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With school receding quickly in the rear view mirror of my mind, I loaded up the 10-foot u-Haul truck and, along with my brother and co-pilot, plotted a course eastward for Toronto.

Nearly 2200 kilometers away, our journey would take us two days.

Two… Long… Days.

The purpose of our trip was to transport a bed, dresser, night table, clothes and cookbooks to my new abode in the Big Smoke. It would be there where I’d hang my cook’s cap whilst completing my second work placement (required to complete my culinary arts diploma).

In a curious bit of symmetry, my brother and I made a similar journey two-and-half years earlier, except we were heading westward that time, from Ottawa to Winnipeg.

Here I was, so many months later — no longer a disillusioned political hack, but a still-wet-behind-the-ears culinary grad — making the journey in reverse.

Knowing we had so many hours ahead of us, and with only so many hours of daylight on our side, we made the painful decision to depart Winnipeg at 5 a.m. on Monday morning. Like so many tough decision, it proved to be a wise one.

By 7 a.m., we were cruising past Kenora; by 9, refuelled and caffeinated, Dryden (the “proud home of Chris Pronger,” by the way) was behind us. Emboldened, we set our sights on Thunder Bay — and lunch at its infamous Hoito.

***

Thunder Bay: Superior by Nature.

True, geographically speaking. Debatable, otherwise.

Nevertheless, we pulled into the Lakehead around noon, on schedule, and proceeded through town to The Hoito. Serendipitously, we’d seen the place featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! the night beforehand.

Was it a sign? Was it meant to be? Were they the “best pancakes in Canada?”

30 minutes late, the answer: no.

Still, we were fed, watered and ready for the next leg of our journey — and cautiously set our sights on Sault Ste. Marie, another 7 hours away.

***

Ah yes, the Soo. Never were we happier to see the welcome sign for a town than when we were pulling into the place at 9 p.m. that evening — a full 17 hours after we left Winnipeg.

Eyes blurry, butts sore, we refueled, then checked into Algoma’s Water Tower Inn and Suites, aptly named because of its proximity to, you guessed it, the city’s water tower.

Thankfully, the hotel’s adjoining Casey’s Restaurant and Lounge was still open, so we grabbed a quick bite and just sat, numb — at once pleased with ourselves for making it so far, and yet dreading yet another day on the road in our spartan 10-foot juggernaut.

Pushing through to Sault Ste. Marie, like our decision to leave Winnipeg before sunrise, had been taxing but wise. After all, we’d managed to avoid staying overnight in Wawa, Terrace Bay, or Marathon (which, incidentally, is “built on paper, laced with gold.”)

Rested, recharged, we set off at the lazy hour of 8 a.m., with our heads high and our sights set first on Sudbury, and then Toronto.

***

Of course, the downside to making this trip eastward, instead of westward, is the increasingly disappointing scenery the further east you go — glaringly obvious as you leave Sault Ste. Marie, away from the Great Lakes and glorious Canadian Shield, and approach the nickel belt.

Ugh.

On the plus side, however, the highways in and around Sudbury are first rate.

(Kudos to whomever was the political minister for the region who managed to strong-arm their Cabinet colleagues for the cash necessary to make those improvements. Undoubtedly you were rewarded by your constituents by being tossed out at the next election.)

***

By comparison, the second day was an easy one; we’d made such great progress on the first day of our journey we only had a scant 7 hours to Toronto. Easy. And easy it was, albeit uninteresting.

Seriously, there isn’t much happening between Sudbury south to Toronto — though we did have the (dis)pleasure of passing Tony Clement Country™ (a.k.a., Parry Sound–Muskoka).

Groan.

So nice to see that money from the G8 summit spent so well and so wisely. Atta boy, Tony!

***

At around 2 in the afternoon, something happened: the landscape no longer rocks and trees, but concrete and steel; the horizon, once endless and blue, now closing in and oh-so-cluttered.

There she was: the Big Smoke.

By God, we’d made it. 26 hours of driving and 2200 kilometers later, we’d arrived in Toronto.

It took another hour or so to actually get into Toronto, mind you.

Driving a rented truck with an engine retarder that prevented us from travelling at more than 120 kilometers per hour didn’t help much either, as cars whizzed past us on the 401, undoubtedly furious at us bumpkins inexperienced on these #bigcityfreeways. (It wasn’t us! It was the engine! Honest!) Nevertheless, we’d made it.

One journey over, another about to begin.

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My brother and I spent the weekend in Las Vegas. Neither of us is richer for it (I’m a terrible gambler and my brother had terrible luck), but we had a fantastic time all the same.

We stayed at The Venetian. Like so many megaliths along The Strip, this one had a “theme.” You guessed it: Venice. (It even had a canal!)

What struck me most peculiar about this Venice, however, was the smell of bitter orange – the Venetian’s signature scent, if my olfactory nerves are still firing correctly. While I’ve never been to the actual Venice, I suspect it doesn’t smell at all like oranges, bitter or otherwise.

