Roadtrip Episode 4: Introducing Newfoundland

Day Twelve:

We woke up this morning to a lovely breakfast prepared by the manager of the B&B we were staying at in Brigus, Lori. Her Newfoundland style of conversation was so sweet and boisterous, and provided much entertainment for us during our meal. Before we headed out of Brigus, we drove around the small town a bit and checked out the harbour. We explored a tunnel that was constructed in the 19th century and hiked up a little ways out of town to get a lovely view of the harbour

As we were pulling out of town to head to St. John’s an older man came up to my window and rapped on it with his knuckle. I rolled down the window and he leaned into the car, so far that I thought he might just crawl on in and take a seat on my lap. “Long way from home ye’ are,” he said. We engaged in small talk with this friendly gentleman for a while, telling him about our trip and hearing all about his children as he leaned further into the car. We told him we were headed to St. John’s and he muttered a warning that we could barely understand through his incredibly thick Newfoundland accent, “George Street. Ye’ ‘eard about et? Et’s a wild place. Oh, S’ Johns, that’s sin city. Ye’ girls be careful.”

Only about an hour away we were soon in the downtown core and scrambling to understand the labyrinth of streets that criss-cross each other in elaborate patterns throughout the downtown area. With streets that are rarely at right angles to each other and intersections that often provide the meeting place of up to seven different roads, we found this city a little hard to navigate. But the cute brightly coloured houses lining the streets did their best to make up for it.

St. John's

St. John’s

We made our way up to Signal Hill, a historic fort set on a hill that looks out over the bay and city. We explored the various trails clinging to the mountain side, overlooking gorgeous views of the harbour and spotted our first iceberg off in the distance. Charissa named it Jared. We like to name things. We were pretty excited about Jared. Little did we know this was nothing compared to what we would get to see in the coming days. We clambered over the old cannons scattered throughout the site, dating back to the early 19th century, and then headed to our next stop – Cape Spear.

Signal Hill, St. John's

Signal Hill, St. John’s

Signal Hill, St. John's

Signal Hill, St. John’s

Cape Spear is the most eastern point of North America and is home to two lighthouses, and as we soon learned, the most powerful gusts of wind. The difference in temperature between here and the city, just over 10km away was wild. So we did a fairly whirlwind (literally) tour of Cape Spear, ducking into the old, crumbling battery buildings dating back from WWII to temporarily escape the wind. On our drive back we spotted another moose, who we presumed to be Elliot’s girlfriend, running across the road.

Cape Spear, St. John's

Cape Spear, St. John’s

We headed up to Memorial University, where we would be staying for the next three nights, to check in and get settled as I had to hop on the phone for an interview. In the evening we headed back downtown to scope out St. John’s nightlife. We hit up the Yellow Belly brewery for dinner and to try their beers. Unfortunately we were a little disappointed. Halifax spoiled us with amazing meals and delicious brews, so overall our food experience in St. John’s was a little bit of a let down by comparison.

We strolled up and down the streets of St. John’s and made our way onto George Street: sin city. Well, let’s just say we made it out alive. To be honest, it wasn’t really our scene. Maybe we were just tired, or we’re really lame people, but the Irish bars filled with older men and blasting Jimmy Buffet weren’t really for us, at least not at this time of year with most of the student population out of town.

We ended up gallivanting to the only liquor store in town open late by foot, winding through the back streets of St. John’s for a bottle of wine. Naturally, when we made it back to our rooms in the university we were too tired to drink it and just went to bed. Winners.

Day Thirteen:

We had a bit of a slow morning with a much needed sleep in (until 8 am! Wild!). And then headed out lazily to explore downtown. Our first stop of the day was Quidi Vidi, a small historic fishing village tucked away at the base of Signal Hill. It’s become fairly developed in recent years so doesn’t carry quite as much charm as some of the other small towns we had already visited. The Quidi Vidi brewery, much to our dismay, was also closed. It was a gorgeous sunny day so we had left the university donning shorts, but decided the gusts of wind throughout the city would require changing into pants. Cue stupid Kelsey moment.

I took off my shoes and put them on the road right outside the van, climbed into the back and shut the door behind me. I changed out of my shorts and into pants, then promptly crawled back into the front seat. We peeled away from where we were parked and headed toward the base of Signal Hill on the St. John’s side to park for our venture into downtown. Of course, when I tried to get out of the car to walk I realized I had left my shoes on the side of the road in Quidi Vidi. So back we went, luckily to find my shoes lying all by their lonesome on the road. You know you are tired when…

Once we finally made it downtown, with all of our shoes on our feet, we spent the next few hours exploring. St. John’s has some absolutely stunning churches and cathedrals, and the Basilica in particularly is gorgeous. An archway leads to the main entrance and the stone towers pierce the sky, flanked by statues on either side. Looking back over the harbour through the arches reminded us a little of a Grecian scene. True to its reputation, St. John’s is a very colourful city; the houses a painted rainbow framing the streets. It made me reminiscent of my San Francisco days.

Basilica, St. John's

Basilica, St. John’s

Once we had had our fill of the city, we asked for a local recommendation for a nearby afternoon drive. Based on this knowledge, off we headed to Middle Cove. As we were driving along the coast, heading north of St. John’s, true to my mother’s style I made us pull over every couple hundred metres to snap photo after photo of the spectacular coast line. Dark rock formations and cliffs jut out into the deep blue ocean which shimmers in the scorching sun. Before long, we spotted another ice berg a little ways in the distance.

Charissa and I looked at each other and in that moment knew what to do. We popped on our imaginary Iceberg Hunting hats and hit the gas, following the coast, taking every right turn until we literally stumbled right into the bergs. There were two that had made their way into a bay off the town of Torbay. They were both probably only about 150 metres from shore at the closest point. Totally gorgeous. A local woman came over and chatted with us while we were admiring their massive beauty and told us that we ere incredibly lucky to see ice bergs here as there hadn’t been any in this part of the bay since 2008. We stayed for quite a while, basking in the sun and stunned by our luck. Poor Jared, these two had fair surpassed his awesomeness.

