Friday, August 26, 2011

The Final Reckoning

Well, it's all over now. I'm back in NZ trying to adjust back to normality (whatever that's supposed to be) and shake off the melancholy that always seems to follow these big trips away. I say 'always', I've only done this twice, but I can sense a pattern forming...

It was a funny last week. I connected with a new friend in a way I hadn't expected and then, just as things were getting interesting, I had to leave. As it happens, she was due to be leaving Canada too about a week later, for a 6 month job in Tanzania, so we were always going to be up against it, but I will be watching with even more interest than any of you to see what developments may occur.

All this meant was that I had one more reason to be reluctant about leaving, to add to the plethora of others I had been gathering up over the previous 4 months or so. I suspect I will be returning to Canada sooner rather than later, if I can wrangle something through work. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I guess I should record some facts and figures, for my own sake if you're not that interested, in an attempt to freak me out. I have already guessed that I could have saved a small fortune had I flown about the place and rented cars for less time in different places, but we live and learn.

So, what do you want to know - or rather, what do I want to remember?? Let's try this:

Time in Canada

104 days

Time on the road

69 days

Total distance covered, inc local trips

21, 672 km (13466.4 miles)

Distance covered on long haul (approx)

20, 672 km (12845 miles)

Furthest east travelled

Tofino on Vancouver Island

Furthest west travelled

Cape Spear, Newfoundland

Furthest north travelled

Edmonton and the road between there and Jasper

Furthest south travelled

Chicago and then a bit further round the bottom of Lake Michigan

Rental cost for 3 mths, 3 wks, 2 days

About $6500

Number of fuel stops


Cost of fuel


Number of punctures

1 – a giant bolt in the tyre!

Number of breakdowns

0 – but I did have to stop to let the brakes cool down one time

Dents added to the car


Different places stayed


Times camped out

18 – 10 in the car, 6 canoeing, 2 on a ferry

Hitchhikers picked up


Hitchhikers murdered and dumped in the bushes


Longest day behind the wheel

13 hours

Largest distance covered in a day (approx)

700 miles (1126.5 km)

Number of moose seen



About a dozen, including 1 grizzly.







New friends made


Old friends reunited

Even more

Hospitality debts collected

All of them, with unasked-for interest

Hospitality debts now owed

Far too many. I will pay you all back.

And that's about it. If I think of any more interesting stats I will add them in, but I reckon that ought to do it for now (I just thought of another: number of speeding tickets: 0 - and that's despite blatantly disregarding most of the speed limits in north America. Yup, I'm a right rebelly one, me).

Up coming attractions for future entries could include a return to Canada, South America or even Africa, so watch this space. Thanks once again for your company. I feel like its not been quite as exciting for everyone concerned as the South American version, but I hope it brightened your day now and again. If you feel the urge to continue travelling, you could do worse than check out my brother's blog (see the link on my page) Riding in the Tracks of Giants. He is now heading south through the US of A, aiming for Central America. Lucky bugger. Hasta luego, amigos.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Canoe-dling in Temagami

So, Canoe tripping in the wilderness, eh? I have to say I had been looking forward to this for the whole of my time out here, but I'm not going to lie to you - as the start date drew closer, I was getting a little apprehensive. It was to be an 8 day camping trip with 9 people, some of whom I didn't really know, doing things that my - once again - increasingly fragile back was not going to be too happy about (lifting boats, carrying packs, paddling). I didn't want to be the one slacking off, but I also didn't want to get air-lifted out if I
blew my disc out again, so I was nervous about that. And, even though I knew most of the people on the trip, I was aware that there were a lot of enthusiastic, energetic personalities, and that might become a bit too full on for me for that length of time.

As it happened, I shouldn't have worried about any of that stuff. The group dynamic was as good as you could hope to get it with 9 people, I worked my way into the paddling and carrying in a gradual way that let me judge how much I could get away with, and even though I was uncomfortable with my back for the whole week, it didn't get any worse than it had been before we set off, so I was able to relax about that too. But what about all the energetic folk?

