The Road to Vancouver: Part 3

The Drive

Canada has always been there to help people who need it.

(August 20th, 2015)- We began our trip bright and early from my parents house in Lakefield, ON. The car was uncomfortably full, with my most treasured belongings at my feet, a cooler full of food on the arm rest and just enough space for Marley to lay down in the back seat. We barely made it out of Lakefield before we transferred the food to a cooler bag and ditched the bulky cooler in a McDonald’s parking lot. Freeing up the arm rest felt wonderful considering how crammed the car felt. The reality of everything only truly sank in once the trip began: We were modern day hippies with no income and no plan. It felt freeing and terrifying all at once.


Writings on the Wall: A bathroom stall somewhere between Peterborough and Wawa, ON.

Less than an hour on the road Jon and I had a scary experience that could have ended our trip or worse, our lives. We were driving along a 2-lane country highway and laughing about something I thought I saw(I mistook a haystack for a Buffalo). When our eyes returned to the road an 18-wheeler in the opposite lane was quickly drifting into our lane. We suspect the driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel, because at the last minute he swerved back into his lane, missing us by mere inches. My heart felt as though it fell into my gut. We sat in silence in the car for minutes after, blankly staring at the road. As much as we wanted to pull over and process what happened, we continued driving. From this point on, the sight of an 18-wheeler on the road would cause us great anxiety.

The first day of driving was definitely eventful. We stopped in Sudbury, ON so Marley could reunite with his breeders and birth mom. As we continued on our journey, we experienced the vast beauty of Lake Superior. At 11:30 PM after a twelve hour travel day, we decided to rest in Wawa, a small town a couple hours outside of Sault Sainte Marie. While we had planned on camping in Wawa, by the time we arrived the campsite’s office was closed, so we found the next best thing: a Tim Hortons parking lot. It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but at least we were able to get something to eat, take a sink-shower in the washroom, and get some sleep in the car. The car was so jam-packed that we couldn’t even put our seats back to sleep, but sleep we did.

Inukshuk: Lake Superior, ON

We awoke around 5 AM absolutely exhausted, but ready to continue on our journey. Our next destination was Thunder Bay, ON, our last Ontario stop before we would officially leave our province and enter Manitoba. Thankfully Thunder Bay was only about five hours away from Wawa, so our second day involved much less driving. Furthermore, Jon’s friend’s mom was gracious enough to allow us to stay with her while visiting Thunder Bay, even though we had never met her before. This part of the trip was a pivotal point that I am forever grateful for. We hadn’t eaten a real meal since we had left, nor had we properly showered, and we were running on no energy. Hattie and Phillip were wonderful hosts, and true Canadians. They allowed two strangers and their dog to stay in their home, treated us to an amazing dinner, and took us site-seeing around their beautiful town. We were able to shower and sleep in a real bed, and even though we had only been gone for two days, we really needed this recharge. It’s hard to explain how amazing it feels to have your basic needs met when you are without those things. It felt as though we hit the reset button; we were refreshed and our trip began anew. After what felt like the greatest sleep of all time, Hattie and Phillip made us a wonderful breakfast before we hit the road again (seriously, thank you). Our goal was to reach a campsite in Brandon, Manitoba on day three, which was about a ten hour drive. We blew this goal out of the water.

Manitoba and Beyond

It took us a total of seventeen hours of driving time to defeat Ontario. Our goal for day three was to arrive in Brandon, MB and camp for the evening. As we passed through Manitoba the time zone changed, and we gained an hour of daylight. We knew that if we continued to Saskatchewan, we would gain yet another hour of daylight. We decided we would stop in Winnipeg to quickly experience the capital of Manitoba and stretch our legs. We aimlessly drove around the city until we found a nice park to stop at. It was a quick rest-stop, but in the time we were there we heard a voice yelling “SODA!” (Jon’s nickname). Much to our surprise Jon’s good friend from high school in Ottawa just so happened to be walking past that park. It was one of those funny coincidences that made Canada feel so small and so large all at once.

When we passed by Brandon we were feeling pretty tired as we had been traveling for nearly ten hours, but we really wanted to take advantage of the extra driving time we had gained. We fuelled ourselves with some 5-Hour Energy drinks and surpassed Manitoba altogether, continuing through to Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan’s beauty was something I had never experienced before. Ontario seemed to be defined by its lakes and green hills, while Saskatchewan was defined by its wheat fields and flatness. The night sky was lit up with stars, and we even got a shadowy glimpse of the Northern Lights. While they weren’t in their full illumination, it was still an astonishing thing to witness. After sixteen hours of driving we finally settled in yet another Tim Hortons parking lot. Something about Tim Hortons felt like the closest thing we had to home. It was inviting and safe.

Beautiful Skies: Saskatchewan

This time around, sleeping in the car was much more unpleasant than the first night. We woke up cold, our bodies stiff and heads aching from shivering and clenching our jaws. We continued on, driving another couple of hours to Medicine Hat, Alberta. In four days we spanned four provinces. It was beautiful and difficult and tedious and profound. I felt as though the country was testing our ambition, our wills. We fought the terrain and we fought our own mental battles, and we made it to our final expanse of the journey.

The Road to Vancouver: Part 4 will cover my favourite part of the trip: Alberta, camping in Banff, and our arrival in Vancouver. This final part of our journey is the most defining part of the trip, something I will cherish forever.





The Road to Vancouver: Part 2

Preparing and Planning (Or Lack Thereof)

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.

(Summer, 2014) Stagnant- that is how my existence felt post-graduation in Ottawa, ON. I had pursued a university education solely to study topics I loved the most: world religion, literature, writing, philosophy, and of utmost importance, the human condition. I loved everything I studied, but as graduation approached, the reality of the matter began to set in: I hadn’t the slightest idea what was going to happen next. In June 2014 I graduated with a Bachelor of Humanities with a double minor in English and Religion. I had a 40,000 dollar piece of paper, absolutely no job prospects and zero direction.