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Back in town that night we went to The Works burger joint, which despite being a chain, totally blew our minds with its cute charm and humorous branding. A lady at the table next to us proved to be the most rude and challenging customer I have ever witnessed, sending her food back multiple times and then finally not even eating it. I seriously cannot comprehend people like this. It’s just a burger. Once she and her family left we ended up giving the waiter, who was adorable, a bit of a pep talk. It was near the end of his shift so he just ended up sitting down and chatting with us while we ate our meals. He told us that he regularly runs up Signal Hill three to four times. We walked up half of it the other day and were tired. This might prove to be problematic for Gros Morne. It was another early night in which we bought more wine and beer, fully intending to drink it, but just opted for sleep instead. Clearly this whole being on the road for weeks business is starting to wear us down a little bit.

Day Fourteen:

Today was amazing. Totally mind blowing. I want to just spew all of the fabulously awesome adjectives that I can think of onto this page in one massive block of text, but I realize that wouldn’t really tell you anything at all. Positively glorious.

In the morning we headed out early to Bay Bulls, a town just south of St. John’s. We started off the day with a little jaunt on a small section of the East Coast Trail. We only went in about 1.5 km at this point. It reminded us a lot of the west coast; it had a very Uclulet feel especially with the fog and mist that was shrouding the bay in.

At 10:15 we headed to Gatheralls tours to get ready for the boat trip we would be taking. Then, we met Teddy, the most adorable mutt I have ever seen. It was love at first sight. Charissa and I were both secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, plotting ways we could run off with Teddy in tow. He was the most friendly, and adorable, creature. When we went to pay for the tour, he stood behind the counter, front paws on the desk, beside his owner, as if ready to register us himself.

Teddy

Teddy

The boat tour itself was about an hour and a half long. Since it’s still the off season, we only had to share the boat with six other folks, as well as the three crew, who entertained us with their accents and tales of adventures at sea, as well as an incredible amount of knowledge of the local bird life we would be seeing. We started off by getting up close to a couple of ice bergs, one of them quite massive on which you could still see thick dark bands: remnants of volcanic ash. It was pretty amazing to get up close to the bergs on the water like this. I have seen ice bergs when I was much younger and sailed with my family to Alaska, but I hardly remember it, so this was a pretty sweet treat. By the time these icebergs make their way down from up north, they are often up to three years old!

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From here, we sloshed through fairly large swells to the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to over 1.2 million birds. We saw hundreds of murres nesting on the rocks, and huge groups of puffins bobbing in the water around the boat and flying to and from their island nests.

Puffin in flight, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffin in flight, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Once back on dry land, and feeling a little more nauseous that we would have liked (especially me, who grew up living on a boat and should have a stomach made of rock by now…. but I suppose this is what happens when you try and instagram on a very rocky boat), we headed to Cape Broyle to grab some grub.

Cape Broyle

Cape Broyle

From here, we made our way down to Ferryland. The little town was shrouded in a thick layer of fog, and it was beginning to rain, making it less than desirable to get out and explore. We drove through and I demanded that Charissa head out on the “Lighthouse Picnic” route. We didn’t end up making it all the way out because quickly turned into a tiny little gravel road, shrouded in so much fog we could only see fifty feet in front of us, on the side of a cliff. Classic us. Finding all the hard places to drive.

After our wee little gander into Ferryland we headed to La Manche Provincial park for a hike along a stretch of the East Coast Trail to a suspension bridge that Charissa wanted to check out. It was only about 1.5km in to the suspension bridge from where we parked, which stretched over a gorgeous canyon. We thought this was pretty, but decided to continue along the trail about another kilometre. We stumbled on Doctor’s Cove which is now probably one of my favourite places on the entire planet Earth. It actually stopped my heart and took my breath away. We both teared up a little at the beauty of this place. I felt God/love/power/spirit, whatever you want to call it, as the waves crashed on the rocky shore and the iceberg in the distance peered around the corner of the wooded point. Words cannot describe and pictures cannot do it justice.

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Suspension Bridge, La Manche Provincial Park

Suspension Bridge, La Manche Provincial Park

 

View from Suspension Bridge

View from Suspension Bridge

Doctor's Cove, La Manche Provincial Park

Doctor’s Cove, La Manche Provincial Park

As we headed back on the trail, we decided to take a detour off the path to get closer to the iceberg. After a bit of bush whacking we ended up on another rocky point looking right out over it, probably only about 50 metres off shore. We watched the ocean slowly begin to devour the berg as its huge mass was tumbled back and forth in the rolling waves, water washing over it and gushing off one side in a waterfall. We were awe struck and mesmerized. It was a magical moment. We stayed for about forty minutes, watching the sea slowly chip away bits and pieces of the berg, leaving a trail behind.

It started to pour and by the time we made it back to the car we were absolutely drenched. For some reason, back in St. John’s, we were craving Chinese. So we drove around to three different places until we found the one that looked the least sketchy. The Chinese food was pretty good, but we were so exhausted, we just left money on the table. The meals we had ordered were $12 each, so we left $27 and called it a day. About a block away we heard someone running after us, shouting at us. Turns out, in our tired state we forgot to factor in tax, and had tried to short change the restaurant by $1.10. Oops. Time for bed.

And with that, over and out. Spent the day in Trinity and Bonavista today, but will write that on the road tomorrow. Then off to Gros Morne!

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Roadtrip Episode 3: Small town Nova Scotia

Day Nine:

Today was a gorgeous, no holding back, sun claiming the blue sky, breeze whispering away the dandelion clouds, type of day. A stunningly gorgeous summer day.

We started the morning in Halifax with a delicious local and organic breakfast with the lovely Maggie Knight from Leadnow. Next, our last stop before heading out of town was the Fairview Cemetery.

Random shpeal about being pulled over again by a cop for those of you who care, but really this entire paragraph can be skipped if you’re not related to me… I’ll put it in brackets to emphasize that point.  (On our drive there we were pulled over by a police officer doing a routine check for up to date vehicle inspections. Since our van is registered in Alberta, where inspections aren’t required, the Ho family hasn’t had one in years, and has been driving with a harmless, albeit very large, crack along the bottom of the windshield. The cop wasn’t too impressed and gave us a hard time about the lack of inspection and the crack for quite a while. Finally, we were sure she would give us a ticket when she was finally informed by a colleague that inspections aren’t required in Alberta. Suddenly her frown turned upside down and she bid us a much more friendly goodbye and good luck. Two narrow misses with this whole getting pulled over business! Also apparently we attract cops, we hit another routine inspection along our drive later in the day as well. But anyway… On to much more interesting topics….)

The Fairview Cemetery is home to a few dozen graves from those lost in the Titanic disaster, including one belonging to J. Dawson, the real person on whom DiCaprio’s role in the film was based on. Another grave marks the body of ‘The Unknown Child’ who I mentioned in my previous blog post.

After this it was time to hit the road to the many little villages and towns along the South Shore. First stop, Prospect, a quaint little town that seems to be skimmed over by most tourists. The colors of the houses light up the scene and contrast the rocky formations jutting out into the deep blue sea. It’s impossible not to be enchanted.

Prospect, Nova Scotia

Prospect, Nova Scotia

Our next stop was Peggy’s Cove, home of the quintessential East Coast lighthouse. We were so delighted again today to be doing this trip before peak tourism season hits. The guidebooks warned us that this spot might be flooded with tourists that make it nearly impossible to even get a shot of the lighthouse without swarms of people in it, but luckily May is still early enough to avoid the crowds and tour busses. The scene was perfect; like something from a painting the red and white lighthouse rests on lazy sun-tanned rocks which wade into the frothy blue ocean that cradles the town’s fishing boats in its gently rocking arms.

Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Once we had our fill of the lighthouse itself we set to exploring the rest of this small village, home to only about fifty residents. Words cannot describe this magical place. Small fishing boats and seafood traps are piled high, nestled together on the wharves or by the small wooden homes. An inlet creeps in on the town, tasting the black sand shore with its soft lolling tongue. Splashes of sunflower, violet and rose hues decorate the clapboards and shingles of the houses. It’s a microcosmic world of nothing-else-matters.

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

From Peggy’s Cove we drove through the equally colourful but slightly less quaint and picturesque town of Chester. Along the way we found a lovely white sand beach to frolick on like nobody was watching, because all that matters is why you do it and how it makes you feel.

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Then on to Mahone Bay, another sweet nest of buildings along the waterfront. The beginning of Main Street is marked by three churches of different denominations all standing in a row, saluting the heavens and shouting praises for the calm serenity of this place. We stumbled on a local pewter factory and shop and were treated to a demonstration of how pewter jewellry and ornaments are made.

Finally, as evening was beginning to encroach, we made our way to our final destination of the day, Lunenburg, and we fell in love. Because campgrounds are not yet open in this neck of the woods and there are no hostels in town we stayed at a local inn, The Brigantine. Although, to be fair the inn only cost slightly more than the nearest hostel would have anyway. We had a little room in this gorgeous, robins egg building that looked over the wharves.

After a full day of sightseeing we decided to stay close to home and ate in the adjoined restaurant. We shared a delicious Cajun seafood stew and plate of forty fresh, and oh so tasty, mussels (the latter which cost a mere $10!). Spent the evening in the room doing some much needed catch up on various work, emails and uploading of photos (we already have well over a thousand). Then headed back downstairs for another flight of seven local beers to try, because boy do we love our microbrews. Winner: the Farmhouse Ale from North Brewing in Halifax.

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Day Ten:

We started the day with a lovely breakfast overlooking the harbour. It had warmed up enough for us to be able to sit out on the balcony. Charissa and I have been sharing all of our meals so that we get to taste as many new flavours and eats as possible, which has been a lot of fun. This morning we enjoyed salted cod cakes on molasses baked beans with a rhubarb relish, and Atlantic salmon on a potato rosti with arugula and poached eggs. All kinds of yum.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

The rest of the morning was spent wandering the lovely streets of the friendly town of Lunenburg. We had a stranger notice one of the back fenders on our van was hanging somewhat askew (due to the incident of the previous day in which I backed into a curb while trying to escape a rather tight Tim Horton’s parking lot – sorry Charissa’s parents!). He promptly ran into his home to grab a wrench and screwdriver and then sprawled on the sidewalk to fix it for us. Every single encounter we had was like this. People were so generous and so genuinely excited to share even a moment of our journey with us.

Luckily, before we left town, we stumbled upon the Ironworks Distillery, which makes amazingly delicious brandy, rum, vodka, and liqueurs from locally sourced fruit. As per our consistently fabulous timing we arrived right at the beginning of the only tour of the day. It was super cool to see the process for making these amazing fruity blends. The owner took a liking to us and after everyone else had left took us for an extra peak into the back rooms to check out the cranberry processing. They had so much more than their products to share with us. The Ironworks Distillery is packed with history as it was the building in which the iron for both the Bluenose and the Bounty, along with many other historic ships, was constructed. The owners are also just overflowing with kindness and joy. It took a lot for us to pull ourselves away and hit the road to North Sydney.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Six hours of driving later and not a lot else to share. We had a really tasty dinner in the ferry-side town of North Sydney, which is really just made up of one unfortunately somewhat sadder looking main street. Three hours before the ferry left we got our fancy personalized ferry tickets, barcode and all, and got in line. The ferry wasn’t to leave until just before midnight but they start loading a couple of hours in advance in order to fit everyone on. We were loaded onto a sea level cargo deck, and then once inside the ship, went down a ramp into an even lower level in the hull of the boat. Do you remember playing that little plastic games with the cars you move around, Rush Hour? That’s what this ferry was like. We had to do a multi-point turn to get into the spot they had picked out for us.

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The ferry takes about six hours, and given the early loading we had about eight to kill by trying to catch as many z’s as possible. It’s basically like an airplane on the water. You can book a cabin for over a hundred dollars extra a night, but we just opted for a seat. Luckily it wasn’t too busy and we were able to stretch out somewhat, and half way through the night I moved to sleeping on the floor. But let’s just say we weren’t particularly well rested.

Day Eleven:

NEWFOUNDLAND!  We are here. We are here. We are here!!!

Off the ferry by 7:30 in the morning. First stop: Tim Horton’s for a much needed caffeine boost and opportunity to change out of our matching UVic sweat pants and into something slightly more presentable. Then we hauled across the province for nine hours to Brigus, in Mi’kmaq territory. Driving through Newfoundland is a lot more like driving through BC. Being surrounded by forests again was really nice, interrupted every so often by a lake, river or brook. It’s a pretty gorgeous landscape. We did get to see one moose off the side of the highway, albeit only very briefly. I named him Ambrose. In case you were wondering.

