Tuesday, April 30, 2019

An excursion to The Great White North

Canada is often referred to as “The Great White North”. The reasons for this are not far to seek. Being the second largest country in the world in area, behind Russia and ahead of the United States of America, it is considered ‘Great’. Canada’s massive Arctic Archipelago covers over 1.5 million square kilometers with a population of barely 14,000. This tundra biome qualifies it to be referred to as ‘White’. And, why the ‘North”? Because, it is north of that great country, United States of America! It is to this Great White North that I trained my planning skills on for the thirteenth road expedition.

Why did I choose to plan an expedition in Canada? The Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) is the third longest highway in the world, at over 8000 km from Victoria Zero Mile in British Colombia, the western most province of Canada, to St. John’s Mile One in Newfoundland and Labrador, the eastern most province of the country. The TCH seeks to fill a gap, so to say, in the expeditions I have done thus far. Since 2010 I have successfully completed 12 car expeditions, 6 national and 6 international. The national expeditions have been the All India in 2010-11 (covering 28 states of the Indian Union and 17 railway headquarters in 124 days and 25,000 km) North-South in 2012 (Kanyakumari to Leh and back), Coast to Coast in 2013 (Koteswar in Gujarat to Bakkhali in West Bengal)  East-West in 2013 (Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh to Koteswar in Gujarat) Golden Quadrilateral in 2013 (fourth longest highway in the world at 5800 km) and Four Corners of India in 2017 (Tezu – Leh – Koteswar - Kanyakumari). The international expeditions have been Cochin to London in 2014 (covered 27 countries in 27 days and 25,000 km) Cochin to Singapore and back in 2015, Trans-Himalayan in 2015, Trans-Siberian in 2016 from Chennai to St. Petersburg in Russia (traversed the second longest highway in the world from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg at 11,000 km), Australia Highway 1 in 2018 (longest highway in the world at 16,500 km) and North-South New Zealand in 2018. As can be gleaned from the above, the gap is the third longest highway in the world, the TCH.

The car expeditions that began in 2010 were mostly done solo, 10 to be precise. Only the Cochint o London and New Zealand expeditions were done in a group. Five expeditions were undertaken in a Maruti Swift, three in a Ford Endeavor, a XUV500 kept me company for two, one each in Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4. The last two were hired in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. For the TCH I have hired a Toyota Corolla in Vancouver. After Asia, Europe and Australia, North America will become the fourth continent I have driven in. Hopefully, South America and Africa will follow suit in the next couple of years.

Be willing to raise anchor and sail out to sea, knowing fully well that you will never return to the shores of yesterday, is the way to discover new lands and experience fresh winds. Challenging the fear of the unknown is integral to this equation. However, as I have emphasized in the earlier expeditions, research and planning form an important part in my road trips. Thus, I am part adventurer, part tourist. Which one is the larger part, it is difficult to tell. It was not too difficult to settle on the road route because enough material is available online. The country being so vast it was important to determine halts and accommodation. From my experience travelling in Australia I gathered that camping sites are a cheaper and, often, more fun places to halt. I have planned to camp in a few places on the onward leg. Based on those experiences I will plan for a lot more on the return. Initially, I had wanted to include a cruise in Alaska as part of the expedition. I had to take that out of the schedule as the ferry operators charge for two persons if one does not have someone to share the cabin with.

The route for the TCH first leg is: Victoria Zero Mile – Nanaimo – Kamloops – Banff - Swift Current – Brandon - Fort Frances – Schrieber - Sault Ste Marie - North Bay – Montreal – Quebec City – Moncton - North Sydney - Channel-Port aux Basques - Corner Brook - St. John’s Mile One. The route for the return leg would be: St. John’s Mile One – St Andrews – Truro – Bathurst – Levis – Ottawa – Toronto – Niagara – Sudbury – Hawk Junction – Thunder Bay – Winnipeg – Saskatoon – Edmonton – Jasper – Whistler – Victoria Zero Mile. The first leg will be from 5th to 22nd May and the second leg from 24th May to 12th June. More than 16,500 km will be covered in the two legs across all the 10 provinces of the country, except Prince Edward Island.

12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost...