Saturday, 30 June 2018

Canada Day - and it's a scorcher!

I don’t like the heat – never have and I never will. There’s something about sweating to the point of throwing up that just doesn’t appeal to me. Air conditioning is a relief but far from a permanent one. At least in the ice, snow and howling winds of winter one can always bundle up and take refuge indoors.

So many years ago as we drove through the mountains on our way to Glacier National Park in Montana on the hot US 4th of July long weekend I was quite pleased when it started to snow as we made our way through a high altitude pass. Others pulled onto the shoulder of the road, stopped and stared in incredulous disbelief. Snow! In July! Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Cruisin' Into Summer

    A Toronto Harbour cruise, on a tall ship, at sunset is about as good as a pre-summer evening can get. It was a clear night and the temperature was perfect around 20 degrees C. It was even a bit cool on the water but that was a plus in my book. Built in Germany and launched in 1930 the Kajama is a three masted, gaff-rigged schooner with a passenger capacity of 225 but there were only about 50 last night. As we set sail into the harbour the lines were manned and the sails risen (you can help if you wish) then the gentle breeze off Lake Ontario set the scene of serenity for our hour and a half cruise.
    The Toronto skyline is second to no one when it comes to pleasing beauty and the only way to see it is from the water. The atmosphere onboard at sunset was perfect. Drinks are available, the retro music plays and everyone was in a festive mood. If you enjoy watching airplanes take off and land the ship passes the Billy Bishop Island Airport very closely. What a perfect way to spend times with friends, relax and enjoy the tranquility and charm of the Toronto waterfront.
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Monday, 21 May 2018

Happy Victoria Day

    Following her death in 1901, Queen Victoria’s birthday was celebrated on her actual birthday, May 24. That remained so until the early fifties when it was changed to the first Monday preceding May 25. Seems to me they did something similar with the first day of each season. It used to always be on the 21st of the respective month and now it isn’t. This is a conspiracy to further confuse us as we age isn’t it?

      We never travelled over the Victoria Day long weekend but if fireworks are the common connection then the 4th of July marks a similar celebration south of the border. I remember a western US trip that took us through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 1994.

      We had been driving for nearly a week so we selected a place to stay for a couple of days. We knew nothing of the area but needed to recharge before continuing our journey. Located in the Panhandle, along the eastern boundary of Washington State, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is the state’s second largest city. It was there on the north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene that we decided to take our rest. It was a wonderful choice because, as this internet photo illustrates, we were able to relax and enjoy the fireworks over the lake in the evening.


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Saturday, 28 April 2018

Countdown to Tuktoyaktuk - 4 months

    My new self-published book LABRADOR – A Great Canadian Road Trip will be in print next month. That has me thinking about this year’s upcoming summer/fall adventure. The Dempster Highway wilderness route through Yukon and Northwest Territories is 742 kilometres of gravel and crushed stone. That gets you to Inuvik. From there the 138 kilometre road to Tuktoyaktuk is more of the same but maybe not quite as scenic. That’s a total of 880 kilometres of gravel road – one way! We’ll have to return via the same roads, there are no others. Makes Labrador sound like a thoroughfare. At least this time it will be in a rental.

    Services are limited to non-existent, approximately 400 to 600 kilometres apart. As we learned in Labrador, road conditions can also vary dramatically from day to day. Rain, wind, vehicle travel, grading work, all can affect how passable the road may be. The journey promises remote regions cutting through two rugged mountain ranges, miles of stunted spruce and alder forests, elevated reaches of tundra and the flat aspen covered Mackenzie River delta. There should also be ample wildlife; bear, wolves, caribou. If our track record remains intact I expect to see none of those.
    I won’t comment on it here – I’ll just wait to see how many people ask me “Why the hell do you want to go there?!”

Tombstone Mountains, Dempster Highway – from our 2003 trip
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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Dempster Highway

    In 2003 Karen and I travelled with our sons Gavin and Adam to the Yukon. It was the final holiday we had with them after 20 years of wonderful road trips. We knew then that gave the Yukon exceptional status as a destination and that some day we would return.

      Despite the associated Gold Rush lore it was the Dempster Highway that stuck in my mind. We ventured out on it in ’03 but only for a day trip and we only managed about 80 kilometres north of the junction to the Tombstone Mountains. We didn’t have time to get to the Northwest Territories.

