So kids, that’s how I drove across Canada in summer of 2014
It’s been a loooooong time since I wrote a blog post or really any kind of an article. The last time I remember was during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I wrote articles and shot videos about video production stuff but that is only interesting to a very limited group of my friends. So because of my worst deadly sin - laziness - I was always able to convince myself that there has been nothing exciting to write about in the past 5 years. Until now.
I’m not going to say that this trip was planned, in fact the decision to move to Toronto was quite spontaneous but also rational at the same time. Somewhere deep in my mind, I knew I was going to drive across this huge-@$$ country sooner or later but I didn’t know it was going to happen so soon.
I flew back to Slovakia at the beginning of June to see my friends and family, (hello everyone), eat some delicious homemade dishes, celebrate my birthday and went to the dentist to fix all of my 9 cavities (don’t know how that happened)
Less than 4 weeks later, I was on my way back to Kelowna, BC to say goodbye to my friends there, repack everything I could, load it into my car and set off. I want to thank Rick and Nairi for allowing me to stay at their place for over a week and I also want to thank Jonathan, Ken and Leanne for their help with my move-out back in May. If I didn’t have you guys, I would probably be still in Kelowna packing right now.
Before I set off for the trip, I obviously consulted Google Maps and looked at the distances between cities and planned out where my checkpoints would be. At this point, I have to say that I did not cross the entire country, but with 4,100km driven, it is very close. My starting point was Kelowna, which is about 300km from where the Trans-Canada Highway, also called Highway 1, starts. I actually saw the place in Victoria, BC where it all starts but that wasn’t my starting point on that day. On the eastern end of the country, I drove from Toronto joining on to Highway 1 all the way to Quebec City with my family 6 years ago, so I almost covered it all, just not in one time Now let’s get to the journey itself.
The original plan, although very crazy was to do it all in 3 days. And by 3 days, I mean 3 days of driving. Since Gina was waiting for me in Winnipeg which is right halfway between Kelowna and Toronto, I would have to drive 2,000km on my first day. So I calculated that I needed to average 107km/h which sounds easy and if I set off at 4am, I would be in Winnipeg by midnight. But as always, life happens and plans change.
On the night before my planned departure, I couldn’t fall sleep and I felt terrible. After some Tylenol and digestion pills, I finally fell asleep at 2am, and it became clear I was not going to leave at 4am. So I woke up at more reasonable 6am, packed the leftover suitcases into my car, said goodbye to Rick and Nairi and left at exactly 7am.
I knew what to expect on this first half of my trip since Gina drove to Winnipeg two months before me. She stayed one night at Medicine Hat, AB and that’s what I was going to do as well. But before I got there, I was literally stunned by the beauty of British Columbia. I lived in BC for 5 years and I knew some nice places in there, but the drive to Calgary was just awesome. The mountains were huge, water clear, roads in good shape and all was well. The one thing that slowed me down was highway closure by Revelstoke but I only lost half an hour so it wasn’t a big deal.
Once I crossed to Alberta, which is not only a different province but also in a different timezone, it was still beautiful, just like BC. That’s because I was still in the Rockies. While in serious need for gas, I was also very curious to see Banff. I heard only good things about this popular destination and it definitely lived up to it’s hype. Even at this time, in summer, it was crowded with tourists.
So after a quick lunch and refuelling, I went back on the road and the closer I was getting to Calgary, the flatter the road was. Once I hit Calgary, I was surprised by how little traffic I experienced. I guess it’s because I listened to the advice to go around and not straight through the city. Once I passed Calgary, it was all just flat, smooth, mostly straight stretch of a highway with the speed limit of 110km/h.
I should probably say, that I never really had any serious problems with my speed in BC and ordinary people as well as police officers are relatively tolerant in this way. But the more I was driving east, the more I felt it was changing to the worse. I had a radar detector mounted on my windshield but it is only allowed in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. It definitely paid for itself, even on this trip alone, but I was still worried about getting a speeding ticket. You know why? Because Alberta has their highways “Air Patrolled”! They are using freakin’ helicopters with radars to fine people! If you are from Slovakia and you are reading this, please do NOT ever mention this to anyone even remotely connected to our police otherwise I will have 0 motivation to ever travel home again.
In the end, I opened my sunroof and was looking out for the smallest movements in the sky, while not speeding too much. That was going on until I arrived to Medicine Hat. I don’t know if I got any speeding tickets waiting for me in mail, but I guess we will see in couple of days.
Now that I covered the first 1,000km and stayed at the very overpriced Holiday Inn in Medicine Hat, my impressions were good. Roads were in better shape than I expected, other drivers were polite and gas in Alberta was ridiculously cheap compared to anywhere else, so it made up for the overpriced hotel in the end.
On the following day, I set off at 8:30am, filled up my car with some cheap gas and started my second 1,000km journey, this time to Winnipeg where Gina was waiting for me. To get there, I had to cross from Alberta to Saskatchewan, then drive through the province, cross to a different time zone and then halfway through Manitoba.
To describe eastern Alberta and also Saskatchewan, I would compare them to southern Slovakia. Tiny hills, mostly green and some water here and there. I took this photo while crossing from AB to SK and it reminded of the default Windows XP wallpaper.
Saskatchewan was the easiest to drive through. Very little traffic, crappy pavement only occasionally and no air patrol. I was also still allowed to use my radar detector. Another highlight of the day was when my car reached its first 10,000km.
Then I crossed to Manitoba. My clock was automatically changed and I was greeted by a huge sign saying that the “Radar detectors use is prohibited” in Manitoba. I was also greeted by a new speed limit of 100km/h which is slower than I had before. Gina later told me it is because of deer that like to cross the highways. Manitoba also had serious floods at the time. I’m not sure if it was because of snow melting up north or severe rain but that was another thing that slowed me down. The water level of some rivers was so high that the bridges on the highway were closed, speed limits lowered even more and traffic turned into single lane at some places. That’s why I arrived to Winnipeg closer to 8pm instead of planned 6pm.
