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The Terrible Trip to Edmonton

July 9 - Pre-trip reflection
July 10 - The waiting game
July 11 - Departure, NS, NB and QUE
July 12 - Endless Ontario
July 13 - Ontario ends, Manitoba and straight through to Alberta
July 20 - Settling

The following are entries in a notebook I picked up for the trip to Alberta.

Traveler’s Log - July 9, 1998.
     I thought it would be nice to try again at recording my thoughts, since tomorrow begins the longest trip of my life so far, and this summer has encompassed some very significant changes in my life. Let’s see … chronologically, I endured a strike at Dalhousie University, participating in demonstrations in support of our professors; I finished my undergraduate thesis, which was my most stressful undertaking to date; I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (First Class Honours) from Dalhousie; I moved out of my apartment of two years; I married Pam (and I plan to spend lots of happy years at this endeavor); I parted (hopefully temporarily) with my wonderful friends from Dal, and I parted with my parents; and tomorrow I depart with Pam on a voyage across Canada to Edmonton and the University of Alberta, where I’ll begin my Ph.D. What then? Who can read the future?

Traveler’s Log - July 10, 1998.
     Well, all there is now to do is wait. Everything is packed in bags and boxes. We just need to pack it all into the van. We’ve already packed a two-foot-tall 4 by 8 foot trailer. I have no idea if the rest will fit. I may have to drive all the way to Edmonton with a box of plants and a kitchen chair on my lap, but I guess we’ll find out soon.

Traveler’s Log - July 11, 1998.
     Well, it is just barely 6 a.m. on our first day of travel in the monster van. We left last night from Little Anse at 11 p.m., and we’ve been on the road since then. We have not, however, spent all of that time driving. Butch, our chauffeur, has the odd nocturnal habit of stopping to take short snoozes. Our schedule was something like 45 minutes on the road, and 15 minutes on the side, for the latter portion of the night. Well, the weather is foggy and wet, it is still a bit dark and the New Brunswick roads are bumpy, so I’ll leave writing to a more suitable time.

*   *   *
A sign for inside our new abode:
If you want to light up,
Give it a whirl,
But please pass through the doors
Afore you let your smoke curl.
*   *   *

Traveler’s Log - July 12, 1998.
     It’s 7:25 local time (8:25 Atlantic time) and we’ve been back on the road for about 15 minutes. Bumpy road. The rest of yesterday was quite eventful. About half an hour outside of North Bay, Ontario, we blew a tire on the van. I was driving, and we were hurtling down a hill, when the van suddenly started shaking and sliding back and forth. We carefully pulled off the road, and found a smoking and destroyed tire. Taking off the trailer to jack up the back of the van, we changed the tire. Unfortunately, the spare tire was not optimum (are they ever?). It needed air, and the funny thing is that just after we stopped, and were in the process of taking off the destroyed tire, a fellow appeared who asked if we needed air. At that point, we had all confidence that the spare would be fine, so we thanked him and said no.
     This guy is worth mention in his own right. He was driving a beat-up car and was accompanied by a very young girl and a German Shepherd. He was towing a second beat-up car, which he had packed to the gills. The guy appeared to be using the car as a trailer.
     So we managed to change the tire, and there was enough air in the spare so that we could limp to the first gas station. Nobody wanted to fix the tire that late at night, but they were happy to supply air.
     We looked for a motel in North Bay, but found nothing. It was my impression, then, that we would go again straight through the night, but fortunately we found a cheap place just outside of Sudbury. How nice it was to shower and sleep in a bed. These van seats may be big, but they certainly get cramped. Now, we are fresh and back on the road for another day.

