Jason’s Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto – Part 1
I can’t imagine getting in my car and hitting the 16 hour road from Saint John to Toronto (or vice versa). Jason Ogden – lead singer of Penny Blacks – does it a lot and has put together a guide for you, the reader, on eats, drinks, hotels and shortcuts.
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My Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto
I’ve done this a few times now
By Jason Ogden
I remember the first time I ever drove through Quebec. I had recently bought my first car – a rapidly aging Ford Tempo – from my dad. With that exhilarating mixture of freedom (my own car – I could go anywhere!) and fear (I’m broke!), my girlfriend and I decided to take a road trip to Montreal. I remember how enthralled I was with the old highways through Quebec; for a young man on his first sojourn beyond the western border of his home province, it was like being in a different country. To my eyes, I may well have been coaxing that miserable Ford through France or Amsterdam. I loved the gothic and majestic look of the road signs, emblazoned with their fleur-de-lis and names that ranged from the mysterious (“Saint-Louis-Du-Ha! Ha!”) to the European-sounding and vaguely romantic (“L’Épiphanie,” “Saint-Basile-le-Grand.”) It seemed to me that even the ancient, broken asphalt looked different, as if in absorbing the years of history and decades of passengers it had its own unique composition and patina.
That first trip ended with a nightmarish breakdown during a torrential rainstorm in Quebec City on the way back to New Brunswick. It hit all the worst-case-scenario checklist points of a bad experience in la belle province. It was late, things were closed; Neither my girlfriend nor I spoke French very well, and it seemed that no one we encountered outside of the AAA operator on the phone spoke English. It was pouring. The entire city was booked solid with a huge convention. We had to leave the Tempo at a closed garage and take a taxi to the only lodging we could find, thanks to the broken English of the tow truck driver. It was 20 kilometres outside of town at a ski resort that was technically closed for the season. Because we spent the last of our cash on the taxi, we had to hitchhike back to Quebec the next morning.
I’ve since had several more harrowing experiences on the road between the 401 and NB-2 W, including losing a vehicle all together just outside of Fredericton and snapping a tendon in my neck on the 401 outside of Kingston, Ontario.
I’ve done the drive many ways. I’ve tried shortcuts of my own deduction as well as suggestions from others. I’ve travelled through the U.S. for a change of pace (the Vermont portion of the drive is especially picturesque). One time I made the trip with my cat. Another time, feeling particularly adventurous, I drove down the other side of the Saint Lawrence River only to discover that the only way across to the New Brunswick side was via a ferry that was done operating until the next morning. I got to experience that particular lovely drive twice that day. It was worth it, though, because I saw a giant robot made out of scrap metal.
You would think that these experiences would sour me on the trip. You would think that just the thought of another eight or 16 hours on that treacherous, boring and sleep-inducing conflagration of blacktop would be enough to send me under my blankets into a fetal position with a notepad, trying to calculate how to get money for a plane ticket. But the strange thing is, it doesn’t. Stranger still, I find myself looking forward to it as the day I am to leave approaches.
Why? There are different reasons, I suppose. When I am with a band in a van, it’s the camaraderie; the group-think; the shared joy and pain in road food and junky snacks; the in-jokes and anecdotes that are either created or repeated (and repeated, and repeated). And of course, pulling into port and playing music together. Travelling on my own, headed east, I suppose I am looking forward to seeing my friends and family. Headed west, I am eager to see my girlfriend and my cat, as well as sleep in my own bed.
But in both directions, I simply look forward to the drive.
Yes, the drive.
I like to think of my car on these trips as a combination sensory-deprivation chamber / time machine. It’s an office; a rehearsal studio; a think tank of the highest order. The open road is an inspiration and a muse second only to lost love. You’d be surprised how much a person can get done barrelling down the highway at 120 km/h, windows down, screaming along with Keith Morris or crooning along with Dean Martin.
It’s not for everybody. I realize that. I’ve spent my share of time in vehicles with people who begin to show signs of cracking after only a few hours. The windows go up and down, the radio dial gets rolled nearly off its axis, sleep is attempted and failed, and the jimmy legs – oh God, the jimmy legs. These folks are usually on their smart phones Hotwiring the nearest hotel by the time the sun starts to ebb. And then there’s the smokers. Egad. Don’t get me started on the smokers. I have the world’s smallest bladder, but nature only calls me a quarter of the time that carcinogens call some smokers.
But hey, maybe you are primed for a road trip. Maybe you’ve got that itch. Summer is coming after all – the season of festivals, concerts, camping, family gatherings and amateur drug runs. A season that takes a back seat only to autumn for prime long-distance driving, in my opinion. Whether you are headed to Toronto, or perhaps a little further to the Muskoka region to get your nature on – or maybe you’re headed in the opposite direction from Etobicoke to Saint John because you’re stalking Jesse Vergen – let me share a little bit of what I have learned from my days and nights on the Trans Canada Highway and its tributaries. For the sake of this article, I’m traveling East to West, but you know, it’s reversible.
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Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 – coming at you Wednesday and Thursday!
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