Driving through Newfoundland

Driving through Newfoundland

We got to Brigus early in the evening and checked into the most adorable little bed and breakfast right on the water in the main part of the small town. Lori, the manager, got us all settled in, welcoming us with her warm accent, adorable jokes, and overly friendly manners. She was seriously such a lovely woman, and such a hoot. We immediately felt right at home. And as it turns out, since it’s still the off season, we lucked out again. We got the whole B&B to ourselves for the night, including three bedrooms, a kitchen and a gorgeous back yard – all for a whopping $80 total for the two of us, including a full breakfast in the morning and fresh baked scones waiting for us this evening.

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The Brittoner B&B, Brigus

We ventured to the nearby towns of Cupids and Bay Roberts to try and find some food, but what with it being already 6:30pm (horrifically late I know) nothing was open. We opted to grab some frozen pizza at the super market and bring it back to the oven where we were staying. Our first meal in Newfoundland – frozen pizza. Can you say ‘class acts’?

Spent the rest of the evening enjoying the fact that we have the entire house to ourselves. Looking forward to exploring the little town tomorrow morning and heading to St. John’s.

Love and peace!

Roadtrip Episode 2: Hittin’ up Halifax

Time for another update 🙂

Day Six:

We left my sister’s this morning and headed to the nearest ESSO station since Charissa’s sister was generous enough to give us her speed pass, which means a lot of free gas for us. We are incredibly spoiled. Just as Charissa was finishing cleaning off our windshield we heard someone from the car behind say, “Want to clean mine too?” Out of the car steps my sister, Terry, a bag of our dishes that we left at her place in hand. The best.Once we said our goodbyes for a second time we hit the road, today driving through a mere four states, piece of cake. It was an incredibly uneventful ten hour drive. Here’s the low down.New York. Many tolls. All the tolls. Horses running in fields. Signs pointing to New York City. No one following the speed limit, even remotely.

Massachusetts. More tolls. Signs along the interstate reading, and I kid you not, “Changing lanes? Use yah blinkah”. This entirely validates my use of similar language (ex. Mah sistah is coolah than yah brothah). Thank you, Massachusetts.

New Hampshire. Official roadside signs indicating the nearest liquor store. This state knows what’s up. “Live free or die,” reads the state welcome sign.

Maine. Our destination state. The welcome sign tells us, “The way life should be”. Directly below this is another sign that reads “Open for business”. The way life should be = open for business? In Maine yah bettah love capitalism.

At this point, it was early evening and Charissa looked at me as we were driving toward our camping spot and said to me, “Today has been uneventful.” I responded, “it’s only 6:30. Exciting things can definitely still happen. We have so many hours to make eventful happen.”

Here’s what making eventful happen looked like for us. (We imagine that making eventful happen is similar to making fetch happen). We showed up at Bayley’s Resort Campground in Scarborough, Maine and set up our tent in traditional Abenaki territory. We had the only tent in the entire place and were surrounded by a seemingly endless labyrinth of over two hundred RVs. After getting settled we decided to explore the area and headed into town. We passed at least three more large RV parks on our way into town.

The core of Scarborough reminds me of something straight out of the Jersey Shore. The Main Street is made up almost entirely of cheap souvenir and clothing stores, tiny local fast food joints, and a massive arcade. At the waterfront, on the beach, a pier stretches out into the ocean with a nightclub at the end of it. A roller coaster and Ferris wheel stand guard over the surf. I’ve experienced several towns like this before as a kid traveling up the east coast of the United States but Charissa definitely was a little shocked by the atmosphere. She did get to dip her toes in the icy Atlantic for the first time though!

Scarborough, Maine

Scarborough, Maine

We shared a beaver tail for dinner, which they simply refer to as “fried dough” here and then headed back to the campsite for the night. We discovered that Bayley’s is actually quite the RV resort, equipped with two pools and six hot tubs, so enjoyed a late night soak. What a strange world of “camping” this is.Day Seven:Today was our last long driving day! We peeled out of Maine as early as we could and headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Mi’kmaq territory. Another fairly unexciting drive and we were already in New Brunswick by mid afternoon.

We made a quick pit stop in Sussex, NB to grab some food and stretch our legs. The sun was shining on this adorable little town with quaint, colorful buildings lining the streets and a massive bright mural on every block.

Sussex, New Brunswick

Sussex, New Brunswick

Hit the road once more and made it to Halifax with plenty of time to get settled and explore the city a little bit, with Charissa nearly bouncing in her seat with excitement the whole last hour of the drive there.
Entering Halifax

Entering Halifax

We arrived at the Halifax Backpackers Hostel and found one of the folks staying there around back who was able to get us all set up with a bunk bed in a 6-person room, since reception had already closed. It’s definitely a funky little place with a lot of character and is a pretty interesting experience given that neither of us have stayed at a hostel before.As soon as we could, we changed out of our sweaty driving clothes, brushed out our tangled road wind hair, and headed out to find some food at the Wooden Monkey. I’m breaking my normally dietary restrictions and am eating fish and seafood for this trip. So we had a very fishy meal and some of the best scallops I have ever tasted. We were also sure to try some local craft beer. Charissa and I have a fairly low alcohol tolerance, to say the least. Add on the tired factor and we were good to go.
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We headed down to the waterfront and the first thing we stumbled across, to Charissa’s glee (and mine as well, albeit somewhat more subtly), was a playground. Of course, the first activity we do in Halifax is take a tipsy ride down a waterfront slide.We meandered around the waterfront for the rest of the evening and were just about to head back to the hostel when a local that I know messaged me to say we should check out The Lower Deck, a pub about a block from where we were, for a cool band that was playing. We had already had that venue recommended to us by some other folks this evening so figured it was a must. What a blast. An amazing cover band with an east coast twist, Signal Hill, was playing and the place was packed, the beer was flowing, and the people were grooving. We had an awesome time soaking it all in.At one point, one guy came up to me and asked, “Are you a local?” I said that I wasn’t. “Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t think so. You don’t look like a local.” I spent the rest of the evening half watching the band and half wondering what exactly made me stick out like a sore thumb.

