Travelling South for a Funeral

Throughout the days before we travelled south for my grandmother’s funeral, we were preparing — both in terms of getting things like a house & cat sitter lined up and in an emotional way, too. By the time we were actually renting a car to set out down to the Ottawa Valley, I had decided to look on the bright side as much as possible. Yes, we were looking at a 4000-kilometre round trip to pay our last respects to my grandmother, but in that time, we would be able to celebrate her long life, and spend time with family.

Hanging onto that optimism became a bit difficult the longer I drove south. We hit terrible construction in Thunder Bay, due to flooding repairs, and after that it rained clear through to the next day. Superior Park was foggy, sometimes to the point that I could barely see twenty feet ahead.

Some of my favourite views were obscured by the rain, but it wasn’t all terrible. We stopped in Schreiber for a quick bite, and after that, Matt tried to catch a bit of sleep knowing he was due to take the wheel once I couldn’t drive any more. My night blindness kicked in as we exited the park, helped along by rain refracting on our tiny windshield. After I drove for about 12 hours, Matt took over at Pancake Bay (right near where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank!).

It was dark. Reaaaaally dark. I stayed awake as we pulled into Sault Ste. Marie,  but downing my fourth caffeinated beverage of the day was a terrible idea and I immediately felt sick. I decided to get some sleep in hopes I would be refreshed and feeling better enough to drive once the day broke again.

I think I got about a half hour to an hour of fitful sleep, then woke up for good as we were driving through the Sudbury overpass. The rental came with Sirius radio and Matt had it turned to some ridiculous talk radio show about who in Hollywood has the most stupid face. It was enough to keep me entertained until North Bay, where, after hunting for an open gas station for a half hour, I took over the wheel again.

I probably should not have been driving. Turning on the steep curve to Highway 17 made me dizzy. But we were only three hours from my dad’s house and I wanted to get there for my Grandma’s visitation. Luckily the rain almost completely dissipated as the sun came up, and traffic was light, so I pushed through. I was so happy to pull up in that driveway!

We were up a few hours later, getting ready to go to the funeral home. The next few days were bittersweet — we got to spend a ton of time with family, especially our niece Ophelia and my sister and brother-in-law who we rarely see, but in the middle of it we had to say goodbye to my Grandma. And, while it was heartbreaking to let her go, it was lovely to see the life and vitality that has sprung up and coursed through the veins of our family tree.

My mom drove down for a few hours, which was greatly appreciated. I was able to catch up with my cousin and good friend Andrea, and reconnected with many people I haven’t seen in ages. Matt became a rockstar in the eyes of my younger cousins when he taught them how to make stink bombs and told them all about hitchhiking out to BC when he was younger. We shared a lot of remembrances, ate a ton of food… and I relished the opportunity to be surrounded by so. many. babies. SO MANY BABIES.

We also made a stop over at my Grandma’s house, a place that will be forever special to me.

But, as always, we had to get on the road again. Being south already, it only made sense to stop into Peterborough to visit with Matt’s family (although we wish we could have stayed much longer). Matt took the scenic route, up through Wilno and Bancroft, then followed the canal into the city to get a view of his own favourite places. I love seeing our niece Lily, especially having just seen Opie — Lily is so outgoing compared to her! She gleefully picked us flowers and took Matt on a jaunt through the backyard. Matt’s mom did us a huge favour and found Matt’s old tent in her house for us to take back with us, something that would certainly come in handy later in the trip.

After another sad goodbye, we started on our way out of town — and then Matt requested a small side trip to the mall. As if I’d turn down going to a mall. The clothing and sunglasses purchases were expected, but I was surprised when we went into a jewelry store on a whim and walked out with our wedding rings.

Matt decided to take us through Bobcaygeon on the way out, because I’d never been. He is trying really hard to leave me with a good impression of Peterborough and the Kawarthas (because I’m pretty neutral thus far, aside from believing the roads around Lindsay smell like gym socks after dark). The easiest way to make me have a good impression of a place? Feed me.

