Crossing Borders, Bathing in a Great Lake, and Calculating Kilometers (Canada Part I)

“Do Something Crazy”

That phrase has haunted me ever since I set it as a goal I wanted to complete as a 23-year-old. Looking back, I can see that I wanted to do something that would shake me out of my incredibly comfortable zone, but I have spent the months since then struggling to find an activity that would be considered “crazy.” I had almost given up finding something creative when an idea hit me. What if I did a spur of the moment weekend trip to Canada? I thought about it a bit more and was soon raring to begin what I was sure would be an unforgettable weekend.

A normal adventurous person would have made the plan and just gone for it, but this over-planned worrier decided that creating rules would make the trip “crazier.” So I set the following:

  • Don’t use a GPS
  • Don’t spend money on accommodations
  • Don’t consume social media (other than sharing the story on Instagram)

I began the trip by throwing my belongings into my car, checking out a ton of CDs and audiobooks from the library, and hitting the road with nothing more than an atlas and some friends’ suggestions to direct me.

After driving for a few hours, I crossed the Canadian border and suddenly felt free. Ok, that’s total hyperbole, but I will say that arriving in a different country cemented the fact that this weekend was going to be very different than my usual ones.

I had set out to make it to Bruce Peninsula in Ontario by nightfall, but my lack of GPS caused me to take a lot of scenic backroads. This turned what I now know is an 8 1/2 trip into a 12-hour one. I wasn’t bothered by this since the scenery was incredible, but the extended travel time forced me to find a place to camp for the night that wasn’t Bruce Peninsula.

I ended up stopping in Kincardine, Ontario and found a hotel parking lot to camp in for the night. Was it ironic that me, a Marriott Rewards member, was sleeping in my car in a Marriott parking lot? Most definitely. And, in an effort to be transparent, I must admit that I strongly considered using the vast amount of rewards points I’ve accrued to sleep inside, but my sense of adventure (and guilt about lying) won in the end.

Once I came to this conclusion, I put my crossover’s seats down, unrolled a sleeping bag that I’d borrowed, and settled in for the night. It was uncomfortable at first, but I soon learned how to best position myself to obtain the utmost comfort (i.e., lying diagonally and curling my knees up close to my chest).

Surprisingly, I slept until after 9 a.m. and woke up feeling well-rested. My first reaction upon opening my eyes (after resisting the urge to check social media) was to start rushing through my morning to get on the road as quickly as possible. I had to stop myself and think about the fact that there was no schedule for this trip. If I wanted to lie in my cozy car enjoying the morning, I could, because there was nothing that required me to rush off. This epiphany is one that I carried with me all weekend, and it contributed to a stress-free couple of days.

After some time spent relishing the morning, I finally got up, threw on my swimsuit, packed up my “home,” and drove it a few blocks down to the lakefront. I didn’t know there was a beautiful beach so close to my car when I parked the night before, but seeing the area in the morning light made me realize that I had unintentionally stayed in a beautiful beach town.

This couldn’t have been more perfect because it allowed me to “shower” in the ocean. What does that entail, you ask? Let me explain the process. I slipped a travel-size bottle of body wash into my swimsuit pocket, waded into the icy water, and then proceeded to scrub myself while dodging the rolling waves. In hindsight, I realize that I probably looked unhinged, but it served its purpose.

After drying off and attempting to style my hair with nothing more than a comb, I set off for the peninsula looking like a Duggar child on meth. The trip to the peninsula was even more beautiful than the drive the day before, and it seemed as if every few miles (I mean “kilometers”) provided me yet another stunning view.

I spent a few hours hiking around the peninsula before finally returning to my car to drive back down to Kincardine. Similar to the thought I had in the morning, I felt guilty for not hiking longer. But I, yet again, concluded that there was no right or wrong way to spend the weekend. I was in Canada to do something “crazy,” but more importantly, to take some much-needed time apart from the busyness of life to unwind. So if I wanted to drive back to the beach town earlier than planned, that was alright by me.

I spent the rest of the evening reading and writing at the beach, and I cannot think of a more peaceful way to spend my time. There were no texts to distract me or YouTube videos to entice me; instead, there was the sound of the waves crashing on the shore to act as the soundtrack to my relaxation. It was perfect.

I hadn’t been in Canada long, but I quickly began making observations about the things I saw. These included:

Observation #1: Tim Hortons is the “it” Place in Canada | Here’s the thing, I grew up in Western NY, where there are Tim Hortons all over the place. But the difference between Tim Hortons in NY and Tim Hortons in Canada is how they’re perceived.

In NY, I always saw Tim Hortons as the Chipotle queso of coffee shops, but that was not the case in Canada. As I drove by locations on what felt like every street corner, I was shocked to see that there were often lines out the door. It was as if there were Black Friday sales taking place inside the dingy shops, but I knew there weren’t. I wanted to roll down my windows and shout for the people in line to seek better coffee, but I knew that doing so could cause me to end up in a Canadian prison. So I kept those thoughts to myself and did my best to locate Starbucks.

Observation #2: People in Canada Drive Slow | I know that talking about people’s driving habits is about as entertaining as watching a middle school basketball game, but I’m going to do it anyway because I was floored by how slowly people drove in Canada.

I had switched my speedometer to kilometers upon crossing the border, but I kept changing it back to miles while I drove because I couldn’t believe that people were going so slowly. Turns out, they were. I’d see sleek sportscars traveling down highways at the speed of a Mountie trotting down a wooded pathway and would look on in shock. I am by no means a speed demon, but even I was flabbergasted by the slow pace of Canadian drivers.

Observation #3: Gassing up is Essentially the Lottery | Speaking of driving, the many kilometers I put on my car forced me to fill up a few times during my trip. I thought that this wouldn’t be a problem since I planned to use my credit card and fill until the pump clicked for me to stop, but that wasn’t the case.

Canada has a fun little way of upping the ante at a gas station by making you pre-select how many Canadian dollars you want to add to your car. This would be a bizarre guessing game, even with U.S. currency, but it was made even more challenging because I was filling up with liters rather than gallons. So I would stare at the many options each time I stood at the pump hoping that I chose correctly. I never did, because my tank was somehow always halfway filled after the gas stopped pumping.

There was a lot to experience in Canada, and this doesn’t even describe my whole weekend. So, like a Hollywood studio trying to bleed every penny out of a story, I am going to split the telling of this adventure into two parts. Be sure to check back next week to learn about my experience with prison showers, terrifying tattoo artists, and an almost fatal experience in one of the most violent cities in America.

To be continued…

Let me know what you think!