A highlight reel from the journey.

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End of the road – St. John’s, NL

IMG_2399I made it!

The road trip has come to an end because, well, there’s no more road. Yesterday I drove out to Cape Spear, the easternmost point of North America, and dipped my toes in the sea and threw the rock I’d brought from the Pacific into the Atlantic. (The cape is a fantastic spot, with the province’s oldest lighthouse and a view like none other. It’s also a good place to spot whales. I managed to glimpse a pod of humpbacks breaching and spouting way out at sea, on their way south.)

This journey has been a six-week solo adventure that began in Victoria, B.C. and took me through so many varied towns and cities and parks and gave me the opportunity to see friends from long ago, and make new friends along the way. It was also a chance to experience all 10 provinces, and all 10 capital cities – I even got a photo of every single parliament building! I’ve had a blast seeing Canada from coast-to-coast, watching the trees shrink and fade away, before coming back and then shrinking again. In the last six weeks I’ve had many moments of quintessential Canadiana; standing in the middle of a wheat field on the prairies, canoeing across a glassy lake in northern Ontario, eating poutine in Québec, tapping my toes at a kitchen party in PEI, and encountering a moose in the wilderness of Newfoundland. Last night I even became an honorary local. With a few of my newfound friends cheering me on, I kissed a cod and downed a double shot of screech (awful, paint-peeling rum) at a pub on George Street. I got a certificate at the end. Mission complete. (And another item off my bucket list!)

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Travel tip: If you visit Newfoundland you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to be “screeched in” and experience the ultimate Newfoundland rite of passage. I can’t reveal all the details because it’s meant to be a surprise, but needless to say, it’s a fun, whacky and oh-so-Newfoundlandish experience. (Dee, one of my hosts here at the hippy commune, has been screeched in nine times – once for every year she’s been living here!) Many bars around St. John’s advertise the event, but the best place to go, according to my hosts, is Christian’s Pub, where the barman performing the ceremony will give you your money’s worth. Cost is $15 per person.

I love this country, my home, and I’ve had the journey of a lifetime. Who knew? Canada may seem not particularly exotic or romantic to those of us who live here and who dream of far-flung beaches and exciting destinations in the southern hemisphere, but I say stick closer to home for your next adventure and you won’t be dissapointed. And you won’t need to get shots or your passport updated! The best time of year to go, I think, is September, because most of the country is enjoying the last of the summer weather, and it’s easier to find places to stay and less crowded tourist hot spots after Labour Day. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the weather. Yesterday was a balmy 23 C here in St. John’s, which is very unusual for this time of year.

But along with the summer, my trip is now officially over, which prompts the question…

WHAT NOW?

I’m hoping my readers will help me find an answer. Do I head straight back to Vancouver, stay here and get a job gutting fish, or find an opportunity waiting for me somewhere in between? My goal now is to find work, a paid gig, a living. As Brian Mulroney once said, Canada is a country of small towns and big dreams, and I’m open to heading to just about any town in this great land where I can find work and realize the rest of my own crazy ideas and aspirations. (Ideally, I’ll be offered a gig in which I’m paid to travel around the world and take photos of far-flung places… but I’m open to just about anything that comes with a paycheque.)

To contact me with ideas, job offers, words of wisdom, or questions about this trip and how to make it happen for you next summer, email me at mkmreid@gmail.com.

To the followers of this blog, thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And to the people who’ve helped me along the way, I couldn’t have done this trip (and it just wouldn’t have been the same) without your generosity and support. To the following people who hosted me, fed me, let me do laundry and most importantly, shared with me their local’s knowledge and their company for a short time:

  • Annemarie and Gary (Victoria, B.C.)
  • Katie and Dave (Merritt, B.C.)
  • Sarah and Ana (Nelson, B.C.)
  • Kristine (Edmonton, AB)
  • Gina (Calgary, AB)
  • Andrew (Moose Jaw, SK)
  • Shannon and John (Winnipeg, MB)
  • Chloe and Ian (Dryden, ON)
  • Suzy (Thunder Bay, ON)
  • Rodger and Maria (Toronto, ON)
  • Cher and Blair (Morewood, ON)
  • Eve (Montreal, QB)
  • Pascale and Denis (Quebec City, QB)
  • Debbie (Saint John, NB)
  • Karen (Charlottetown, PEI)
  • Anastasia and Keith (Halifax, NS)
  • Bowman (Woody Point, NL)
  • Tonya and Dwayne (Gander, NL)
  • Chad and the gang (St. John’s, NL)

THANK YOU!!

