Way, way back in my last post, Celebrating The End Of The Millennium, I left you hanging in a roadside stop outside of Kenora, Ontario. Our epic road trip across Canada in July 1999 had begun with a wintry visit with my sister Debbie in the mountains west of Calgary. And so we had driven for 18 hours straight through. By the time we stopped, we figured we were far enough away from the snow.
That 18 hours was no big deal. I could do that in my sleep! (Sorry, bad joke…) My buddy Mike and I once drove from Montreal to St. Augustine, Florida in one day. Through a blizzard! That was a fun one…
I also used to drive down to the Southwestern US every spring, just to get away from the rain. Trips to Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, all without rest stops. Sometimes I was with friends, sometimes by myself.
A Quick Trip South
I once drove from Maple Ridge, BC to Santa Barbara, California, only stopping for gas and to pee. That was a few years after our epic road trip across Canada. That was a good one.
Heather was away for the summer, teaching in Korea. I was home, all alone with the dog and the cats. And my friend Glenn called me up and said he and Jocelyn, his better half, were heading to Santa Barbara for a camping trip. Would I like to join them? Absolutely!
And so, after making arrangements for the pets and the plants, I packed up the car and headed south. For this road trip, it was all about the destination. I needed to get the journey part done with as quickly as possible.
For example, as the sun was setting, I needed to change my sunglasses for my regular glasses. But my glasses case was in the back seat of the car. Damn! I was going to have to pull over.
Instead I drove into a rest area and, with my foot off the gas, I carried on through the rest area parking lot. I undid my seat belt and reached back, grabbing my glasses case. Then I put my belt on, switched my glasses and stepped on the gas, back on the highway. I had managed the “stop” without actually stopping!
But, once again, I digress…
And so, after the long drive across the Prairies, we were looking forward to this part of our epic road trip. The great Province of Ontario! A few more hours of driving and we would be in the Eastern Time Zone, three hours difference from our home in BC. So exciting!
But our excitement was soon replaced with monotonous boredom and impatient frustration. You see, this part of the Trans Canada Highway is not divided highway. And the road winds endlessly through forests of stubby, little pine trees and rocky outcrops. The Canadian Shield, which started in Eastern Manitoba, encompasses 8 million square kilometers of stubby trees and little lakes.
And the bonus of driving this part of the world, in the middle of summer? A dearth of passing lanes. That’s right, the Trans Canada Highway, a mere secondary road, in the middle of summer, packed chockful of 18 wheelers and motorhomes. And almost nowhere to pass. So fun!
For almost two full days, our view consisted of the back end of a transport truck, or a camper, and endless stubby trees and little lakes. Now our epic road trip had become not so epic.
And after a weary, boring day of looking at the backside of a rented motorhome, we needed a break. Heather suggested we find a spot and go for a hike. Great idea! A chance to get out of the car we’ve been in for the better part of three days, stretch our legs and get some fresh air.
We passed a sign indicating a provincial park ahead. A perfect spot to explore for a little while on foot.
The Mascot of North Ontar-i-o
I don’t remember the name of the park, but it sounded nice. It had a campground, and a trail that circled one of the thousands of little lakes. So we drove into the park and parked near a little general store. It felt so good to stand up and stretch. I sucked in a lungful of fresh air…and about a dozen little blackflies. The damn things were everywhere! And frikken mosquitoes! Hundreds of billions of them! They dive-bombed our eyes, landed in our hair, and began feasting on our exposed arms and legs.
Without a word, we both sprinted the hundred feet or so to the door of the general store. We practically dove through the entrance, slamming the screen door behind us. Holy crap! Welcome to Northern Ontario in summertime!
We purchased a bottle of the strongest, most toxic bug repellent from the bemused store clerk and saturated ourselves with most of the contents. Then we stepped back out into the black cloud that passes for “outdoors” in this part of the world. The blackflies hesitated for a few seconds before laughing their high-pitched whine. Then they renewed their attack.
Our hike turned into a run. Back to the car. So much for getting a break from the drive!
The Last Long Stretch
Almost 3 days of driving through Western Ontario, and the end was near. Our destination was Oakville, just west of the big city of Toronto. It was there we would meet up with my old friends from high school for a grand reunion. And a fitting end to this portion of our epic road trip across Canada.
I was looking forward to a break from the road, and Heather was looking forward to me having a shower.
After Sudbury, the pace of travel picked up. The road was back to a 4 lane, divided highway, so we didn’t have to wait for a 500 meter stretch of non-existent, empty straight road to pass 6 eighteen-wheelers and a convoy of motorhomes towing their family cars.
With decent traffic, we’d be in Oakville in about 4 hours. And when you’ve come across half of Canada in less than 4 days, four hours is no biggie. Four hours would fly by!
And it kind of did. From Sudbury, it was pretty much a straight shot south into the metropolitan Toronto area. Granted, we did hit some heavy traffic after Barrie, but that too was okay. It didn’t matter, because in a few short hours I was going to see my friends again, and enjoy a cold beer or six with them. The end of the second stage of our epic road trip was coming to an end.
Our Epic Road Trip Through Suburbia
Oddly enough, I was kind of happy to be driving through dense Toronto suburbia. After all the stubby trees and itty-bitty lakes of the Canadian Shield country, all the traffic and buildings was refreshing! Plus the blackflies and mozzies were a distant memory. Yes, we still had the welts and red, bloody blotches to remind us of the horror, but this too would fade away.
The next phase of our cross-Canada, epic road trip wouldn’t involve too much driving. Because for the next three days we’d be staying put. I was just looking forward to a relaxing time visiting with good friends and reliving glory days.
But I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen. I didn’t think I would need to watch my back every time I stepped out of the house, here in Suburbia. And I didn’t know I’d need to brush up on my marksmanship…
Stay tuned for Part 3!