Matt has been waxing rhapsodic about Empire cheese curds since I met him. Imagine his glee when he finally managed to snag two bags, still fresh, at a random flower-covered gas station.

Bobcaygeon was beautiful! The main goal of our side trip was to get to the Kawartha Dairy. That ice cream cone up there? Butter tart ice cream. Seriously. It had pieces of butter tart crust in it and the ice cream itself was that caramel-y butter tart flavour. Mmm. On the way out of town we picked up two Kawarthas real estate magazines, so I could fully realize I will never live in a place with Muskoka chairs and a three-level waterfront deck unless I somehow manage to drum up a few million dollars.

We decided we’d keep heading north as far as Sudbury, though we initially intended to go all the way to Sault Ste. Marie. It was rainy and we were pretty tired after several emotional days. I put my feet up and turned on the radio while Matt navigated through cottage country — we learned that of all the Sirius stations, 90’s grunge/alt rock is the most crowd-pleasing. Unfortunately, when we got to Sudbury, our historic horrible luck with hotels kicked in. A clerk at the very first hotel we tried informed Matt that there were only THREE vacant hotel rooms in all of Sudbury, and we had best get moving to the Days Inn if we wanted to secure one of them.

Lucky for us, we made it. I was really happy to see that glorious king sized bed, even if I ruined my slippers in the parking lot. I wanted to go to the M.I.C. Eatery and Whiskey Pub but as soon as I actually got into the cool, dark hotel room, I was exhausted enough to instruct Matt to call the hotel restaurant and find out if they were still open. Usually I think hotel restaurants are a bad idea — don’t you want to get out and see more of the city? — but this one actually turned out to be a brilliant choice.

Hardrock 42 is a surprisingly good gastropub with a serious beer list. I had Blanche de Chambly, and a Barking Squirrel/cherry brandy mix, along with a goat cheese stuffed burger. Matt went the cider and wings route, with Magners, Thornbury, and dill pickle and garlic/Parmesan wings. We ended up eating in the same place for breakfast, too.

The next day, I woke up early and sick. In fact, I couldn’t fall back asleep even though I was tired, because my throat hurt so much. My dad had been sick the day before, from stress, being in the hospital to visit my grandmother, and being in contact with so many people, and I figured if it felled him it would come for me next. I was right.

The goal of the day, then, was to get out of Sudbury and get as far as at least Marathon. But first, we had to stop at the Big Nickel.

The good part about driving back through the Superior Park? Bathroom breaks can be incredibly scenic. We drove through a few rain pockets, but it was mostly clear and gorgeous. I wiled away the boring parts of the drive reading about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, thanks to mobile Wikipedia.

I have always wanted to stop at Katherine Cove, a pretty little sandy spot on Lake Superior. The bathrooms are certainly rustic but it gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch. Matt even waded into the lake a bit (he’s crazy — it was FREEZING).

This part is kind of cheesy, but bear with me. My Uncle Stan, my dad’s brother, passed away when I was in high school. I couldn’t attend the funeral because it was on the same day as my prom, but my dad has told me the story of preparing to write his brother’s eulogy. He wasn’t sure what to say, and was trying to find the right words, when he realized he was suddenly surrounded by yellow butterflies. That became the basis for his speech, and ever since then, I’ve sort of taken butterflies as a sign from the heavens.

So I stepped out onto the beach, just me, as Matt was still back at the car. Out of nowhere, two perfect yellow butterflies started dancing through the air, swirling all around me. They came so close, and only near me, no matter where I walked or how fast I moved.

Once we got to Wawa we knew we’d be spending the night in Marathon. It was getting dark, and Matt was doing all the driving. We stopped for Tim Horton’s and another tourist photo at the Wawa goose. We also spent a few minutes tracking down a pocket knife for Matt, because after firmly deciding to camp in Marathon, we checked the tent and realized there were no pegs, meaning Matt would have to carve some because all of the stores that might sell tent pegs were closed for the night.

