Thursday, 29 September 2016

The 19th Hole: Nags Head Golf Links, Nags Head, North Carolina

Golfing has now become a "must-do" for me while travelling with friends. I recently went to North Carolina for a week and could not skip the chance to golf on the thin strip of land known as the Outer Banks. The course we chose to play was Nags Head Golf Links located in Nags Head North Carolina.

Looking down the fairway of one of the holes at Nags Head Golf Links.

Today’s Twosome: 

Blake (my girlfriend's sister’s boyfriend – say that 10 times fast) and myself, Ed.

Blue skies, green grass, little bridge.

First Impressions: 

Driving to the golf course we found ourselves in a little private community filled with gorgeous homes on stilts painted all the colours of the rainbow with the course peeking out here and there. When we pulled up the driveway to the course, the feeling switched to a more modern and professional space as the clubhouse looked nothing like the homes in the area. It would've been nice if the clubhouse represented the location and also had that "Outer Banks beachy" vibe to it.

Upon pulling up, an employee (Ernest) was quick to get us a cart and our rental clubs. We were pretty surprised considering we hadn’t even made it inside to pay our green fees. The fee and club agreement process was quick and painless and we soon found ourselves staring down the luscious green fairway of hole number one.


The clubhouse is built to be like a private members only country club. It has some older details and stuffy vibes to it such as private lockers, member only areas, etc., but despite all that the staff are still very welcoming to the public as were most players on the course.

Panoramic view of one of the holes that sits on the sound at Nags Head Golf Links.


This time around I cannot blame the rental clubs on my poor performance. They had given us some beauty Taylormade sets and I was actually performing better with those irons than the set I use at home. I will say though, when on a new course using rentals, stick to the clubs you know; I was trying out all the wedges on the early holes and gave myself a few extra strokes that I was not be able to get back.

One disappointment of the course was that the score cards did not have a visualization of the holes. If you wanted a course map you would have to pay $5 at the club shop. To me, that just seems like a senseless cash grab. We did not know this before teeing off, so we ended up playing the course essentially blind and guessing where water and other hazards were.

The course itself was in immaculate shape. The two days before we played there was a considerable amount of rain so the fairways and greens were very soft. So soft that carts were stuck to the path and any high-hit ball hitting the green had minimal roll. The course winds through a private community and a few holes are directly beside the sound. A large portion of the holes have water hazards which you will either have to play safe to avoid or be a demigod to clear. With that in mind, the course is tight as well, any stray balls will be lost forever.

View from the tee box looking at a water hazard. Play short or crush it!

Food and Beverage: 

We played an early morning round so we did not see any cart service and we bypassed the clubhouse at the 10th hole to keep up the pace we had going. I cannot comment on the offering here in that regard. However one thing I really loved was that every three holes they had a water station set up for the golfers. We needed it since the temperature was closer to 30 degrees celcius with very little wind. I personally took advantage and had three or four cups of water at each station. I wish more courses would offer this for golfers.

Another hole, another water hazard. But those houses sure do look pretty!


We paid $125 USD for the green fee, cart and club rentals which works out to approx. $160 CAD. This is probably the most I’ve spent on golf all year (outside of a tournament), but when you factor in rentals and a cart it really isn’t that bad. We got a solid three and a half hours of play time that was challenging, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. After all, vacations are meant to be an experience, and golfing is just that.

Road to the left, water and trees to the right. Hit your ball straight and true on this one.

Final Thoughts: 

Nags Head Golf Links allowed us to play as a twosome, which was nice because it made the game go faster and allowed us to avoid the awkwardness of being stuck with strangers. The weather was perfect and the rentals were better than my own set of clubs at home. The staff were incredibly nice and the course was in tip-top shape. The course was a hell of a challenge and was frustrating beyond belief at some points. That said, it made hitting a perfect shot on a tough hole or tough lie that much more satisfying. The price may be steep for some travelers, but it was fine for a vacation splurge. Overall, I give this course a 4 out of 5.

Have you ever golfed here? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comment section below. Cheers!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Road Trip: Toronto to New York City to Philadelphia

Every year, as the short summer dwindles down, I end up asking myself: "Did I make the most of it?" Last summer, I didn't do as much as I had hoped, and that left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. So this year I was hell-bent on crossing a few things off of my bucket list. One of those things was making the most of a long weekend by tearing out on an adventurous road trip. 

Challenge accepted. Next stop: New York City and Philadelphia, PA. 

