Across Canada: The Wrap Up

It is bittersweet now that it is all over. While I look forward to clean showers and melting into a cuddle puddle with Bruno, I’m sad that years of dreaming about this trip are over. Of course, we have more adventures ahead, but we simply won’t get these years with the kids back.

Katie is especially impatient to get home. She misses her friends, her privacy and the comfort of her bedroom. But as she stands on the edge of starting high school, I want to tell her I know something she doesn’t understand yet. Once she takes that next step towards adulthood, everything changes. She will jump to test her wings, returning to us for safety and support as needed, before leaping away again. Tegan is not far behind; she is already so much older then her age. And I swear, Levi has grown three inches in only a month on the road. Must be all the fresh air and ice cream. This trip was so important for our family to take.

It was never about making it east at all, it was about making it there together.

Along the way we gained a whole new appreciation for this incredible country of ours and how we won the lottery of geography and history to be right here, right now. We were fortunate enough to have countless beautiful encounters with other Canadians along the way, with Newfoundlanders and Quebecois showing the greatest kindness, and Ontario drivers showing the greatest impatience.

I was also amazed at how safe I felt everywhere we travelled. Whether it was running alone or walking around late at night, we never once felt like our personal safety was threatened in the cities and towns we visited.

In contrast, we learned a lot about our dark history, and ongoing issues of race and injustice we continue to sort through as a country. So many of the historical landmarks we visited are riddled with the horrors of colonialism and deep rifts between the English, French and Indigenous peoples that were here first. On our way back through Winnipeg, we stopped at the Human Rights Museum to learn the moving accounts of Human Rights violations, and reparations we have undergone as a nation. A good reminder to remain humble, curious and willing to set aside our privilege to give equal voice and power to those that have been denied that in the past.

Apart from the people, what makes this country amazing, is the land. And there’s a lot of it. Vannessa barely scratched the surface when you consider the amount of wilderness that extends north, mostly uninhabited and loudly calling my name. And we’ve got a lotta trees. And rocks.

And soooo much water.

We stood in the Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans and swam in all five Great Lakes because that was Levi’s big goal for the trip. We even made it to Lake Michigan, which required an American detour on the way home but was definitely worth it.

We stopped at countless waterfalls; most notably the big flashy ones like Niagara and Montmorency.

And lots of rivers and lakes, also called ‘brooks’ and ‘ponds’ if you’re in Newfoundland, and I was so impressed at how easy it was to find water that was safe to drink everywhere we went. So many countries in the world do not have such accessible safe drinking water, and we have it in abundance here. Sounds like a resource worth protecting doesn’t it?

You know what else is worth protecting? Ice cream. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that we take our ice cream very seriously in this family. While the best ice cream award still goes to the Big Scoop in Waterton, AB, we found some close contenders in Percé, and St. John’s, and Winnipeg and Old Quebec City …ok we ate ice cream every day everywhere we went and who are we kidding, it was all good.

We even had an emergency ice cream binge in Cavendish where we had to eat two pints of melting ice cream after our freezer ran out of propane. What a hardship.

Ice cream soup. Still good.

Once and a while we introduced other foods into our diets, like poutine in Quebec, and fish and chips in Newfoundland, and bagels in Montreal, and Hard Rock Café in Niagara, and lobster, mussels and clams in PEI, scallops in New Brunswick, cheese and more cheese in Quebec, smoked meat sandwiches in Montreal, pizza from a vending machine in Ontario, pasties in Michigan and Halifax donairs in Halifax.

To wash it all down we made sure to drink wine from Niagara and Gaspe, Moosehead Radlers from Saint John, Iceberg beer from Newfoundland and ciders from Anapolis Valley. And some American wine on the way home just cause it’s so much cheaper and I wasn’t about to argue with that.

It’s kind of fun when you travel to pick out little goals along the way to give some purpose and structure to your ramblings, and so one of our goals became to find the parliament building in each province to get a picture. Thanks to spending a year in Europe, I just love old buildings, and it seems our parliament buildings are the closest thing we have to old buildings in Canada, so mission accomplished.

We found ‘em all.

We also found the ‘Welcome to” signs of every province except Prince Edward Island! Either it didn’t exist or we missed it while travelling across the bridge in the dark. So, I guess that mission isn’t over yet.

Levi started collecting the dog tags from the Xplorer program in the National Parks across the country and amassed 11 of them despite visiting a lot more National Parks then that. Our National Park system is incredible and having an annual pass more then paid for itself several times over. I highly recommend.

Our favourite? Going to Levi National Park and finding a tag that felt custom made for our little explorer.

You know what else we found? A lot of weird ‘big’ things. Ya know, like big apples, and geese and a dime, and a nickel and lobster and moose.

So. Many. Moose.

Plus, the highways are riddled with signs warning drivers to be cautious of moose while driving, with the moose on the signs in Newfoundland looking especially formidable.

Guess how many real moose we saw?

One. Just one.

Thankfully we saw lots of other real-life animals too. Caribou in Port-aux-Choix, deer EVERYWHERE and a mama black bear and her two cubs at Riding Mountain in an incident a little too close for comfort even for this trail runner.

We found lots of smaller creatures like a bobcat near Thunder Bay, red foxes in PEI, mink in Michigan, black fox with a white tail in Newfoundland, Mississauga rattle snake in Bruce Peninsula, skunks, beavers and so, so many racoons in Nova Scotia. Most of them dead on the side of the road, but one adorable family was alive and well and looking mischievous.

Herons, pelicans, common gannets, cormorants, yellow finches, wild turkeys, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, quirky puffins and of course so many angry Canadian geese mixed in with a few million squawking seagulls.

We got some glimpses of whales and porpoises but have to go back because Kirk is dying to see a whale breach and that didn’t happen on this trip.

Vannessa did amazing. Far better then we ever imagined a 1981 Chevy Van would ever do. Other then adjusting a few things along the way, lots of oil top ups and a new wheel bearing, she preformed flawlessy. I mean, her window leaks a bit and the furnace cover won’t stay on, but that’s ok.

Oh. And she’s a guzzler. But we decided early on we weren’t going to worry about addressing her drinking habits right now as she is still able to function at a high level despite her indulgences. Her next family can host an intervention if they want her to change. We just practice harm reduction and love her as she is. She lost four out of five of her top front light covers, a fender, some trim pieces, and a sewage hose, but
don’t worry, Karma sent us another one that Kirk actually fished out of a dump station.

That’s my man.

As I was writing that last paragraph, we heard a pop, and the sound of sprinkling glass while barreling along the flat roads of Saskatchewan. The top front window took a rock from the grain truck ahead of us, and shattered, raining glass all over the bed and onto Levi at his spot at the table. Spoke too soon.

Good thing we only had a few more hours to go. A piece of scrap melamine and some duct tape and we Red-Greened it good enough to get home. Phew.

To sum:
35 days

9 Provinces

14980km with Vannessa + 2750km with a rental SUV for a total of 17730 km.

(If we include our BC trip in April, our total is 10 provinces with an additional 2500km for a grand total of 20 230km, or half-way around the world.)

