Upstate New York is an interesting place. Adirondacks. Gorgeous views. Small towns. Poverty that seems out of place. Winding county roads. Just an hour south of the border, I decided I should pick up some coffee, to be prepared for the potentially long day ahead (it didn’t help that I slept in and got a late start). I stopped and picked up some coffee from Dunkin Donuts- everyone always gives it such rave reviews. For not being much of a coffee drinker, it was absolutely delicious. With that thought, I’ve decided to become a coffee drinker (not every day, yet). I felt a great excitement and nervousness for what lay ahead, as I pulled out onto the last stretch of freeway before Canada.
My entrance into Canada was less than welcoming. For starters, I picked the slow lane for the border crossing. As I inched along (more like an inch worm, jerking along space by space), I finally came to realize I had found the border agent who either hated his job the most, hated people the most, or hated Americans the most. (He was very obviously from Quebec with a strong French accent.) He asked me very non-specific and bizarre questions, and I could tell he did not like me. Him: “What’s the purpose of your travel in Canada?” Me: “I am driving home.” Him: “And how are you going to do that?” It was almost like a mocking challenge -“You? Drive home? From here? Yeah, right.” So I spelled it out for him, step by step. Then he asked, “What do you bring with you?” My confused reply, “Well, what do you mean exactly?” Him: “I mean what do you have with you.” Oh lovely, now I’m also a stupid American. Me: “Well, I have my luggage, my pillow, some audio books, CDs, my GPS, maps, my iPad…” He cut me off: “All right, all right. Fine, you may go.” Well shit, if you are going to ask me “what I bring with me” then I’ll tell you exactly what I bring with me.
After crossing the border, I entered into the land of francophones (French speakers). I was greeted with French signs, French talk radio, and French songs. I was elated. Unfortunately, my French is so rusty that I understood very little of what I listened to on the radio. Shortly after discovering the French radio, I redirected my attention to navigating the Quebec roads to Montreal. It was easier than expected, although once I made it to Montreal, I wasn’t quite sure what my next step was. I have no idea what I was thinking. Maybe that Montreal would be easy to navigate? Or there would be great places to eat all over the place? Really I’m not sure. I quickly got lost and had no idea where I should look for parking, much more where I should look for a place to eat lunch. Without 3G and/or GPS, I was also driving blind. If you’ve never been, Montreal is all hills and one ways (to a first timer/foreigner). I freaked out and worried I’d never make it back to the freeway, so I gave up on the thought of parking the car and wandering to find lunch (and losing my car in the meantime I’m sure), and focused on re-locating my main route home. I lost an hour to the streets of Montreal, but in the end I would say it was worth it, even without lunch. I was relieved when I finally made it back onto 40 O (aka 40W, Ouest=West en francais). Shortly thereafter I had the joys of getting stuck in rush hour traffic in Ottawa.
So, if you are keeping score, I started driving later than planned (by 1-2 hours), got stuck in the longest line at the border crossing (added an extra half hour to what I estimated from the other lines), spent 45 minutes driving the streets of Montreal, and added at least an extra hour thanks to Ottawa rush hour. I had planned for twelve hours of driving, so Friday would be thirteen to fourteen hours of driving. As the day went on, I began to realize how unrealistic my plan was becoming.
Seeing as I skipped lunch, I was starving by dinner time. I ate what little snacks I had in the car. The highway in Canada was scary enough without the added adventure of “pitch black.” (No highway lights since it was basically country roads.) I made a plan- drive until it was pitch black, then stop for dinner, and potentially a hotel. Logic wins over hunger. As I was driving I kept seeing these signs that had pictures of deer on them, occasionally accompanied by the words “Night Danger” (I guess in case I wasn’t freaked out enough already about driving at night). I started seeing other signs next to them that looked like charging deer, and I thought, Do deer do that in Canada? Is this some bizarre Canadian phenomenon that deer CHARGE cars at night? After seeing a few of these “charging deer” signs as a night danger, I realized there were actually pictures of moose. AWESOME. Moose do actually charge at things they see as a threat. So, I just kept chugging along, cursing the minor annoyances of Canadians who didn’t seem to understand the concept of “cruise control” or “tailgating.”
As the sun set, I did get a beautiful view of colors outlining the mountains in the distance (beyond the clouds and rain I was experiencing), and I held onto the twilight for as long as possible. When the darkness consumed the sky, I stopped for petrol and dinner. I was a little nervous because I was so lightheaded, but I chalked it up to sitting for so long and not eating anything substantial. I stopped at McDonald’s because, road trip, and got a cheeseburger (only ketchup and cheese). I had just enough Canadian currency to pay for it! (plus 9 cents) Thanks to that one trip I took in high school to Toronto, and the $1.51 cents I had left over that sat in my old room for all these years. Also, apparently Mickey D’s was THE place to be on a Thursday night in North Bay, ON- obnoxiously loud kids everywhere. I decided I needed to stop for the night and find a place to stay…unfortunately the only hotel in the area was booked except for the king-sized jacuzzi room (no thanks, Hampton Inn). So…back on the road I guess.
I drove for almost another hour (so, roughly thirteen hours of driving, total, or at least, thirteen hours sitting in the car). Finally I stopped at a roadside motel in Sturgeon Falls (does this sound like the set up for a horror film yet?). I had two choices, Moulin Rouge Motel, or Lincoln Motel. I went with the latter, because it was 100 feet closer and had a slightly more inviting title. It was on nights like this that I wish I didn’t have such a good imagination. I got my room key for room 9, and moved my car. I got in the room, and it seemed clean enough, a little janky, but legit. My favorite part was that the only lock was the push button in the nob on the door. I may or may not have shoved a chair in front of the door before hitting the hay in my paranoia. I cannot remember a time when I felt so vulnerable, it was a little scary. Coffee may have been a bad decision after all. Every time I closed my eyes I could see myself falling asleep at the wheel and rear-ending the car in front of me. Ugh, what a night, I just wanted some sleep!
Finally, I fell asleep at some point, waking up at 6:30am the next morning to get an early start on the day, eating a hearty breakfast of almonds, freeze dried pineapples, and gummy bears, feeling wide-eyed and refreshed. I also realized how crazy I was being the night before because I was in Canada. Some people don’t even lock their doors at all in Canada (I suppose some don’t in the US as well, but Canada just seems safer in general). I was six and a half hours from Michigan, which meant I was still sixteen and a half hours from home. On the flip side, I was still in the ETZ, which meant I would “gain” an hour once I made it to Wisconsin.