Friday, January 5, 2007

Notes from the road - in retrospect

So it began. December 19, 2006 the departure date; 9 am the etd. We had rented and fully loaded a minivan to travel the 2,787 miles from Vancouver, BC to Oshawa, Ontario. This was the beginning of a new chapter for both Maggy and me.

In the previous 48 hours I had shipped my stuff, left my job, sold my car, moved, said "see you soon" (not goodbye) to good friends and colleagues, and loaded my most precious cargo for the ride eastward.

Maggy had also said so long to her very many fans.

After much last-minute assistance from friends and family - thank you Katie, Jim, Mika, Tom, Debrah, Don & Mom - into the van we both climbed. Next stop: 2 miles away to pick up our travelling companion, Tom, aka Road Warrior. Time we officially hit the road: 2 pm. Not quite to plan, but not bad, considering the magnitude of this move.

As we headed out of BC and into Washington State (we had decided to take the US route) it was grey and raining and the entire area was still recovering from wicked fall conditions (extreme rain, flooding, drinking water alerts, heavy snowfall and wild windstorms) that had left power outages and uprooted trees throughout much of the province for weeks. Washington had also experienced this wacky weather and as we drove, dedicated BC Hydro crews were also heading southward to help restore power across the border. When we pulled into our first of many McDonald's a few hours later, it and all other businesses nearby were closed and completely in darkness. Very unnerving - and, we were hoping, not a sign of things to come.

In order to make up for lost time, we drove til 10 pm and crashed for the night in Spokane. All in all, the drive had gone well, we had made pretty good time and we hadn't hit the tricky mountain passes that awaited, just yet.

Three things I hadn't counted on: Maggy was panting like a locomotive, drooling incessantly and despite us devoting a significant part of the van to her "resting area" she was opting to stand so far. We were hoping though that as she got used to the rhythm, she'd relax and lie down. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 20

We considered this the real Day 1 of our trip, given the late start the day before. We had checked out and grabbed a quick breakfast by 9 am, and achieved "wheels up" by 10. We resolved to improve on this the next day as the plan was to be driving by 8:30 each morning... So much for starting the holiday just yet!

Maggy was reluctant to get back into the van, but not wanting to be left behind, she hopped in. Unfortunately, she still had no intention of lying down - it was looking as though she planned to stand with her head peering between the two of us. While panting and drooling away.

It was a sunny, crisp day, just below 0 celsius. The roads were clear - perfect driving weather. As we left Spokane the scenery was stunning - very Christmasy with mountainsides full of rich evergreens powdered with snow.

That rapidly changed as we headed into the dryer landscapes of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming - all to the backdrop of achey breaky tunes on local radio stations. It was hard to believe it was the week before Christmas with sunny, dry land and very little snow or cold. Plus Tom forbade the playing of Christmas carols in addition to any of the music that Maggy and I had brought along...

All was well as we kept heading eastward. I was feeling great about this chance to transition from one life to another - over 5 days versus a 4 hour flight. Time to reflect and reminisce while moving forward. Tom was feeling less and less comfortable, as we left his beloved west coast behind - but as always he was up for an adventure. We drove about 10 hours and landed in Sheriden, Wyoming where we glady called it a night.

Thursday, December 21

Tom is truly a trip leader extraordinaire. He reviewed maps, watched the weather, carried bags, gave special treats to Maggy, allowed me to shoot with his camera, and ensured we had dinner and cold Buds at the end of each day.

Although I had been quite excited at the prospect of this trip and this move, Tom made it incredibly easy and enjoyable. Plus we both were really enjoying the chance to vent about work and life, while munching on carbs and watching the miles wile away.

I had been told that as Tom's forte is leading media trips throughout BC, he revels in knowing "something" about "everything" along the way. He did not disappoint me as he pointed out flora and fauna, birthplaces of presidents, historic battlefields, Devil's Tower (known for its role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), airforce training bases and the locations of infamous wild west bandits. All very eclectic and whirlwind as we zoomed by at 100 mph!

We got into a rhythm of driving for 4 hours then stopping at truck stops along I-90. Maggy would have a drink, snacks, pit stop, and quick run, and Tom and I took turns running in for our own pit stops and snacks, before heading off again.

This is when we'd have encounters with the locals which proved quite interesting. I learned that a slow "un huh" was the greeting, "can I help you", "thank you" and "goodbye" of choice in South Dakota. While kibbitzing there with a woman and her son they admired Maggy and said they had a dog at home that chased and ate rabbits all day - Maggy and I both smiled and were glad to get our urban butts back into the van.

We travelled through Wyoming, South Dakota and into Iowa. Wyoming was really beautiful with red sandy bluffs and wide open spaces. South Dakota started to become flatter and more agricultural and included some snow as we were blasted with the last vestiges of a horrible storm that had hit Denver the day before. Aside from a dusting of snow on the highway and the sight of several overturned vehicles, we again managed to avoid the worst of winter and kept sailing along.