Traveler’s Log - July 13, 1998.
     The excitement never ceases! The rest of yesterday was uneventful. It was the night which will be difficult to forget. I catch sleep at such odd times that it is difficult to tell which event belonged to which day.
 So we were travelling toward Dryden, Ontario after midnight last night. We were driving on narrow roads down and down and down. Flashes of lightning lit the sky. It was foggy and drizzly. Then the fog cleared, leaving a bright moon and occasional pockets of mist. I started to drive at around two. Down and down, past barreling trucks. In Butch’s terms, I crawled.
     I made it past the descent and into Dryden. Butch offered to take over again, but I was ok, so I refused. I shouldn’t have. I wanted to cross the Manitoba border. No such luck. I got as far as 10 minutes out of Dryden when the van felt funny again. The trailer was skidding back and forth. The now-familiar “you’ve got a flat, pull over” issued from the back. I did, but not before sparks flew from the trailer. Butch and I got out of the van to look at the damage. We discovered no tire at all, and no rim and no hub. The axle had broken off right at the wheel and half of the plate had been scraped away when we skidded.
     The mosquitoes were terrible! Dozens flew in the van when we got out. We spent a fair amount of time searching up and down the ditch for the tire. No luck. Finally, we unhitched the trailer and headed back to Dryden with the hopes of finding someone who could help us replace the axle in the morning. Some family strife ensued, and Melissa (Butch’s daughter) was relegated to a motel, accompanied by Sue and Tyler. Pam, Butch and I drove back to sleep in the van beside the trailer. I hardly slept; caught myself snoring once. Trucks, and even cars, as they sped by the van, sucked it toward the road and it felt like it would turn over. Every vehicle (except for motorcycles) made the van shake. Butch was up by five (local), looking for the tire. Pam actually slept. Butch found the tire by six. The rod that had held the hub to the axle was twisted off. At seven, we drove back to Dryden to see who could help us.
     The junk yard guy wasn’t helpful. Getting past his German Shepherd was difficult enough. The welding place to which he sent us seemed willing to help. They would build a new axle with new tires, etc. for $450. No way!
     So, we rented a U-Haul trailer, repacked all our stuff in it, and were on our way. Good bye Dryden! Good riddance!
     We had to twist Butch’s arm to get him to stop for brunch in Kenora, the last major town before Manitoba. I’m so glad we did. It was beautiful! It was a small city, built right next to a beautiful lake. We had an unsatisfying meal at Boston Pizza, we sent our post cards, and I bought a lock for the U-Haul. We left Kenora, and Sue drove after a while.
     She crossed the Manitoba border while I slept. The underside of our microwave got singed, as well as three layers of rug, by a cigarette butt which flew back in the window. We could smell something like burning wood. We kept looking for a saw mill. Finally, we stopped, and discovered that the odor came from burning cardboard. At the same stop, Pam and I discovered gophers for the first time. They’re smaller than I thought.
     Now, we are definitely in the prairie, just passed Winnipeg, heading to Brandon. “Flat” doesn’t begin to explain it. Once again, looking forward to Edmonton.

Settler’s Log - July 20, 1998.
     Let us hope that my recent poor attendance to this journal is less a sign of the future than an indication of the present pandemonium.
     From Manitoba, we kept on driving, with only a few short stops. We drove through Monday night. Driving at night through the prairies is an amazing experience for a Maritimer. My only experience with vast flat areas is the open ocean. The highway on the prairie is slightly elevated above the rest of the ground, so, at night, when I couldn’t see my solid surroundings, I felt as if I was driving along an endless bridge over the open ocean. This illusion was accentuated when I actually did pass small bodies of water because, although I couldn’t see their edges, I could see light from the full moon and distant towns reflected in them.
     So, late Tuesday morning, we arrived in Calgary, where Butch dropped off Sue, Tyler and Melissa. We stayed for an hour or so, then continued to Edmonton, a 3 hr. duration. Butch’s wife accompanied us. I expect they wanted some time alone to discuss the future of their marriage, since neither seemed ready to pick up and move to the other’s province.
     Once in Edmonton, we drove to Ron’s (my step-mother’s ex-husband), emptied the van of our stuff and dropped the U-Haul trailer in his back yard. Then it was time to pay Butch for the trip and let him depart. To Pam’s and my great consternation, he asked for $750!! He had originally been willing to have us along for the trip for free, as long as we paid our own hotel and food. We had argued that a help with gas would be appropriate, and he agreed that we should help with whatever amount we thought correct. We thought that half the gas, or about $400 would be plenty, but I guess we were in for a surprise.
     Let me just say that I’d rather not see Butch again.
     We took an hour-or-so to recuperate after reaching Ron’s, and then set out to look for apartments. We started at the university (where I visited Alan Kingstone’s office, but he wasn’t there), and worked our way around the main avenue. Absolutely no luck! Vacancies were not to be found. Disappointment and fear set in. We had only until Friday to return the U-Haul before paying astronomic late charges.
     Wednesday, we went out searching again, widening our search, but without better results. Housing services at the university said that the vacancy rate was much worse this year. While Pam made calls to prospective apartments, I went again to visit Alan. This time he was in his office. What a neat guy! Very young, and extremely enthusiastic! Also, there were a couple of the grad students with whom I’ll be working. Stayed at Ron’s again Wednesday night.
     Thursday, our luck changed. Near the end of the day, we found an apartment on the North side of the North Saskatchewan river (the University is on the South side).