I had forgotten how much fun it was to plan a trip like this. From the moment I booked the first hotel I had a month and a half, which meant a month and a half of scouting different routes; a month and a half to check out where we should stop for the night on our way to New York City; and a month and a half to dream about the Ford Flex Limited that Ford Canada was going to lend me for the trip (what colour will it be!?). Needless to say, I was pumped.

The month and a half countdown had counted down and the day was here. Terrina, her son Caiden and I (Chris, if we haven't already been introduced) were loading up our beautiful blue Ford Flex Limited. In true fashion, Terrina was busy rearranging the way I had packed the car, and I was busy arguing with Caiden about whose packing method was better. Caiden was shocked when he found out the Flex had a regular household outlet for powering his doodads (no car charger needed)! We passed the time in heavy traffic Instagram-ing shots of us flexing our muscles in the Flex while singing along to our favourite songs on the radio.

When we finally broke free of the traffic I opened up the 365 horsepower 3.5L EcoBoost (cue the Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor ape grunt) just a little as we headed south to the border. I soon found out that the Ford Flex Limited and myself had a lot in common - we are both ruggedly handsome, have strong hearts, are surprisingly techy, and, most importantly, we are both beautiful on the inside. 

We stopped for gas twice along the way; once because we needed it and the other to fill up on the gloriously cheap New Jersey gasoline. We drove 760 kilometers right through the Holland Tunnel to the front door of the Marriott on West Street in Manhattan. I handed over the keys to the Flex and we checked in. 

TIP: Staying in Manhattan can be expensive but if you want to see a number of sights during a short stay, then you need to be in the middle of the action.

After a quick rest we headed out to explore - umbrellas drawn. The first thing that stuck out was One World Trade Center and the Oculus, which according to the locals happens to be a "very expensive train station."

Walking in and around Manhattan we stumbled upon St. Paul's Chapel. What caught my eye first was the graveyard just past the gate with a long wavy path. I went in first, pulling away from the shelter of the umbrella as big drops of rain started falling off of the tree, totally messing up my hair. Along the path there were a couple signs explaining the history of the chapel and how much adversity it had faced throughout its many years.

We had a quick visit with the FDNY Ten House squad and then walked across the street towards the World Trade Center memorial pools. It was raining a bit harder now, I knew it was going to be tough to get a good picture so I hung back under the shelter of a small tree. At that moment, two people I love very much created the perfect shot for me.

Just outside our hotel we found ourselves in the historic and scenic Battery Park. From there we walked towards the pier and found ourselves gazing on the fairest lady of them all. The Statue of Liberty had just lit up, almost as if she knew we were coming. 

After the excitement of seeing the fair lady we decided to tour the city in our Ford Flex. We hopped in and with the help of the GPS were able to see Central Park, Times Square and the Empire State Building, along with a few more familiar sights in short order.  It was a great way to finish off the day.

The next morning I woke up with a plan to cross two major items off of my travel bucket list. The first: experiencing the 9/11 Memorial Museum. 

Have you ever heard of flashbulb memory? Its when you are able to remember exactly what you were doing when a life changing event occurs. September 11, 2001 was definitely one of those days. 

I was 18 and sleeping when the first plane hit. My dad woke me up and turned on my TV and from that point on I was glued to it. I recall watching the second plane hit; it felt like the world had stopped turning.

The museum's atmosphere resembles a mixture between a library and a funeral home. We realized that there is still a lot of hurt buried deep down from that very dark day. We held each others' hands a little tighter after every exhibit and I swore that someone was cutting onions nearby, because my eyes got a little watery at times. It must happen often to the patrons of the museum, because there are Kleenex boxes at most of the exhibits. When I had researched the museum on the line, it had said it should take about two and a half hours to see everything. We spent four and a half hours soaking everything in like a sponge. 

After we finished up at the museum we grabbed a quick bite to eat and started driving. We were on a mission to get to Philadelphia, where the Fresh Prince used to spend most of his days. We were determined to make it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in order to cross the second bucket list item off: *trumpets playing* the Rocky Steps! 

We pulled off of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and into a free parking spot, Philadelphia Freedom indeed. The situation got very serious after we posed with the Rocky statue. Caiden had challenged me to a racing duel up the very popular steps (perfect activity for a 34 degree day). I used my Usain Bolt-type speed to dominate the race and make it to the top victorious. I danced around and threw punches into the air repeating "I am the greatest" over and over much to the dismay of my opponent, who I saw as a much smaller Apollo Creed. After my celebration at the top was over (and yes, that did take awhile) we celebrated a bit more with an ice cream and hopped back into the car to find our hotel.