We’ve camped in Marathon before so we knew to go straight to Penn Lake Park. This time around we had daylight to work with, and our choice of every single tent site in the park. It was only a bit chilly, and Matt had the pegs carved and tent set up in the time that it took me to walk to the bathroom and back. It took him a bit longer to inflate the foot-pump air mattress that was the exact size of the interior of the tent, with only a few feet of headroom to contend with.

Recognize that bathroom? I took the same photo on our bike trip.

In the meantime, I drove into town hoping to find something we could cook. My brain wasn’t really working after so many days out of my norm, so when there were no hot dogs at the only convenience store that was still open, I panicked and bought:

  • one bag of marshmallows
  • one can of chili
  • one can of beans that required a can opener (which we did not have)
  • eight sets of plastic cutlery
  • 100 paper plates

And then, when I got back and set up the bedding, I realized I was super sick and super tired, more so than I had realized before. Matt got a fire going… but I crashed and fell asleep. Our next major camping gear investment is sleeping bags, because the tent was awesome and waterproof but the bedding wasn’t terribly insulating. We both had pretty fitful sleeps.

The next day, our last big stop was Nipigon. We had our final cheese curd treats (I had fromage-a-trois poutine with curd, feta and cheddar, while Matt had smoky poutine with bacon and onions) and admired the scenery. The rest of the drive was pretty straightforward; the same drive we’ve done plenty of times. We avoided huge construction delays in Thunder Bay, and didn’t see a single moose on the road from Ignace despite being warned. Matt picked up a turtle to help it across the road and it tried to pee on him as a defense mechanism. You know, the usual.

And now, we’re home. We’re both tired, still, and Matt is starting to get sick. The rental is due back tomorrow, and half of the bags are unpacked. We had a good time, albeit a sometimes sad time, but I’m happy to be back home and off the road.


Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip: Brandon, MB, to Home

(Part one here: Sioux Lookout to the Ottawa Valley | Part two here: Ottawa Valley to Lake Superior Park | Part three here: Lake Superior Park to Dryden, ON | Part four here: Dryden to Medicine Hat, AB | Part five here: Medicine Hat, AB, to Nanaimo, BC | Part six here: Nanaimo | Part seven here: Abbotsford, BC, to Valemount, BC | Part eight here: Valemount, BC, to Brandon, MB)

We both had to let our respective employers know we wouldn’t be making it in to work that day, as we still had about eight hours to travel, not including stops. We had burned the candle at both ends for over two weeks but it was so nice to know that sometime that day, we’d be home.

I have to admit that we ate McDonald’s for breakfast and it was all the more disturbing to me because I walked by a truck jam-packed full of sad pigs in the parking lot on my way in. After breakfast, we got back on the road for the last time, eager to pull into our driveway.¬†Everything was going relatively well, save for the ridiculous gusts of wind that made me feel like I was going to fly off the side of the bike. Then Matt pulled into a gas station just outside Winnipeg because a clanging noise started up behind us, almost as if something was bouncing off the asphalt behind the bike.

Turns out, that’s exactly what was happening.

That’s a rather large portion of the exhaust system on the right-hand side of the bike, which decided to come loose just as we were pulling in to refuel. We’re lucky that it came off at that moment and not a few minutes before or after, because if it had come off on the Trans Canada, we wouldn’t be getting it back. Matt rigged it back together using some of the screws from the other side, and it somehow stayed on the rest of the way home.

From Winnipeg to home felt like nothing — it’s familiar territory, and those five hours fly pretty fast. I’ve never heard Matt cheer so loud as when we crossed the border back into Ontario, though. Ontario greeted us with much, much, much better roads — and the smell of forest fire. We were on our way home!

We made a few stops along the way in the usual places; Willard Lake and Vermilion Bay for gas, and a scenic lookout to stretch my knees. We blew through Dryden, knowing we were within an hour of home, and the turn-off to Highway 72 was a delight to finally see. That stretch of travel seemed to take forever, as we were both bored and the road was bumpy, but I watched the GPS tick down the minutes to our final destination with happiness.

It was just getting dark as we parked the bike in our driveway. We peeled off our boots, lugged a few bags in, and I hopped in our bathtub to fully relax for the first time in two weeks.

