. But I spent most of the time just talking with the people seated around me, and looking out the window at the changing scenery – especially once Lake Superior came into view.

When we reached the hotel where the conference was taking place, our bus was greeted by a black bear standing near the entrance and waving an American flag. Many of us received a bear hug as we got off the bus, and I noticed that the bear was of roughly the same height and build as one of the organizers of the conference, who was nowhere in sight at the moment. I saw him a little while later, but the bear was gone by then. I didn’t see it again until it showed up on Sunday morning to wave us off as we prepared to return to the States after the conference.

I always enjoy our Toastmasters conferences and conventions, whether I am competing in one of the speech contests, delivering a keynote or one of the breakout sessions, or just soaking up all the information, advice, and activities being offered throughout the weekend. I was especially looking forward to this one for a few more reasons, including the fact that members of the Thunder Bay clubs always travel to District events in the Minneapolis area, and I wanted to show my support by attending when the conference was in their neck of the woods rather than mine.

Whether in Canada or the United States, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance of both countries at all our District events, and sing both national anthems – which is why all of us on the bus were able to start singing “O Canada” without missing a beat. At the dinner session on Saturday evening, it’s traditional for one of our Canadian members to offer a toast to the office of the President of the United States, and for one of our American members to offer a toast to the office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

During both of the toasts this weekend, the speakers called attention to the relationship between our two countries, and the fact that the United States and Canada share not only the longest international border in the world, but the world’s longest undefended border. There are customs agents at all border crossings, but no military patrols or personnel from either country, and I think this is something we should all be proud of.

There was a dusting of snow on the ground as we departed on Sunday morning, but we managed to outrun it by the time we got to the border. On the way back, I was sitting on the Lake Superior side of the bus, so I spent a good portion of the trip taking pictures out the window. Between the speed at which we were traveling and the glare from the glass, it was hard to get any decent shots. But I kept trying, playing with different settings and enjoying the thrill of the chase, even if most of the results fell victim to the “Erase” function on my camera.

I dozed off somewhere north of the Cities, and woke up in time to see “94” on one of the road signs we were passing. I called my husband to let him know we were almost home, but since I had called him after we stopped for lunch in Duluth to give him our estimated time of arrival, he was already in the parking lot waiting to pick me up.

It always takes me a day or so after a weekend conference to catch up on my sleep, to sort and process all the information I received, and to plan follow-ups for everything I learned and everyone I met while I was there. I felt both relaxed and recharged as I did this after spending the time with our neighbors to the north. I don’t know how long it will be before another conference is scheduled for Thunder Bay. But I’m already looking forward to it.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 31, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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