Friday, 1 August 2014

A Canadian Road Trip-Up - Part 2

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

This story continues from Part 1, read it here.

A guest post by Mike Ciuffini.

A New Plan

The next morning we got confirmation that a vehicle in Edmonton was available to drive to Toronto. The next Greyhound bus was not leaving until that evening. It would go overnight through Banff, transfer in Calgary and get us into Edmonton mid morning. It was our only chance to get another car, so we took the offer. offered to cover the costs of the bus tickets, thankfully.

We had another (almost) full day to kill in Kamloops. We went for a short hike and hit up a golf range. With more time to burn before the bus loaded, we rented a storage locker at the bus station and caught three quarters of the last NBA finals game at a restaurant bar.

The Greyhound bus was surprisingly full for a Sunday night trip so we were forced to sit next to each other. We watched the sun set from the bus near Golden, BC, where we were supposed to have stayed the night before in a spot booked through Airbnb. I explained our situation to the owner, Craig, who kindly cut us a deal on the cancellation fee.  Take a look at his listing if you’re ever out in Golden.

The bus drove straight through Banff National Park overnight. It was not the way we envisioned seeing the park but we had a plan. We decided that once we got the car in Edmonton we would backtrack.

We arrived in Edmonton and walked to the owner’s house from the bus station. Our new ride was a black 2004 Nissan Pathfinder, packed near-full with half of someone’s one-bedroom apartment. We couldn’t see out the rear window, but thankfully, the car had the round blind-spot mirrors on the side mirrors to help us change lanes safely. We signed a new contract offer with and the owner of the Pathfinder and headed back towards Banff.

Backtracking to Banff

We originally planned to take two full days in Banff. Despite having lost two full days due to the breakdown, we decided that seeing one of the country’s finest national parks was worth adding longer driving days at the back-half of the trip.

We booked a hotel in Canmore, AB, through We checked in, threw our stuff in the room and headed right back out towards Banff for an evening hike.

Driving into Banff was a spectacle. Mountain peaks stood above the low-laying clouds, which moved away slowly revealing more of the mountains as we drove past. We hiked in at the top of Mt. Norquay. The grey skies and layered fog made for a mystical view of the park.

We also bumped into a Bighorn sheep right at the trailhead and stalked him for a while.

Starving, we decided to eat dinner in the town of Banff. We treated ourselves to a little Tex-Mex and a Corona. We capped off the meal with a Beavertail dessert. The rain rolled in and called for a night in at the hotel watching Louis C.K. on YouTube and sharing some whiskey I bought in LA.

The skies cleared for us the next day and we walked along Lake Louise and hiked up the mountain to Mirror Lake. We went off-trail to climb some rocks to get to the waterfall that runs down into Mirror Lake. We also hiked a short trail along Johnston Canyon and got up close and personal with a couple of waterfalls.

The extra day in Banff re-energized us for the rest of the drive. We drove into Calgary that night where we stayed with a friend’s friend just outside the city. He took us to get burgers and milkshakes at the famous Peters’ Drive-in and up the hill to the best view of the city. Our night in Calgary was short-lived but it did see more of us than the rest of the cities we drove through.

Pushing through the Prairies

We headed east the next morning for a full day of driving amidst rain warnings through Medicine Hat and Regina. We saw fields soaking in collected rainwater and low rolling dark clouds filled the open prairie sky. The clouds opened up for us just before we got to Swift Current, SK. Our destination was my friend’s family farm in southern Manitoba.

We covered 1,300 km in one day and most of it through the rain. Luckily, the highway through the prairies gives you the chance to make up some lost time. We arrived at the farm in time to see the sun setting. The green prairie fields were kissed by the glow of the horizon.

The Final Leg after Winnipeg – Ontario

A beautiful morning in Southern Manitoba begged us to stay and relax a little before hitting the open road once more. We took a ride in a makeshift off-road truck into the fields surrounding the farmland.

After a generous lunch we headed out again up through Winnipeg to Kenora and on to Thunder Bay. A long afternoon of driving along a one-lane stretch of highway in Northern Ontario turned magical as the twilight hour approached. The sky was a thousand different colours as we steered through the weaving roads paved through the blasted rock of the Canadian Shield. We saw a handful of moose off the side of the road, including a mother with two baby calves running into the woods. We got into Thunder Bay as night fell. At that moment we made a rash decision - keep going.

We knew the one-lane highways that weaved around the hills along the northern Lake Superior shore were dangerous at night and riddled with wildlife but we desperately wanted to get into Toronto the next day at a decent hour. We drove slow and stayed behind as many transport trucks as we could. The trucks with bigger fenders and better high beams kept us guarded and alert.

One of the biggest disadvantages of driving a packed vehicle is that we couldn’t easily pull over and have a nap. The seats were less comfortable than the Greyhound bus and once fatigue hit us both the drive became unsafe. We stopped driving at 5:00 a.m. in Wawa, ON. Fortunately, an inn just inside the town had a vacancy and allowed us to rest our heads for a few hours. We had pulled off another 1,300 km that evening and over night.  We crashed hard.

We woke up with drool pooled on our motel pillows, still fully clothed on top of the sheets. We were ready for the final 900 km of driving. When I went to check out, the woman at the inn not only gave us a deal on the room but also a map to an industrial road that would have us bypass Sault St. Marie, ON altogether and come into Sudbury from the north on Hwy. 144. It shaved two hours off our trip.

We grabbed some Tim Horton’s coffee and headed back on the road. Eight hours later and a slight transmission scare, we made it to Toronto. I dropped off my friend at his home and said our goodbyes – hugging it out, man-style.

The Lessons

There are a number of things that made our trip successful after the unexpected tried to derail us. We had to be smart, patient and flexible in our planning while knowing what we wanted to get out of it.  A number of things contributed to our recovery:

1. Once the BMW broke down we knew we’d be spending more money on booking last-minute accommodations. But using sites like and to locate hotels with the best deal in the area helped us save a few bucks.

2. Having amazing friends and family that were flexible and patient. We had to move the dates we were staying with people for three different nights. They were generous in their flexibility.

3. Coffee and eating well. Both things are very important to stay alert on the road. A big meal could have made us drowsy, especially when we were driving more than eight hours at a time.

4. Don’t make unnecessary stops. It is important to stretch every few hours but time it with gas stops or food breaks.

5. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. Tell people your story and ask for help. In Kamloops we got a courtesy car for next to nothing because we asked if they had one. Also, when I told the receptionist in Wawa our story, she gave me a corporate discount on the room and a map that cut two hours off our final leg.

So that’s the tale of how I fulfilled my desire to dip my hands in the Pacific Ocean and steer across Canada via the TCH. Had a road trip adventure of your own? Post it in the comments.

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.


  1. Great story and advise. Looking forward to your next adventure.