17 hours on three different ferries.

A 4 hour bus ride

5 people in 147 square feet.

More $ in fuel then we ever imagined with prices ranging from 1.25/L in Michigan to 2.10/L in Northern Ontario and Vannessa guzzling 24L/100km. We aren’t even going to bother with that calculation.

Countless bags of Spitz.

One long playlist.

One big country.

One pretty great family.

Across Canada: New Brunswick

Exploring New Brunswick actually happened in two parts. First, on the way to Prince Edward Island, and again after our return from Newfoundland. Which is fitting, since it felt like an in-between province anyway; not quite French, and not quite Maritimes, it has its own quiet charm and we enjoyed a few of the gems it has to offer.

But first, Vannessa needed some love. You know how it is with us middle-aged ladies, we’re tough as nails but we still require occasional maintenance. We were noticing a new sound that Kirk figured was the wheel bearing needing to be replaced. Some very helpful parts dealers and a few detours to parts stores along the north coast and we got the parts we needed. ‘Operation Wheel Bearing’ happened in Shediac, mostly because it was a good place for the kids and I to explore while Kirk got to work.

Lobster roll dinner and pictures with a giant lobster was enough to keep us entertained, while Kirk was entertained by a old local guy that saw him in the parking lot and stopped to keep him company (or maybe to supervise?), even coming back with water and an ice cream sandwich for him. Another example of maritime kindness we certainly appreciated.

Unfortunately, the strange sound persisted after the wheel bearing change, and even seemed to be getting worse. Kirk made the rounds with a tire iron and was horrified to realize that four out of five of the lug nuts on the back wheel were loose. Something he definitely checked before the trip started. Which means there is a good chance someone loosened them on us. We blame the racoons with their tiny opposable thumbs. I’m not sure what is scarier, the racoon theory or the more likely theory that a human lacking a conscious targeted Vannessa for some reason. Either way, we fixed it before calamity struck and were happily on our way. It takes more then a loose lug nut or two to shake us up.

New Brunswick is perhaps most famous for the high tides on the Bay of Fundy, where all the power of the ocean is funneled into a shallow bay, making for dramatic tide changes throughout the day. One of the best places to experience the changing tides is Hopewell Rocks, where unique rock formations are submerged, and exposed within each six-hour tide change, and you can walk on the ocean floor among the rocks at low tide, as long as you are mindful of how getting out quickly, so you aren’t trapped by the water that rises as fast a foot a minute. Squishy mud, hermit crabs, jellyfish and lotsa cool rocks made
this a fun place to play for the morning. Then picnic lunch, a nap and voila, back to the same viewpoint that looks completely different at high tide.

Low tide
Rising tide
High tide

A stop to explore Fundy National Park where we were hoping to swim at the outdoor pool near Alma, but a severe staff shortage meant they were operating at half capacity so the wait to get into the pool was far longer than Levi’s patience allowed. We hit pause on the province and crossed the Confederation Bridge to PEI .

A few weeks later, we were headed back to New Brunswick to finish the tour.

It was a hot day, so we took a long stop at Heather’s Beach, (which is actually in Nova Scotia), near Pugwash, where I saw ZERO pugs. I want pugs, and I want them getting baths. I’m very disappointed.

I miss my puppy 😢

Despite feeling so let down over the lack of dogs, we enjoyed playing in the red sand and walking out into the shallow water to perfect our new clam digging skills and find more hermit crabs. Tegan, the fish of the family, could spend all day in the sea and be perfectly happy. Is that why we say “Happy as a clam”?? She was definitely that.

Happy as a clam.

Turns out, there wasn’t wasn’t a whole lot more to do in New Brunswick. By the time we started heading west, it was hard to muster the enthusiasm for much else. The kids had even lost track of where we were. Tegan casually commented that it was so weird that there were so many New Brunswick licence plates all of a sudden. Erm… cause we are in New Brunswick maybe??

Into Saint John where Kirk remembers watching jet boats take tourists up the reversing falls in ’94 and being very impressed. However, after checking out what Wikipedia has declared is “The Worst Tourist Attraction in the World” we decided that what 13-year-old Kirk was actually impressed with was the jet boats, not the reversing falls. It’s a cool concept though, the outflow from the Saint John river competes with the inflow of the high rising tide and the water churns and reverses directions as the tide changes. Not worth the visit, but worth the laugh we had about. We will take a jet boat ride another day.

Our stop in Fredricton was also short lived when Tegan tried to jump a post and rolled her ankle instead.

But just when we thought we were done the New Brunswick, we made the excellent decision to pull over to see one of the covered bridges that the province is noted for. I’m sure it was haunted, but it made for some pretty pictures.

And some creepy ones.

New Brunswick makes some great potato chips and has excellent seafood and impressive fluctuating tides but other that we weren’t sure what else to explore.

One last goodbye to the Maritimes before heading inland for good.

Across Canada: Newfoundland

“Next available ferry is next week, July 31st”

“Um. Are you serious? How about the overnight ferry?”

“August 2nd. There’s always room for foot passengers though.”

There goes our dreams of driving Vannessa all the way to St. John’s.

We really didn’t do much pre-planning for this trip. But the one thing we did do, was look into the ferry to Newfoundland. I had checked the website repeatedly, and saw that advance reservations were not required, although were recommended. And every time I checked availability, it showed there was lots of space. Since we weren’t following a schedule and had no idea when we would be ready for the ferry, we decided to wait until we were a few days away before booking. However, thanks to a heartwarming campaign called “Come Home 2022” put on by the province of Newfoundland, unprecedented numbers of travellers were going back to their beloved island after two years of pandemic restrictions kept the Newfoundland diaspora away.

Great news for Newfoundlanders returning home.

Bad news for us and Vannessa.

The amount of problem solving (and cost) of navigating a massive province with three children, no vehicle and not great public transit felt overwhelming. At one point in Nova Scotia, we even gave up, accepting that we wouldn’t make it all the way east. But after a good sleep, some fresh resolve, and a lucky phone call to Enterprise as soon as they opened, we managed to snag what was likely the only rental vehicle left on the island. Unfortunately, it was in Deer Lake, a few hours from the ferry terminal, and only available for four days and there was still a whole lot of logistics to sort out to make it happen.
We booked the SUV and decided to go for it.

We picked up some duffel bags at Walmart, packed the bare minimum essentials, found a parking spot for our dear Vannessa (promised her we would be back) and set out on foot.

We felt a bit like the intrepid explorers of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to Antarctica, being forced to leave behind their beloved ship and venture into the unknown with survival their only goal. Except instead of lifeboats across the polar ice, we had a comfy ferry, followed by an SUV with AC and satellite radio. Regardless, our brave little explorers did a great job of rolling with the changes, even digging deep when travel felt pretty uncomfortable.

The ferry drops you in Port-aux-Basque, a sleepy harbour town with not a lot going on. However, the hearty souls that live there are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet. The lady at the front desk of our hotel offered us her vehicle for the week!