Then I spent 3 wonderful days in Winnipeg with Gina, cuddling her kittens, meeting her friends, exploring the city and doing one mini trip. We didn’t have the best weather, but we still tried to make the best out of it. She showed me some really good restaurants, ice cream places and a market that you see pictured below.
Before I even went to Winnipeg, many people told me that it’s pretty much the worst city in Canada. I kept open mind and wanted to judge it for myself because everyone has different point of view and different priorities. I was warned that the winters are really cold in there, reaching -60 degrees Celsius, the roads are in the worst condition and that the city is full of bugs and mosquitoes in Summer. While I cannot verify the cold winters, I admit that the roads are quite bad, especially if you are in Gina’s 2003 Yellow Mini Cooper, not so much in my car. Mosquitoes were there too, but I was surprised by how many dragonflies there were. Gina then told me that Winnipeg releases dragonflies regularly because they eat mosquitoes. I don’t think they are very efficient though, as they were probably all glued to the front bumper of my car… Despite it all, I quite like Winnipeg. It is worth giving this city a chance and you may like it in the end. I believe that if I had better weather, my experience would be close to perfect.
As hard as it was, I had to leave Gina, kittens and Winnipeg on Tuesday morning and cover another 1,000km in one day. My GPS led me outside of the city, and back on the highway. 100km/h, multi-lane road and I was back in my natural habitat again.
The problem was, it only lasted for about an hour, and then the multi-lane road ended and turned into a two-lane kind of road with the speed limit of 90km/h. I thought it was only temporary, but I was mistaken, big times. After another hour of driving on this kind of road with medium traffic, plenty of turns and not so many places to overtake the stupid, slow caravans, I crossed to my destination province, Ontario. Radar detectors prohibited, two-lane road and 90km/h still in effect. As if it wasn’t bad enough, cop cars with radars everywhere. This was my idea of hell.
On the upside, the scenery changed as well. I felt like I was in Scandinavia. Northern Ontario is beautiful. There are millions of lakes, large and small, accompanied by rocks, smaller hills and pine trees. Oh and I saw a moose! (I think it was a moose)
The drive got eventually better. Still the same ridiculous 90km/h speed limit, but I enjoyed pushing my car through long turns where possible. And the scenery was just gorgeous.
I was planning to drive 1,000km that day but I ended up doing an extra 100 and I am happy I did. I was going to stay at a motel but the ones I saw when I hit my goal looked terrible and I didn’t think I, or my car would be safe. I stayed at a nice motel in a town called Marathon, and I only had a quarter of the journey left.
I was tired but I knew I was almost there so I slept like a baby that night. The following morning, I made myself a waffle for breakfast, filled up the car the most expensive gas so far and left Marathon, ON at around 8:30am again.
This was my final day and I had to make it to Toronto by 8pm because the person who I was renting a room from via Airbnb in Toronto was meeting me there at 8. No pressure. But the speed limit was still 90km/h, the road was still two-lane - something we call a 1st class road in Slovakia, not a highway. And to make it more interesting, road construction everywhere. That means frequent stops and speed down to 60km/h. I was looking at how many kilometres I have left probably twice every minute. Whenever there was a multi-lane road, it still had the 90km/h limit and only lasted for 15min.
I finally hit a proper highway only about 250km from Toronto and that’s where I made up my lost time. The last 100km were especially interesting because the speed limit was 110km/h, no one drove below 130, and people were overtaking like crazy. I felt right at home in there. With its three lanes going each way and yellow markings, and everything mentioned above, it reminded me of Bratislava-Trnava highway stretch in Slovakia. Maybe it was God’s way of rewarding me at this very end of my journey.
I came to my destination at 8pm, even though the traffic was quite bad in the city at this time. I met my temporary landlord, got the keys, called Gina and my family, ate something and passed out.
Even now, 5 days after the trip, it still haven’t hit me that I accomplished something on my bucket list, but I’m sure I will get it soon. These things take a while to kick in for me.
So you may now ask what would I do differently or what would I recommend to other people who want to do this trip? There are definitely couple things:
- Choose a car that has comfy seats and is capable of travelling 4,000km without breaking down.
- Have at least one emergency canister of gas.
- Don’t do this alone - having someone to talk to, or better, a secondary driver makes a huge difference.
- I can’t stress this enough but - LOAD YOUR IPOD WITH AS MANY DIFFERENT SONGS AS YOU CAN! I had mine with 250 songs and it was not enough at all. I also had a satellite radio that I relied on, but that was a BIG mistake. The radio stations played the same songs over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again! I know the lyrics of the top 10 songs by heart by now. I was going to count how many times I heard each song every day…
- Have plenty of drinks and energy bars on you.
- Make sure to have cash in your wallet.
- Don’t drive at night - just don’t, there are no lights outside of the cities, it’s really dark everywhere and wildlife is very active at night.
- Give yourself enough rest. I was driving for 10-11 hours a day and that was my limit, we all have different ones. I only had 2-3 short breaks a day, and combined gas breaks with lunch.
- Pack some Red Bull or other energy drinks. This is not because you should push it when you are tired in the evening, it’s to keep you alert during the day. Ironically, I was never feeling sleepy in later hours, instead I was bored in the morning. That’s when I was slowly sipping from my Monster White and it kept me alert. Don’t go full on crazy with it.
So I guess that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed the story and the pictures, I apologize for the overall length of. I will go and search for apartments here in Toronto now. Cheers