Along the drive, I made sure to eat light and my preferred food choice was the ever-popular Tim Horton’s. They served up inexpensive and healthy fare and their coffee was excellent. Even the most remote locations seemed to always have a Tim Horton’s outlet and usually with a gas station. This way, one stop was adequate to refuel both man and machine.
The following morning, as I woke up and began getting ready for the drive from Wawa, I decided to do a quick monetary assessment. I had a rather light wallet and one conscious thought was that it would be a good two weeks before I received any money in the bank. Every dollar had to be stretched the furthest it could. And so the realisation dawned upon me that the funds really wouldn’t allow a halt in Winnipeg; at least not in a motel with a bed and shower. The idea of sleeping in the car at a gas station was also ruled out because the seats wouldn’t recline. Without much choice at hand, I punched in Regina on my GPS device. It showed a driving distance of 1750 kms and an estimated driving time of 20 hours.
As long as Ontario unfolded, it was driving nirvana. The highway was flanked by gorgeous scenery, interspersed with lakes and campgrounds. I even vividly recall a cluster of lakes with their names being Dad Lake, Mum Lake and Son Lake. It was summer and therefore the weather too was beautiful and unlike in winter, the drive was anything but stressful. I love reading signboards along the way and many of the interesting names are etched in my mind. One such name was Thunder Bay – a beautiful town located on the northern shore of Lake Superior.
The gas station clerk at Wawa alerted me that a vast stretch of 900 kms on the second day would offer no cell phone reception. I wondered what I’d do if my car broke down but then I recalled seeing police cruisers every so often. I quickly brushed aside breakdown worries because I was sure it wouldn’t. And if it did happen, I was clearly not going to be in any great trouble.
Into the prairies
As soon as Ontario gave way to Manitoba, monotony somewhat set in. I was now traversing the prairies and the beautiful windy roads gave way to absolutely straight ones. This was perhaps how the Romans would have built them. They stretched into the horizon and flanking the Trans Canadian Highway were vast expanses of agriculture fields. I later found out that a lot of Manitoba and Saskatchewan produce was exported to India.
With Canada being close to the polar north, the day length during summers was especially long. I vividly recall crossing the Ontario-Manitoba border at about 10 pm and the sun was only just beginning to set. Driving through the prairies also brought highway hypnosis’ to mind; this was perhaps the first time I came close to being ‘highway hypnotised’. The feeling is akin to looking out of an airplane window at 30,000 feet. What you will have noticed is that it does take a while for the cloud scape to change and similar was the case on terra firma, when driving through the prairies. It does take a while for the scenery to change.
Following about eight hours of driving since leaving from Wawa, I had already crossed into another time zone and by the time I reached Regina, I had crossed yet another. I’d therefore ‘lost’ two hours as I drove west on day two.
Regina came into view in the wee hours of the morning and was I ever glad to make it to my friend’s house. Half expecting to be shown a sofa, I was elated when I was offered a bed to sleep on. Twenty hours of driving later, certain body areas felt non-existent but more than anything, the highlight for me was a ‘still alive’ car. I had pulled off an endurance run of 1750 kms and so far, the rust bucket had travelled 2500 kms without a hiccup.
A rest day in Regina
It was prudent that I did a quick money assessment on day two. I figured I couldn’t afford to spend a night or several nights in a hotel in Calgary. It really would be unnecessary cash burn. A quick ‘eureka moment’ later, I began searching for Calgary home rental listings. I narrowed down three listings and immediately spoke to one that replied. On the other end of the line was an elderly lady offering a room in her basement and upon learning that I was a student, she ran me through the usual banter of no partying, no dirty kitchen and ensuring a clean bedroom. I didn’t mind the conditions because my restaurant work experience taught me the importance of a clean kitchen, boarding school imparted solid life lessons like making one’s bed in the morning and when it came to partying, I am the quiet type. I could be having a ball, all by myself and without making a sound.
I must add here that in all of my time in Canada–until I was married–I would only need to look at one prospective home and I’d decide that that was the place. With consistency, I always liked the very first home.
So a place was decided on while on my rest day in Regina. The city of Calgary was arranged like a grid and every address had a ‘northwest’ or a ‘southwest’ suffix. The home I was hoping to look at was located in the northwest and I therefore entered Jeanette’s address into my GPS as I prepared to set off from Regina.
The final leg
It was another regular day of driving and I stopped at what was called the Silver Dollar truck stop. A hearty breakfast later, I set out towards Medicine Hat, a fairly big town by Canadian yardsticks. A ‘fairly big town’ was one with a population of just 63,000 inhabitants. And Calgary, a major city, was home to just over a million. To place into perspective, there are perhaps one million inhabitants in a big town in India and several million in any big city.
But before Medicine Hat came into view and I could once again enjoy the scenery, I was in for a little surprise. I always consider myself an alert driver and always make it a point to check my rear-view mirrors every so often. On this particular day, I was lost in thought as I followed a motorcyclist on his BMW F650. These are perfect cross-country bikes and I was probably much too deep in thought.
I missed glancing at my mirrors and the short burst of a siren jolted me out of my reverie. It was a police cruiser who’d probably turned on its flashers a while ago. Since I did not pull over, the officer sounded the siren.
I immediately pulled over to the shoulder and stayed put at the wheel. A polite officer came up to my window and asked to see my license and registration. Luckily, I had it all at hand and after running a check on me, he returned my documents. The reason why he’d pulled me over was because my windows were tinted and they were not permitted in Saskatchewan. Back in Ontario, these were perfectly legal. As I would find out, there were some interesting differences in provincial laws. While Ontario allowed glass films, it prohibited the use of radar detectors. The reverse was true in Saskatchewan.
Therefore, if a Saskatchewan resident was feeling adventurous and wanted to try out his or her fancy sports car, they could fit a radar detector in it and press pedal to the metal. If a police cruiser was in the vicinity, the detector would sound off a beep and the errant driver could check their speed. To me it sounded like a classic game of cat and mice, but speed really isn’t my thing; I’d rather be the tortoise.
It was the first house yet again
The officer sent me on my way and before long, Calgary came into view. I exited the highway on Banff Trail and I made my way to Jeanette’s place. I was glad to find it was a quiet neighbourhood of detached houses and this one, in particular, had a well-kept lawn and the warm greeting I received was enough to have already made half my decision.
Jeanette showed me the two rooms she was looking to rent and unlike most basements, this one was well lit. I chose the more spacious bedroom, we negotiated a little and within an hour, I had already signed on my rental agreement, unloaded my vehicle and was on my way to the grocery store to pick up the week’s supplies.
The Trans Canada drive was a unique experience in so many ways. It was my first solo road-trip and I was able to see more of Canada in four days than many Canadian residents will in their entire lifetimes. I went on to do this drive two more times, with the better half for company.
This is the second part of this article. The first part can be read here.