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Day 41 – Gander to St. John’s, NL

Route map

Distance = 333 km    Gas = $29.47 ($1.32/L in Gander)

After driving more than 8,000 km on the Trans-Canada Highway, taking two ferries and a crazy long bridge along the way, I’ve finally made it to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the “other” mile 0, (which, for some reason, they call Mile One) and the “other” ocean. Tomorrow I will dip my toe in the Atlantic and cross off another item from my bucket list!

So last night I decided to splurge on a stay at a B&B and I’m so glad I did.

Travel tip: If you stay in Gander, be sure to book a room at the Inn on Bennett. There’s a reason it’s rated the number one B&B in town on Trip Advisor. The rooms are beautifully kept and impeccably clean, and the hosts, Tonya and Dwayne, are super friendly locals who are also caterers and serve a breakfast that alone makes staying with them worth it. I left stuffed after a granola parfait with local partridge berries, French toast with bacon, juice and coffee. To book a stay, call 1-877-256-4560.

Leaving Gander around 10 a.m., I had a lot of time to kill because from there it takes only about three hours to reach St. John’s, so I stopped for a hike in Terra Nova National Park. So worth it. The Coastal Trail – about a 4 km there-and-back – runs through a lush wood along the bay, and on sunny day like today is (almost) equal to the beauty found on the trails in southern British Columbia. Of course, I’m biased, but everywhere you go in Canada people rave about how our license plates speak the truth.

Anyway, if you have the time, do a hike in the park. I was the only person there, and spent some excellent introspective time on the beach at the end, skipping rocks and just sitting in the hot sun listening to the kind of quiet so hard to find these days. It was pretty magic. That being said, I was clapping my hands and trying to think of tunes to whistle on my way to the beach because I found somewhat fresh bear scat, and very fresh moose scat on the trail, and wasn’t in the mood to have one of those life-defining moments of terror on my own in the woods.

This evening I arrived in St. John’s just before the sun started sinking and asked a friendly construction worker to take my photo at the (totally pathetic) Mile One marker downtown. As MacLean’s writer Mark Richardson noted on his cross-Canada trip last year, the sign is downtown, and not actually at the end (or is it the beginning?) of the Trans-Canada Highway (known here as the TCH). Anyway, I got it and then found the place where I’m staying after asking a gang of neighhours out on their porch smoking and drinking beer where I could park my car without getting towed, and I somehow found a spot despite having almost no idea what they had said to me. The Newfie accent, to my ear anyway, sounds like a cross between an Irish lilt and an Alabama drawl; but however you’d describe it, you’d have to agree it’s unique.

I was then warmly welcomed by my host, Chad, and his roommates and his friends who live across the street (who immediately offered me salad from their garden) and made me feel so welcome. Chad is a self-described “gentle hippie” who lives in a three-story apartment that’s crammed full of furniture, bikes, the sound of downtempo electronica and the lingering smell of weed. If I closed my eyes, I’d swear I was in Vancouver. I’m pretty sure this is what you would call a commune. I think four people live here, maybe five. The door is never locked and people come and go. I’ve been asked if I’d like to go dumpster diving tomorrow night for free food. When in Rome…

I can’t believe the “other ocean” is right here, and this is end of my eastward momentum. Tomorrow,  I think one of the folk living here is going to lend me a bike and we’re going to check out the town. Then, depending on what else there is to do, I might just take a break from the road and be here for a few days. Maybe I’ll even kiss a cod and become an honourary Newfoundlander for a time.

NEXT POST: End of the road

Day 40 – Woody Point to Gander, NL

Route map

Distance = 369 km    Gas = $33.94 ($1.30/L in Woody Point)

Driving through Newfoundland (aka The Rock) in some ways reminds me of driving through parts of B.C. – there are long stretches of winding single-lane highway edged with trees so thick you can’t see more than a foot past them, and mountains looming behind. Of course, in Newfoundland the trees and mountains are much smaller versions of those in B.C., though both perspectives are beautiful in their own wild way.

Today before I got on the road I went for a hike with Bowman in the Tablelands of Gros Morne park. It’s a strange scene – steep hillsides (which are actually the earth’s mantle) with crumbling red rock scattered down their sides, little vegetation, and a waterfall tumbling down to a brook that runs through the valley between them. Walking the path up to the waterfall is what I imagine it must be kind of like to walk on Mars, because of the very dry, barren landscape. Bowman informed me it is, in fact, one of the places where NASA does test runs of its Mars rovers. Awesome.

This afternoon I drove for about four hours to reach Gander. It felt good to be cruising again, listening to some more groovy tunes, and I’m getting really excited about seeing Saint John’s tomorrow. Did you know it’s the eastern-most point in North America? If you reach out far enough you can almost touch Europe.