Instead, Kirk opted to take the arduous bus ride to Deer Lake while the kids and I loitered around the town, killing time like a couple of vagabonds. We wandered the streets, made friends with the staff at Tim Horton’s, found a purse that belonged to a woman that lived in Alberta and helped her reunite with it, shopped at Riff’s and had a contest at the grocery store to see who could find the weirdest local food.

Levi won when he came back with a giant jar of pickled wieners that had us laughing so hard I was worried we would drop it and get kicked out of the store. We ended up buying Purity’s Square Milk Lunch which are quite possibly the most blah food product you could imagine.

After an hour of playing at the only playground in town, Tegan said “Today was awesome, I forgot how amazing it is to just do nothing for a day.” I agree. I don’t remember the last time I just did nothing for the sake of killing time and how refreshing it was to know that there was nothing else I could (or should) be doing.

I also don’t remember when I last laughed so hard with my kids. Coincidence? Nope.

Kirk, on the other hand, did not have such a great day, covering all that ground just to come back to retrieve us with our new ride. But finally, we were off on the final stretch east.

Except first we went north.

I was on a mission to find caribou.

Throughout all my travels, and despite all my valiant efforts, I had never seen a caribou before. When I was 13, my family went to Aklavik, NWT to visit family, and we spent an entire day on snowmobiles and dog sleds (with the huskies riding in the dog sleds with us instead of pulling us!) looking for an elusive migratory herd that we never found. Then in Iceland we found domestic reindeer, which was pretty cool, but not the same. Then I missed out again when running Tonquin valley with zero caribou sightings. We had it on good authority that Port-aux-Choix was the place to go since they rarely left the peninsula. And sure enough, it was just as easy as that. They were waiting for me by the lighthouse, just chilling with their babies.

Bucket list item checked.

Back through Gros Morne National Park where we took in a few hikes to see some gorgeous views and explore one of the few places in the world where you can see the Earth’s Mantle, the layer of rock below the crust, that was pushed up and exposed during continental drift. The rock is toxic to plant life so the hills look naked and kinda orange thanks to oxidation of the iron in the rocks.

Like Trump on a beach vacation. You’re welcome.

We could’ve spent a lot more time there, but the northern peninsula is huge, and the clock was ticking so we kept heading east, taking the scenic route through cute fishing villages where the cod industry once thrived before the cod moratorium changed Newfoundland life forever.

Kirk and I often commented that Newfoundland reminded us of Iceland, and we were pretty excited to stop at rock in Elliston that was covered in Puffins, just like we had seen in Iceland. Same adorable birds, an ocean apart, this time with our kids to witness them too.

Finally, we arrived in St. John’s on a gorgeous summer evening. We walked through downtown, strolled Water Street and Jellybean row with the quirky colourful houses and found some pretty amazing ice cream thanks to a recommendation from my Newfoundland friend Jill. We definitely weren’t done with the city, but the sun was down and we had an early morning date with the sunrise.

(Have you ever tried getting a 15-year-old nightowl up for sunrise?)

Bleary eyed kids, cursing missed turns and racing east on winding roads before we made it to Cape Spear just as the sun peaked over the horizon at the most easterly point in North America. Could this moment get any more beautiful?

Just to make sure it was perfect, some whales decided to play close by while we watched. OK, now its perfect. Let’s just enjoy this moment. Its all roads west from here.

Travelling is funny like that, sometimes you work so hard to reach some arbitrary destination, stop, look around, and move on. The goal is to experience it simply because you haven’t before. Don’t get me wrong, making it to Cape Spear was incredible. But although that was our ‘goal’, it really wasn’t the purpose of the trip. The purpose of this trip was all the moments along the way to make this absolutely unforgettable. Whales, lighthouses and a sunrise was the bonus.

Kinda like the medal at the end of an ultra. The true value is in the journey that led you to the finish line, the medal just commemorates it all.

Speaking of running.

I was thankful to sneak in a quick run up Signal Hill to let these restless legs fly before another long journey back to our overnight ferry scheduled on the other side of the island.

A seven hour drive, with lots of construction delays and stops for food at busy, understaffed fast food joints, then a four hour bus ride to the ferry, then a seven hour ferry ride, ten minute walk and we were back at Vannessa, happy with our whirlwind tour of gorgeous Newfoundland that left us wanting more.

Hey Labrador, you must have some treasures waiting to be discovered? Seriously though, what is up there? (They have mountains!)
For now, we were just excited we made it all the way across this vast country of ours. What a strange feeling to be closer to Europe then to home, yet still in the same country.

So far from home. I guess this journey isn’t over yet.

Photo Dump!

Across Canada: Nova Scotia

I don’t want to rush this. I want to soak up every ounce of goodness and every fragment of time the universe will give us because I know this will all be over too soon.

Another maritime province to explore. This is going by too fast.

After leaving Prince Edward Island at night, we woke in a quiet town called Amherst, armed with a list of things to see in Nova Scotia. It was an incredibly windy day and poor Vannessa got a good workout by pushing headwind and navigating the narrow hilly roads down the north west coast of the province. When the tide is low on the Bay of Fundy, the banks of all the inlets turn to mud slicks that look like they would be so much fun to slip and slid down, and there are rafting companies that offer tours to go play in the mud. We were really tempted to try it out but cost and miserable wind were enough of a deterrent to opt out. Can’t do all the fun things can we?

Burntcoat Park was a good alternative to go explore the low rocks at low tide and wander into caves and over tidal pools that will be under 40 feet of water in a mere six hours.

Further along the coast we were into Anapolis Valley where most Nova Scotia’s produce is grown and is the site of early Acadian settlements. Unfortunately we just missed the last tour of Fort Anne, but we’re still able to wander around the grounds making up our own theories on what the fort was used for. I’m sure the canons and dry moats are only decorative and meant for us to climb all over them for pictures. No war, right? ✌🏻

While Kirk and I bought local cider, Levi ran down the street to scout out the nearest ice cream shop. The ice cream lady watched him for awhile, bemused by the little guy who was intently studying the posters of the insurance agent next door. She came outside and stood beside him and asked if he would like to buy some insurance. He looked at her with great offence and said ‘No’ and ran away while she looked on with a smile on her face.

Of course, we went back to the correct store to buy the ice cream and explained to Levi he may actually want to purchase some insurance one day. In the mean time, ice cream is better.

We felt like we won the lottery yet again when we left the coast to cross over the middle of Nova Scotia to camp at Kujimkujik National Park. The kids were drawn to the perfectly warm lake water next to our campsite, and spent hours splashing and laughing while playing with a big floating log. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are most fun, right?

We cooked up our bucket of clams we dug in PEI after a steep learning curve and a lot of interneting to figure out how to clean and cook fresh clams. I was a little sad to eat them cause we grew kinda attached to them after watching them spit and poke out of their shells all day. Although I don’t think they liked me cause one of them spit all over my face when I leaned in to tell them they were cute.

Our clam dinner was amazing and we ended the night by start gazing by the lake where the stars actually reflected over the glassy surface.

Can we just freeze time?