All the same, despite that cloying odour every time I entered the building, stepped into an elevator or washed my hair, I have no complaints about our stay.

Because we’re both foodies (which is a polite way of saying my brother and I really like to eat), we were both pretty excited about the seemingly-endless number of restaurants located at our hotel and its conjoined twin, The Palazzo. I particularly enjoyed our meals at Joachim Splichal‘s Pinot Brasserie and David Burke‘s eponymous joint. Both offered impeccable service and top-notch food, in the French and American traditions respectively.

We also chose to take in Cirque du Soleil‘s tribute to the Beatles, Love. Thank goodness we did. It was, without doubt, one of the most incredible things either of us had ever seen.

The costumes, the artistry, the acrobatics, the music!

We were so blown away by the spectacle, we saw it a second time. It was that good.

Oh sure, we gambled, too. I mostly stuck to the penny slots – losing the complimentary credits afforded to me by the hotel in a record-setting time.

We also watched a lot of football. Which, I know, seems like a waste of time considering we were in Las Vegas. It was, however, the NFL’s divisional play-offs. (How were we to know three of the four games would be blow-outs and the fourth a surprising yet unsatisfying upset?) Moreover, there was something strangely exciting about watching sports in a city in which you could bet on every play, every point. (It was also a great excuse to sample a variety of American micro-brews; Fat Tire being my favourite.)

Sadly, we left a good many things on our to-see/do list come Sunday night, including a trip to the Hoover Dam. On the plus side, WestJet offers direct flights from Winnipeg, which means my brother and I will undoubtedly find ourselves back there soon enough to clear up some of that unfinished business – and likely catch Cirque’s Love for a third time.

And just like that, they were gone.

Apartment emptied and truck packed, at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, October 6 I dropped the ignition of our hulking u-Haul truck into gear and, with my brother as my co-pilot, set a course westward.

For a better part of the afternoon, the weather was perfect. The sky was clear, the roads dry. It allowed us to appreciate fall in all it’s burnt oranges and reds.

Unfortunately, just past North Bay (our Mom’s birthplace, by the way), the rain started — and hard did it fall.

Two hours later, the sun fully set, the rain still pouring, we decided to call it quits in Canada’s Nickel Capital. We did not, however, see the giant coin.

A couple of things to note about our u-Haul truck:

  • The cab has almost no insulation, which has meant my brother and I have had shout whenever we want to talk to each other. (Advantage, u-Haul.)
  • The dashboard has neither a CD player nor a tape deck; nay, it features nothing but an AM/FM radio, which would have been catastrophic were it not for the excellent pair of iPod speakers my brother brought with him. (Deuce.)

***

After a *delicious* breakfast courtesy of Sudbury’s Hampton Inn, we were back on the road by the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m., which I’m now convinced is why God gave us the Ramones.

We then took full advantage of the driving conditions and punched it west through to the Soo and then north along the shores of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

By 5 p.m. we were coasting into Thunder Bay, which would have been a good place to call it a day were it not for the sign that told us Kenora — where my brother and I spent many a summer growing up — was a mere 467 kilometers away.

Emboldened, we soldiered on.

***

We did not, however, make it to Kenora.  With the sun setting by 7:30 p.m., the headlights on our u-Haul truck providing lacklustre illumination even on high, our enthusiasm quickly plummeted – almost as quickly as the rain then fell.

Upsala… Ignace…  Wabigoon…

Dryden.

With all the major motels completely booked, we had no choice but to hang our hats at the quaint Patricia Inn Motel.  The non-smoking room had the distinct smell of cigarettes; the bathroom could have easily been the scene of a murder.  Thankfully, the adjoining restaurant was still open – but, for reasons neither my brother nor I could imagine, was not licensed.  That the cheeseburgers we ate were remarkably delicious almost made up for the fact we had to wash them down with water.

***

6:30 a.m., Thursday, October 8.  Back on the road.  Still as dark as night.  Thankfully, we knew we were close.  So very close.

As we peeled out of Dryden, we knew we’d be home in time for breakfast.  And, sure enough, we were, arriving in Winnipeg at approximately 10:15 a.m.

Our journey had come to an end.  Yet, for all the kilometres we’d travelled, gas burned, roads travelled, I know the real journey, for me at least, has only just begun…

By this time next week, I’ll be picking my brother up at the Ottawa airport — in our 14-foot u-Haul truck, no less — so that together we can pack up my apartment and make the journey back to Winnipeg via the (in)famous Trans-Canada Highway; that sprawling, two-lane asphalt trail that winds its way westward along the north shore of the mighty Lake Superior.

Do I have anything of note planned for my final week in Ottawa? No, not really.

I’ve seen it all; been there, done that; had my fill. So, I’ll savour my time as a retiree, pay my respects to the ones I love, patron a few of my favourite haunts one more time, and that, as they say, should be it.