Immediately following graduation I began working at a pub in Ottawa. At the time this job was a blessing. My entire university career was poverty level, balancing the stress of assignments with the nagging thought, how can I afford to eat this week? I was finally in a place where I could comfortably pay my bills, afford to fill the fridge with food, and with a little extra on the side. It was extremely rewarding to not worry about money. At least, for a while it was. On a daily basis customers would ask, what do you want to do? what did you get your degree in? And what do you plan to do with that? I hated these questions with a passion. They angered me. These were the questions I was suppressing, I didn’t want to think about them. When my family posed these same questions, I’d have the same reaction. My chest would tighten, I’d feel short of breath. My biggest fear at the time was that I wouldn’t amount to anything, I’d disappoint my family, and ultimately I’d disappoint myself. There is no amount of money that can heal those wounds.

(Summer 2015) It was during this time that Jon and I would talk about our dreams. Where we would travel, what we wanted to do with our lives. We talked about these things on a daily basis, yet we were so lethargic that I wondered if we would ever make it happen or if we would succumb to the reality of our lives in Ottawa, and give up on our wandering dreams. As I explained in Part 1, Vancouver had always been a dream destination for myself, and having lived there previously himself, Jon confirmed that it lived up to its reputation. My dream of a trip across Canada re-emerged. One evening Jon came into my work while I was bar-tending and asked me if I wanted to make our dreams a reality, drive across Canada and settle in Vancouver. Of course my answer was YES!! And so it was settled. Two impulsive 20-somethings were going to drive across the country and live in Vancouver.

The Art of Budgeting, Downsizing and Letting Go

We began half-heartedly planning what we would do once we actually arrived in Vancouver, focusing all of our energy on planning the trip itself. Our first order of business was to begin saving rather than spending. I had to kick my materialistic habits, so rather than spending my tips at Sephora, I’d put them into our Vancouver savings jar. Since neither of us had taken a trip of this capacity, it was difficult to really know how much money we would need. We came up with a rough estimate by drafting a budget. Our original plan was to leave around August 19th and spend 10 days on the road so we could take our time, enjoy various camp sites and explore our beautiful country. Our (approximate) budget was as follows:

  • Gas: ≈ $400
  • CAA (Canadian Automobile Association): $100
  • Food: ≈ $200
  • Rent (First month, security deposit, pet deposit): minimum $2000
  • Camping costs (Equipment, campsite costs): ≈ $400
  • Living costs upon arrival: ≈$2000
  • Total cost: ≈$5100

Since our job hunt would begin upon arrival, we needed to have as much extra money as possible to support ourselves until we began receiving an income. We only had a couple of months to save $5100, and with our combined income this goal was next to impossible. Furthermore, Jon’s Mazda 3 sedan was not going to fit us, our dog and all of our belongings, so the answer was clear: Anything we didn’t absolutely need was to be sold on Kijiji. We sold our electronics such as our TV and Playstation 3, any furniture that hadn’t been found on the side of the road, and the most heart-breaking, our hockey equipment. We rid ourselves of everything and anything that could help us reach our goal. We did in fact reach our goal, yet we still had way too much stuff to bring with us to Vancouver. The downsizing continued, this time with the one area of our apartment I had been avoiding: the closet.

I had 4 categories for my clothes and shoes:

  1. Clothes to bring for the trip
  2. Clothes to have shipped via Greyhound (1 box each cost around $50/box; we decided on 2)
  3. Clothes to leave at my parents house
  4. Clothes to throw away

Much to my surprise and disappointment, this part of the downsizing was by far the most difficult for me. It really confirmed how attached I was to material belongings, so much so that I had numerous emotional breakdowns while trying to decide which clothes I had to let go of. I remember sitting surrounded by piles of my clothes, crying my eyes out as I threw that little black dress that I loved (and wore once) into the “throw away” pile, while simultaneously yelling at myself for caring so much. We were finally taking that leap to make irreplaceable memories, yet I couldn’t let go of replaceable clothes? Once I began to look at the bigger picture, letting go of my material belongings became much easier, almost like a weight off my chest. I learned so much about myself simply in the process of preparing for the trip. I realized I had been buying happiness. I was trying to fill a void with stuff rather than experiences. Why spend $50 on a new eyeshadow palette when that money could be spent camping for two nights in Banff? Spending money on stuff brings instant gratification, but experiences are priceless. We packed and unpacked the car until we finally made everything fit, each time downsizing more and more. Eventually, everything we absolutely needed fit, and that felt like a huge feat.


Lake Louise, Banff, AB.

The Plan

As our departure date approached, we still hadn’t the slightest clue where we were going to live or work upon arrival. Our attempts to solidify a living situation failed because most rentals in Vancouver aren’t pet-friendly, and those who were wanted to meet us and Marley prior to making any arrangements. We had however planned our route. We decided to take the Trans Canada Highway, the most direct and fool-proof route for first time road-trippers. rsz_1screen_shot_2016-04-10_at_110753_am

We would span 5 provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia). We used Google Maps to pinpoint campsites in each province that were also easily accessible via the Trans Canada Highway. While we could have planned an even more scenic trip by venturing off-track, we decided it would be best to play it safe and allow the Trans Canada to guide us.

And so, on August 20th, 2015, our adventure across Canada began, with only a destination in mind.

Part 3 and beyond will cover our experiences on our journey, from a sneak peak of the Northern Lights to breathtaking Banff and even a near death experience. Also, if there is interest, I want to conclude by writing a reflection on what I learned on this trip, and what I would have done differently.