Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Sunday, September 07, 2003
87: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS
10: COMING HOME SOON
Thunder Bay/Nipigon/White River/Wawa/Lake Superior Provincial Park/Sault St. Marie
Sault St. Marie/Blind River/Sudbury/Parry Sound/Toronto
The home stretch began with a huge breakfast at The Original Pancake House, where we stuffed oursleves with some of the best pancakes we'd ever had. Fast, cheap and delicious. Worth the waddle back to the car.
The retro sign didn't hurt
Continued on through the last stretches of prairie, before returning to a place to stand, a place to grow, Ontari-ari-ari-o. I figured it would take 3-4 days to get back to Toronto - our final overnight stops would be Thunder Bay, the Soo and Sudbury.
The drive to Thunder Bay was uneventful, except for more changes in landscape than expected - even farmland reminiscent of southern Ontario for a brief time. Saw enough inukshuks...
From Kenora to Waubaushene, these were a regular roadside site, usually coupled with graffitti. Must be a way of leaving one's mark on the Trans-Can.
We stopped at an info centre in Ignace around 5pm to book a room in Thunder Bay. When the hotel clerk asked as where we were from, she said it was a good thing we weren't there at that moment - the great blackout of '03 had hit an hour earlier. We flipped on CBC radio and discovered we were in the only part of the province that was still powered. We called Mom to see how things were there. Got into Thunder Bay late, ate at Swiss Chalet, went for a quick dip at the hotel pool, then blew a fuse in the room (probably due to two hair dryers going at once). Once that was fixed, we settled back and watched coverage of the blackout. We watched Channel 4 from Detroit to see what was going on in that neck of the woods - the studio appeared to be using footlights, giving the anchors a weird glow.
Next day, took the car in for a wash. Got most of the grasshopper goo off, but it would require a deeper cleaning later on. Got thirsty in Nipigon, but hit a cursed Mike's Mart (Mac's) - machines weren't working, slush cups kept collapsing, drinks tasted like crap, etc. Took several tries to find a way out of town. Won't be stopping there again.
One odd thing we noticed through northern Ontario...several chain gas stations had restaurants attached to them that carried the same name of those that were at the service stations along the 401 before the fast food chains took over. Never thought about stopping at any, since we remembered Mom saying how bad the old ones were. We kept driving along, munching on super-fresh sourdough bread picked up that morning.
Stopped in White River to make hotel reservations - luckily power was back on in the Soo. We tried calling Mom again to see if she was back, but she wasn't around so we called out Aunt Gladys, who said it wasn't out for long in A'burg. As we left the centre, we couldn't stop laughing at the posters we saw. Outside, things were being set up for a weekend Winnie The Pooh festival, complete with musical acts. Not just any musical acts...top headliners like Sync*In, Just Like Pink and Oops, Britney Did It Again.
Stopped for the obligatory pix of the birds in Wawa, then took a dusty road to the beautiful Magpie Falls.
Continued south, through Lake Superior Provincial Park, where we saw a bear cub wandering close to the road. We did not stop to gawk or feed it or other silly things folks are tempted to do. Like the coyote and the cow, we let the bear be.
Made it to the Soo and what turned out to be the final lodgings of the trip, the Ambassador Motel, a cute little family-run place on the way into town I'd picked up a brochure for earlier. Looked like a lot of work had gone into keeping the place fixed up, from the homebuilt indoor pool in the back to the good shape of the sign out front. The billboard says it all.
Looking for food was easy - Hwy 17 going into town is a long strip of large Italian restaurants. Another winner - we said there were no duds on the trip. Even decided to induldge in some vino for this meal.
News reports indicated that some parts of Toronto were still without power. Feeling a bit worried, plus facing the hassle of having to get Saturday night accomodation, I decided that we'd head back to Toronto the next day. The map indicated it wasn't that long a journey, with less driving than we'd done each day since leaving Calgary. Besides, what if we were stuck somewhere without power?
The last day of the trip began with a stop in Blind River, where we couldn't resist singing Neil Young's Long May You Run. Stopped at a Tim Horton's that was tricky to get into, but worth it for oddball doughnuts (strawberry coconut, anyone?). Came across a giant toonie. Stopped in Sudbury to go to Science North, but it was closed due to the blackout (though power was on). Heard on the radio that was power was back up in Toronto except for isolated pockets...including one at Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant. I started to obsess about a large amount of meat in the freezer. Also heard stories about crazy gas station lineups and price hikes. Decided to fill up often to keep the tank topped up, with the last fill in Parry Sound (the only place we were affected by the blackout - the gas station we stopped at had a $30 fill limit).
Drove over to Parry Island to show Amy the ruins I found at Depot Harbour. Think I blew it up too much- I must have seen them previously in late fall or early spring, as you couldn't see the foundations through the trees. Back on 69/400, noticed abandoned/soon-to-be abandoned gas stations and restaurants on the old part of the highway that will soon be replaced by freeway, like an early version of what happened to McLean, TX. Thought about having dinner in Barrie, until I convinced Amy that it wouldn't take long to get back to TO.
Got back to Toronto around 6ish. Dropped stuff off, then headed down to the Annex for some Thai food and a walk around the nabe. Went back home, looked at the digital pix, then collapsed.
