1999 was a big year for Heather and I. Heather turned 30, and we celebrated by hiking into the Grand Canyon. (I’ll explore that trip in a future post.) We also moved in together, bought a new car, and went on multiple road trips. The biggest one was our epic drive across the country. Why such a busy year? It was 1999! There was every indication that computers were going to end the world at midnight, December 31st. So, what better way to celebrate the end of the millennium… and the world?
But seriously, it was a great year for us. We were debt-free, kidless, and young. Well, Heather was young. I was on the other side of young…
Now that we had our new car, and it was partially broken in, it was time to put it through its paces. What better way than an epic, 15,000 kilometer road trip across this great nation of ours?
An Epic Reunion
The decision to go was made when I received a call from my old high school buddy Mike, living in Belfast, Norther Ireland. He and his family were coming to Canada to visit his parents and sister, who all lived in Oakville, Ontario. Perfect! I hadn’t seen Mike in years, so committing to a cross-Canada road trip to visit an old pal was easy.
And so began a series of calls to other old friends. (No texting in 1999, for all you youngsters.) Between Mike and I, we connected with the old crew, and arrangements were made to get everyone to Oakville for an epic reunion.
Once Heather was done with school for the summer, planning kicked into high gear. Our plan was to drive to Alberta and visit with Heather’s childhood besties, essentially a mini reunion for Heather! One lives in Mayerthorpe, the other in Edmonton.
From there we’d drive to Calgary and spend a few days with my sister. Then high-tail it across the Prairies to Ontario. We’d spend 3 or 4 days catching up with old friends before carrying on to Montreal to see my parents. After that, we’d see where the road led.
The day of departure finally arrived. The car packed, we hit the dusty road, eastbound.
The miles roared by effortlessly. That’s the beauty of road trips; it doesn’t matter how far it is to your destination, because the adventure lies in the miles between. The journey is everything!
We had a great visit with Heather’s friend Collette and her larger than life husband Bob. I think Bob has a friend in every town in Alberta. He’s connected to everybody. He’s a dealmaker and a mover and a shaker. They own several sections of land in Western Alberta, much of it farmland leased out to other farmers. They’re not farmers themselves, they just own a lot of farmland. But Collette has horses, so a part of their property is open pasture for the horses to run. Meanwhile Bob buys and sells pipe for different industries, including oil and gas, agriculture, mining. You name it, Bob’s in it.
Partying With Sass Jordan And Eric Clapton
After Mayerthorpe it was off to Edmonton to connect with Tara and her husband Craig. They took us on a camping weekend with several of their friends to a lake near the Saskatchewan border. One of their friends looked uncannily like Matthew Perry! He even sounded like him. So we started calling him “Chandler Bing”, his character from the tv series “Friends”.
And then we started to consider what famous person the rest of us looked like. This led to one of the funniest episodes of the trip.
Someone, somehow, had a sheet of stick-on nametags, so they were passed around so everyone could wear one with their famous person name on it. Heather was Sass Jordan, the rock and blues singer from Montreal. I was Eric Clapton. I honestly don’t remember the other people’s alter egos.
Well, it was some time later, when the party was going pretty good, and we were all very loud, that a couple of guys in their late teens or early twenties wandered over from the next property. They were both a little high, and asked if they could join us.
And so, there we all are, sitting around a big campfire and talking and laughing, when the two visitors noticed our nametags. They began whispering to each other, and one of them blurted “Dude! I love your music!” That was it, there was no way to stop the laughter. These poor guys are looking around, thinking they’re having a beer and partying with a bunch of celebrities including Eric Clapton, Sass Jordan, and Chandler Bing. Who’s not even a real person!
Winter In Kananaskis
My sister Debbie and her family were staying at a cabin in Kananaskis, west of Calgary. Kananaskis is the start of the Rocky Mountains, where the Alberta foothills rise suddenly to jagged, snowy crags. With emerald alpine lakes and soaring granite cliffs, every photo is a postcard.
But it is in the mountains, and the Rocky Mountains invite snow any month of the year. July 1999 was no exception.
Our first day with Debbie and her family the weather was beautiful. We all went for a hike to a nearby lake, and enjoyed a nice barbecue afterward. From warm and sunny afternoon to a breezy, cold evening, the weather changed quickly. And by the time we awoke the next day, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. Soon, snowflakes began falling, and the forecast was for more of the same. I’m not celebrating the end of the millennium in a snowstorm!
We wanted summer weather, so Heather and I made the decision to cut our visit short. It was time to keep heading east. Our only stop in Calgary was to get some groceries. It was almost as cold there as it was in the mountains, so we continued east.
And when I say “east”, I mean really east! The next time we stopped to rest, other than for gas, was just outside of Kenora, Ontario! Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1,700 kilometers.
The End Of The Millennium With Luke And Leia
Turns out, the prairies are really easy to drive for a long time. Most of the road is divided highway, so you can easily pass all the trucks, campers and assorted farm vehicles. And besides, we had Luke Skywalker to keep s company.
Heather happened to have the Star Wars Trilogy (you know, the first three films that are actually the middle three films) recorded as a radio play, on cassette. Hours and hours of the classic films done in a sound booth, with all the action and drama of the original movies. It was brilliant! And so much better than trying to converse or stay awake for 1,700 kilometers.
I even found it relatively easy to give over the driver’s seat to Heather, thanks to those radio plays. You see, I’m not the best passenger on a long road trip. Hell, not even on a trip to Nanaimo! I tend to get restless and shifty, like I’ve got ants in my pants. Sitting in the passenger seat is an ordeal I prefer to avoid. I just can’t sit still. Which is funny, since I can sit in the driver’s seat for ten or twelve hours at a time, completely focused and relaxed.
I guess listening to the Star Wars radio plays gave my mind something to focus on, rather than the endlessly flat wheat fields of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Who knew? Because sometimes even the excitement of the journey can wear off a little…
Driving The Prairie Night
The warm summer day stretched off to the east, and nightfall was a long time coming. But we were driving east, away from the sun, and the darkness eventually arrived.
A funny thing about driving on the Prairies is that you can see the highway extend away for miles, unobstructed by trees, hills or curves. That car that’s coming toward you could be coming toward you for a good ten minutes! And on those infrequent stretches of un-divided highway, it could drive you crazy.
Driving the Prairies at night messes with your mind. There’s headlights coming toward you, so you better not try passing that slow car in front of you until they pass by. But 5 minutes go by, and they haven’t reached you yet. And it’s impossible to tell if the car has gotten any closer to you, so you still need to wait. Then, finally, after 10 minutes or so, the car goes by. Hurray! I could have passed this slowpoke ten miles ago…
Time To Get Off The Road
Thankfully most of the Prairies is divided highway, so this didn’t happen too much. So we made great time, and put many miles behind us that night. But sometime later, somewhere just after we crossed into Ontario, we decided it was time to stop for the night.
We’d been driving along an empty stretch of highway, far from any town. There were no other cars, but we soon spotted headlights coming our way. I wasn’t concerned about passing someone first, because there were no other cars and the highway was divided. Two lanes going in each direction, with a nice, wide median in between.
And in typical Prairie road fashion, after about 5 minutes the car was finally getting closer. But then there he was, coming toward us. And he passed on by, headed back the way we came. IN OUR FAST LANE! Yep, 60 miles an hour, driving the wrong way on a divided highway.
Heather and I looked at each other and said, “Might be a good time to stop for the night!” You think!?
Besides, Ontario was the next phase of the drive. Ontario is big. And, outside of the major metropolitan areas in the eastern part of the province, not a lot of divided highways. This was going to be a long trip!
Stay tuned for Part 2…