Up the pretty southeast coast of Nova Scotia we wandered the adorable fishing village of Lunenburg with the required tour of the BlueNose II. Villages like Lunenburg are straight off of postcards with the cute brightly painted houses right on the water and it’s pretty easy to spend a few hours just meandering up and down the hilly streets enjoying the views.

We stopped at a place called “The Ovens” to hike along the cliffs and see the sea caves as best we could from above. Deep tunnels go under the rocks into big caves that echo like canons as the waves ricochet inside. The hardest part about that stop was convincing Kirk he couldn’t go down inside the caves because he would definitely die.

The east coast fog rolled in as we neared Peggy’s Cove, another iconic harbour town with a beautiful lighthouse on the rocks. There were lots of people milling about, and we had fun playing on the rocks and exploring the town, I’m sure we ruined a few touristy photos with our rock hopping under the lighthouse.

Once we were into Halifax Kirk was on a mission to try a Halifax donair with its signature sweet sauce. Thankfully the kids also quiet liked them, which is always a win when we find something everyone can agree on.

Other then delicious donairs, we also found the lovely Halifax harbour once the fog burned off, and wandered all the way from the infamous Pier 21 to the HMCS Sackville before dragging our very reluctant children up the steep hill to see the Citadel, another star shaped Fort complete with more decorative canons and actors in period costume. As we entered through the thick stone wall gates, a light bulb went off for Tegan when she realized she had done a school project about the Fort and had found it on google earth. Look it up, it looks pretty cool from above!

Before heading to Newfoundland, we wanted to spend at least a day in Cape Breton, getting to know this unique island that feels like it should be its own province. It’s mix of Celtic and French and a whole lot of rugged beauty we really loved exploring. The best way to see the island is to drive the scenic Cabot trail, a 280km loop that had Vannessa working hard on the climbs and whooping with joy on the descents. The views were incredible and I made Kirk pinky promise we would come back one year in the fall when the trees were changing to road bike the loop. He’s in. Yay.

With plenty of stops at lookouts, summits, ice cream (of course) and the Alexander Graham Bell Site we jammed a lot into one day. I’m a big fan of Mr. Bell, did you know that he considers the telephone the least of his successes? His proudest accomplishment was his work with the deaf community and development of speech strategies to improve communication and integration into society. As the mother of a hearing impaired son and an employee at a school for children with communication delays I was ready to high five his ghost in appreciation. Phones are cool too, I guess.

The day was hot and we were ready for a late swim at the beautiful Ingonish beach, where the waves were perfect for body surfing. All three kids were in there having a great time until Kirk found and big ugly eel and that was enough for Katie to decide she was happiest on land (like I am!). We were quite content to listen to her eclectic playlist together and watch a bride and groom from Keltic Lodge get their pictures on the beach instead.

A sunset walk down Middle Head trail was the perfect way to solidify Cape Breton in our minds as a beautiful, rugged and likely a lil haunted treasure of the maritimes. We told ghost stories as we walked through the thick forest in the dark, back to the beach. We were all in desperate need of a cleaning so we rinsed off at the beach outdoor shower in the deserted parking lot under the cover of darkness. Which was fine, until a ghost walk tour group emerged from the trail nearby carrying lanterns through the trees.

Yeah, this place is definitely haunted.

Let’s try further East, see what it’s like. Newfoundland up next!

Photo dump!

Across Canada: Prince Edward Island

Life on the road has settled into its own comfortable rhythm with Van-nessa. The basics of survival are distilled down to finding groceries, water, sani-dump stations, showers, fuel, a place to park overnight. Sometimes we sleep under fluorescent lights and busy roads in Walmart parking lots, sometimes we get sunsets and starry nights at serene campsites. Our space is small, but we are perfecting the (sometimes impatient) dance to make our tiny home on wheels work. Sometimes the kids complain they want their space and the comforts of home, but mostly we are content with what we have.

I remind them: you can’t have a comfortable life AND an adventurous life all the time. Usually, it is a trade off.

And its worth it.
Living in a van is a good exercise in remaining fully present and only tending to what is happening right in front of you. Thankfully, Prince Edward Island is a pretty spectacular place to be fully present.

We crossed over the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island just as the last bit of sun was disappearing below the water. The bridge was under construction when both Kirk and I went to PEI in the 90’s, so this was new for everyone. At 12 km long and ranging from 40-60 meters above the water (which freezes in winter!) it is quite the engineering feat, that many islanders say irrevocably changed PEI culture.

Confederation Bridge

Sunday morning and we headed to Charlottetown to browse a flea market where Katie found all kinds of treasures she insisted enhanced her vibe. Whatever that means.

Then to Queen street for the Charlottetown farmers market and to wander around the beautiful harbour, complete with lots of treats and browsing for whatever caught our eye.
We were hoping for a picture of the parliament at the home of Confederation but it was entirely under construction so a picture in front of a picture was a quirky enough alternative. Does that enhance my vibe? I think so.

The island is super small. 280km long and as narrow as 6km in some places, so it didn’t take long to drive around most of it, stopping at picturesque lighthouses as we went. On the north side of the island is Prince Edward Island National Park, where we lucked out with another beach front campsite at Cavendish, played in the red sand and watched the sunset over the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

When Kirk travelled across Canada as a teen, they spent most of their time in PEI visiting relatives, many of whom still live there. Much to his mother’s dismay, we did not contact any of them to go visit on this trip. Kirk’s only memories of meeting them was feeling bored out of his mind with yet another cemetery visit and family BBQ, and desperately wanting to go to the beach. So, this time we made sure to maximize beach time by spending a hot afternoon at Cavendish beach between sand dunes and the surprisingly warm water, soaking up the sun.

We also made the stop at iconic home that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write Anne of Green Gables, which is, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of Canadian classics ever written. The house was adorable, and the “Haunted Woods”, “Lovers Lane” and “Babbling Brook” were equally quaint. Katie, an author herself, was astounded to learn that Kirk’s family is related through marriage to Lucy Maud Montgomery, a fact she has heard dozens of times before, but only sunk in once she was standing there, reading snippets of Lucy’s journal entries and her thoughts on being a writer. It is pretty incredible to think of how one character, one simple story has had such an impact on so many people and both captured and shaped Islander life so perfectly.

Of course we promptly bought tickets to see the musical production of Anne of Green Gables for the following night.

But first, seafood.
To New Glasgow Lobster Supper we went. A low-key lobster dinner place that Kirk recalls going to on their visit. For over twice the price of a lobster dinner in ’95, we each ordered a lobster that comes with all you can eat mussels, seafood chowder, hot dinner rolls, salad and dessert. I don’t get as excited about lobster as most people do, but I admit pretty delicious. Mussels on the other hand? I just don’t get it. I always try them and am disappointed every time. I can’t be the only one that thinks they taste like mud pate, am I?