We stayed at the Loews Philadelphia. It was lovely with very friendly and helpful staff and a heck of a view, if you ask me. 

The next day we were going on a free tour of Independence Hall and visiting the Liberty Bell, the real "belle of the ball." We had wanted to see both of these attractions when we were in Philly last September to see Papa Fracessca, AKA the Pope, but the entire city was shut down for the occasion.

As for the tour, it wasn't very long but it was full of rich history and the odd chuckle. Certainly worth every penny of the "free" price tag. Also, if you answer a history question right you get a free trading card. Caiden caught on quickly and collected a good stack. 

Before leaving Philadelphia I had to do one last thing: mow down on an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich with mustard, provolone and mushrooms. You know it was good. 

We left that day with a feeling of accomplishment. I felt like we made the absolute most of our long weekend and we had made some amazing memories together. Road trips are good for the soul. 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Travelling During the Terrible Twos

So, you’re the parent of a two-year-old. You’re just emerging from that wonderful but challenging transitional period between your old, childless life - full of reckless abandon and that “sleep” thing you vaguely recall – into parenthood. You’re figuring it out – you’ve got a killer routine, your kid is developing in the coolest ways every day, you’re starting to find some balance between work, parenting and the other parts of your life – things are good. 

At this point you likely know that the terrible twos are a very real thing. Random, seemingly causeless tantrums; overt grasps at independence;  violent outbursts (both physical and emotional); signs of new, complex and sometimes devastating emotions like shame, rejection and embarrassment; and a plethora of other challenges that come at this stage. 

But you’re handling that. 

Likely, becoming a parent has put something of a cork on your opportunities to travel (unless you took advantage of that sweet spot between infancy and toddlerhood – but more on that for another post).  But you are feeling like, at this stage, taking your kid on one of your forgotten adventures just might be becoming possible. 

Well it is… and it isn’t.  Travel with kids is obviously very different from travelling solo, with a partner or with friend and family, but travelling with a two-year-old is a whole other kettle of hard. But it’s not impossible, and, indeed, can be full of fun, joy and memories. 

Here is what I learned on my first “real trip” with my two-and-a-half year old (and his one year old baby brother to boot). We rented a cottage in Honey Harbour, Ontario with a few members of our family for a week of outdoor fun. 

Wes the Mess. In all his two-year-old glory.
1. Pack your patience 

Try as you may, that perfect little routine you’ve created at home is getting broken. Bed and nap times will be flexed, boundaries will be unclear and you will likely be more permissive of certain things than you are at home. This is necessary for all the fun and exploration travel provides, but it also means trouble. The broken routine will amplify all the terrible twos have to offer. Your two-year-old’s brain will start to explode with possibilities and they will make every effort to explore them. They will be tired-er, hungrier, more distracted, less likely to listen, more willful, etc. Being ready for this will help you roll with the punches, and that leads to #2…

2. Go with the flow

Trying to over plan and keep a schedule will make your trip exceedingly difficult. All the new sights, sounds, experiences and emotions will make your two-year-old desperate to explore. The “big plans” you made might not interest them in the least, while the most mundane tasks will fascinate them; meaning they will want to do them over and over again. On my recent trip, Wes (my two point five year old), became fascinated by boats. All he wanted to do was walk the numerous docks and talk about the countless variety of boats in the harbor. I had to force myself over the tedium of it and look at it through his eyes. In the end, the hours he and I spent chatting about bloody boats (fast boats, big boats, fish boats, “sleeping” boats, little boats, tin can boats  etc. etc.) are a hilarious memory, and time well spent. And that brings us to point #3…

3. Think/be like a kid

It is so easy when travelling with kids to focus on the big things like meals, schedules, itineraries and the like. After all, you feel responsible for ensuring everyone has a good time. In order to survive, however, it helps to think like a kid, and often that means seeing the forest for the trees. You can do this by looking and listening just a little closer. Kids see amazing little details that adults, through conditioning, can miss. Wes was able to spend an amazing amount of time looking under the docks for frogs and fascinating over the ecosystems under there. When I started doing the same, it was amazing what I found, and the experiences we came to share. 