NEXT POST: Gander to Saint John’s

Day 39 – Gros Morne National Park

Route map

Distance = 430 km        Gas = $33.35 ($1.30/L in Woody Point)

Moose! I saw two today – one right on the highway and the other just off the side of a trail in the park. The one on the road was a cow, the one in the park was a bull, and they were both big, beautiful beasts with funny looking feet. Bowman says they’re actually more dangerous than the local black bears, especially now during the rut (mating season) because they can and will charge you just for shits and giggles (and because they’re full of testosterone, I guess).

Travel tip: If a moose comes after you, run. It’s pretty simple. Unlike with bears (climb a tree? play dead? run? don’t run? apologize?), moose are not complicated creatures in terms of their aggressive behaviour. They will either ignore you and be on their way, or they will charge you and kick your butt. It’s one or the other. But being big gangly things, they’re not very good at turning a corner, so if you can run in a tight circle, preferably around a tree, you can usually get an enraged moose to quit its pursuit. At least, this is what I hear from Bowman, but he’s actually an American, so I wouldn’t take his advice as gospel truth.

Anyway, he was my tour guide in Gros Morne National Park today and we saw a lot of it, driving around the bay from Woody Point, past Norris Point and up the coast. We also accidentally saw a pretty huge chunk of Newfoundland’s coast north of the park because we were talking so much during the drive that we didn’t realize where we were till we got halfway to the top of the province. Literally. I checked my GPS. Bowman is an artist (the real kind – he’s actually sold a bunch of paintings) and has a lot to say about art and politics and philosophy, etc. and the conversation flowed so well that neither of us noticed we were outside the park bounds till we were way, WAY out of the park bounds. However, there was still time to get back to see Cow Head (beautiful beach with nary another soul to be seen), Western Brook Pond (a lovely walk in that’s only about 6 km round-trip, and where we saw the moose) and the Coastal Trail, where we saw the sun set and the gulls getting ready to spend the night on the rocks just off the shore.

Travel tip: I missed the Western Brook Pond boat tour, which leaves twice a day from the dock at the end of the trail we walked, but I’ve heard it’s great, and probably something to check out if you have more time to spend in the park than just one day. Cost is $60 for an adult for a two-hour guided tour up the lake to see the fjords. Call 1-888-458-2016 to reserve.

Gros Morne is a gorgeous place, full of tuckamore trees (stunted, wind-gnarled balsam fir and spruce), moose and very few people. Granted it’s early autumn and the end of the tourist season, so it’s not surprising it wasn’t overrun with other hikers, but I was also extremely lucky to be here today because, as the folks at the info centre told me, this is the first blue sky day here in almost a month. This is a huge park with a lot to see and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but like the Littlest Hobo, I must be on the road again tomorrow… this time to Gander.

NEXT POST: Woody Point to Gander

Days 37 & 38 – Halifax, NS to Woody Point, NL

Route map

Distance = 933 km        Gas = $41.25 ($1.28/L in Halifax, NS) and $40.19 ($1.30/L in North Sydney, NS)

The last two days have been a study in contrasts. Yesterday I started off in Peggy’s Cove, which is everything a little Nova Scotia fishing village should be, and ended the day in the most nightmarish driving conditions on Cape Breton Island, on my way to catch the midnight ferry to Newfoundland.

Peggy’s Cove is a total tourist trap, but worth the 45 minute drive south from Halifax. It’s a tiny little village right on the water, with a gorgeous lighthouse, lively little cottages in various colours dotting the shoreline, and little coffee shops and souvenir huts that must do a roaring trade in the summer. The best part, though, is exploring the huge rocks at the end of the village, where the view of the lighthouse is best. I capped off a great afternoon with a fish ‘n chip lunch on a seaside deck just down the road before heading up to the ferry in North Sydney (at the top of Cape Breton Island), but the while the drive started out all lovely, with sunshine peaking out from behind dark clouds, highlighting the dinghies drifting in the coves, it later turned into the ultimate test of nerve and driving skills by the time the sun went down and the sky unleashed a torrent of rain that my windshield wipers could not clear fast enough. On top of that, there are no street lights or road markers on the highway up there, near the top of the province, so it was like trying to drive in the bottom of a murky lake. The only way I made it to the ferry terminal was by tailgating a semi, following its brake lights through the blur of water in front of me.

The ferry trip was possibly the worst part of my journey so far. I could write a whole other blog post just about how much I did not enjoy my first time at sea, but as our mothers like to tell us when we’re toddlers, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’ll just note that if you’re going to get the ferry to Newfoundland, I suggest taking it during the day (unless you really don’t care about staying up all night listening to hockey highlights on TV and a two-year old letting the whole world know all about her problems).