We spent our last night in PEI at a campsite called Cumberland Cove upon the recommendation of my good friend Lori. It is a humble piece of grass along the shore, owned and operated by a cute old couple that were more then happy to show us treasures they found washed up on shore (a 3000-year-old arrowhead from England!) and gave us a bedazzled shell and sand dollars as mementos of our stay. It was getting late, but the tide was out, and we couldn’t resist another walk along the ocean floor. I sent some pictures to Lori and she wrote back “Aw that makes me so happy and so sad at the same time.” You see, Lori’s parents had a summer home a few houses down the dead-end red road opposite the campsite. Lori and her family loved to spend a few weeks in the summer playing on the same ocean floor, searching for
sea glass and jellyfish, and spending time with her parents. Not long after their last visit, Lori’s father passed away, rather unexpectedly. Her mom sold the house and they have never been back.

The people we love, the places we visit and the feelings they bring, braid together to create a memory. What happens when one of those strands unravel and the memory shifts? I guess that’s the fleeting and devastatingly beautiful thing about our experiences. What will we take away from our experiences on this trip? Is it the beaches of PEI, our uncontrollable laughter while we drew funny characters in the sand or the fact we were all there together as a family?
The ocean floor at Cumberland Cove felt a bit like sacred ground, knowing that it is so special to someone that I care about, even though the place meant nothing to me prior.

However, the next morning, we stamped our own memories on the ocean floor when we spent several hours digging for clams on the sandbar on a moody, rainy morning. New memories my kids will tell their future partners and bore their children with on new roadtrips in 25 years.

A bit more touring around to see some more beautiful lighthouses before we headed back to Charlottetown to catch Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, which was of course incredible. I cried when Matthew Cuthbert died. Just like I do every time. I think its because his character reminds me of my Grandpa who passed away several years ago. My memories of him are happy/sad all at the same time too. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Back over the long Confederation Bridge in the darkib. ‘Night PEI and thanks for the memories.

Across Canada: Québec- La Belle Province

Both Kirk and I know what it feels like to be a foreigner in an unfamiliar place. But other then some beachy trips to Mexico they barely remember, our kids haven’t had many
opportunities to experience travelling…like, real travelling. Where everything feels exciting simply
because it is different.

Beinvenue au Québec

As the signs switched to predominantly French when we crossed the border, I hoped that going into a place as unique as Québec would fuel their wanderlust the same way it did for me back in ’94.

I feel like Québec remains a bit of a mystery to us prairie folks. We mostly just feel frustrated over words like ‘transfer payments’ and the wave of Bloc Québecois seats in parliament that feel irrelevant to us, but I really don’t hear much else about the province. And we of course worried that we would not be well received with our clunky van and virtually non-existent French skills.

First stop was Montréal, where we headed straight to a bike rental shop to get fitted with bikes to tour the city and avoid the same traffic woes we had with the CN tower parking nightmare in Toronto. It was hot out and our time was limited because the rental place closed at 6, but we made a nice loop along the Lachine Canal to the St. Lawrence, stopping to watch people surfing on the rapids of the river. Who
knew urban surfing was a thing?
We strolled towards Old Montreal, finding poutine and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches to check that off the list, and then wandered past Notre-Dame Basillica. As we stood in the square in front of the cathedral, I watched the faces of my children to see if they were in awe of the depth of history and richness of story that old buildings hold, like Kirk and I were when we backpacked around Europe, hunting down big old cathedrals as we went.

Their pained faces said they were more hot and tired then architecturally inspired.

Ok Montreal, what else do you have to show us?

The sun set and the air cooled and we stumbled into the heart of Old Montreal where I could actually hear Katie gasp at the beauty of the moment.

Narrow cobblestone streets, lights and flowers strung overhead between ancient buildings, live music drifting through the air and people milling about with big smiles and summer dresses. The kind of feeling you wish you could capture in a bottle to pour out in front of you everywhere you went to make every street sing with the same beauty. It was a scene right out of a perfect Parisienne summer night, topped off with some decadent treats and shopping in adorable stores, practicing our French.

I’ll never forget the look on Levi’s face when he worked up the courage to try out ‘Merci Beaucoup’ with a vendor and they responded back and he understood. I want to expand horizons for my children to extend far beyond our comfortable life in Edmonton, and am
saddened we haven’t done that with a second language in our home. So far, none of them are excited about learning French; they blame boring French teachers for that, but I also wonder if we should have put more effort into encouraging a second language. Google translate will have to do I guess.

The next morning, I snuck out of Vannesa and set out for a run across Montreal to what the internet
claimed was the best bagel shop in town. I don’t normally like road running on busy city streets, but it sure is a great way to experience a city. My route took me past some beautiful old buildings, quaint neighbourhoods and McGill university before arriving at Fairmont Bagel where my family was waiting for me with a pretty tasty post run breakfast.

Onward to Québec City where we aimed straight to the heart and found parking below the Plains of Abraham. Canadian history came to life for the kids as we took a tour to see the recently discovered remains of the governors castle. Hearing names like Jacques Cartier, Samuel De Champlain, Wolfe and Montcalm instigated long explanations (mostly from Tegan) about the history lessons she remembered from school.

The hot day turned angry and exploded into a wicked summer storm while we were wandering through Chateau Frontenac, sending swarms of tourists running into the lobby for cover and sent us pushing against them to get out into the storm. Cause that is where memories are made. We got soaked, but we also got abandoned streets and were rewarded with a stunning double rainbow between historical buildings on the oh so adorable Rue Du Petit Champlain.

Good thing we aren’t made of sugar and melt in the rain. Although with the amount of ice cream we have been eating so far, we must be getting close to 100% sugar.

Upon the recommendation of our tour guide from the castle, we stopped in the fading light to see Montmorency Falls, and to see it lit up like Niagara was. And then of course we had to race up the 478 stairs to get back to the top.

Feeling the effects of too many cities, we were ready to explore the Gaspé Peninsula, a place neither of us had been, nor did we know much about, so we took our sweet time stopping at tide pools, lighthouses and a Fromagerie for some to-die-for cheese and still-hot-from-the-oven bread.

After a long day of driving, we stopped for the night at a beautiful campground at Forillon National Park and had enough time to get in some serious vert on a hike up to a watchtower for a sweeping view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Between the stairs the night before, and racing Levi up the steep sections, Levi was feeling
that burn in his calves for a couple days.

At the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, is an adorable touristy town called Percé, that is cute by its own
right, but it made famous thanks to Percé Rock and the nearby Île Bonaventure.

We weren’t as well prepared as we thought we were, and lucked out by catching the last boat for the day with only ten minutes to spare. It also meant that our time on the island was limited because they shut down the longer trails early in the day to make sure everyone gets on the last boat out of there. Much to Katie’s dismay, that meant we just had to hike fast if we wanted to see the whole island! Île Bonaventure used to by occupied by a few hearty families that survived by fishing and gardening as best they could. The
island has been abandoned since the 70’s but is now home to 150 000 squawking Common Gannets, covering the cliffs with their piles of poop for nests. Stinky. But pretty impressive to see that many birds (and their babies!) up close.

We got to snoop through the empty houses on the island, before heading back while a pair of harbour dolphins jumped near the boat.

That calls for another ice cream cone to celebrate such a great day, right? Maple dip, in case you were wondering.

