Friday, 25 July 2014

A Canadian Road Trip-Up – Part 1

How to survive when a long-distance budget road trip goes awry.   

A guest post by Mike Ciuffini.

As Canadians we possess an identity that is coiled throughout our country’s expanse and unique natural wonder. The oceans that bookend our immense country are reachable via a road that stretches over 8,000 km through all ten provinces: the Trans Canada Highway (TCH). Sounds like a challenge for men who, like me, love the open road.

I had such a narrow view of the country living in Southern Ontario until my mid-twenties. So I packed and moved out east. I now live in the province where my grandfather originated: Newfoundland & Labrador, in the city of St. John’s. The Atlantic Ocean runs through my blood, and last summer I was able to dip my feet for the first time off a rocky beach in Western Newfoundland.

After touching the Atlantic, a lingering desire was reawakened: to experience the Pacific Ocean off a Canadian coastline. But western Canada had always eluded me.

A work-related trip to Los Angeles put me the closest I’d ever physically been to the province of British Columbia, so I grabbed the opportunity by the wheel. The plan was to jump on a plane to Vancouver, meet a friend, get in a car and drive over 4,000 km to meet family in Ontario. I had a week set aside to get to Ontario as I had another plane to catch back to St. John’s. 

Leaving Los Angeles
Driving across the country can be daunting, time-consuming and expensive. Being a man on a pretty tight schedule and budget I needed to find ways to cut down on costs but still enjoy my travels along the way. 

The Ride

First, I had to find a ride. Car rentals and gas being expensive, I connected with Their service connects people needing a vehicle moved from one city to another and drivers looking to make the same trip. Drivers are given a mileage allowance above and beyond the direct route distance and are paid to deliver the car. I looked at this pay as a way of offsetting the cost of gas, so I signed up. 

Their website details the simple process of how to apply to become a driver. It also lists available cars and routes. found me a car that was purchased from a dealership in Vancouver and was to be delivered to the new owner in London, ON; a snazzy 2003 BMW 745i, no less! Driving the distance from Vancouver to London, especially in seven days, requires a comfortable ride. A BMW, I thought, would certainly fit the bill.

A Buddy

The best way to cut down on cost and ease the stress of driving many hours each day is to split each in half. A friend that can drive, has money and is fun to have around is a great addition. Plus, how else would you get awesome photos of yourself climbing rocks off the beaten trail in Banff?

My friend flew into Vancouver a day before I arrived. I grabbed the BMW from the dealership and met him in the city. We took a quick walk around and saw some water planes land off Coal Harbour pier, where the 2010 Olympic Caldron monument is located.

We met his friend (who we were staying with) at a pub downtown for a pint and watched the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers in game six to win the Stanley Cup. That evening we scoured the trails of Stanley Park until it was pitch black and made our way to the base of Lions Gate Bridge. 

It was over the edge of a bank off a park path that I washed my hands in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, both of our phones (or cameras) died before leaving for our walk so there is no photographic evidence of this important experience. We walked back to the city and slept on a couch in our friends’ condo that night. Our drive would start the next day – over 700 km to Golden, BC.

Places To Crash

Another way to cut down on costs is to pre-arrange accommodations with any family or friends you may have living across the country. I have hosted many people in St. John’s and most are willing to return the favour. This can be a huge cost-saver and, more than likely, they will be keen on showing you around city hotspots. We planned to show our gratitude by buying them a couple drinks.

We weren’t lucky enough to stay with family and friends every night of our trip, so we turned to We booked an entire trailer-home to ourselves in Golden, BC for our first night on the road. In smaller Canadian towns, cheap hotels don’t necessarily give you the same sense of living like a local. We wanted to be able to stop for the night in Golden in a secluded area surrounded by all the beauty the Rocky Mountains had to offer. 

A Fact. Things Can Go Wrong

We began our road trip out of Vancouver in our smooth and swanky BMW. We filled up and drove through Chilliwack, BC on cruise. About 200 km into our drive I felt the transmission act up and the accelerator suddenly stop working. I pulled over on the side of the highway and restarted the car. 

This happened two more times. I threw on the emergency lights and pulled over onto the side of the TCH. The dashboard display flashed a red “X” and the message: “Transmission fail-safe engaged.” I looked to my friend and said, “That can’t be good.” This time, the engine wouldn’t turnover.

We were stuck in a broken-down BMW just 300 km into our 4,500 km road trip. We stayed in the car as washes of mountain rain showered us. I called and left a detailed message of our situation. Unfortunately, there is no emergency number or hotline to call when these situations happen.  

Left to our own devices, I decided to call the owner of the vehicle. The owner worked with me to find a mechanic that could look at and service the car. Being a Saturday afternoon, we knew that time was not on our side. We spoke with a mechanic in Kamloops, but they couldn’t make any promises. There just wasn’t a lot of time to properly diagnose the issue before closing. 

I was lucky to have a CAA membership. It took them an hour to get to us but at least the tow was covered. When the tow truck finally came, we had to read through the owner’s manual to find a way to manually release the car’s parking brake and get it into neutral – another hour-long process. Being outside for most of this, I was now soaked. 

We got the car to the Kamloops mechanic before closing but we would have to wait until Monday for them to run a proper diagnostic. However, they did rent us a zippy Honda Fit to get around the town.

When Reality Hits

Our tight schedule was now compromised, as were all the plans we had made, and we still hadn’t heard back from With nothing listed on their website we had no idea what their policy was in these situations. Tired and hungry, we went to grab something to eat and a much-deserved pint of beer. 

After a couple hours, I finally got a call back from Turns out, in the last five years, only two other cars have ever mechanically broken down on their drivers. Unfortunately, we had the third. 

After further discussions we had two unfavourable options: 1. wait for the BMW to be checked Monday morning and hope it could be made road-worthy that day, or, 2. abandon the car in Kamloops and have them try and find us another car to drive. Option 2 could keep us on schedule and erased any worries about driving the BMW further. That said, there were no guarantees that another car would turn up in time.

We were stuck in Kamloops for the night. Not a bad place to be, but not in our plans. We booked a hotel through and made the most of it. We went into the local bars, listened to local bands and had some more drinks – probably a couple more than we really needed. My friend made his way back to the hotel. 

I hit my third wind and was now starving. I capped the night off by walking into the Denny’s next to our hotel. A novice overnight cook staff took their time and I had to wait over a half-hour for a simple order of eggs and toast. When it came time to pay, the waitress leaned in and said, “Sorry about the wait, hun. I’ll only charge you for the coffee.” The $2 meal was the best thing to happen to me all day.

Watch this week for Part 2 of Mike’s cross-country misadventure. 

Mike is a “mainlander” residing out in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. When he’s not out discovering the island’s terrain and port towns in his Subaru, he’s producing TV and award-winning films: the kind that play in Cannes, France.


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