Unzipping the tent was easy – this time… The raindrops fell softly on my raincoat, I reached in and found my wife’s headlamp in the tent’s inner pocket. That part, at least, was also easy.
We were in Riding Mountain National Park in Southwestern Manitoba. Driving up from Winnipeg, I had the impression that the park was situated in the middle of the province, north/south, if not in the northern quadrant. It was a shock to look at the map of Canada, with Manitoba its geographical centre, to see how far south Riding Mountain was in relationship to the whole expanse of the province unfolding northward.
This realization brought home a point, made over and over again during our 12,400-kilometre cross-continental trip – Canada is enormously large.
We had left Glen Sutton, Quebec, a small hamlet a few kilometres from the Vermont border, 128 kilometres southeast of Montreal, twelve days earlier from this rare rainy day in Manitoba, and were only less than one quarter way through a 44-day trip that would take us westward, stopping at national and provincial parks, small towns and large cities, across the vast continent and home via the United States.
A couple of days earlier, I was lying in a hotel bed in Dryden, Ontario, home to an enormous pulp and paper mill in the middle of town, set like two giant wafers against the smaller buildings around it. “Naomi,” I said in the dark, “If we double the time we’ve spent so far on the trip, we still won’t be halfway through…” This remark cast a gloom over the two of us. In no time my wife started talking about ways to cut the trip short.
But, having reserved so many of our accommodations in advance, we both realized it was best to take each day as it came instead of looking at its totality. Much better result.
At Riding Mountain we experienced our first real rain day, something we were extremely lucky to not experience much during the entire trip and only many weeks later on our return drive home. Hiking today was out, and the two of us were holed up at the park’s Whirlpool Lake campsite in a large wooden shelter used by campers for picnicking under these very same circumstances. Unfortunately, we had to share our space with some very anxious birds – two families of swallows feeding their young in nests right above our heads. It was a slightly nervous meal we ate with the birds swooping down over us every few minutes, but there was very little we could do.
The weather report predicted blue skies in the upcoming days and we were booked for two more nights. Following our stay at Riding Mountain, we were off to Saskatoon and then Edmonton before passing a week in a variety of campsites, Airbnb’s & lodges in the Canadian Rockies.
The genesis of our trip began with a hike near our home. My wife and I are members of Diable Vert, an eco-tourism camping and hiking spot in the Sutton mountain range. This past winter saw very little snowfall, so putting crampons on the bottom of our winter boots was the perfect solution for our little hike up the mountain. “Honey,” I casually said, “I would love to just hop in the car with a camper hooked up and drive across Canada.”
I have always liked the idea of driving off with no set plan, your accommodations on your back like a turtle.
Naomi picked up on the idea: “Forget the camper and you’ve got a deal,” she said. And that was that.