Road trip for dummies

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Among the biggest awareness-raising changes in our lives has been access to the rest of the world by highway. It’s quite amazing for those who were cut off from the rest of the world by isolation for most of their lives and then have a road carved out of the wilderness right to their doorstep, where once there were only foot trails and portages. When the James Bay Highway was built back in the 1970s, there was a surge in tourism travel from the north to the south. Yes, we actually became tourists for the first time.

The great thing about the JBH was that there wasn’t any real police presence and the only risk of ignoring the speed limit signs was the possibility of not reaching the next gas station. In those early road trips, the humungous tanks and voracious high cubic inch engines meant power. Enough power to race to the corner store and back, and then for a little spin around town, before returning to the gas station to fill up for the night. Those were the days when a gallon cost an outrageous 75 cents – or about 17 cents a litre. We never imagined that the petroleum industry would one day have a chokehold on the world and force us to buy more efficient engines measured in cubic centimetres. Ah… the 454 4-barrel hemi-supercharged Duster, where are you now?

In the late 1970s, the average family vehicle was a GM Suburban or a pickup truck. Vans and sedan cars were rare. For safety precautions, every vehicle had to have the mandatory shovel, axe, chain, flares, pumps, spare, first-aid kit and water before we even thought of travelling the world’s longest private road. My uncle had a Ford LTD, which was great on the highway as we matched the speedometer (in miles) against the signs (in kilometres) so we traveled from Fort George to Matagami in three-and-a-half hours.

Today, a little voice – not the one in my head – tells me to twist and turn like a madman on steroids through tough traffic situations in downtown Montreal while road rage slowly builds as we creep along congested roadways. After driving for more than 14 hours, we’re in a hurry to check into some internet-recommended hotel booked just minutes earlier. Sophisticatedly entering a nice hotel lobby and brandishing a prepaid credit card signifies that you really don’t need credit to get a room, that’s for snobby people who can’t afford cash anyways.

After checking in, make sure the kids – if there are any – get enough pool time to wear themselves out and settle for a pay-per-view movie in the room. The adults sneak out on the promise of returning with more goodies and head for the nearest open mall or entertainment central. Kids are more agreeable after breakfast so sleep on little people! See you at the complimentary breakfast after another morning dip!

We northern travelers like to kid our southern neighbours about how barren our home is, except for the occasional marauding polar bear. And yes, igloos do melt in the summer. With my luck, I always bump into a tourist who doesn’t know anything about Canada and I wonder why they would leave their tropical paradise to venture north to be devoured by pesky mosquitoes. I learn that our mosquitoes are quite small and that we have virtually no venomous animals. Oh well, I guess being a tourist meeting another tourist does have interesting exchanges about the meaning of climate change and whose native animals are deadlier.

Aside from travelling, I’m glad to hear that the aging James Bay Highway will soon be pothole free and the promise of breaking land speed records will become a reality again. This time around, no huge sedans to barrel around in, just frugal zippy cars that have the gall to go the entire route without meeting a gas-station attendant and getting price-sticker shock will become the new reality. I can’t wait!

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