Winnipeg or Starve
August 9th, 2007
I was in the Toronto area on business a couple of Fridays ago. There was nothing unusual about the visit, drop in on a few folks then reassess the logistical aspects of an event we’re planning at Mosport, a racing complex an hour east of the city.
Things were pretty well sorted out by late afternoon but then, rather than drive to the airport for a flight home, I settled into the impeccable interiour of the Audi Q7 SUV for a weekend on the road.
This wasn’t the usual 18-hour haul back to Halifax though. Instead, I headed north toward Sudbury on the first leg of getting the crisply styled road machine to Winnipeg for a Monday morning appointment.
I didn’t need a map since I’ve done the 2,100-kilometre drive many times before; north to Sudbury, hang a left to Sault St. Marie then the long 690-kilometre haul over Lake Superior to Thunder Bay and about the same distance again through Northern Ontario to the Great Plains.
No question my machine was up for the run. With Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system, a killer Bose sound system, onboard navigation and a potent 350-horse V-8, the 6-speed automatic rig was the quintessential road machine. It even had a panorama sunroof to spot low-flying eagles and the like.
Things got off to a rip-roaring start on Highway 400 out of Toronto. With what seemed like half the city escaping for a summer weekend, I crawled for the first 100 kilometres then motored to Sudbury and checked into a Holiday Inn.
Saturday morning came early. A young family packing their car outside my room gave me a twinge of loneliness, but hey, I’d soon be hauling butt right through my namesake, a place called Sowerby.
I recalled one of the times twin Larry and I drove from Moose Jaw to Halifax during our college years. We had just finished a summer stint learning to fly Tudor jets, like the ones the Snowbirds aerobatics team fly. Larry got a lift with one of our fellow pilots in a thundering split-window, side-piped 1963 Corvette Stingray. I left a few hours later in a new Datsun 240Z, one of three cars Larry and I owned together.
When I got to Sowerby I wrote Garry with a black marker on a big piece of cardboard and tacked it on top of Sowerby’s welcome sign. Larry blew by a few hours later in the dead of night and realized I was ahead of him.
Turned out all these years later, Sowerby, Ontario was still a going concern and so were about a half-dozen cyclists coming my way between Sudbury and Sault St. Marie. Obviously, from the way their bicycles were loaded it wasn’t a Saturday morning spin I was witnessing. I wondered how many of those cyclists were on a cross-Canada quest.
After fueling in Sault St. Marie I launched on the 690-kilometre run over the top of Lake Superior, the filet of any cross-Canada drive in my books. I used to dread that stretch of rock and forest but over the years it has become one of my favourite drives in the country. So I let the big Q7 stretch its legs while I basked in a world without cellphone coverage, music or passengers.
Until the route over Lake Superior was completed in the 1950s, driving across Canada meant traveling south of Superior through the United States. Today some travellers still do, but I prefer the solitude and the breathtaking scenery north of Superior offers. So I relaxed for the next seven hours and let the stunning beaches of Agawa Bay, the giant geese statues of Wawa, endless stretches of Precambrian Shield and the stunning vistas of mighty Superior fuel my imagination.
Seven hours later as I rounded the top of the largest freshwater lake in the world, the radio finally came to life with my favourite radio show, Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap on the CBC. Randy was spinning the Beatles and the first song I heard was Love Me Do. I sang it loud, like an anthem out there watching the sun settle into mighty Superior.
I holed up in a Thunder Bay motel for the night then was up at dawn to face the last 720 kilometres to Winnipeg. I took a half-hour and washed the Audi at a coin-operated car wash taking my time with the chamois to give me a sense of one of my weekend chores at home.
Then I picked up a Tim Hortons coffee figuring I’d grab breakfast at a roadside joint in an hour or so. The Q7’s navigation system proclaimed it was 717 kilometres to my destination.
“No brainer, just stay on the Trans Canada until the windshield is wall-to-wall Winnipeg,” I thought.
The day flew by as I delayed breakfast and assessed more of Canada on the move; U-Haul trucks, motorcycles with sidecars and a few more cyclists along with a healthy dose of regular traffic. Those lonely twinges resurfaced as I spotted families taking in some of the sights, but I motored on locked in my stubbornness to wait just a bit longer before stopping for breakfast.
I felt a little faint pulling into Winnipeg so I stopped at a restaurant on the east side of the city. As the waitress handed me the menu, I chuckled and muttered something about my inane habit of putting off eating when motoring on my own.
“I left Thunder Bay this morning and have been on the road all day waiting for breakfast. I used to live in Winnipeg in the early ‘70ss after I finished university, on the 35th floor of a new apartment building right downtown.” I realized I was motor-mouthing, but it had been a quiet weekend in the fellowship department for this road tripper.
“You want sour cream with that chicken quesadilla?” the waitress yawned
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