Well, it was girl heavy group, with Mike and I being the only guys. Most of them knew each other well enough to know that they all liked some quiet time, and with so many people it was easy to fade into the background for a bit and not be missed, and then fade back in when you felt like it. Also, I made the effort to be up first everyday (not difficult as I've never been a solid sleeper in a tent, and my back wasn't helping), so I had an hour or two at daybreak every day to just potter about the camp, put tea on to boil, read a book or just enjoy the loons calling to each other over the misty lake. Add to that the fact that everyone was able to drop any 'real world' pretensions and just be themselves, and the banter and conversations rapidly became hilarious
Normally, quantities of booze or pot are needed to get to this level of openness, but we managed it just due to the bonding nature of the experience. I have to say, I had no idea girls could be so rude! I had been brought up to believe they only had pure thoughts and smelled like roses, but my eyes were truly opened last week!

So what was it all about then? Well, we went north from North Bay to an area called Temagami, which is basically a patchwork of lakes and connecting rivers in the middle of nowhere, where we put 4 canoes to work, paddling about 110km over the 8 days and hiking all the gear, including the canoes, about 8km through the woods when there was no connecting river to get us to the next lake we wanted to be on. These portages, as they are called, varied in length from about 100m to about 2km, and everyone had to take a pack, a canoe or an arm-load of paddles to get the gear from one landing point to another. Its hard graft, and I was amazed at one or two of our group who would take, on occasion, 2 packs AND a canoe to get it all across in one trip. As the week went on, the bags got lighter as food got eaten, but it was still a mission and a half.

Speaking of food, I have never been on a camping trip with such a luxurious menu! Each
day was a surprise, anything from salmon fillets cooked over the fire to pad thai curry to quinoa salads to fajitas to chocolate fondues and fresh made brownies was on offer. Mike and Janelle, who organised the food, are incredible in their forethought and planning - especially as each meal had to have both vegetarian and gluten free options! There were snacks during the day, and food organised so we could have fresh veggies early in the week and fresh beet and carrot salads later on. they had dehydrated salsas and hummus and more fresh fruit and veggies so we had a seemingly never ending supply of fresh, tasty food. It was incredible!

The paddling was good too. It's kind of like running a distance race, as your shoulders ache after a bit, but if you keep going you find a place where you could paddle all day and not get tired. The steering, done from the stern of the canoe, was harder, but I found that not only was it not too taxing on my back, but I was something of a natural, with good strength, rhythm and stamina, and I managed to pick up the various sculling strokes for manoevering the canoes just by watching the others. Very satisfying.

Every day provided opportunities to swim, and the lakes were shallow enough that the water
was fantastically warm and welcoming, even first thing in the morning and after dark. We had camp fires every night to create a bit of smoke to keep the mozzies at bay (sort of) and keep us warm and to cook on, and it was just one of those wonderful, peaceful experiences that you hope one day to recreate. It was probably the first bit of real "holiday" that I've had over here, as I was able to relax properly and enjoy the company of my friends and the place I was in without having to think about where I was going the next day or how many hours of driving it was going to take to get there!

There are a bunch of photos on the flickr link, and even more on my facebook page for those that are my 'friends'. Enjoy. I did.

And now, I have about 3 1/2 days left to pack, rest up, unkink my back a bit if possible, make some work exchange contacts and say goodbye to people. So I best be getting on. I'll be doing a facts and figures entry before long, but that may well be the last one for a while. Keep your ear to the ground for that one. Happy paddling!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just for Laughs

So, Montreal, eh? Hot. that's the first thing I remember about it. And Humid. Hot and humid. Nice, too, though. I got there about 4pm on the Wednesday which gave me enough time to unpack, grab a shower and dinner and get to my first Just for Laughs stand up show of the visit. I have been a fan of the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival for as long as I can remember, way back when all I ever got to see of it was a half hour compilation on late night TV. To be in the city itself and able to get to some shows was pretty exciting for me.

