The spaces between
With a whole four days remaining and over 1200 km (~750 miles) to cover, I took it very easy and meandered back towards Boston.
Then again, what’s another 1200 km?
Moving onto Wentworth, a rural region in the northwest of Nova Scotia, I found myself the only guest at a hostel usually packed to the gills during ski season. Thankfully, Andrew, the very personable manager, kept me company and took me beach-hopping in the Tatamagouche area, on a rare, unseasonably warm day. (Turns out the best beach belongs to a Bible camp. Heh.) Enjoying the vibe and lacking energy after four days of zigzagging around Cape Breton, I hung around for one more day just to read, do a drizzly hike, run errands in Truro, and watch some movies with Andrew.
Intending to spend my final night in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I found out that their one hostel closes after Labour Day. Welp, so much for rest: after three hours of driving and two hours walking around Fredericton’s small downtown core, I drove 4.5 more hours to Brooksville, Maine, then another six hours the next day to Boston.
As a result, I never got the closure of “this is the last day of my trip”, but I certainly hadn’t skimped on indulging in cheap Canadian classics: Swiss Chalet, boxes of KD, and the many, many roadside Tim Hortons stops. I can no longer tell if any of them are actually good or if it’s just the nostalgia talking, but the amount of enjoyment I got out of all of that felt almost like closure. (Sure, there’s always Vancouver, but none of these are things I’d ever have there with my family or friends!)
Roadtrip grand total? According to the car rental company, I drove 8275 km (5142 miles, to be exact). Sure, the oil change light went on while I drove, but I kinda doubt that number. Probably somewhere around 7000 km (or 4400 miles), unless I did a bunch of circles or got really lost somewhere. Whew. That’s more than I’ve driven in my lifetime, although that’s not saying much. It’s also roughly the equivalent of driving one-way across Canada.
While I spent most of these 7-8000 km cooped up alone in my car, I did get to meet a lot of people.
Plenty of travellers, from Germany, Ireland and Australia in particular. For a country as vast and empty as Canada, I certainly didn’t expect to see so many backpackers. I’ve always had the impression that our intercity transport was lacking to the point that it’d be a deterrent to travel. Sure, if you don’t have a car like many of these travellers, you can’t go to more remote places (especially in Newfoundland), but there were plenty of people taking intercity buses and flights, or even just hitchhiking. They’ve travelled to far more provinces and territories than any Canadian I know!
Plenty of Canadians too. With domestic flights so expensive and driving distances so large, most of my friends typically travel abroad rather than within Canada. It’s really heartening to see plenty of travellers from all over the country out visiting the Atlantic, whether by flying or driving and camping or taking an RV or even biking across the country!
It’s interesting to see how locals interact with me across the country, especially in rural areas. I’ve gotten the two extremes: people assuming I don’t speak English or French before they even ask me where I’m from, and people accepting me as a local when I say I’m from Vancouver. I can understand the first: Vancouver’s got plenty of Chinese immigrants, and the east coast doesn’t. The second is a pleasant surprise, and only serves to make me trust more in the inclusive nature of Canada. Either way, people are typically Canadian — friendly and welcoming, whether they think you’re from here or not.
But that’s the other thing: the rural/urban divide. I’ve really only seen the latter. I’ve certainly never concerned myself with the issues rural communities face: declining populations, isolation (hours from the amenities I take for granted, like supermarkets or gas stations), poor telecommunications (I had no reception for three of the four weeks during my trip, and internet was shoddy), lack of any sort of public transportation. I’ve also never thought about the crazy challenge the government has in adding or even sustaining infrastructure: extremely long or twisty highways and roads that might only serve few but need to be there anyway, running water even if it’s not potable, mail services even in communities accessible only by boat, schools, hospitals.
It’s all worth it though. Not only do these communities carry rich cultural and regional variance sorely needed in the country, or simply provide a quiet and (incredibly, incredibly) scenic respite from urban life, their industries have long held up the country: fishing, forestry, and mining in particular. While these industries do ebb and flow, and so does the populace, it would be a crying shame if the country allowed regional cultures and traditions — and the history of the country, which, let’s face it, started on the east coast — to disappear with it.
I’m still amazed at how people across the country can have wildly different lives and cultures and still feel the same strongly Canadian identity. If anything, it only makes me want to see more.