Canada, here we come! After staying a night near Duluth, we got the jeep all cleaned up and presentable for our first border crossing at Thunder Bay. We were giddy and nervous. If the border patrol decided they don’t like the looks of us, they could hold us up in customs for hours, searching the jeep for who knows what. With Brian’s hand tattoos and general distaste for authority, we thought it best to let Carley drive us through.
After a few questions about who we are, what we do for a living and what we’re doing in Canada, the officer asked about weapons or anything to declare. Brian mentions that we have a can of bear mace and asks if we need to declare it. Officer asks to see it. Shit, it’s locked up in the tent. “Pull over, we’ll need to take a look”.
Ugh, here we go. This is the part where they turn the entire jeep upside down and we’ll be left to piece the puzzle back together. We pulled off, popped the tent, fetched the mace and Carley took the can inside where she was immediately dismissed. “We’re free to go?” Free to go. We stowed the can in a more convenient spot, closed up the tent and we were on our way!
By no means were we expecting Canada to be a culture shock: every one speaks English, cars drive on the right side of the road, etc. The little things, though, were slightly exciting. Such as converting kilometers to miles, Celsius to Fahrenheit and getting cash from the ATM (Canadian money is pretty cool compared to the US dollar).
That evening, we checked into a KOA near Thunder Bay to get our plan together and figure out where we want to pick up the TCAT (Trans Canadian Adventure Trail). Good lord, we couldn’t believe how expensive it was. $40 for a tent site!? Whatever. We wanted to use their wifi and showers, so we paid. This was the first of many times we would cringe at the price tag on everything across Canada. Everything is more expensive there and we’re on a serious budget. Gas was over $5/gal. Already we were debating heading back to the US just to cover some ground, feeling our money would be better spent exploring distant lands, and exotic rainforests that we probably would never make it back to. Would it be worth spending loads of extra cash to see the most boring parts of Canada? We really wanted to see the Canadian Rockies, but they were days away…
The next morning, we headed west and got our first ever close up of a moose near the side of the road. Okay, maybe we’ll stay in Canada a little while longer.
In the states, you can camp for free pretty much anywhere you want on National Forest or BLM land. It’s a bit different in Canada. Feeling stressed about money, we wanted to cover some ground, so we drove all day and ended up a couple hours east of Winnipeg in a small town called Kenora and camped at The Willows campground. Judging from the surrounding campgrounds and RV parks, we weren’t expecting much, but this place was lovely! Our campsite even came with two deck chairs facing the sunset and it cost less than the over crowded KOA. Score!
A fellow Cincinnatian, who happened to be camping a few sites over, came to chat us up about our rig. We were cooking Cincinnati style chili (if you’ve never had it, it looks gross, but tastes amazing) but he hardly noticed. He and his friend were riding bicycles from Vancouver, BC to Thunder Bay, ON. We swapped stories, shook hands and parted ways. That was nice.
Wake up, make coffee and head out.
Being fans of bands like Propagandhi and The Weakerthans, we were excited to get to Winnipeg. So we hopped on the Trans Canada Highway and pulled into town around 2pm. Found a bar downtown and had a couple beers and then walked around trying to get a feel for the place. It was feeling rather dull and we were still really stressed about money, so we decided to head back east a few miles to a campground called Birds Hill Provincial Park. Listening to The Weakerthans’ “One Great City!”, really getting it now.
This was not the nicest place we’ve ever camped, by far. Everyone was packed right on top of one another and we were clearly in the wrong spot for a quiet night of wine and scrabble. No, this was party town. Folks were hootin’ and hollerin’ all night. Ever seen Trailer Park Boys? Yeah, it was like that. Oh well, it was entertaining, to say the least.
Have we mentioned that we’re stressed about money? Did we touch on how expensive Canada is? Okay, just making sure. At this point, we’re pretty much just trying to make it to the mountains without emptying our wallets, so once again; we booked it to the next major town on the map. We had decided to skip major portions of the TCAT and pick it up closer to the mountains, assuming the prairies wouldn’t be very scenic and knowing that we could cover more ground on highways. People say it’s like driving across Kansas or Oklahoma. But that’s not true. There is some beautiful scenery out there. Miles and miles of rolling hills and canola fields. Canada’s not all bad.