Road trip, Thunder Bay to Ann Arbor

A good day on the road is dotted with unexpected gems, not the big destination sites but those slice of life experiences that give you insight into a world not your own. Our long drive from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Ann Arbor, Michigan was such a day.

About an hour into the drive we stopped for breakfast at one of the many gas station restaurants that offer home cooking. We entered with apprehension, “Just how greasy was our breakfast going to be? and left thoroughly pleased. ” Why can’t everyone do a good basic breakfast: eggs over-easy – perfectly cooked, potatoes and toast?” It’s not hard to make but too often hard to find.

The dot towns – towns big enough to rank a dot on our map- along Canada’s interprovincial highway are spaced at about 100k intervals. Most have a motel or two and a couple of restaurants, predominately the gas station variety. Not a McDonald’s or any other fast food chain in sight. Some towns have themes marked by a giant statue. Our favorite of which was Wawa with its giant Canadian Goose, and not just one goose, but three within ½ mile along the main thoroughfare.

Lured in by the geese, we stopped for lunch at the local Chinese/Canadian restaurant, a popular Canadian combination. We were greeted with a big smile and an enthusiastic, “How are you?” and told to take any seat. A white board near the entrance listed the daily specials of which five out seven included fish balls. I couldn’t resist trying them if only just to find out what they were, basically a Chinese version of the chicken nugget.

More interesting than the menu were the locals. The two 50-something women sitting at the table in front of us only ordered tea and fries with gravy – a Canadian specialty I assume. “Do you want ketchup with that?” “Yes please!” Two other locals, also 50ish, who had come in separately ordered  beer – no food. Noon on Sunday, just looking for some fun? It seems we found the local Sunday afternoon hangout and would have liked to linger longer and try the local beer, but we still had a lot of miles to cover.

Driving in Canada is long and slow with only a 90kph (about 60mph) speed limit along a two lane highway that winds around Lake Superior.  The scenery is pretty with a rocky tree-lined landscape and more lakes than Minnesota, but it doesn’t change much. We filled the day with nostalgic tunes, NPR and Canadian talk radio while trying to spot just one moose at the edge of one of the many meadows we passed (Lots of signs warning of moose, but not one actual moose).  Just when we were tiring of moose spying, we saw a group of classic cars pulling classic trailers.

And then a few more and a few more. Didn’t know if it was possible to take a decent picture through a windshield at the speeds we were all driving, but in desperate need of a new activity, gave it a try. Took a while to get the technique down and even then it was still a bit challenging to get a centered shot. The quick trick is to set your camera to the sport or action setting, taking a faster picture. Thankfully there were a lot of cars to practice on at somewhat regular intervals. Trying to get the perfect shot became a sort of game like watching for license plates.

Crossing into the US really felt like we were leaving one culture and entering another. We often don’t think of our Canadian cousins as being that different, but you can most certainly tell when you’ve entered the US. Suddenly the road opens up to 3 lanes in each direction, you are driving at 75-80mph not 60 and the gas station restaurants are replaced with the familiar McDonalds.

We ended our very long day outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan at Applebee’s, one of my parents’ favorites. Coincidently the skateboarding finals of the XGames were playing on TV – my brother is a skate boarder. So even though we were a thousand plus miles away from my hometown of Phoenix, I ended the day feeling strangely close to my family.