4. Bring a friend

Kids can keep other kids entertained in ways no adults can, which can be a sanity saver for the adults. That said, I’ve found that, at this age, the closer in age the kids are the better. This can be an awkward age for relationships. Two-year-olds don’t know the “rules of the playground” yet, and their still-limited communications skills can cause conflicts, particularly with older kids who find it difficult to understand why young kids behave the way they do. If you can’t travel with others who have children of similar age, encourage your child to befriend other children wherever you are hanging out.  

5. Pre-plan small tasks/activities

Thinking up some simple tasks your child can do during certain parts of your trip can help keep them engaged. Note, chances are your kid won’t engage in all the tasks you plan, so try and think up a few. At the beach on our vacay, Wes collected rocks and filled buckets of water, pouring them in a randomly selected spot on the sand (he came up with that last one on his own, but it kept him in rapture for at least 20 minutes, which meant a bit of relaxing time for mom and dad). 

6. Use extra time to relax

You’ll be tempted during rare periods of inactivity (when the kids are in bed, hanging out with relatives, etc.) to catch up on things or prepare for the next thing to come. It’s important to section some of this time off for relaxation. Try and grab bits and pieces of vacation for yourself. It is deserved. Feel no shame.

7. Dial back your expectations

When I started planning things to do during our week at the cottage I got very excited. It was, to me, an opportunity to expose Wes to a bunch of new things that I thought idyllic for dads and their sons to do together. These things included fishing, canoeing, boating, tubing, hiking, campfires, s’mores and countless others. The reality, however, was that while some of these things held some appeal, Wes' short attention span and general two-year-old-ness meant he simply wasn’t ready for a lot of these activities. Fishing rods splashed in the water and tears were shed over the very concept of going on an inflatable donut being towed behind a boat. When I dialed back my expectations, I was able to enjoy the act of trying these things, even if they were not embraced.

He did love the boat!
Plan ahead but don’t over plan. Have realistic expectations. Keep it simple. Those are the rules I’ll live by on my next trip. Any other tips on travelling with a two-year-old? Leave them in the comments.  

Monday, 18 July 2016

5 Summer Styles of Beer to try Before September Comes Around!

Fruit Infused Wheat Beers

My pick: Watermelon Wheat – Kensington Brewing Company

Anyone who knows me knows that, from the very first sip, this style became my summer beer of choice. I even went on a fruit infused tour at a local pub that used to carry over 75 craft brands (10-15 of which were seasonal fruit wheat beers). In the fruit infused wheat department I am partial to the watermelon style as it leaves just a hint of the flavour and isn't overbearing in any way. I found the apple and raspberry brews to be too powerful and sweet. With the watermelon wheat you get a crisp tasting wheat beer with a hint of a watermelon finish that leaves you feeling refreshed and wanting to drink more. There are some great brands out there in the US and Canada perfecting this style, but my choice is made right here in Toronto in a cool little neighbourhood known as Kensington Market.


My pick: Collective Arts Gose

I had my initial gose sour experience moments before stepping into one of my first Prud'homme classes. It was completely different from anything I had ever had. The first batch of this particular gose had me sucking in my cheeks, unfortunately the same brand has lost a lot of the sourness it once had. Thankfully more and more gose sours are popping up, like this one from Collective Arts. This style is typically a one off in trendy bars, so good luck hunting them down!


My pick: Stiegl Grapefruit

What do you drink when you want something refreshing, but also want a low alcohol content? Let me introduce you to the shandy category! Shandies are typically beer mixed with a carbonated beverage, usually lemonade or fruit juice; root beer or ginger ale. For our summer beer choice we are going to focus on a particular style created by our beer drinking genius friends, the Germans!

Essentially they created Radlers by mixing beer and sparkling lemonade to act as a more refreshing beverage (think the Gatorade of beer) during long haul bike rides. A more common practice these days is to mix fruit sodas and other sparkling drinks to beer to get the radlers we know and love today. To me a radler is the perfect breakfast beer. I’m not saying crush one before work every day. But after a long night of drinking, a radler the next morning will get you on the right path for the day. 


My pick: None 

What!? I have no suggestions for this category? To be honest, I am just not a fan of ciders. They are either way to sweet and remind me of syrupy juice or too damn dry and reminiscent of poor quality white wine. However, this style is a huge player in the beer market and should not be discredited. If you prefer a sweeter drink I’d point you in the direction of Somersby Apple Flavoured Cider. If you prefer a dryer cider, I’d direct you over to Pommies Dry Cider.


