The epic journey of Van Go


Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

This has been a long and cold winter. The calendar says it is spring and I am planning my annual trip to the Museums and the Web conference in just a few days, so I guess winter is finally over. I think that enough time has passed for me to cathartically tell the epic story of the PEM Van Go Team’s November 2013 road trip to the Museum Computer Network conference in Montreal.

Once upon a time there was a new media guy.

He was heading to a conference but it was too expensive to fly.

Five hundred dollars to Montreal he exclaimed with disdain.

He’d explore other options, a bus or a train?

He’d traveled the distance four or five times by car,

Just over five hours, three hundred miles was not far.


Map data © 2014 Google

“I’ve got it” he said, “rent a van, save some dough.”

“I’ll trim down expenses so more colleagues can go.”

MCN was a great conference, he went every year,

A place to talk shop, learn new strategies, and share.

Seven folks felt the same and were up for the ride,

Over mountains, along lakes and through scenic countryside.


Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

He would do all the driving with one single condition,

The song playlist was his and they would quietly listen.

So Canadian singers filled the van with their songs,

He had enough music for a trip twice as long.

The drive up was gorgeous, bright sun and blue skies,

Through New Hampshire and Vermont on Route 89.


Route 89 New Hampshire. Photo by Emily Black Fry.

The Shelburne Museum lured these self professed museum geeks,

But they missed the open season by just a couple of weeks.


Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

They walked the grounds for a while at a leisurely pace,

And headed inside to see their new gallery space.


Shelburne Museum, Pizzagalli Center, permanent collection installation. Photo by Jim Olson


Burlington waterfront. Photo by Emily Black Fry

Off to Burlington for fuel, caffeine and a bite,

Then speed to Montreal for the conference’s opening Ignite.

MCN was fantastic, they were in techie bliss,

A keynote by Tina Roth Eisenberg aka @swissmiss.

They talked strategy, open data and what’s on the Horizon,

And the latest technologies who’s stock might be rising.

Google Art, Gallery One, how to use social media,

How could they improve their content on wikipedia.


Mega meta selfie by Museum Computer Network attendees. Photo by Jim Olson

While chilly at times, the city was splendid,

But in just three short days the conference had ended.

The weather report showed some wind and a flurry,

So they packed up the van to leave town in a hurry.

And just after 5pm they bid Montreal fond adieu.

They’d be in Burlington for dinner in just under two.


Montreal City Hall, Photo By David Iliff (Diliff) Flickr Commons, (By Uploader) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

But the ride back to Salem did not resemble their plan,

Who would have imagined the adventure ahead for that van.

The snow came in light spurts within the first hour,

But their apps said it would be just a dusting, a mere shower.


Snow in Downtown Montreal Photo by Jazzmodeus, Flickr Commons,

The directions from the valet had taken them off course.

They were on the wrong side of Champlain and conditions got worse.

Through Venise-en-Quebec not a gondolier was seen.

The trip started to feel like a very bad dream.

He dropped gear down to second to get a bit more control,

And 45 miles per hour was as fast as they’d roll.

The snow was a piling, the wind was a gale.

How long would it take to right this ship’s sail?

A detour, a white out, snow piles, some ice;

They wished for a sign of civilization with all of their might.


William Bradford, 1823-1892. Icebound Ship, ca. 1880. Oil on canvas, 38 x 56 inches. M27190.

Finally, the customs agent asked what do you declare.

We bring back friendships, knowledge, two six packs of beer.

When the border was crossed they put their phones back on roam.

Everyone but the driver checked in with family back home.

They made it to Burlington a little after 8:30.

A quick dinner and texts home to say they would not be early.

The parking lot resembled a forlorn skating rink.

It was right then and there that they started to think.

Wind on Ice Rink. Photo by GemMoth, Flickr Commons

Wind on Ice Rink. Photo by GemMoth, Flickr Commons

Perhaps we find shelter and stay for the night,

Heading back the next morning was not ideal, but alright.

But the team checked the forecast on a few different apps,

And they all said light snow, a few inches perhaps.

So he jumped behind the wheel with caffeine in hand;

He cued up Los Lobos, one of his favorite bands.

Back to the highway they headed with caution,

Just over 200 miles between them and Boston.

The roads remained coated with ice and packed snow.

But nothing was stopping the crew of Van Go.


White out conditions on epic journey from Montreal to Boston.
Photo by Caroline Herr.

Cars went a spinning to the left and to the right,

Yet they traveled onward and cursed at the night.

The driver stayed determined, just a little weak in the knees,

The most treacherous stretches were a steep 6 degrees.

His intention was savings and to build some camaraderie,

Now he gripped the wheel so tightly you could see his main arteries.

He slowed down to a crawl, a sluggish 25 miles per hour,

If only the tires were skates made by Bauer.

The roads were not plowed and so hard to pass,

He figured they better stop now to fill up with gas.

With a fuel sign ahead he would not press their luck.

They needed reserves to keep warm if they got stuck.

He pulled off the highway and to his dismay,

The ramp seemed designed for an Olympic luge or bobsleigh.


Flickr Commons Photo by Sebastien Panouille,

The trip down to the station felt like a day and a half,

All he could do is forge onward, stay focused, and laugh.

After the pit stop they stayed on local back roads,

Trying anything to get back to their warm, safe abodes.

When they crossed to New Hampshire it was already morning.

The forecast still said clear, maybe flurries, no warning.

But the snow kept on coming, it just wouldn’t stop.

The highway was a slippery mess of white slop.

But as they crossed from New Hampshire to Metheun, Mass,

The roads were bone dry and he leaned on the gas.

It was past five am, they were on their 12th hour.

Just a few minutes to home, a soft bed, a hot shower.

Drop offs in Salem, Cambridge, and then Somerville,

The van covered in ice from tail lights to the grille.


Ice covered license plate the day after the journey. Photo by Jim Olson.

Driving home all alone with time to reflect on this fun,

He realized this was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

Would he do it again, no way he’d be lying.

The next conference is in Baltimore and you can bet he’ll be flying.


  1. gail spilsbury says:

    Chuckled all the way through and that was not nice
    when all you brave souls traveled south in ice.

  2. Victoria says:

    Jim, this made my day. You are a poet and I did not know it. Did you think, at any point, amidst that horrendous 12 hour commute, “one day we will look back on this and write an epic poem blog post about so all can laugh”?

  3. Jim Olson says:


    A poet you call me, that is more than just nice,
    But what went through my brain as we traversed that ice.
    Not poem, not a rhyme, just a hope for clear skies.
    And box of small toothpicks to hold open my eyes.
    My main goal was to safely get my passengers back,
    For me laughing and joking help keep the mind fully intact.

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