Day Eight:

Today we really dug into Halifax and went into ultra tourist mode. We started the morning, still in the sun, with a walk through the historic district of the city and along the waterfront to Pier 21. From there Charissa wanted to scope out some of the city hospitals, in case she ends up doing work here in the future, as well as Dalhousie University.

Our next stop, after getting lost in one of the cities many cemeteries, was the Halifax Citadel National Historic site, a fort that was active in the 1800s nestled atop the city. As usual with our perfect timing and terrible luck with weather, we randomly arrived five minutes before the start of a tour and the firing of the cannon, and just in time to be stuck standing outside in the rain. But regardless of the weather (up to this point we hadn’t seen a single day without at least some precipitation yet) it was a super fascinating tour and a really neat fort to explore. The star-shaped design of the fort and the large ditch around it’s exterior walls made it nearly impenetrable and Halifax was never attacked. Aside from the views of the city, a cannon being fired (of course, only with black powder and not a real cannonball), and the thick stone architecture of the fort, we also got to check out a vintage Magic Lantern from the 1800s. So cool! This was the cinema of the times. It basically works like an overhead projector. Coloured glass slides are slid into the machine which then projects them onto a screen using candle light. The images followed along with a story that the performer, who at this fort happened to be the schoolteacher, would read out of an accompanying book. Sets of stories and slides were sent from fort to fort to entertain both the soldiers and their families.  While at the fort we also checked out the new WWI exhibit there which contains a lot of historic pieces from the war.

Citadel National Historic Site, Halifax

Citadel National Historic Site, Halifax

By this time, our stomachs were grumbling so we decided to have a bite to eat. Thanks to another local recommendation we stumbled upon what I will proclaim to be the best food in the city. To be fair, I’ve only eaten at four restaurants in Halifax, but for the price I can almost guarantee this one will not be beat. 2 Doors Down is worth a visit to this fine city alone. It is possibly the most delicious restaurant experience I have had, ever. We had arugula salad that that tasted like candy, the most tender and perfectly cooked calamari with an amazing sauce, and a delicious, creamy scallop and broccoli pasta dish that made Charissa proclaim this restaurant a spiritual experience. “My taste buds are actually dancing in my mouth. It is so good my esophagus can taste it”. We couldn’t turn down dessert, and we knew one would simply not be enough, so we ordered both the chocolate mousse and the carrot cake. Three words: to die for. Seriously, so amazing. If you are ever in Halifax. Eat here. Twice. Three times. Every night. Just do it. It will blow your mind.
Carrot Cake, 2 Doors Down

Carrot Cake, 2 Doors Down

Chocolate Mousse, 2 Doors Down

Chocolate Mousse, 2 Doors Down

From 2 Doors Down we headed two blocks down to check out the Maritime Museum since it was still cold and overcast outside. I really love boats, since I grew up on one, but I think my awe at touching all the pretty things with the gorgeous wood and shiny varnish was a little lost on Charissa. We toured through the museum fairly quickly, but did stop to spend a lot of time in the exhibits about the Halifax explosion and the Titanic – both pretty tragic to explore. As someone who grew up religiously watching Titantic, this one especially hit home for me. The museum has an original lawn chair from the deck of the Titanic, as well as shoes from the only lost baby to have been recovered, who until recently was known as the Unknown Child.
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After the museum, we headed back to the hostel to catch up on emails and our lives. Turns out there was a fair amount of catching up to do. We hit up a rad little vegetarian restaurant, Heartwood, and then headed back downtown to try some flights of local craft beer at Stillwell. It’s a super wicked place in downtown Halifax that serves up 12 beers on tap each night, the choices written on a giant wall-sized chalkboard. Flights are served in funky wooden trays with the corresponding numbers hand painted on a metal rung with each serving. Two flights in and we headed back to the playground (classic us). Let’s just say that Charissa spent the entire walk home complaining, loudly, about how her pants were wet, and that we stopped in a Marriott bathroom to try and use a hand dryer to solve the problem. Apparently that’s what happens when you go down a slide when it has been raining all day. She said it was the safest way down the structure (the other options being a steep ladder or a wooden climbing apparatus).
Stillwell, Halifax

Stillwell, Halifax

Well that’s all for now folks. I am a day behind but promise I will catch up soon. Love you all!

Cross-country road trip: It’s not just about the destination.

It has been quite a while since my last blog post. I’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks wrapping up my life as I know it, finishing up my job, moving out of my apartment and tying up many loose ends. I’ll be driving across the country for the next several weeks so my blog posts are going to take a bit of a turn from their usual nature. For those of you uninterested in my personal exploits, I completely understand. Tune back in six weeks from now. But if you can handle extremely wordy posts (for the benefit of family, close friends and myself) about my more physical journey, filled with gratitude, courage and sarcasm all the same, then stick around. Maybe it’ll be a book one day and you can say, “I read that before it was even a thing!” Or maybe not, but a girl can dream.I’d like to begin this post by acknowledging the traditional territories on which I reside and am traveling. I am a Settler to what we now call Canada. I grew up primarily on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia in W̱SÁNEĆ and Hul’qumi’num territory. I feel so grateful and privileged to be able to have the opportunity to live in these amazing locations, and now, to travel across Turtle Island. I want to ensure that I do so while recognizing the ongoing violence inherent to our colonial systems.  I have done my best to figure out all of the traditional territories in which we stayed throughout our trip. It is really important to me, as someone who identifies as a Settler, to acknowledge the indigenous nations who have, and continue to, reside on these lands. I apologize for any errors I have made and am open to feedback and corrections.

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On May 4th, I said goodbye to one of my closest friends and headed on a plane from Victoria, BC to Edmonton, AB. While tears were shed on the west coast, new adventures were about to be born just one province east. I had a plan for the next six weeks, and after that I had no idea how my life would unfold.

What I knew was this. I was driving across the country and back with one of my closest friends whom I have known since we lived in residence together during our first year of university. She was attending medical school in Edmonton and I had just finished my degree in Victoria. For six weeks our worlds were colliding again. After that, I had no plan; I had no job, no home, and a whole lot of open road ahead of me. I was half terrified and half excited. But for now, there was this adventure. And for now, that was enough.