At about 9 pm Tom and I were willing to keep going as we were wide awake, feeling content with our progress and felt we could wait a bit to eat dinner. Unfortunately, we realized we were running out of gas, rain was beginning to fall, there were a huge number of tractor trailers on the road and to our dismay the gas station we were targeting was closed when we arrived. Suddenly contentedness turned to concern as we concluded we had to settle for a small town we had already passed called Council Bluffs, Iowa for the night. And if we were lucky we'd just make it back there on fumes.

The fun began however, after we arrived at the town, filled up the tank and asked for directions to the Holiday Inn. Three very strange encounters with locals later we were finally able to get enough info to find the hotel.

This was the "Bates Hotel" of our trip as the front desk attendant was a bit "off", the hotel itself ok, but Tom's room was overlooking an adjacent parking lot full of idling trucks. Although he asked for another option, he was told the hotel was full to which he asked, "really, did everyone walk here,?" as the hotel parking lot was empty. This all didn't matter too much though as we were projecting that we could still make it to the Canadian border the following day.

It took Maggy about 3 minutes to fall into a very deep sleep.

Friday, December 22

Although we still had a day and a half to go, we were getting close and we could feel it. The rolling hills and farmland of Iowa turned into Illinois as we headed toward Chicago. Our aim was to circumvent the city prior to rush hour, begin heading north again to Detroit and then across the border to Windsor where we'd stay for the night.

The weather was turning colder, including the wind (which at our backs was helping us along our way). Each time we stopped for a break, we were surprised at how cold and windy it was.

After so many miles of empty highways, diverse natural landscape and intermittent farmland and towns, we were now nearing bigger cities and the energy was definitely different. Traffic was getting heavier and turnoffs more frequent until we hit the outskirts of Chicago in mid afternoon. Although we found ourselves in multi-lane congestion for half an hour, it was quite tolerable and actually a welcome change.

We passed by notable sites Peoria, Illinois; a Mack Truck location (Tom?); and Notre Dame. I spent too much time shooting cloud formations, farmhouses and lone trees all day as I had become a bit too attached to Tom's camera!

We whipped through Detroit as dusk descended into darkness. From the highway we could see plant after factory after plant, however we could also see what appeared to be a nicer residential area. The one drawback of this trip was definitely the fact we didn't have the time to venture from the Interstates to get a sense of some of the more historic and important US destinations. Just enough to whet my appetite for a more in depth road trip in the future!

Once we departed Detroit, the Ambassador Bridge to Canada appeared on the horizon - now well illuminated in the night sky. We were both excited to see this important milestone as we were about to re-enter the welcoming security of our own country. Tom snapped a shot of the border guard, we answered her questions and off across the bridge we drove.

It was only 8 pm, so we relaxed, Budweisers in hand. We chatted about how far we'd come and that the end of the journey was almost here. Maggy wasn't feeling quite so sentimental as she'd had enough of her cross-country adventure!

Saturday, December 23

We were able to sleep in as it's only about a four-hour drive to Oshawa from Windsor. The weather was nippy and grey - not exactly welcoming, but not exactly winter either! We kept counting our lucky stars as our journey was really quite smooth considering the time of year we were travelling.

Highway 401 was not unlike the last leg of the US trip with lots of farmland and fields and greenbelt along the way. Of course, Tom was still rhyming off notable facts about the small communities along the way - e.g. Leamington is the Canadian home to Heinz ketchup.

Aside from the insane number of OPP cars that were chasing down pre-holiday speeders, the remainder of the ride was pretty uneventful. We were all definitely ready to reach Oshawa and get out of the van as it was getting a bit claustrophobic and smelly.

Luckily we took the new toll highway 407 which was virtually empty. It turned out to be a highlight for Tom as it's a massive, well constructed roadway bordered by lots of new businesses - by now I had realized this is just one of Tom's many areas of interest - the efficient organization and transport of modern industry. We had spent much time discussing how America works with its resource, manufacturing and distribution networks. It was nice to see that something of Toronto had impressed him!

Finally, we reached Oshawa (about 45 minutes east of Toronto) and headed to my parent's home. We turned onto their street and there they were waiting outside as we pulled up. They gave us all a warm welcome, handed Tom and I some cold Alexander Keiths and helped us unload the van.

The house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, some snacks (including treats for Maggy) awaited us and we were able to have a nice visit with my mom, dad, brother, brother-in-law, and two nieces.

And Maggy checked out her new-found competition for food and attention - Ginger, the 15-year old, 9-pound lhasa apso/poodle with attitude to spare!.

Tom seemed glad to meet everyone and genuinely pleased that this was where he'd be leaving Maggy and me after our adventure. We eventually headed back into Toronto to return the van and drop Tom off at his hotel so he would make his Christmas eve flight the next am. It seemed strange to be saying goodbye after so many days on the road, and yet all was right with the world as he was on his way west and we started back "home" to Oshawa.

For Road Warrior's slightly different take see:

Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 13 - Tom; 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 - Me; 13 - Mom