Travel tip: If you’re catching the ferry to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia, it leaves every day at 11:45 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. and costs $152, including tax for one person in a vehicle. You can book a sleeping berth for another $135, (which I now believe might be a good option) but from what I’ve heard and read on Trip Advisor, it’s better to save the money and just tough it out trying to get some sleep in a chair or in the lounge. 

If yesterday started well and ended badly, today was the opposite. This morning I woke up in the foulest of moods, with crazy hair, morning breath and that crummy feeling of having slept in my clothes, but by the time I’d reached Gros Morne Park and met Bowman, my host in Woody Point, I was once again happy to be alive.

The first thing I did after leaving the ferry was drive past the ridiculously long lineup for Tim Hortons in Port-Aux-Basque (the village where the ferry docks) and looked for somewhere to get bacon and eggs. Fortunately, it took no time at all to discover a cute little breakfast diner right on the water where I was the first customer of the day and was served by a local woman who called me “sweetheart” and “my love” with an accent and not the slightest hint of irony. It was a good start. Then, as I drove north, and managed to avoid death by moose (I didn’t see a single moose, despite the incessant signage warning of their presence on the highway), I only had to stop twice to cat nap and finally found my way to Gros Morne National Park where the view is again stunning and the house where I’m staying incredibly peaceful. This evening Bowman and I walked past fishing boats on the shore to go for dinner just up the road, and tomorrow he’s going to be my guide on a hike in the park.

I can’t believe I’m already in the 10th and final province, and almost near the end of my journey (at least, in this direction!)

NEXT POST: Gros Morne National Park

Days 35 & 36 – Halifax, NS

Yesterday was a write-off because I spent the day in bed trying to recover from a nasty cold, but there’s nothing like a little salty sea air to clear the lungs, is there? (Besides a bunch of cold meds, a long nap and a whole clove of garlic.)

This morning I started my self-guided walking tour of Halifax at Citadel Hill, which is right in the middle of downtown and offers a decent view of the city. You can pay (I think about $8) to get into the fort on top and take a tour, but I wasn’t in the mood to see people dressed in period costume spewing facts about what happened back in 1749. But that’s just me, and that was just today. I’m sure it’s a great attraction for history buffs or those with more time to spend in the city. I was there, fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately) for the 12 o’clock gun and it scared the crap out of me, along with a few other tourists who were walking around near the clock tower. It’s loud, even reverberating off the nearby buildings. Still, it was an experience.

Halifax’s waterfront and downtown is not very big, but this makes it very walkable and a nice place to hang out, especially on the harbour boardwalk that spans quite a ways and leads to the farmers’ market and Pier 21 shopping. This city also has more pubs per capita than any other in North America – or so I’ve heard from several locals – so it’s a good place to get a beer.

I didn’t do any pub crawling or brewery tours, but I did spend a lot of time on the boardwalk after discovering Segway Nova Scotia. If you’ve never ridden a Segway you’ve got to try it. These things can go anywhere (hills, gravel, etc.) and can go up to 20 km/hour. Most importantly, they’re just plain fun. My guide took me out first in the parking lot to test out the steering (you basically just lean your centre of gravity in the direction you want to go, whether forward, backward or to each side) and then we were off to glide among the pedestrians along the waterfront, passing everyone and their dog (literally).  It’s pretty impossible to tip over because there are five gyroscopes inside keeping everything in balance, and it doesn’t take long to figure out how to steer (anyone with snowboarding or surfing experience would pick it up in a heartbeat). Definitely a great way to get a tour of the best part of town.

To finish off the day, I stopped in at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (also right on the waterfront) to see the Titanic exhibit. They have a lot of maritime nautical artifacts and historical info generally, but I was most interested in the most famous sinking of the 20th century. Still heartbreaking to think that of the 2200 passengers on board the Titanic, only about 700 survived. The museum has several items pulled from the ship, including a piece of a deck chair and an intact pair of leather baby shoes from one of the youngest victims – “the unknown child,” who, as of 2010, has actually been identified, according to the museum. Many other bodies were also buried here in Halifax, so there’s a strong local connection to that ill-fated maiden voyage of 1912.

Travel tip: The Maritime Museum is listed on Trip Advisor as No. 6 of 65 attractions in Halifax, and on Tuesdays it’s free to get in after 5:30 p.m. (Lucky for me, I came on the right day!) Regular admission is $9.25 between May and October, and $5 between November and April. The museum is not nearly as impressive as the war museum in Ottawa, but if you’re into nautical history, then I’d say it’s probably worth it.

NEXT POST: Halifax to Woody Point