People keep asking us — would we do it again?

We covered about 10,000 km in 11 days of driving, with just four days of relaxation. That meant, on average, we traveled nearly 1000 km a day (in reality we had a few massive stretches mixed with slow, tired, bogged down days). We couldn’t stop for real meals, a proper rest, or to take in sights. We wound up stressed, tired, sick, sore and worried a lot of the time.

Having done this, we’re both in agreement that something like six to eight hours of driving in a day would be a lot more manageable. We now know how much breaks add up, and how difficult it is to continually travel based on a really challenging itinerary. For our first trip, we bit off a huge chunk of Canada!

This time around, it was worth it to get where we wanted to go. Next time, we’ve concluded that we’d like to take two bikes and three weeks to do the same kind of trip. Until we’re ready to get back on the bike, which needs some TLC, it’s back to four-wheeled travel for awhile.

Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip: Valemount, BC, to Brandon, MB

(Part one here: Sioux Lookout to the Ottawa Valley | Part two here: Ottawa Valley to Lake Superior Park | Part three here: Lake Superior Park to Dryden, ON | Part four here: Dryden to Medicine Hat, AB | Part five here: Medicine Hat, AB, to Nanaimo, BC | Part six here: Nanaimo | Part seven here: Abbotsford, BC, to Valemount, BC)

The clouds had lifted a bit the next morning, but we still weren’t able to see the tops of the mountains. Still, the weather was far better for travelling than it had been the day before. With a renewed sense of adventure, we had Jasper in our sights, because after all that work to get there the day before, we still wanted to see what it was all about!

We drove past Mount Robson, the highest peak of the Rockies, but the weather was still bad enough that we couldn’t see the summit. It was still exciting to be back in the big mountains, especially because we missed some of the interesting peaks on our way through the first time on account of it being so dark.

We had a quick lunch in Jasper, opting to call various family members to tell them about our engagement after filling up on gyros, souvlaki and baklava. Matt tried on some bike gear at a motorcycle shop in town, wishing we had somehow been able to go there before the trip ate all of our money. We finished our brief excursion into town off with a trip to an arts store, where Matt bought me engagement ring #3, an inexpensive amber ring that actually fit my finger.

It felt like the mountains faded away very quickly. When we hit Edson, AB, there was nary a peak to be seen, but, unlike our trip there, it didn’t feel like we were really in the prairies. The Yellowhead Highway offered a slightly more interesting view, along with what felt like way less wind than on the Trans-Canada. The bumps, however, were still definitely in place.

I must have gone into some kind of prairie hypnosis because I don’t remember much of this ride. The road around Edmonton was really bad, and the sun was just starting to set as we cleared the city. Matt asked me to find a hotel a few hours away as he was feeling like that would be the point where he’d need to stop driving. We ended up in Vermilion, courtesy of the GPS.

We went to a chain hotel, another Super 8, I believe, to be informed that there were no vacancies and there was only one other place in town. We raced a woman in a pick-up truck to the hotel, the Vermilion Motor Inn (she won). Luckily, they had room, so that’s where we rested our heads for the night. In the morning, after eating our complimentary breakfast (cereal), we vowed to get as close to Ontario as possible — we were due back to work the following day, but the BC weather and battery problems had set us quite a way behind our schedule.

I started to feel sick again that day, but we soldiered through, stopping for the occasional granola bar and water along the way. Right near Maymont, SK, Matt pulled over on the side of the road. I asked what was up and he pointed to the speedometer — it, along with the odometer, had simply stopped working.

I believe the trip meter was on its eighth roll around (i.e., 8688.3 kilometres) but I can’t say with certainty any more. Matt ended up using the GPS to tell him his speed, and we abandoned any idea of having an accurate kilometre count at the end of our ride.

Again — prairie hypnosis. I know we were sore and tired, but I seem to have blocked out most of the ride. In Russell, MB, we started thinking about hotels, as it would take us until 3 AM to get to Winnipeg. We asked around town but there was nothing available.