      Initially a 740 kilometre bucket list gravel road journey from Dawson City to Inuvik, the Dempster Highway has now been extended (as of November 2017) an additional 140 kilometres providing year-round access to Tuktoyaktuk via the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

      Tuktoyaktuk is the farthest point north one can drive in Canada on an uninterrupted permanent road. Therefore, I want to drive there because I can. In a lot of ways that is the essence of a great road trip – because it’s there!

      The photo I took in 2003 highlights the loneliness and wilderness. After the joy and serenity we found on the Trans-Labrador Highway last year we’re all set to undertake the journey to Tuktoyaktuk at the end of August this year. Nearly 1800 kilometres of gravel road; here we go again – but this time in a rental.

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Tuesday, 30 January 2018

A Wonderful Niagara Weekend

    The Harbour House Hotel in Niagara-On-The-Lake (NOTL) is quiet and comfortable and the ambiance grabs hold of you the moment you step inside. The brick exterior trimmed with white welcomed us on a glorious winter Sunday afternoon. The snow and sub-zero temperature only added to the thankful feeling of arriving to a fire blazing in the large fireplace in the lobby making our arrival feel like a warm hug.

      As we entered our room there was some natural light filtering through the shuttered bay window, accented by the bedside lighting and soft music playing. What a greeting! A king bed, window seat and a fireplace made the room. Unbeknownst to me the lamp behind the wicker chair by the fireplace was a trap. As I moved the chair later the lamp crashed to the floor in 3 pieces. I’m pretty sure this fall did not cause that – someone broke it and set it back up in hopes of escaping.
      NOTL is known for wine and fine cuisine and that is the reason most people were there. In our case it was not the reason. We were checking out restaurants to see if we might have to sell the car or something to finance dinner. It didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be eating in this town any time soon. Except for the Sunset Grille at about $15 a meal there was little to offer under $35 per meal and that did not include any wine, appetizers, dessert, coffee, plates or silverware.

      We were here for the weekend to see the Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, a yearly display of Christmas-oriented lights in the parks bordering the falls. The Niagara Parkway connects NOTL and Niagara Falls. It’s about a 20 minute drive from one town to the other but is scenic all the way passing through Queenston Heights at the mid-point. The road travels alongside the Niagara River and Gorge.

      Located on the Niagara River where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls is the collective term given to the Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls which straddle the international border between Canada (Ontario) and The USA (New York State). Many consider it to be one of the Wonders of the World though it technically is not. It is considered one of the Natural Wonders of the World. Semantics aside, it is usually insanely crowded with visitors arriving by the busload to see the falls. However, this was the off season and it was benign, actually enjoyable, especially at night. In winter the falls are a delight if for no other reason than there are not tens of thousands of people standing around gawking at them.
      We managed to find a $5 parking lot at the top of Clifton Hill then we cautiously made our way through the dinosaurs and walked unencumbered down the hill through the frigid night air. To say the lights in the park were enchanting would be a huge understatement. This is why we came so we wanted to be sure to take in as much of it as we could. The Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights is now a tradition drawing visitors from around the globe. Luckily we missed the brunt of that onslaught but the two million lights displayed along the parks and roads are not to be missed.
      We returned to our oasis in the seemingly affluent atmosphere of NOTL around 9PM. As suspected all spots in the underground parking were now taken – hey, some bastard stole my spot! I parked in the snow in the lot just outside the garage. Why should this be any different than at home? I did try to squeeze into a spot that was likely designed for a large bicycle. I could have got the SUV in but we wouldn’t have been able to get out of the vehicle and we wouldn’t have any mirrors intact so I abandoned that effort. On our way past Reception we begged a couple more welcome cookies then fittingly finished our evening drinking our Twist of Fate wine and watching Friends reruns on TV. That’s what holidays and road trips are all about.

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Thursday, 28 December 2017

On To '18

    It’s been a great year for me and as the list of safe travel destinations grows ever shorter I take solace in the fact I am fortunate to be a Canadian. Not that we are immune by any means to the insanity that plagues the world today but we have an incredible array of scenery and culture at our fingertips in our own country.

    If you’re retired and find you have time on your hands remember this: no road trip is too long. Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories and all but Nunavut can be reached by motor vehicle. A cross country trip will open your eyes and your heart to the many wonders Canada has to offer.

    So don’t delay, hit the road today. Happy and safe travels to all for 2018.

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