Overall, we were so pleasantly surprised by our time in Québec. Sometimes, western Canadian
sentiment towards Québec is omission at best, or disparaging at worst. However, every single encounter we had with Québecois folks was positive. Not one person seemed bothered by our limited French skills and dilapidated Alberta van. Many even went out of their way to show us kindness and make us feel welcome.

I’d like to go back. Not just because there is a 100 mile race on the Gaspé Peninsula I have now added to my bucket list, but because it still feels like a vast province with a lot more to explore. Do you ever look at map, at all the empty space up north and wonder what is up there?

Ok, maybe I’m the only one.

And Kirk. He asks those kind of questions too. I guess that makes us a pretty good team doesn’t it? That will be a trip with an upgraded version of Vannessa and no kids in tow, sometime way in the hopefully not too distant future.

Photo Dump!

Across Canada: Ontario

Vannessa awoke in a field of flowers and wild strawberries somewhere near Kenora, in the Canadian Shield off an abandoned quarry road. She had never looked so majestic, fearlessly taking on long stretch of road heading east over Lake Superior and towards Toronto.

I got to run along the road for a few kms before Kirk set out after me to pick me up and continue on our way. It’s a ridiculously long drive across the western part of Ontario, with only the occasional small town amidst miles of lakes and trees. Unlike the prairies, it is not even farmable land. Its just wilderness. Luckily, we had no problem breaking up the trip to take advantage of all that wildness had to offer. Stops were frequent at Kakabeka Falls, digging for Amethysts near Thunder Bay and Agawa Pictographs where we were rewarded with a short, cliff side hike to find ancient drawings of mythical creatures and (equally terrifying) moose.

On another detour to Ouimet Canyon, we found sheer drop-off rock faces in a glacial carved canyon we of course had to scream into to hear the echo. Thankfully the only other people out there were good sports and were happy to be a part of our ridiculous sound experiment.

Of course, we had to pause in Thunder Bay to make my pilgrimage to the Terry Fox monument. Learning about what he did had a huge impact on me, even as a young kid. I just love that he decided to do something no one else was doing back then, and to do it for a good cause. He really paved the way for runners all across Canada to re-think what the human body is capable of, and helped lay the foundation for where the sport of ultra running is today. I admit, I got a little choked up.

Onwards for a night in Neys Provincial Park where we really lucked out and scored a campsite right on the beach of Lake Superior, catching a sunset over the unusually calm waters.

Before the trip, we asked the kids what their top bucket list item was. Levi said he wanted to swim in every Great Lake and I accepted the challenge for myself too. And you probably know that I am not a fan of water, so agreeing to his wish was definitely one of those things you do for your kids and not for yourself! After an early morning run, we did a polar plunge in Lake Superior to kick off the Great Lake Swim challenge, and I must admit, it felt pretty amazing.

The kids searched for egg shaped rocks at Stone Beach in Marathon while Kirk shared his memory of spending a day in the town while his dad fixed their van back in ’95. Kirk has been constantly monitoring Vannessa to make sure she is still doing ok with all these miles, adjusting a vacuum hose on the carburetor is about all that she has needed so far. No reliving that childhood memory, not today.

Not today.

We popped north to hit up Sudbury to relive one of my fond childhood memories of going to the Nickel mine and getting kitchy pictures with the giant nickel. Unfortunately, the tour into the mine only had four spaces left so Kirk and the kids went, but I was quite happy to fill my time with a sunny run along Ramsey Lake, making it back in time for a said picture.

My mom sent me the picture of my brother and I at the Nickel in ’94, and I was struck how memory shifts and changes with time. For some reason, I remember Sudbury, yet I don’t recall going on the boat under Niagara Falls. When Kirk went to Niagara, they did not go on the boat, rather they opted to walk behind the falls instead, an omission that has stuck in his memory for 27 years. Makes me wonder what our kids will remember about Ontario and this trip. Will they recall the expensive trip up the CN Tower at night or will they remember the absurd panorama pictures we took at the lookout near Agawa that had us laughing hysterically? Will their recollections of the drive be about looking out the window alternating between boredom and awe or has Youtube and their devices robbed them of the way we experienced road trips before the Internet?

From Sudbury we re-routed south again on the recommendation from a friend that the ferry to Manitoulin Island was well worth the trip. I concur.

Oddly, with the price of fuel, we likely saved money by choosing ferry fees over driving, and it gave us a nice change of pace to cruise over Lake Huron hanging off the ferry railings to feel the breeze instead of bouncing along in Vannessa and struggling with both hands to crank the window open if you want to feel the breeze.

All we knew about Bruce Peninsula was that there was some Grotto we needed to find, so after navigating a Parks Canada reservation nightmare that secured us a parking spot in a nearly empty parking lot (seriously, what was that all about?) we hiked down a trail following signs to ‘Grotto’ and hoping the effort paid off. Yep. It did. Turquoise waters, cliff jumping and swimming into caves for a couple hours had us all pretty elated with our choice. Tegan and Levi showed bravery they definitely get from Kirk and not me, by jumping off cliffs into the cold water below. I was happy enough to watch and climb the cliffs above.

Darkness chased us out of the park to a deserted town with no food options and we were starving and low on groceries. We found a vending machine that cooks and serves pizza in under three minutes that was both wildly delicious and entertaining. What a time to be alive.

While on a run the next morning, I found a snake on the road that was strangely still in the cool morning air. I REALLY wanted to poke him to see if he was alive. A quick google search rewarded my pre-frontal cortex override as I realized I had the privilege of stumbling upon the rare Mississauga Rattle snake, Ontario’s only venomous snake.

Look at me, dodging death yet again.

While the kids still slept in the back, we continued on to Sauble Beach to find warmer waters of Lake Huron for our next Great Lakes swim. Katie woke, all bleary eyed in the kind of adorable beach town she has only seen in cheaply made coming-of-age movies and asked if she was in a fever-dream because it was all so perfect. I assured her she was very much in reality and sang Hamilton to her to remind her how lucky she is to be alive right now. Sensing a theme?

Pretty lucky.

Our day ended with the required touristy visit to Niagara falls where we fulfilled Kirk’s missed childhood opportunity and took the boat right into the heart of Horseshoe falls to get soaked by the spray. We spend a lot of time chasing waterfalls on our many travel adventures and Niagara falls is definitely one of the most impressive I’ve seen, and yes the fancy promenades, gaudy Clifton Street and the dramatic light and firework show at night were cool, but we were feeling a little overwhelmed with the crowds. We got some great pictures, and then got ourselves out of there.

The next day, we back tracked to Port Dover to hit up another cute beach town, this time to swim Lake Erie. It was a hot weekend, and the beach had a party vibe going on which was fun while it lasted, but then it was time for boutique thrift store shopping and ice cream which was a page right out of Katie’s beach life fantasy.

