Cross-Canada I: Ontario is Very Wiggly


On the road

My family is fairly close. There are dozens of people on my mother’s side, as she’s one of nine, and I’m one of 19 grandchildren. Family get-togethers require obscene amounts of space, food, and alcohol in order to function. Most of us grew up with at least a few cousins around our age, and while we’re not hand-holding besties or anything, there are fairly strong bonds, to the point that a lady we met on a train spoke of us with chest-clutching adulation of our adorableness. It was thus that the prospect of travelling together did not ignite terror or disgust, and we seriously underwent a cross-Canada trek together.

I told a few friends during teacher’s college of the plans, and they said the road-trip would be amazing. When I mentioned it would be with family, they paled considerably. One guy mentioned that he would prefer being set ablaze to being trapped in a vehicle with any number of his family members for such a long time. I’ve travelled with cousins before (I shall wax on about that in a later entry), but never this many, and never in such close quarters.

The beginning of the trip was a now annual memorial/celebration we held for our grandma (and grandpa, though he died before many of the grandkids were born) in Muskoka, about two hours north of Toronto. This is cottage country, and so immense fields of traffic were encountered just getting out of the city (preparation for the following week!). We gathered as much of the family that could come, had gluttonous smorgasbords, and prepared for the trip.

Compatriots

There were five cousins who were to undergo the trip: me, Gillian and Zack (brother and sister; Zack I had travelled with in Europe), Shannon, and Brianna. The first four were sort of expected entities, but Brianna, the youngest, was more of a surprise, as she tends to be more reserved, at least around our family. Our family, by the way, is enormously boisterous, opinionated, and frankly very loud. If you want to make a joke or tell a story, you must  be louder and quicker and funnier than the rest of the people similarly shouting lines or anecdotes.

We arrived at the house of family that lives up north and gorged on fried bread and other various fat-drenched Englishy breakfast foods. We picked up our bags and jammed them in the car. We were ready to go.

The chariot

A word on our chariot: a ’96 Blazer, I believe. It is a respectable truck, and it came to us with 310,000 km on it and a lot of recent work to put it in driving shape. We were somewhat confident it could survive the trek, though I assumed it would basically fall apart exactly as soon as we arrived in Edmonton, and there was a long-standing fear that we would literally leave the transmission behind us if we went about 120 km/h.

The original plan is that we’d slam-pack the trunk with gear, two would be up front, three in the back seat, with one unfortunate soul riding bitch for 5-hour shifts at a time. Shannon, ingenious and also horrified with the prospect of this arrangement, shoved all the gear to the back of the trunk, laid out the sleeping bags in a row in the front of the trunk, and created a bed. This bed, alternately known as “The Cave,” “The Womb,” and “The Rat’s Nest” was both highly illegal and incredibly dangerous. One time I rode on it on an industrial road made entirely of gravel which shook me like a paint can for an hour; once Brianna had a shift along a logging road more pothole than pavement. And yet: we fought for shifts. It was comfortable, no one sat beside you, you could lie down and nap, and all your responsibility to navigate or take pictures evaporated.

In the cave

So, we get on the road. Most of Canada can be navigated along the trans-Canada, but as the title mentions, the route on Ontario is hugely curved and indirect. Googlemaps, stalwart navigator that it is, directed us to a circuitous and crazy path that would cut our hours and take us along, as I mentioned, industrial roads, regional highways, and through all number of towns I’d never heard of.

The first day of travel, like all trips, is one of constant excitement. We shouted. We put all the windows down (this was a practical matter, as we had no air conditioning). We blasted the music and gunned the car. We cheered so loudly and so often I began a hootcount to gather data (the first day: 23 whoos). The road ahead is hard, but it seems childishly simple and achievable. The sky opens up seemingly to light our path. The roads, once we get far enough out of cottage country, are clear.

Everything is amazing on the first day. Every kilometre travelled, every step taken, every natural beauty recorded on film. Even the A&W in Chelmsford (which: A&W Canada wide is seemingly more popular than McDonalds. Marvel at this datum) seemed to be packed full of quaint delights. We heard the saga of a young local named CJ, who always looked rough apparently, and he hadn’t even drank in five days! He reported to a friend that he believed his glasses gave him the appearance of being hungover. Just outside, we encountered the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh. Small-town Canada! Everything seemed charming and humble in our condescending, big-city eyes.

Winnie?

The set-off day is sort of like a fever of stupid, or the first phase of culture shock compressed into the span of 24 hours. Everything is new and fresh and exciting, and how could this possibly bore anyone? Others had warned us that it took forever to escape our province, but for the day we found it captivating. Our home was splendid! The food was serviceable! Every song we played was perfectly chosen and lauded as thoughtful and clever playlisting. Hell, we even liked each other more than usual: every comment was hilarious, every smile returned with a goofier one, we just loved being around each other. It was the first day, and everything was awesome, because of course it was.

The goal for the day: make it to Thunder Bay. Ontario is basically endless, and you can drive all day without escaping. We found a hostel located just outside of the city, and the woman running it laughed us off the phone when we reported our goal. With three lead-feet, first-day effulgence, and a trail of hooting and weird sudden storms, we blasted through this damn province and hit Thunder Bay by nightfall. Could we get across the country within four days, which was the plan? It seemed like it could happen.

From a hostel bathroom

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