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Massaging the Road

May 8th, 2008


I’m at peace, almost. My only concern is when the hour is up and my Swedish massage will be no more. As the masseuse does her magic, I drift in and out of reality, replaying the previous 24 hours.

Our mission was to drive from Montreal to Halifax, but rather than the usual non-stop 1,300-kilometre marathon, we’d take three days and sample some diversions from the Trans Canada Highway.

Over the years I’ve driven that route at least a hundred times. I have seen the meandering, two-lane route through small towns, covered bridges and dense forest evolve into a divided, controlled-access highway with the exception of a 120-kilometre stretch between Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec and the New Brunswick border.

In Quebec alone we had the Eastern Townships, Quebec City, and the Saint Lawrence River’s idyllic south shore to choose from. Then, in the Maritime Provinces, the Saint John River Valley, New Brunswick’s southern beaches along the Northumberland Strait and finally the Bay of Fundy’s Glooscap route in Nova Scotia.

We weren’t skiing or golfing and an Arctic front moving over Eastern Canada overruled picnics and beach parties. No, our plan was pure drive-about and we had just the right equipment for that; a stunning night-blue Audi S8 sedan propelled by a potent 5.2-litre 450 horsepower V-10 engine coupled to a Tiptronic 6-speed transmission. With a power-to-weight ratio that rivals most sports cars, the big Audi promised a spirited, luxurious long weekend into the land of the ‘down homer’.

We escaped Montreal late afternoon and in the 24 hours preceding my massage, we overnighted in Fitch Bay, where Lisa’s father and stepmother regaled us with tales of semi-retirement in the Eastern Townships. In the morning we stopped in Lennoxville and took daughter Natalie to breakfast at a joint called Pizzaville where she filled us in on college life gossip at Bishops University. Nothing like a couple of family encounters to enhance the mood of a road trip.

We passed on Quebec City vowing to return in the summer to check out their 400th anniversary celebrations. My money was on the spa at St-Paul-de-Montminy, south east of Quebec City in the Appalachian Mountains. Just an hour off the beaten track, the Appalaches Lodge Spa is a winter paradise where snowmobiles are aplenty, dog sledding and snowshoeing are viable means of transportation and the spa offers a wide range of treats including the coveted Swedish massage I am hoping will never end. After all, when you are treating your driving senses to the likes of an Audi S8, why not a little bonus for the old body?

Alas, the massage eventually does end and morning’s reality ushers in an icy gale and pestering snow squalls. But the Audi’s all-wheel-drive Quattro system exudes a feeling of confident comfort as we make our way back to the Saint Lawrence River. The wind is relentless and the mighty river resembles a frozen Arctic wilderness as we turn south for New Brunswick at Rivière-du-Loup.

This past year, twinning of the Trans Canada through New Brunswick was finally completed. The only time we venture from it is to check out the world’s longest covered bridge traversing the Saint John River at Hartland. We find the 400-metre spectacle is undergoing repairs.
Back on the highway I’m completely bonded with the S8. Behind the wheel or in the passenger’s seat, this car is comfortable, extremely fast, beautifully appointed and eager to please. It seems fitting that my first run on New Brunswick’s freshly-minted highway is in one of the finest cars in the world. No wonder I pulled into Moncton with an attitude of ‘Hometown Boy does good’.

After a night on the town, it's time for the last leg. In summer, a 20-minute spin to Shediac on the Northumberland Strait to frolic in the warmest water north of the Carolinas would have been a no-brainer. But with a wind chill of –30C, we decide on Nova Scotia’s Glooscap route along the ever-changing Bay of Fundy, a place where more water moves every day than in all the rivers in the world combined.

We motor into Halifax late in the afternoon, exactly 72 hours after leaving Montreal. Of course we are happy to be home, but like the Swedish massage back at the Appalaches Lodge Spa, I don’t want this sensual experience with the Audi S8 to end.

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