I landed in Edmonton to the open arms of my friend, Charissa. Now let’s set the record straight. Charissa is a star. She is a beauty, one of the hardest workers I have ever known, and has a heart made of pure gold. I hadn’t seen her in several months and we did one of those run-and-almost-jump into each other arms type of greetings, completely oblivious for that moment to the world around us.

I got to meet her boyfriend, Chris, who is quite the charmer. We had lunch at a fantastic little diner in Edmonton, Daddio’s, with more character than I could fit in my sautéed veggie po’ boy. Before hitting the road for our first destination, Calgary, we stopped at the University of Alberta so I could see where Charissa spends most of her time. The medical building there is gorgeous. It felt so safe and structured to me. Whenever Charissa talks about med school there is always a little part of me that feels a sense of jealousy. The next several years of her life have so much order, there is a concrete plan. Of course there will be ups and downs and unknowns, and the massive challenges and huge amount of work and effort it takes to become a doctor, but sometimes I wish I had such structure. Meanwhile, I am an aspiring environmental or political organizer. I can hardly tell you what exactly that means, let alone how to get there.

Three hours later, we said hello to Calgary and Charissa’s amazing parents, in traditional Niitsitapi, Nakoda and Tsuut’ina territory. If there was an acknowledgements section to our road trip they would definitely play a starring role. Not only did they lend us their van, but they equipped it out with a camping stove, water for days, safety gear, blankets, yoga mats, air mattresses, towels, and adorable curtains they made for the windows in the back. Chris also hooked us up with his camping gear and some tunes, so definitely deserves a shout out as well.

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Charissa and I set to work packing the van and transforming the back into a mobile fort. It was pretty cozy, and although we would need to learn to sleep without being able to stretch out our legs fully, it definitely scored a lot of cute points.A last family meal, many safety tips and concerns expressed, and last minute map printing for maps I thought I had left at home (only to find them later in the safest possible place). We made sure that we had enough Harry Potter audiobooks on our iPhones and called it a night. Clearly we have our priorities straight.
Day One:The first official day of our journey! We left Calgary early in the morning to head down to Yellowstone National Park. I’ve decided Alberta isn’t for me, at least not at this time of year. I just couldn’t get used to the gloominess of it, although I suppose 24 hours of experiencing the province didn’t really give it a fair shot. It’s just hard for a West coast girl who grew up on a boat in the tropics to fall in love with the prairies when it’s still winter in May.

I won’t bore you with the details of our uneventful drive to the border, except to say that once we got there it was the easiest border crossing I have ever experienced. The border crossing agent, Laroque, was a large gruff man with a wicked sense of humour. He gave us a good razing filled with his jokes, and him laughing at them. He even managed to pronounce Charissa’s Chinese name with some ease. We were impressed. Just as we pulled away two Canadian geese took up flight headed back north. (If I was one of those writers who filled their stories with symbols, that would be one).

As soon as we crossed the border into the States the sun came out, greeting us with its warm beams. Almost right away the gorgeous scenery of Glacier National Park in Montana took our breath away. Snow capped peaks pierced the blue sky and quaint wooden homes nestled in the nooks of the earth. The winding road led from one jaw-dropping view to another, weaving over rolling hills and babbling creeks through the snowy mountains. Pure beauty.

The show hardly took a moment to pause all the way to Yellowstone. One moment we were passing through small towns that could claim the inspiration for many Western films and the next we were snapping shots at a massive frozen lake, the sounds of cracking ice nearly audible from the road.

Once we actually entered the park I nearly lost it when we saw a flashing road sign that read “Bison on the road”.

“Haha, how amazing would it be to see bison?” I said to Charissa, as I leaned out the road to snap a picture of the sign.

Moments later we were driving along a river within the park only to see several bison on the hill in the distance. Shrieking with excitement I pointed frantically as though I would never see such a sight again, “Buffalo! Buffalo!”

“They are bison, Kelsey, bison.” I’m a biology major and it took me until well into the next day to get it right.
Entering Yellowstone National Park

Entering Yellowstone National Park

Now, if that wasn’t enough, just around the bend we slowed to the sight of three young elk lazing in the sun on the bank of the river, soaking in the rays of sun. It was too perfect. But still, this wasn’t our final welcome to Yellowstone. That came just minutes later when we encountered a herd of bison meandering their way down the road in the direction of Sienna, our van.
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It was such a magical and humbling sight to witness over a dozen of these massive creatures slowly amble on by, completely ambivalent to the presence of our vehicle in their territory. They sauntered so close to the van that we could have easily, although we didn’t, reached out and touched them. It was spectacular.That evening we set up camp at Madison campground, located in traditional Shoshone territory, the only site open this early in the year. We were there early enough in the evening to journey several kilometers from camp to the Fountain Paint Pots, a gorgeous array of bubbling geysers and fumaroles connected by boardwalks. The name describes them perfectly as each pool of water or mud is an entirely different color, ranging from rusty red to the kind of vibrant blue only seen in tropical oceans or glacial lakes. The boiling, frothing water emits a sulfuric steam over the otherwise dark and eerie landscape.”Holy shit!” shrieked Charissa when we stumbled across the first one. “Holy shit!” It was a refrain that continued throughout the rest of our time around Yellowstone park.
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View from Fountain Paint Pots, Yellowstone National Park

That night we enjoyed, although that might be somewhat generous, our first sleep in our mobile fort, as we came to call it. Although it was cramped, it kept us warm, and with the snow outside, that was enough.Day Two:Yellowstone National Park!! That is all. This place is truly a natural spectacle. The diversity within the park itself is astounding and I’m so excited that we decided to detour to spend a day here.In the morning we got an early start and headed to Old Faithful, he quintessential geyser within the National Park. Unfortunately, it was snowing fairly heavily and the visibility was pretty low. We wandered around the many smaller geysers in the area, coughing and spitting up sulphur from their bubbling pools. We got to see Old Faithful blow from a distance through the snow, but unfortunately missed out on an impressive showing.

From here we headed to the northern part of the park to check out Mammoth Hot Springs. What a treat. Gorgeous rock formations blanket the slopes of the hills creating crystalline ivory-colored pools of water. Above this, the rock plateaus out into a serious of spewing geysers slowly encroaching on the green landscape. Lone dead trees, frozen in time and space by the calcium carbonate solidified within their xylem and phloem, create an eerie apocalyptic scene.

