the move west: day five: brandon manitoba to swift current saskatchewan

Greetings from the prairies!

Yesterday was a good day. I fell asleep super early the night before, had a great sleep, then another amazing breakfast, this one at Smitty's, next door to the hotel. Then we hopped in the car, put it in cruise control, and went back to the Donald Westlake book. In northern Ontario I couldn't listen to a book while driving, but in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, it's a breeze.

Allan and I both find the landscape fascinating. The highway is a straight black ribbon in the middle of a vast expanse of land, stretching to the horizon in all directions. The sky is huge. For long stretches of time, the only buildings you see are grain elevators, and the occasional clumps of trees planted as a windbreak around a farmhouse.

The fields are mostly covered in snow, although it doesn't seem deep. Sometimes on first impression, we couldn't tell if an area was a snow-covered field or a frozen lake, that's how flat everything is. It looks like we won't catch one of the legendary sunsets, but driving west on a cloudless day, I end up cursing at the sun.

While Allan was driving, I took care of some business: confirmed with our move-in help, checked in with the house agent, and fixed a motel reservation in Calgary.

Other than Dortmunder, the event of the day was a food search. A&Ws are very common out here, and seeing so many of them, I wanted to have a (for me) very rare fast-food lunch. Does Tim's or Subway count as fast-food? I eat those. But I don't eat McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, or KFC. But once a year or so, I give in to a craving and eat A&W, which is an improvement over the others. There was an A&W at a gas stop in Ye Olde Middle of Nowhere, but we weren't hungry yet. And then, nothing.

We passed billboards advertising the tunnels of Moose Jaw. The show sounds like a cheesy tourist trap, but the tunnels themselves sound strange and interesting. Allan likes anything underground, so we'll make a note of that for a future visit. But no A&Ws, and practically no rest stops on the road.

Around Regina we were getting really hungry, so I searched online for an A&W off but near the highway. We had plenty of time, and the driving is so easy here, we figured an extra 10 or 15 minutes won't hurt. So outside Regina somewhere, we took an exit, found the restaurant, ate, and got back on the road. And about 500 metres down the highway: a rest stop with an A&W.

Then more Dortmunder, to which I fell asleep and missed a chunk of story, then we pulled into Swift Current, meeting M at the Comfort Inn.

None of us felt like going out, so A and M went out to forage, and I relaxed with Diego. Last night we all hung out in our room, listening to music, drinking beer, wine, and vodka (I'll let you guess who was drinking what). They had picked up food for dinner, but apparently eating burgers and onion rings at 3:00 is enough dinner for me. Good to know.

A couple of days ago, I thought Diego might be a little depressed. It's understandable -- many dogs would be upset by long days of driving without much pay-off at the end, night after night in strange surroundings. (That's why we brought his bed and a crate.) But our happy boy can't stay down for long. Yesterday he came roaring back, thrilled to jump in the car, bouncing all over with happiness and affection.

Diego also might have been reacting to the general stress levels, now greatly reduced. Our final week in Mississauga was pretty stressful, and we brought that with us for the first couple of days of the trip. But we're much more relaxed now, and have the car-truck-hotel thing down to a science. Allan hates the daily loading and unloading -- there are a lot of bags going in and out -- but at least we know what we need, and it goes quickly every day.

Leading up to this trip, so many people -- both online and in person -- acted like we were insane to even attempt this drive in late November. I am not exaggerating: they acted like we were crazy daredevils, as if there are white-out conditions every day, that we would be risking our lives daily.

It's quite ridiculous. Even in the deepest winter, it doesn't snow every day, and after a big snow, the roads get cleared, and people go about their lives. All of Canada doesn't shut down from snowstorms every day.

We bought snow tires, we packed emergency gear, and I am checking weather and road conditions frequently. But we're driving on roads that thousands of people drive on, without incident, every day.

Allan and I have talked about this a lot, in many different contexts. I find Canadian culture values what I consider an excess of caution.

Today we head to Calgary, where SIL will join our little caravan. We're all very excited about that. The mountains await, and then we're almost there.


allan said...

We may have unloading down to a science, but science was never my best subject. Also, the stuff at the back of the truck - various boxes, the U-Haul hand-trucks, our old car tires, etc. needed to be taken out and repacked yesterday afternoon. Everything seems much more secure and logical now.

We drove 623.6 km yesterday, most of it on cruise at 125-130 km/hr while Dortmunder and his gang tried to get (finally, for real) The Hot Rock. That brings our mileage (kilometerage?) to an even 2,980.

Saskatchewan towns: Leader, Climax, Pennant, Success, Plato, Elbow, Superb, Drinkwater, Goodwater, Goodsoil, Killdeer, Smoking Tent, Findlater, Cutknife, Eyebrow, Carrot River, Revenue, Renown, Laura, and Allan. The last two are just south of Saskatoon, L to the west, A to the east.

I would have liked to head up there and steal some road signs (you can't take the young Vermont idiot out of the man), but it is a bit too far out of our way.

L is being kind with her comments about these scared-of-life Canadians. We have dealt with next-to-no snow in five days, just a bunch at the end of the second day. But we get that kind of snow in Mississauga too and those people are not trapped in their apartments when it happens. It's like people telling you NYC is superb dangerous when they have never been within 1,000 miles of the place - and you lived there for 18 years.

laura k said...

Laura is being kind

I try.

allan said...

NYC can be superbly dangerous, but I meant "super-dangerous".

Jim said...

Yes, and when you try to tell these folks it was no big deal, they'll respond with "you were just lucky".

Jay Farquharson said...

Some Canadians never travel much by road.

Some Canadians live for the road trip.

Sometimes its the almost disasters that make the story worth more than one beer,

Sometimes it’s a full on disaster that makes the news.

Stay safe and try the A&W Meatless Burger.

laura k said...

Meatless burger: will do!

I hate to say this, but I wonder if the GTA has a higher percentage of super cautious people than you'd find out west. Also, my co-workers, library workers, tend to be pretty cautious.

Jay Farquharson said...

It’s hard to say.

I had friends when I lived in YVR who had never been further east than Chilliwack by car, and no further west than the Airport.

I also had friends who rode bicycles to California with me, drove out to New Orleans on one epic long weekend and rode motorcycles out to the Rockies just for the twistie roads.

I think it’s mostly a parental thing. One of my first road trip memories was when I was 7. An epic 3 day road trip from Edmonton to Kamloops along the Athabaska highway in winter, while they were still building the road.

I suspect there’s also parents and road trip companions who ruined road trips for others.

And there is probably a rural/urban divide as well.

laura k said...

Yeah, I was six years old when my family road-tripped from New York to South Dakota. We traveled a lot as kids, and both my brother and I (although not our sister) love travel as adults.

My mother likes to say it's genetic -- from her mother, who traveled all over the world, first by steamship then later flying, to my mother, also a world traveler, to me and M. Allan gets it from me, although I'll know for sure how much he wants to travel and how much he just goes along for the ride.

I know what you mean about the almost disasters. Great travel stories come from the unexpected, not always the positive variety. To me the most important thing is to be open to experience -- and to do that, your curiosity and sense of adventure and craving for novelty must override caution, as if caution doesn't exist.

laura k said...

Jim is right, too -- the overly cautious people will think we were foolhardy and lucky.

laura k said...


Although I'll never know