Jimmy Carr was my first pick. Not a bad show, but he is basically a one-liner wonder, kind of like Bob Monkhouse but ruder. And less orange. He was funny, but after a while I was hoping for something more interesting. He said himself that his show was something like 300 gags in and hour and a bit. Frankly that's too much for me. When you walk out the door, its hard to remember even one of the jokes he told, even though your face hurts a bit from laughing.

Thursday was spent wandering about the new part of the city, checking out the day-time bits and pieces of the festival and trying to sort some extra tickets so some friends of mine who were also in town would be able to join me for Louis CK that night. Sadly, it was sold out, but they got tickets to another, earlier, show, and we had time for a 10 minute catch up as we crossed over at the venue. Plans were made to make plans for Friday.

Louis CK was pretty funny. He was going to be getting the award for Best in Show, I believe, so no wonder he was sold out. His was a more usual, rambling monologue style, telling a short story over a long period of time, due to the tangents he'd go off on. I'd not seen much of his stuff before, but Ricky Gervais thinks he's great, and I still, for the moment, put at least some stock in Ricky's comedic tastes. If his own stand up continues to get worse, however, that may not last, but perhaps he can salvage some respect with his latest sit com that is nearly ready.

Friday came and I headed to the Old city down by the port. Lots of cobbled streets and tacky souvenir shops, but the buildings themselves were pretty cool. I was even able to get my camera cleaned so it no longer puts blobs in the same places in all the photos I take. My friends, it turned out, had tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show 'Totem' at 4pm, so I gate crashed their afternoon and got myself one, and bloody glad I did too.

Cirque du Soleil are based in Montreal (something I didn't know until that day), and I'd seen tasters of what they offered on TV shows and even at the Buskers Festival in Christchurch, where many of the acrobatic performers have history with C d S. The show was unbelievable. A mixture of skillful balancing, amazing acrobatics and pure strength and control, it left us all reeling afterwards. I didn't have long to reflect on it, however as I had to get back up town to see Danny Bhoy, my third show of choice.

I'd seen Danny Bhoy before in NZ, and he is hilarious. Half Indian-Scots he was influenced predictably enough by Billy Connolly, and it shows. He had his prepared material that he was able to add to and stray from at will, and his show was by far the funniest of the 3 I saw. If this guy doesn't become one of the best in the game, something is wrong with the world. If you get the chance, go see him.

I took an extra day on Saturday to just hang out and do laundry etc, then drove back all the way to Waterloo on the Sunday - the last leg of my mammoth journey. I'm glad I've done it, but by god, am I glad it's over, too! Frankly, it was too much driving to cram in to so short a time, but it is a tick on the bucket list, and something I won't have to do again in a hurry.

I spent most of this week relaxing, unwinding, swimming in local lakes and gearing up for the big canoe trip. I gave Flash Harriette back yesterday with an impressive 21,672km notched up for the 2 months, 3 weeks and 2 days that I'd had her for, and it hit somewhat hard in the pocket. Ah well, them's the breaks. You can't take it with you, etc. I'd rather have had some left to spend on next year's project, but there you go. At least I haven't gone over what I brought with me...yet. Still time I guess. At least the next week will be fairly cheap, out in the bush. Hopefully there will be tales to tell and photos to upload from that little caper, and then it'll be all over and back to the grindstone.

I have looked back on some of these blogs and, somewhat understandably, compared them to those of my brother on his motorbike trip. I think its fair to say he has won on interest and originality. I guess it is the nature of the trip. Not so much of the new and unusual for me this time around, I'm afraid.

Ah well, quit your whining and be grateful for what you're given. Keep 'em peeled for the final instalment sometime in about 10 days. All aboard...