We had booked tickets to go up the CN tower that evening and have given ourselves plenty of time to get there, which is a good thing because the 401 into Toronto is exactly as bad as reputation has it. Vannessa was brave, and Kirk is a phenomenal driver and together they navigated us to the heart of Toronto. The next adventure was finding a place to park, and our scheduled ticket time was quickly approaching. Vannessa circled, holding her own against the rude Toronto drivers, bumping high rise scaffolding with her wide mirrors until we found a lot that would take us…for a small fortune. But this was not the time to negotiate rates. The sun was going down and our elevator ride was ready to take us up. Our timing was impeccable, and we caught a gorgeous clear sky sunset and watched the lights of the city come out, staying until nearly everyone else left so we could enjoy the views without the crowds. Sure, the Toronto skyline is cool, but our favourite was when we spotted Vannessa tucked into her downtown lot, waiting patiently for us to return.

Another perfect night. Lucky us.

But we certainly couldn’t stay in the heart of Toronto overnight, so Vannessa (and Kirk) hauled our tired kids out of downtown and to the closest Walmart for a parking lot sleep. We ended up using parking lots instead of finding campgrounds or crown land quite a bit in Southern Ontario which worked out really well, again affirming we made the right choice by going with our darling Vannessa instead of camping. We put up with her furnace cover that falls off when we hit a bump and her fender that disintegrated when Kirk tried to screw it back on. We love her not despite her flaws, but because of them.

One more lake to go on this section of our trip, so we stopped in Kingston to visit the Gord Downie Memorial Pier, swim in Lake Ontario and throw a football around on the beach.

Ontario ended with an iconic visit to Parliament hill in Ottawa on a perfectly warm summer evening. Thankfully, no freedom convoy blocking our way, just some construction. We wandered around the grounds as the sun set and laughed as the kids tried to remember all they had learned in social about the government.

Turns out, not much.

However, every summer evening there is a light show projected on the Parliament building that does a great job covering some highlights of Canadian history. It was the perfect mix of entertaining and educational and had us all in goosebumps when the anthem played at the end. I was especially impressed with the attention paid to Indigenous groups, and the acknowledgment of genocide against them, with hope for reconciliation moving forward. It was a nice reminder that Canada is certainly not perfect, but there is still so much to love despite the many imperfections.

Kinda like Vannessa. Kinda like our family.

We wandered the locks of the Rideau Canal in the dark while the sounds of Alanis Morisette preforming at the Ottawa Blues Fest drifted through the summer air before setting our sights on La Belle Province ahead.

Pretty lucky to be alive right now, right?

Photo Dump ahead

Across Canada: Manitoba

Our first night in Manitoba, we stopped at some ungodly hour way past my bedtime at a trailhead parking lot off the side of the highway. The best thing about Vannessa is that we are completely self-sufficient when we need to be. Well stocked with food and water, a bathroom, kitchen and comfy beds, she is making this a pretty luxurious trip and so convenient for when we want to stop and sleep yet we find ourselves in the middle of rural Manitoba.

Our first stop was Winnipeg, another city we are pretty familiar with because when Kirk and I were first together we frequently drove there to visit friends. Weirdly, most of those trips were in the dead of winter for New Years Eve parties, so seeing Winnipeg all thawed out and green was a nice surprise. Of course, we played “One Great City” by the Weakerthans on repeat and educated our kids on the political climate of early 2000’s and the influence of the Canadian EMO scene. Katie rolled her eyes and asked if we could switch it back to Taylor Swift. When we ignored her, she put her headphones back in and that was the end of her lesson on Winnipeg.

Our original unplanned ‘plan’ was to head to Grand Beach for the day, and end at the Forks for the evening. However, the pouring rain had us asking friends and the internet for good alternatives. Of course, it was a Monday, and the Human Rights Museum was closed, so that wasn’t an option either, and the Forks is best experienced on a nice day when you can enjoy walking around outside. We snapped a soggy picture of the Legislature grounds but weren’t feeling too inspired by much else in the city.

However, the Canadian Mint sounded pretty cool, so we checked out a tour there and learned all kinds of interesting stories like the time they minted a giant $1 million coin and then one of the security guards stole it with the help of his two thieving brothers and a wheelbarrow. They caught them, but never found the coin, and it is now worth over $8 million in gold value alone. So, everyone keep an eye out for someone trying to make change with an unusually large coin and promptly report them to authorities. Or give them their change and turn around to make $8 million.

I don’t judge.

While impatiently waiting for my kids to buy trinkets in the gift shop (I am not into trinkets), I flipped open Facebook to see that our friends Jeff and Deanna from Vegreville (Vannessa’s hometown!) were hanging out in Winnipeg too and had time to kill before their flight so we arranged to meet at the famous BDI (Bridge Drive In) for some decadent ice cream which in my opinion is a way better way to waste your money then on trinkets. Trinkets get thrown in the garbadge but that much ice cream lives with you in your arteries for the rest of your life, solidifying those memories until you die.
What is it about being in another city that makes seeing someone from close to home more fun and
makes ice cream taste so much better?

With the rain still coming down heavy and the forecast shifting in the wrong direction to make for a beach day, we decided to put a pin in Manitoba and catch all the sights on the way back through.

Heading east out of Winnipeg was the first time this trip that things started to feel a little more unfamiliar. Leaving the prairies is a bit like leaving home, and felt like there was a lot of unknowns ahead of us.

Oh Hello Ontario.

Across Canada: Saskatchewan- Land of the Living Skies

Mountains are my siren song for adventure, but there is something about the big prairie skies of
Saskatchewan that feel like home. They also make me sing that Chicks song “Wide Open Spaces” at the top of my lungs while my kids yell at me to please stop with the country music.

When I was 14, I left my rural Alberta roots behind to go to a private school in Caronport, Saskatchewan, trading one not so great small-town influence for a healthier one a province away. I spent four years living in a dorm with my friends and going home only on holidays. I was the worst player on our soccer team, but it was where I first figured out that running wasn’t punishment, it was freedom. I distinctly remember the moment I looked down at my legs, somewhere on a flat gravel road without a soul in sight, and thought how good it felt to just run. The prairies were where I figured out so much about who I am, and although a lot of that feels unfamiliar to me now, those were formative years. So when we rolled Van-nessa across the border I knew we were in for the kind of subtle beauty only prairie kids seem to understand.

Our stop in Saskatoon was more practical then touristy, Costco, fuel, laptop chargers with 12Volt adapters (cause it never occurred to me I would need that) and a couple hours at a Starbucks with the Wifi I needed to finish a paper for school. So far, no one else was impressed with this province.
There was some excitement however as we made the first turn out of Costco and our newly purchased Shepherds Pie came flying out the fridge and splayed upside down across the floor. Side note: RV fridges come with locks. We know this now.

By early evening we pulled into Buffalo Pound Provincial park where we were treated to a stunning sunset and an onslaught of ticks that left us all a little rattled until we learned the chances of them giving us Lyme disease was pretty slim. Lucky for me, the park has several km of perfectly flowy single track with surprising amounts of elevation up and down the valley, so I snuck out early for a run and came
back pretty happy, and of course covered in ticks. Erm….gross.

And then things got flat and desolate.

Wide open spaces.