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Upon our departure we headed toward Yellowstone Lake and Fishing Bridge in the eastern end of the park. Although the snow was coming down quite heavily, the drive was still beautiful with the road snaking along the gentle curves of the frothing Yellowstone River. At one point we pulled up along side several stopped cars on the road, cameras poking out of half shut windows, and to our delight got to see a bear ambling along in the snow. We feel so blessed with how much wildlife we saw during our time in the park.To cap the amazing day off we stopped at Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.  This was the most spectacular view we had seen yet. The red rocky walls of the canyon come together to embrace a massive waterfall, gushing into the chasm hundreds of feet below. There are those moments, when bearing witness to the beauty of Mother Nature, when my heart hurts from the magic of it all. I ache for the land, for the connection, for my roots. My soul swells with gratitude and I cannot help but whisper a prayer of thanks. This was one of those moments.
We arrived back at the campground fairly early and decided to go for a walk by the river near Madison. As we were strolling along we stumbled across a bison, no more than 50 meters away from us. While the park is dotted with warning signs regarding the bison and other wildlife, from a distance, and even from nearby as we had experienced the previous day, they seem like such gentle creatures. Charissa wouldn’t let me bring one back to the van to cuddle with us though. Complete bollocks, if you ask me.Day Three:

Today was our first really long driving day, and we definitely felt it. We rose early and were out of our campground by 6:30. Go team. Driving through Yellowstone on the way out was a lot of backtracking, but this time through even more snow. On the last leg of the journey out the east entrance of the park it became pretty treacherous  and we were gripping onto our seats. Snow banks were piled high on either side of the road and the surface was often slick with fresh white powder. All we could see for miles and miles was snow and more snow and we had no idea when it would end. Charissa’s expert snow-driving skills were definitely appreciated.

Bighorn National Park

Bighorn National Park

We thought we had gotten through the worst of it when we reached the entrance of the park and hit the Wyoming highway, but boy, were we wrong. As we were distracted by the natural beauty of the Shoshone National Forest, trouble was looming up ahead. First, on the road between those two parks we hit a straight stretch, which came with a nice serving of blizzard on the side. Charissa was in full on Alberta driver mode and had us clipping at a nice pace. Turns out the local sheriff wasn’t such a big fan. We got pulled over by a lovely officer, donning the traditional green hat, who was kind enough to let us go without a ticket and just two warnings… One about our speeding, and another about the road ahead which apparently he was quite surprised wasn’t closed given the weather conditions. Of course, we thought nothing of it.There is a little stretch of the 14 highway through Bighorn National Park in Wyoming that now has a special place in our hearts. Picture this: you’re driving on the side of a cliff with a gorgeous back drop of scenic mountains speckled with stoic pine. Now, picture this: you’re driving on the side of a cliff with a gorgeous backdrop of pine-covered mountains, but the road you are driving on and the landscape all around is covered in snow… And not just a light dusting, a proper winter dumping at a 3000 meter elevation. Now, imagine all this and add a steep decline, driving warnings, a van with summer tires, two girls with no phone service, in the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming. Welcome to one of the most terrifying hours of our lives. Luckily we made it out unscathed, thanks again to Charissa’s driving and willingness to slowly crawl down the mountainside, but there were definitely a few times in which I honestly wasn’t sure we were going to make it out of there. That’s not to say it wasn’t gorgeous, it was, mind-blowingly so. But in those moments there was a fine line between awe and terror, and we definitely crossed it.
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This doesn’t quite do the fear factor justice.

When we emerged out of what felt like the land beyond the wall in Game of Thrones (honestly, I was half expecting to drive into a snow bank and either be taken hostage by wildlings or killed by White Walkers), we stumbled across the small town of Cody. I have never been so excited to hit a McDonalds in my life. Usually, I steer clear of them like the plague, but this was our best bet for coffee, and we needed it.  Creating a concoction of adrenaline and caffeine in our veins was definitely first on our to do list.As I was paying for the coffee, I accidentally whipped out a Canadian bill instead of an American one. The man across the counter’s jaw dropped.
“What is that?” he asked.
“Uhhh, Canadian money.”
“Canadian?”
“Yeah, like you know, from Canada.”
“Wow, can I look at it?”
I handed over the bill to the server who carefully examined it like I had handed him the finest gem.
“This is amazing. Why do you have it?”
“We drove down from there. We’re from there.”
“Wow…. Oh fuck, your coffee.”
He handed me back the bill, daintily, like it was worth far more than $20. As he filled up our coffee cups he asked, “What brings you here?”
I responded, “We were just in Yellowstone.”
From around the corner I heard a voice, “Yellowstone?” The man to whom the voice belonged strolled over, “I heard you were in Yellowstone. I am a guide there. Was there much snow?”
Charissa came back from the bathroom. “Yes. There was much snow. Lots and lots of snow. All the snow,” she chimed in.
As we were heading out the door of the McDonalds another gentleman, hunched over his coffee in the corner, called over to us, “I heard you were in Yellowstone.” Yes, you and everyone else in this building.
“Once, I was there in mid June and got caught in a blizzard. Mid June!”
I love small town America. We are all immediately old friends finally re-united at a little shindig in the local McDonalds. I absolutely love it.Finally, we hit a real highway, like the one we were expecting to be driving on when we talked about “driving across the States”. Boring has never been so beautiful. We drove for the whole afternoon, averaging 130 sweet sweet kilometers an hour. With plenty of rolling hills on our left and right and not a lot else to see we got some much needed journal writing catch up time… Ergo this novela in your hands.Once we entered South Dakota we kept seeing signs for Wall Drug. Billboard after billboard tried to grab our attention and take us to the biggest and best drugstore in all the lands. Sign after sign demanded we visit this family friendly venue with a cafe that seats over 530, exclamation point. However, we couldn’t even take the time to detour to the Badlands or Mt. Rushmore, so despite the temptation, Wall Drug didn’t get to see our glowing, shower needing selves either. Instead, we opted for more driving through the gloomy, rolling hills to Chamberlain.There was a whole lot of not a lot for a long way and as I was in need of a bathroom, and the Sienna was in need of gas, we pulled onto an exit for Okaton, South Dakota.  As we drove into what could only be called a hamlet we felt a little unnerved by the ominous nature of the broken down cars, ramshackle houses and tiny church with its cross askew. I’m sure Okaton is a lovely place but with the backdrop of the dark sky it felt more like something straight out of True Detective. So much to the chagrine of my bladder, we bee-lined it back to the highway instead. Damn that large coffee. Onward bound with Charissa gripping the steering wheel with all her might every time a large truck passed us in the other lane, making the van tremble with the gust of wind it created. We have become so grateful for cruise control.

