Crossing Canada from West to East

August 20-29, 2008

Wednesday, August 20: We're taking a couple of rest days after climbing Mt Assiniboine; since we came back from the mountain, the weather has not been good. Bad weather through tomorrow, to be followed by a cold snap and sunnier skies starting Friday. Minimum temperatures just below freezing in the valleys, and daily maxima around 15C. Cold!

We drive to Banff to inquire about access to Lake O'Hara to climb Wiwaxy. Hate this tourist trap of a town! We stop by the Park headquarters to inquire about park passes and fees in Québec (our destination for this winter)… they don't cover most parks in Québec… so much for that. We also ask about Lake O'Hara: no first-come first-served seats on the bus anymore. Our only real option is to walk in. We'd consider this (about a 2hr walk) but are wondering about the weather. Given the temperatures forecasted in the valleys, we should expect somewhere around -7C at the base of Wiwaxy on Friday and Saturday mornings. Too cold to climb rock, at least if you want to have any fun.

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Leaving Canmore on August 20.
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It's a long way! (click for movie).
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Passing through Calgary's suburbs.
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Our first taste of the long flat road ahead.
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Ditto.

The great crossing of Canada is likely to take several days anyway, and we have a list of climbs to do in the Adirondacks before Lucie's Mom comes to visit. Decision made. We're leaving. Get the bus ready, dump and refill, load up on groceries, fill up on diesel, and off we go.

We decide not to stop in Calgary, and continue East right away. We spend the first night in Brooks, on a Wall-Mart parking lot (the first of many).

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Seen on a shopping bag from Lulu Lemon.
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Our first sunset on the road.
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Taking a small detour to check out downtown Medicine Hat on Day 2.
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Tourist trap along Road 1.
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Driving and driving and driving...

Thursday, August 21: We drive from Brooks to Regina. Lots of rain. Very flat and boring plains. The only diversions of the day are quick detours through downtown Medicine Hat and Regina. We check out Regina after arriving there late afternoon. This town is as dead as a concrete slab. Can't even find anything decent to eat. We go back to the bus for a quick dinner and some TV (having any signal is rare enough).

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Entering the province of Saskatchewan.
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Cowboy's country.
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Exploring downtown Regina. Not much interesting besides...
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...this small pedestrian area.
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Camping for the night at Wal-Mart in Regina.

The next day, we make it to Winnipeg. Horrendous rain for most of the drive. We have to stop to fix the bus windshield wipers (the compressed-air motor was coming loose). We had great hopes about this city... they quickly vanish once we have a look. We only find one tiny neighbourhood with a few funky coffee shops and art galleries, but everything is pretty dead (and it's Friday night!!). We go back to the bus, on the parking lot of a Safeway store, east of downtown. We buy some frozen pizza and call it dinner...

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Raining cats and dogs as we cross Saskatchewan (click for movie).
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Entering Manitoba.
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Stil flat but at least we get some sunshine as we approach....
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...Winnipeg.

Saturday, August 23: We get up late, then go back to town to check out the MEC store (Canadian cooperative very similar to REI). We're hoping to find info about rock climbing in Ontario. We do find some but the climbing doesn't seem that great (short and obscure).

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The train station (Union Station) in Winnipeg.
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We make a Safeway store our home for the night (a change from all the Wal Marts).
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Downtown Winnipeg the next morning.
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Street art.
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Downtown Winnipeg, by the MEC store.

We finally leave Winnipeg around 2PM. Rain on and off all day again. The road changes from four lanes to two once in Ontario. We stop in Kenora for a short walk, then continue on toward Thunder Bay. The road is surprizingly narrow and not in the best shape... no shoulders at all most of the time... makes for some stressful driving.

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More of downtown Winnipeg.
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Views of the city from across the river.
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Entering Ontario.
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Spending the night at a picnic area near Wabigoon Lake.
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Driving under blue skies again.

We stop for the night at a picnic area on the side of the road a few kilometers past Dinorwic. We awake to gorgeous blue skies. We drive East along the Northern shore of Lake Superior. Beautiful scenery. It's still kind of flat, but with miriads of tiny lakes in granite bedrock, sprinkled with scruffy pine trees. We stop in Thunder Bay (not much there) and continue an hour or so, before stopping for the night at a small rest area on the shore of Lake Superior. Great spot. We spend the evening enjoying the views.

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Approaching Thunder Bay.
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Enjoying Lake Superior.
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Taking a dip in the very cold lake the next morning.
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On our way to Sault Sainte Marie.
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Coffee break.

The next day, we take our time and enjoy the lake. I go for a swim. The water is freezing cold (enough to make your feet hurt). Lucie just stays on the shore and watches. We leave late morning and drive East. We stop in Sault Saint Marie. Another disappointing town; kind of ugly, even. We walk a bit by the waterfront (US border across the river) then spend the night at the local Wal Mart.

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Watch for moose!
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Sign in Sault Sainte Marie.
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Walking around the waterfront in Sault Ste Marie.
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Sculpture on the waterfront in Sault Ste Marie.
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What are the odds? Another NM expat.

Tuesday, August 26: Sunny driving along the North shore of the North Channel (Lake Huron) and to North Bay (on Lake Nipissing). Nothing much in North Bay either, although the downtown area is almost pleasant. We stop in town for a while, hoping to find a guidebook for some local climbing. Not such luck. We leave town late afternoon and continue driving East for a while.

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Then a sign for Espanola!?
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The small and rather pleasant downtown North Bay.
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Arriving downtown Ottawa.
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The Parliament Buildings.
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Across from the Parliament.

Wednesday, August 27: We make it to Ottawa. We leave the bus in the suburbs and drive downtown with the jeep. We walk around downtown for a while, before hunger drives us to the market area. We have fries from a street vendor. Really good! We then look for real food and settle on an all-you-can-eat mussel deal that sounds good on the menu… Bad vibes as soon as we sit down. We should have left. The mussels are minuscule, not all that fresh, and really awfully prepared: basically a bit of canned chopped garlic, some green and red peppers, and no juice at all. Never found even a hint of the white wine advertised on the menu! $40 down the drain and we leave hungry! Fortunately, we'd bought some Québec cheeses at a small store earlier today...

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The Central Tower (click for movie).

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More views of Parliament square.
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The Market area.
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Countdown for the Vancouver winter games.
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Inside the Parliament.

We spend the next day in Ottawa. We check out the local outdoors stores, have lunch at a Vietnamese Pho place, then go to Parliament house and take the guided tour. We finish with a trip up the central tower for good views of the city. Ottawa is much livelier than anything else we've run into along the crossing. At the end of the day, we rush back to the bus to try and leave town before dark. We drive about an hour further east, before stopping for the night in Casselman, ON.

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Views of the city from high up the Central tower.
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We made it! Near the US border.
     

Day 10: last day of the crossing. We leave Casselman mid-morning, and drive to the US border in Cornwall, about a half-hour away. No trouble at all at the border. We continue to the town of Malone, NY, where we spend quite some time restocking on groceries, before driving on South into the Adirondacks. With a bit of luck, we'll be climbing tomorrow!