My family indulged my walk down memory lane with a detour to Caronport to wander around, peaking into the windows of the pottery studio that looks exactly as I left it 22 years ago, and wondering why everything suddenly seemed so much smaller then I remembered it. I totally pulled that old person stunt of sharing memories that no one else cares about but that you must tell because they are bursting out of you. The tolerated me only because we bought ice cream before heading back on the road through Moose Jaw where Kirk ran a stop sign and had to slam on the breaks, testing Vannessa to her limits and sending Katie sprawling. She’s a beast that can stop on a dime, its just not very pretty when she does.

Shepherds Pie remained in the fridge that time. Thank you for asking.

More stories of my youth as we went through Moose Jaw and Regina to see the beautiful Legislature Grounds and Wascana Lake.

Back onto Highway 16 where southeastern Saskatchewan stretched out forever in front of us with only some wind turbines and lonely trees to interrupt.

Then two lonely figures appeared on the horizon. The ultra running community is pretty small, so I think it’s safe to call Dave a friend, but really he’s an ultra running icon and one of the reasons I decided to run Sinister 7 100 miler in 2019. My first time going to Sinister in 2015, I watched Dave Proctor finish the 100-miler setting a course record and crushing a beer right after. I was shocked that anyone could do that, much less that anyone could look so calm while doing so. That was when I decided I wanted to do that too.

This summer, Dave is going for the record for the fastest time running across Canada. He runs 107km a day and plans to finish in 67 days. I knew that he would be somewhere in Saskatchewan and that there was a chance we would cross paths, but we definitely didn’t plan for this encounter. As soon as I saw him and his pacer Mike, I threw my run clothes on and begged Kirk to turn around to drop me off to run
with them for a bit. I hopped out on the side of the highway and ran to meet them, trying to keep my fan-girl gushing to a minimum. He shared some stories of the road with me as semi’s roared past uncomfortably close. Thankfully the shoulders there were wide, but he said there were places out east where the shoulders were brutal to run on, and likely caused him to have a broken pinky toe. I know you should never meet your heros, but hanging out with Dave was anything but disappointing. His humility
and strength are inspiring. Still calm like the first time I saw him race, but now with a sort of wisdom you can only find 50 days into a 67 day long run. We came up to Vannessa within 4km and he paused for a quick picture with the kids on the side of the road, before continuing on for his last few kms for the day.

My kids are pretty used to hearing stories of crazy ultrarunners (including ANOTHER friend of mine, also named Dave who got the record for running a half marathon with 70 t-shirts on!) so I’m not sure they understand the significance of that encounter. Maybe one day it will sink in.

We were treated to another perfect prairie sunset as we posed in front of the welcome to Saskatchewan sign where we got to experience the “Land of the Living Skies” in all its glory. Then we continued on the flattest back country roads you have every seen, taking the scenic route into Manitoba as the sky grew dark behind us.

Schultz’s Cross Canada: B.C., Alberta and getting Van-nessa ready

It was the 90’s. Two awkward teens travelling east with their families. One named Kirk, in a Chevy van with a bed in the back, on a mission to get to Prince Edward Island to see family in 1995. One named Janelle, in a navy-blue Chevy Celebrity with camping gear jammed in every corner, on a mission to find the Atlantic in 1994.

Ok, so you probably really don’t care about our worn-out childhood stories of family vacations, but I share that tidbit to say that both Kirk and I really wanted to take our kids on a similar adventure now that they were at the perfect age for travelling. I remember that trip as one of the last big adventures we went on all together. After that summer, my travels were mostly with friends, or backpacking trips with my dad and brother that my mom opted out of. By 16 I was in Ecuador, then working summer camps, and by 18, I was off travelling Europe which is where I met Kirk. Summer of ’94/’95 Cross Canada was a defining trip for both Kirk and I so it felt symbolic to re-create that with our own family.

This trip was planned for 2020, then 2021, and although we made the most of those summers with local trips and lots of mountain time, we were sickened to watch our window of opportunity quickly narrowing thanks to a pandemic far outside our control. Our babies are growing up too fast. Katie is 15, which means that her subsequent summers will be filled with her own friends, jobs, and travel stories that won’t involve her parents as much. Already she is balking at many of the things we do together. So, with restrictions completely gone and our collective return to happier days, we jumped at the chance to make the Schultz Family Cross Canada Road Trip become a reality.

Our trip sort of started this April when we put our feet in the Pacific Ocean on Kitscoty beach while on a trip to Vancouver for Diez Vista 50k. We drove there in our truck with the bikes on the back and stayed in an Air Bnb.

We knew that hotel stays are outside our budget for the eastern part of our journey, and our preferred option to camp felt like a logistical nightmare, (not to mention the agony of a month of crappy tent sleeping). With a goal departure date of July 1st, that left us with 3 months to come up with a plan for how we were going to get to the Atlantic. We looked into truck rooftop tents, Thule for our Jeep, pulling a trailer, but nothing felt right.  After a few days going down the Kijiji rabbit hole, we found Harry from Vegreville and his 1981 Chevy Class ‘C’ van. For a steal of a price and a lot of vision for her potential, we named our new RV ‘Classy Van-nessa’ and set about making her our new home.

It was a team effort, but who are we kidding it was mostly Kirk. Finding time in our already busy June proved to be difficult but by some miracle we managed to turn her into a stunningly gorgeous home on wheels with fresh paint, new flooring, new hardware, re-upholstered cushions (thanks to my mom), some seat covers and the finishing decorative touches by Katie and Tegan. I really don’t know how we did it, but after a frantic day of packing, we were on the road by about 8pm on July 1st with no plan other then to head east.

We were definitely wondering if we were doing the right thing. Gas prices are astronomical, and Van-Nessa is a thirsty girl, and we don’t even know how reliable she is. Kirk didn’t feel he had enough time to do as much of the maintenance work he would have liked to do to ensure she was running at her potential. And of course the usual anxieties about all the ‘what if’s’ that could go wrong, my biggest concern being that we may never see my sweet puppy Bruno again. He’s getting pretty old and his stress tolerance is low. Although he thought he should come with us, there is no way it would work to take him along. It kills me to know his time with us is limited, but we knew that he would be well cared for by Kirk’s mom. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that there will never be a perfect time. Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities and do it. Do it now, do it now, do it now. We won’t get these days back.

As we drove away that first night, hungry, a little disorganized but so happy to finally be on the road, I settled in to enjoy that sense of wonder to embrace the unknown. We only went as far as Wainwright, AB where we parked in front of Kirk’s sister’s house to surprise her. After finishing up a few of the reno projects like hanging miniblinds at 11 pm so we didn’t put on a show for her neighbours, we grabbed snacks from our well stocked cupboards and went out onto the street in the cool summer night to watch the Canada Day fireworks set off from the base. I knew the kids were tired, God knows I was too, yet there they were, dancing in the street, laughing and antagonizing each other as siblings do. Time to let go of the busy-ness and the demands. Time to dance and laugh.

Ah. Yes. This. This is why. This is worth it. We won’t get this back, but we sure hope for a lot more to come.  

The next morning, I snuck out for a run around the army base, had a quick coffee with Sarena, and then we were on the road again, Saskatchewan in our sights. Stay tuned…