While other families spent the Thanksgiving weekend seated at a table, my dad and I sat together in a car and drove 3,500 kilometres.
My grandparents on my father’s side were holding a family reunion in honour of both their birthdays and their 60th wedding anniversary in Edmonton during the Thanksgiving weekend.
In our complicated travel arrangement, my dad and I were going to drive to Edmonton from Toronto while my mom and brother flew out and, on the way back, my brother and dad would drive together.
Despite living away from home for eight months during the year, my dad and I clicked right back to our regular way. I like to think of my dad as a quirky, dark humoured scamp disguised as a corporate white guy.
As I’ve gotten older, our relationship has evolved from parent-child to being friends and it’s not every day you get to drive across the country with your friend.
DAY ONE: Toronto to Thunder Bay
At 6 a.m, we pulled out of the garage with my dad taking the first driving shift.
For the first 100 kilometers, it didn’t feel like a road trip quite yet. All the familiar roads were dark and with the scattered beginnings of morning traffic. My dad and I loaded up on caffeine and we hit the 407 westbound.
Turning onto the 400 north, my dad pointed at the traffic going eastbound. It felt like we were shooting past the cars basically parked on the highway.
Barrie, MacTier, Parry Sound: the more north we went, the more the city disappeared as the Canadian Shield took over.
My dad and I ogled at the trees and the scenery. The trees lining the highway looked like brush strokes of bright reds, oranges and yellows.
Whenever he gets the opportunity to talk about the trees in Ontario, my dad will chat your ear off. “You just can’t get trees like this anywhere else,” he kept repeating.
My dad was insistent I had to see the Big Nickel — a 9-meter-tall replica of a nickel in Sudbury. We pulled over beside a giant coin, took our selfie and went to find the closest Tim Horton’s.
I took over driving duties, coffee in hand and ready not to get into a car accident.
My dad reached into the back of the car and exclaimed, “I packed goodies!” He pulled forward this industrial sized bag of Babybel cheese.
Throughout the trip, my dad probably ate around 20 Babybels. I’ve never seen a grown man eat so much cheese.
As we passed through Sault Ste. Marie onto Lake Superior Provincial Park we passed a sign that read in big red letter, “NO GAS FOR 150 KILOMETRES”. It felt as if civilization had slipped away.
With Lake Superior as the backdrop, we were driving in a postcard. And not a cheap postcard either — like a $5 one that you’d buy at an upper class tourist site.
We pulled into White River — a small town with a population of 1,000 — and switched drivers. When I stumbled out, I didn’t realize how stiff I was from not moving.
The sky got darker as we headed further into what we felt was nowhere. We joked it would be too easy to drop off a dead body here.
Feeling spontaneous, we pulled over, still slightly in the middle of the road. I stumbled out of the car, still not used to using my legs and craned my head up. Everything was black except the white freckles scattered in the sky and the moon lit like an LED.
Nearing Thunder Bay, civilization began to reappear and we eventually made it to our hotel.
We had been on the road for almost 16 hours. My dad put the bag of cheese into the mini fridge and as soon as my head the pillow, I was asleep.
DAY TWO: Thunder Bay to Regina
We scarfed back a mediocre, complimentary breakfast and were on the road again at 6:30 a.m. I still haven’t seen Thunder Bay in actual daylight.
My dad drove about an hour and then I covered the next seven hours to Winnipeg. I was so tired that I tried slapping my face to see if it would wake me up. I wasn’t any more alert and my face stung.
We spoke about how we felt for the upcoming family reunion. My dad lives a much different life than his family, joking that he’s defected from a Western Christian background to live in Toronto as a Jew.
There’s something about the conversations you can have when you’re trapped in a car together.
As the service dropped in and out on our phones, we were surprised to see that our digital clocks ticked backward an hour. Did you know there was a time zone change somewhere after Thunder Bay? We didn’t.
The landscape was still as vibrant as the day before. Trees surrounded us from all sides and the road sloped up and down.
But the moment we crossed the Ontario border into Manitoba, everything that was beautiful to look at disappeared. The trees vanished and you could see the end of the province from the beginning.
Eating our Babybel cheese, we listened to satellite radio, flipping between CNN, “Fox and the Tom Petty channel” — an entire channel dedicated to just playing Tom Petty songs.
“See those buildings over there?” My dad pointed to the only buildings within sight. “That’s Winnipeg.” How does this city have a hockey team?
The moment we passed into Saskatchewan, snow began to pelt our car and the temperature had crept down to 0 degrees.
The whole trip blended into itself until we hit Regina. Looking around, I couldn’t see a building taller than three stories.
DAY THREE: Regina to Edmonton
I wish I could tell you that the drive became as a scenic as it was previously in Ontario. And that we saw breathtaking sites beyond our wildest imagination — but they don’t say the prairies are flat for nothing.
For the last 800 kilometres, the road was monotonously flat and it continued to snow until Saskatoon.
Nearing Alberta, I made a rookie mistake by finishing a litre of water from the gas station from earlier and my bladder could only be so strong. The only problem was that there wasn’t any civilization for kilometres.
But eventually a bit out of Maidstone, Saskatchewan, we pulled over and found a suspiciously deserted outhouse. I shone my phone flashlight down the hole to make sure I wasn’t disturbing anyone. There was a piece of paper stapled to the wall that said “Please remain seated for the whole performance.”
We were back in the car and we crossed into Alberta via Lloydminster — where the end of Saskatchewan was signalled by big red goal posts.
Powering through the last 100 kilometres, I thought to myself how weird it would be to not spend days in the car anymore.
The road and sky were equally open and my dad started to perk up at what was familiar from his childhood.
We pulled into our hotel in Edmonton and that was it — we had driven halfway across Canada.
I saw extended family I haven’t seen in years and even met some first cousins for the first time. But the time I spent with my dad was the highlight.
I recognize I’m unbelievably lucky to have the relationship that I have with my father. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to spend the time that I did with him — and I’m lucky to call him a friend.
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