Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Travels with Jack and Jill

For the past six weeks I have been travelling around Canada’s east coast doing research on a very different writing project. In the process I’ve managed to miss two Type M postings altogether and am barely skimming under the deadline for this one. I could blame a hectic travel schedule, packed agenda, dubious internet access, or just plain too much fun. However I think prolonged traveling is like entering an alternate universe. Your real life recedes. Without daily routines, regular contact with family and friends, access to online social media and the daily newspaper, you feel as if you’ve slipped the bonds of earth, surly or otherwise. It’s a marvelous rest, in fact. I didn’t give a moment’s thought to my plunging RRSPs, the Ontario election, the weeds in my garden or even my looming book deadlines.

I did, however, have my own sources of grief. I was traveling with my sister and three dogs. One was a 95 pound white golden retriever, one was a ten-month old Nova Scotia duck toller in the throes of her very first heat. The third was a 12 year-old, rather deaf and arthritic duck toller who always lost out to the other two in any contest such as the race to the comfiest seat, water bowl or toy. All three provided a nice contrast to the BLACK seat covers of the rental car. Anyone with long-haired dogs knows what that means.

But it’s the car itself that was the greater source of grief, along with the GPS that was supposed to help. Because of the afore-mentioned dogs, their crates, our gear and camping equipment (yes, you read that right. We camped with three dogs in the same tent), we had to rent a large vehicle, and for some reason SUVs are cheaper than minivans. My sister and I drive nimble, fuel efficient, baby cars, and when we first laid eyes on our GMC Yukon, we nearly fainted. Black with menacing tinted windows, it looked like a drug dealer car. We practically needed a forklift to get ourselves up into it, and then it was clearly designed for a muscle-bound man, not a rather small woman. If we lowered the driver’s seat enough to touch the floor, where the gas and brake pedals were, we couldn’t see over the steering wheel.

As we manouevred our way out of town, we were grateful that other cars seemed to get out of our way. Basically, you aim this thing down the middle of the road and hope that you don’t take out cyclists, joggers or little cars on either side. We started off calling it The Behemoth, but then the GPS came into our lives. Anyone who’s ever used a GPS knows they are bossy and strident. They are often wrong but won’t ever admit it. Because of her posh British accent and her insistence on running our lives, we wanted to call ours Moneypenny, but that proved too much of a mouthful. “Shut up, Moneypenny!” just took too long. She became Jill, and her companion in torture became Jack.

We spent most of the six-week trip in Newfoundland, the absolute worst place to be stuck with Jack and Jill. For one thing, Newfoundland is full of hills and coves and cliffs. Its roads are narrow, twisty and bumpy. It was hard enough to keep Jack on his own side of the road (with a ditch, ocean, or cliff inches away) without rounding a blind curve or cresting a steep hill into an oncoming car. For another thing, gas prices are about twenty cents a liter higher on The Rock than on the mainland. The first time I filled up the gas tank, after what I thought was a ridiculously short drive, I nearly died of shock. Jack LOVES gas. And he has a gas tank twice the size of my baby car’s, which meant that the pump registered triple digits every time I filled up. There is a reason that Newfoundlanders, despite their remote, twisty, uneven roads, drive Honda Civics and Chevy Cavaliers. I almost never saw a full-sized SUV – the choice of Kanata soccer moms – on the streets of Newfoundland.

Jill made her own contributions to our gray hair. She had a very imperfect grasp of Newfoundland geography, and even when she actually knew where we were going, she had a tendency to lose satellite reception at the worst possible times. Two instances come to mind. En route to the ferry, we detoured off the TransCanada Highway to find a historic lighthouse on the west coast. We wanted a place to let the dogs run and one last glimpse of the stunning Newfoundland coastline. Afterwards, we programmed Jill to return to the highway, and she chose a little route which ran along the coast line following a very thin line on our map. We thought that might be pretty and it was only 5 kilometres long, so even if it was slow going, it would be picturesque and we would soon be back on the main highway. Right?

Turns out it was an old railway trail that had been covered with stones and gravel to make a very rough track for quads and snowmobiles. It was the width of a bike path, giving Jack about two inches clearance on either side. Which would have been manageable except when there was water or boulders on either side. Or tiny plank bridges across saltwater marshes. There was no room to turn around and no way to back up, at least with our level of skill. After several white-knuckle moments, with the end almost in sight, we came across a pick-up stopped in the middle of the track in the middle of a causeway. Water on either side, no way to get around it. We had to back up and do about a twenty-point turn to turn around and go back over the plank bridges and washed out gullies to our starting point. All the darkness and fog rolling in, and the ferry time nearing.

There were plenty of times we learned to ignore Jill, and if she got too insistent, we would unplug her altogether. But nowhere was she crazier than trying to get across the bridges between Dartmouth and Halifax. These are made by road engineers gone amok anyway, and they were beyond Jill. Once she sent us 25 kilometres out of our way to go around the harbour by land. But my favourite Jill moment was when we had spent about fifteen minutes trying to find the entranceway to the main bridge through Halifax’s riddle of on-ramps and overpasses, with Jill bleating useless instructions from beneath our purses and maps. Finally I spotted the bridge directly ahead and with a crow of triumph I gunned Jack down the middle lane. We were going to get home after all! At which point Jill told us to drive 900 metres and do a u-turn. Which meant we would traverse the harbour as we wanted, only to turn around practically as we touched land, in the middle of six lanes and bombing traffic.

Jill was silenced for the duration of the day. Based on our adventures, I have a few tips for the east coast traveler. Take the smallest vehicle you can manage, and match the upholstery to your dog’s hair. If you must take a GPS, don’t park your common sense at home. Remember, maps don’t lie. Usually. Except when they don’t tell you about one-way streets or overpasses or little gravel tracks that look like roads…


custom term paper said...

what a great post! thanks a lot to the author for sharing!

Trey said...

HI barbara,I think you did an awesome job explaining it. Sure beats having to research it on my own. Thanks


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