That's all folks
Monday, September 01, 2003
86: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS
9: ACROSS THE PRAIRIES
Calgary/Medicine Hat/Morse, SK/Regina/Qu'appelle Valley/Moose Jaw/Winnipeg
Odd start to Day 10...
The night before, I wandered around Calgary by myself, criss-crossing the city to see what was there.
(Editor's note: this entry was not finished due to technical problems)
85: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS
8: BLUE SMOKEY CANADIAN ROCKIES
Calgary/Lake Louise/Moraine Lake/Banff/Calgary
Calgary was the only place we spent more than a day in the entire trip. Kind of a chance to explore a smaller area in more detail, yet the pace remained rapid. Because we couldn't immediately check in, we searched for a bookstore Amy had visited a few times on trips from Lake Louise. Her memory was good - it was exactly where she said it was, along 16th SW. Followed this up with dinner at a Mongolian-style restaurant, then splurging at a CD store (Tramps, part of a regional chain).
Day 9 started with the drive out to Lake Louise. Once we left Calgary, the landscape turned scenic in a hurry. It didn't take long to reach the gates of Banff.
We drove along the Bow River Pkwy to Lake Louise, where we stopped at Laggan's, a deli where Amy worked several summers ago. We loaded up on baked goodies, which would last the rest of the trip. On the way to where she lived, she lost her footing and slipped onto a gravel path, making a mess of her leg. History repeated itself after we passed her old place...now she had a matching pair of beauties.
After circling the parking lot for the lake itself, we settled for an empty lot near a closed road to BC. Walked up a path, then saw the beauty of Lake Louise...then headed back to the car. Went to Moraine Lake next, home of the shot on the back of the old $20 bill.
If you stop atop the rockpile at left, you'd have the old $20 bill
Quick trip to Banff village followed, though neither of us bought anything. We wound down the day back in Calgary, with big bowls of pho for dinner.
Amy could provide better analysis of Day 9, since she lived there...
84: WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS
7: NOT MOVING TO MONTANA SOON (NOT GONNA BE A DENTAL FLOSS TYCOON)
Moab/Green River/Salt Lake City/Pocatello, ID/Dillon, MT/Butte/a rest stop somewhere on I-15
a rest stop somewhere on I-15/Great Falls/Conrad/Shelby/Lethbridge, AB/Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump/Calgary
Day 7 got off to a good start, wandering around Moab. Both of us dropped a load of cash, from a vase for our mother to decorative tiles for my place. North of town, rocks dominated the landscape. We didn't go to Arches National Park, but the landscape around it was fulfilling enough.
Most of the day's drive was uneventful. Had another good meal in Green River (place called the Tamarisk, lunch buffet with homestyle staples like fish and meatloaf), then drove up US 191 and US 6 towards Salt Lake City. Wasn't prepared for just how far Salt Lake City and its related towns stretch out in a corridor along Salt Lake and I-15. We drove quickly through downtown Salt Lake, passing the temple and the old Union Pacific terminal. Took forever to figure out how to get back to the freeway.
Wound up in Pocatello, Idaho for dinner. Didn't look like a happening place. Wound up at a Subway (after the restaurant next door was too busy). We laughed over the evil new customer card program they were testing in Idaho - sounded like an unfriendly way to scam personal info out of customers to sell to advertisers.
It seemed too early to get a hotel room, so we pressed on into Montana...
First stop was Dillon, which had a few hotels. All booked. Just missed out by 5 seconds the last room in town. Noticed there was no shortage of casinos. Figured it must have been a gambling town - maybe we'd have better luck in Butte.
Butte had more hotels...and casinos. Even the gas stations had casinos! The only room that was available was a honeymoon suite at a Days Inn, for the reduced rate of $175. No thanks.
Since it was approaching midnight, decisions had to be made - press on to Helena or spend the night in the car? Chose the later, but it felt like an eternity to the next rest stop. We had passed one before Butte with several cars pulled in for the night. We sghould have seen that as a warning. Finally stopped at one near Helena. Put the seats back and prepared for the night.
Except I couldn't sleep. Maybe half-hour at most. Amy was in la-la land, but I wasn't.
It drove me so crazy that around 4-5am, I got back on the road. Then the sleepies came over me. I'm astonished I didn't run off the road or into anyone. Felt like a drunk driver. Stopped at the next rest stop (a long 70 miles), slept for an hour. Around 6, both of us decided we couldn't sleep anymore, so we headed off for signs of breakfast.
We tried Great Falls. Nothing, except a seedy-looking dive. Lots of casinos though. Went through Conrad. Even less. Finally found eats at a truck stop in Shelby, 35 miles south of the border. Huge skillet breakfast, enough to fill us up for most of the day. This place had a room of slots too, as well as some of most defeated-looking people I've ever seen. Everyone looked dazed, like zombies, and not in that morning-dazed way. It was very sad, seeing people shuffle to the slots.
The whole Montana experience was not a pleasant one (though the food was fine). Will avoid in future.
We never cheered so loudly crossing the border. It was messy, a huge construction zone for more booths and security equipment. Got through with no hassles. Rushed to Lethbridge to get Amy a coffee fix.
Our home and native land...
We headed to Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, but then decided we didn't want to pay to wander down trails we were too pooped to enjoy. It was the purest National Lampoon's Vacation moment of the trip.
Reached Calgary...which leads to the nexrt entry.