That night we slept in Chamberlain, South Dakota at a campground along the banks of the Missouri River, in Dakota and Yankton Sioux land. We fell asleep to the sound of rain pounding on the roof, thunder beating its way through the clouds, and the flickering strobe of lightening flaming through the dark sky. We fall asleep singing The Strumbellas to keep the scary night at bay.

Day Four:

Another driving day along over 1300 km of highway covering six states. But the day was off to a good start before 7am. Why? One word. Showers. Please, for me, during the next shower you take, enjoy it, every drop of it. We so often take for granted all the little things. But how much more amazing would life feel if we were actually present for every single moment of it, for every drop. The hot water trickles down your face, grazing your chest with its warm caress, then tickles your thigh and makes a faintly hollow sound as it hits the cool tile floor. Follow the drop. See where it will take you.

Now, here’s twelve hours of driving along the I-90 summed up for you in as succinct a way as I can muster:

South Dakota. We drive for miles. Charissa crawls into the back to sleep. I pass a chicken truck that reaffirms my vegetarianism. Feathers blend with beaks and only beady eyes pierce the mess of white and red. One wing sticks out through the grated walls, bones almost visibly snapping in the 130 km an hour wind. A sailboat in the divider between the two sides of the highway; dreams that didn’t pan out. I can’t keep track of the number of road kill and “Abortion kills” signs we pass. One kind of death so easily accepted, another so-called “death” the subject of so much controversy and protest. 150 miles later Charissa wakes up to another state.

Minnesota. We are bummed that we have to slow to 120 km. Nothing. Literally nothing for over a hundred miles. I crawl into the back to sleep. Just gently rolling hills and a little farm town here and there.

Wisconsin. We are bummed that we have to slow to 115 km. The smell of manure. More farms. One semi truck for every two cars on the road. And hot hot heat. We realize the air conditioning doesn’t work. We change into shorts and sing along to Avicii.

Illinois. We are stoked that we get to speed back up to 120 km. The heat begins to penetrate our pores. We have reached our destination: summer. Walls of semi-trucks on the road. Windows down, wind tearing at our hair as we speed toward Chicago, blasting The Strumbellas, our road trip soundtrack. We hit Chicago and everything slows down. Charissa seems to get stuck with the wheel for all the tough parts. Five lanes of traffic each way. Gridlock. The swearing from the driver’s seat is almost constant. Cover your ears, kids. “Fuck, this is fucking stupid. Yeah just go ahead of me, whatever. Don’t signal. This is why I’m going into rural medicine! Do you think you can let me into that lane? Nope. You bitch! Of course I change lanes and the other lane is faster! Why does this always happen to me? Fuck!” We pass under a sign that tells us there have been 249 car accident related deaths in Illinois this year alone. Welcome to America, land of the free. “I don’t even know if I’m in a lane! There are so many. Kelsey, oh my god, there are seven lanes all going the same way. This is fucking insane!” I was sitting there munching on cookies watching all this with a bemused look on my face. Charissa turned to me, “Why are you eating cookies and watching this like it’s a movie?!” Well, it kind of was. Equally good entertainment. We make it out of Chicago, listening to The Strumbellas again. We needed happy music to survive the mess of rush hour traffic. Charissa proclaims that she just got a life Victory Point for making it back and forth across five lanes of traffic. You can have that Victory Point, in fact, just have all ten and win the game.

Indiana. Seven tolls later. The Interstate.

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Michigan. Finally made it to our sleeping state. Found Van Buren State park, in traditional Potawatomi territory, just before 10pm. Happened to luck out a bump into the ranger on our way out who got us all set up and couldn’t believe that we had driven across six states, all the way from South Dakota, all in one day. Apparently this isn’t something people normally do. Set up the tent for the first time in the pitch black. Tried not to snap at each other too much after fourteen hours of driving. Thought we might luck out and have a warm beach morning to wake up to but half way through the night the storm caught up with us and pounded our tent with rain and thunder.Day Five:Woke up to more rain but decided to hit up Oval Beach on Lake Michigan anyway. We were the only ones crazy enough to brave it in the wind and rain, but we enjoyed a nice, albeit wet, walk along the beach. We dipped our toes into the icy Michigan waters, as churned up wavelets slapped the shore. After a good soaking we hit the road to head back into Canada. It was really nice to return to our own country. It definitely feels a little bit more like home, even if it’s still thousands of miles away.
Oval Beach, Lake Michigan

Oval Beach, Lake Michigan

We briefly hit up both the towns of Stratford, to grab some lunch at a cute little sandwich shop, and St. Jacobs, where we got to taste test some Southern Ontario maple syrup. So delicious. Driving through the back roads was definitely a nice change from the highways. We even passed by some Mennonite farms with traditional plow and horse, as well as black horse-drawn buggies along the side of the road. Once we were back on the highways, driving through the GTA was a little scary, not going to lie.  For a girl who has only ever driven on Vancouver Island, and learned how to drive on Salt Spring, this was a bit of a shock. Imagine a repeat of the swearing episode, but this time I got to play the starring role instead of Charissa.

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Hit Oakville, in traditional Mississauga territory, for dinner and arrived safely at my sister’s house. The warm welcome of family is always so lovely and appreciated. (Love you Terry!) Got to do some laundry, which was more exciting than it should have been. Charissa and I both loaded our clothes from the washing machine, into another washing machine, without noticing, in order to try and dry them. My sister pointed out that they likely would still be wet. We are clearly tired. Not sure why our parents are trusting us to handle driving thousands of miles when we don’t even remember how to do laundry (Love you parents!).Well – that’s a wrap for now. We hit the road bright and early tomorrow to head to Maine, and then on to Halifax! Talk soon. Much love to all of you.