Manitoba after dark is a lonely place. Looking at the GPS, we discovered there were only a handful of hotels between Russell and Winnipeg. We stopped in Shoal Lake, where a somewhat-scary maintenance man at the only hotel in town, which was under construction, offered to let us stay in a room if we could find one with an unlocked door. No thank you. Strathclair had nothing, either.

I should mention that the whole time we were stopping into these tiny prairie towns, a train was following us. We’d stop to look for a hotel, the train would show up, cross the tracks, blow its horn repeatedly, and drive us crazy. By the time we arrived in Minnedosa, our last hope, we were pretty unhappy. Nobody was around at any of the hotels we tried — apparently once it gets dark, you cannot get a hotel because the proprietors aren’t awake.

Our only option was to drive to Brandon, MB, 40 minutes out of the way, back onto the Trans-Canada. Did I mention we were on reserve fuel and, much like there were no open hotels, there were no open gas stations? We stopped at the very first gas station we could find in Brandon and Matt opened the tank to discover there was absolutely nothing in the tank — we were literally running on fumes.

Naturally, it was 3 AM by the time we got to Brandon, meaning we could have gone straight through to Winnipeg. We bought McDonald’s, sharing the line-up with the drunken post-bar crowd, and checked into the only room left at the Motel 6.

Next up: Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip — Brandon, MB, home to Sioux Lookout!

Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip: Abbotsford, BC, to Valemount, BC

(Part one here: Sioux Lookout to the Ottawa Valley | Part two here: Ottawa Valley to Lake Superior Park | Part three here: Lake Superior Park to Dryden, ON | Part four here: Dryden to Medicine Hat, AB | Part five here: Medicine Hat, AB, to Nanaimo, BC | Part six here: Nanaimo)

After charging all night at our Abbotsford hotel, the Goldwing’s battery still wasn’t working, and on top of that, it was pouring rain and the forecast looked that way all across BC. We headed to Walmart, getting soaked in the progress, to buy a new set of rain gear and try to figure out how to fix our battery problem. Over an hour later, we were in new rain pants, and Matt was working on the battery in the parking lot. A Goldwing owner came over to chat with us as Matt was dealing with distilled water. After maybe half an hour of fiddling, he had it going again, miraculously. The ‘Wing owner said to us, very seriously, “Don’t drop that bike,” and we were off to fuel up.

Not ten minutes later, we were pushing the bike up off the ground. In terms of bike drops this was nothing — uneven, wet pavement took Matt’s foot right out from under him and as the bike started to lean heavily into my leg I jumped off, thus helping it make its descent to the ground. It wasn’t too hard to get it back upright but I will admit it left me a bit shaky.

All I remember of that day, really, was rain. Cold, driving rain, that made visibility near impossible and high speeds a joke. We were already behind from the late start from the dead battery and rain gear shopping, and now we were stuck in downpours all freakin’ day. Our goal was Jasper and we were doing our best to get there, although we weren’t going to be able to enjoy our stay there at all thanks to how late we’d be getting in.

Just outside of Valemount, BC, the skies seriously opened beyond anything we had encountered, except maybe during the whole tornado situation in Northwestern Ontario. Matt could not drive any further because he couldn’t see fifteen feet ahead, so we pulled over at the very first hotel we saw, a Best Western. The counter clerk gave us the cheapest room they had, a three-bed suite.

The silver lining of being rained out was that we were, for once, in a hotel before everything shut down. I changed into my last set of clean clothes and we hurried down to the lounge for a glass of wine and some food. There, Matt shocked the heck out of me with a marriage proposal — we had fought so much on the way there that I had no idea it was coming! I jokingly told him he had fight insurance for the next few days after that.

He proposed with not one, but two rings he had picked up in Nanaimo behind my back. He ran out of time before the trip to buy the ring he actually wanted to get, so he figured this was at least a step up from a twist tie. Our method of celebration? Laundry. We finally were able to wash our clothes and Sheepy, especially needed after our long day travelling in the rain.

Next up: Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip — Valemount, BC, to Brandon, MB!

Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip: Nanaimo

(Part one here: Sioux Lookout to the Ottawa Valley | Part two here: Ottawa Valley to Lake Superior Park | Part three here: Lake Superior National Park to Dryden | Part four here: Dryden to Medicine Hat, AB | Part five here: Medicine Hat, AB, to Nanaimo, BC)

Before we left home, I booked us a rental car with Budget. We woke up, got ready, and called a cab with plenty of time to spare in order to get the car and pick up Matt’s son G at the agreed upon time.

I’d caution anyone who is relying on Budget to be very, very careful. When we got there, we were informed at the front desk that we’d need proof of insurance that I could drive a rental car, because I’m under 25, or Matt would need to be the sole driver using his credit card. We could not use his license and my card, and none of these policies were made available or explained to us at all at any point while I was booking the vehicle (which we did both by phone and online).

We had to scramble, so we took another cab to the designated pick up area. While on our way, the cabbie heard us talking about how Budget screwed us over and got on the phone with a friend of his at Hertz, who set us up with a rental. This cabbie was half-hero, half-hustler — yes, he got us a car, but he took us all the way to the freakin’ airport to get it, which ultimately made for the most expensive cab ride I have ever taken, clocking in at a whopping $78.

But, in the end, it didn’t matter. We picked up G successfully and we had a vehicle — it was time to have fun! When you ask an 11-year-old what they would like to do, no holds barred, it goes something like this: laser tag (he won), massive indoor playground, french fries, go-karts, arcade, movies, playground.

It was a jam-packed day of fun, and it was so nice to finally meet G. The three of us had an awesome time, although Matt and I were definitely hobbling at some points during the day. We dropped him off for the evening with instructions to think of what he’d like to do the next day, and immediately headed out to find food.

Naturally, we aimed ourselves toward the harbourfront, where we settled in at a restaurant overlooking the water and gorged ourselves on salmon and BC beer. We wandered around the docks for quite some time after our meal, soaking in the Island now that we’d finally made it.

I put my aching feet in the ocean for all of three seconds before wimping out thanks to the cold.

Matt was a lot braver and went all the way out along the bridge. We got out of the water and found an ice cream shop, where Matt banned me from saying the words ‘Nanaimo bar’ as he was worried if I kept saying it, someone other than us would snag one of the last bars in the shop.

We had plans to do laundry, as we were both rapidly running out of clean clothes, and track down a few more pints, but I fell asleep in the hotel as Matt was on the phone with a friend. I couldn’t be roused and Matt was feeling pretty sleepy himself, so we called it a night and enjoyed the first big stretch of shut-eye we’d had in days.

The next morning we picked up G, who told us he’d like to see another movie that day. We still had a few hours to enjoy before the show, so we opted to head back to the harbourfront.

A hunt for starfish commenced, followed by ice cream, crab spotting, and G taking the big camera for a whirl.

After the movie we went back into town for some quick birthday present shopping for Rollerblades and toys. We had to take G back right after that, making for a really, really sad and difficult goodbye. And then we still had to pick up the bike, drive to the airport and drop off the rental, repack the bike and get on the ferry, a task that proved mighty difficult. The battery in the ‘Wing was still not charging despite our best efforts, and by the time we got to Departure Bay, we were told they had already started loading and our only option if we wanted to get back on the mainland that night was to hightail it to Duke Point in hopes of catching the last ferry of the night.

We made it, with a few bum starts required, and this time we actually got to see some of the ocean before it got dark, although had we been able to catch the ferry we wanted, we would have seen more. We ate a quick dinner, looked around in the souvenir store, and lounged on the deck, readying ourselves for our journey back home which would start in earnest the next day.

Earlier in the day we had decided we wanted to get out of Vancouver proper to make the trip a bit shorter in the morning, so once we got off the ferry (with a little help from a friendly biker who gave us a push start), we headed into Abbotsford, where we found a Super 8 with underground parking and an outlet to charge the bike.

We crawled under the covers, bike hopefully recharging, ready to start all over again.

Next up: Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip — Abbotsford, BC, to Valemount, BC.