*   *   *
    Events have been moving so fast that I got a little mixed up. We discovered the apartment on Wednesday evening, and started to move our stuff on Thursday. I say “started” because it was a real stop-and-go process. We had a U-Haul trailer, stuffed with our belongings, and how were we to get it to the apartment and back to the U-Haul dealer by Friday? One of Ron’s friends might have helped, but he wasn’t available until Sunday. But wait… we had a solution! We would call U-Haul and rent a truck which could haul the trailer. So, after quite a bit of walking to find the dealer, we rented the truck. Ron drove, since he knew the city. He knew the city, but he wasn’t really good with the truck. And no wonder! It was a heap of junk! It was manufactured in the late sixties, I would guess, and probably hadn’t seen a garage since then. The gears sounded as if they would drop onto the street at any moment.
     Well, with some trouble we got it to Ron’s, and packed it with the delicates which had ridden in the van. Then we tried to hook on the trailer. Guess what!? IT DIDN’T FIT!! The ball on the truck was too big to fit on the trailer’s hitch! Pam and I had some unpleasant words with the local U-Haul dealer. We tried to explain that we had asked for a truck which would tow the trailer, but didn’t get one. He said that there was nothing he could do. We would have to return the trailer, or pay the late charges. We stopped talking to him, and called the national U-Haul office. They were a little more reasonable, and agreed that since our attempt to return the trailer had not been successful, they would pick it up themselves. We would just be responsible for the truck. Relief.
     We repacked the trailer stuff in the truck and moved it.
     Thursday night was our first night in the new place. After picking up some groceries, we unpacked boxes until 3 a.m. and slept on the futon in the living room. The mattress and box-spring we bought from Ron were still airing out in the bedroom to get rid of the mildew smell.
     Friday and Saturday, more unpacking and shopping. The Edmonton bus system has good and bad points.
     Sunday, we got up early because Alan had invited us to brunch with him, his wife and his 3 month old baby. We met them at the Crown Plaza, a twenty-four storey building in the center of downtown Edmonton. It looked to be a fancy hotel. The restaurant was on the top floor. It looked a bit like the CN tower; a round structure at the top of a tall building. And the restaurant slowly rotated! You could sit at your table and watch as the landscape trickled by. When those elevator doors opened on the top floor, Pam and I almost dropped! We were not expecting the extravagance we encountered; lobsters on ice, salmon fillets, piles of fruit, a huge fish on a platter and desserts for a mile! How many cheesecakes have you seen in one place? We were ushered to our table, and I’ll bet that if we had looked like we wanted him to, the waiter would have pushed our chairs in behind us.
     What a meal! We each filled our plates with delicacies. Oh, and we talked a bit about school, plans and other unimportant stuff. After this wonderful buffet (I would dearly love to know the cost), we parted ways, planning to meet again on Tuesday.
     After, Pam and I caught the tail end of Klondike Days, the Edmonton carnival-like celebration of its past. Geared mostly to tourists? We heard some good music, and I convinced Pam to dance with me in front of a few hundred onlookers!
     And Monday was pretty boring, as boring as a brand new city can get. We crossed the river to the University. Pam rode the subway for the first time, and I struggled to get a new email account going. And on it goes…


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