My pick: White Summer (50/50 blend of Somersby Apple Flavoured Cider and Kronenbourg Blanc)

BeerTails (Beer-Cocktails) have been around for a while; in fact, us gents at Real Man Travels actually have a signature drink we call Beer Bombsicles. However I cannot disclose the information of said cocktail publicly, so I chose my number two BeerTail, the White Summer. "But wait," you say... "it has a cider in it!?" You are absolutely correct, it does. "But Ed, you’re not a fan of ciders." Also true. But when cut with the Kronenbourg Blanc the sweetness is reduced and we are left with just the apple flavour with a hint of the refreshing citrus notes of the Kronenbourg Blanc. Overall it’s a damn fine drink that even I am able to pound a few of. This is the perfect mix during any backyard activities like ladder ball, bocce, washer toss or horseshoes. Trust me, it's still manly.

Get out to your local beer or liquor store and find some of these styles to crush before it becomes sweater season!

In the spirit of transparency, Ed Arsenault works for Carlsberg Canada Inc and some of his choices may seem biased on that fact. However all these drinks are tasty and you should try them regardless.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Exploring Ontario’s West Coast: Goderich, Ontario

People tend to want to see all that the wide world has to offer. In doing so, however, they can forget about seeing their own country; the surrounding cities, towns and landscapes that make up their own backyard. I live in Ontario, a huge province in Canada that has many different offerings including massive cities, small towns, rugged tundra, vast forests, the Canadian Shield, watersheds and much, much more. I always like to take a bit of time whenever I can to explore all that Ontario has to offer. Each summer, one of my favourite places to visit with a carload of great friends is Goderich, located on Ontario's west coast.

View of the harbour of Goderich
View of the harbour
Located about three hours from Toronto (four hours if there is traffic, which there always seems to be), Goderich is a quaint little town with a lot of history, a booming salt mining industry and a whole lot of beauty. In fact, it was deemed to be one of Canada’s prettiest towns by Queen Elizabeth II which led to the creation of their motto: Canada’s Prettiest Town.

Upon arrival you are greeted into the community with an octagon town square oozing with small town charm.  The courthouse sits proudly in its centre surrounded by local businesses and shops. We recall it looking similar to the 1950’s version of Hill Valley, the town featured in the Back to the Future movies. If you are a fan of architecture and house design, then Goderich will be worth your drive. Every street has incredibly beautiful homes; some of the more prominent ones still featuring original horse rails and ties in front of the properties. There are also a variety of parkettes that feature stories and monuments hearkening back to the town's former life.

A view of Goderich lighthouse.
Goderich Lighthouse built in 1847
On our last visit, our home for the weekend was located minutes from one of the town's best attractions, the three beaches. Main Beach, St. Christopher’s Beach and Rotary Cove Beach are all in walking distance of each other, but all offer a slightly different experience. Main beach is the closest to the harbour activity, so it is a great spot to chill and watch massive ships load up with salt, tug boats roaming around the waters; or simply catch the waves crashing in. St. Christopher’s beach is definitely the family spot. Playgrounds, pavilions, BBQ pits and more make this area more suitable for families or larger groups. There are also rock piers to sit on and soak up the views. Rotary Cove is the furthest of the three beaches but offers a quieter beach experience; better for smaller groups or couples.

Beach in Goderich
The almighty beach! Just one of the few reasons to visit Goderich
You can explore the town by foot to get some hidden views of Lake Huron and come across some gems like the Goderich Lighthouse. Built in 1847 this lighthouse is not of a typical build. It is short and squared off, but because it is situated on a bluff it does its job just fine. Located by the lighthouse are steps that lead down the bluff to St. Christopher’s beach. Goderich lore says you can watch the sun set twice here; once down at the beach and again after climbing up the stairs to the top of the bluff. I didn’t get to test this claim out, but would gladly go back and try.

View of Lake Huron through trees
Hard to believe this is Ontario! A view of Lake Huron from a park in Goderich
Beauty aside, what is a place without food and drink? The town has your typical fare of McDonalds, Subway, etc., but we have found a few gems along the way. The Park House restaurant is located at the top of the road leading to the beach. Here you will find a killer patio with great views. They serve normal pub fare menu, but also offer fish from the lake.

View of an older home in Goderich.
John in front of one of the beautiful old style homes you can find in Goderich
Preserving history by converting an old rail station into a restaurant is exactly what the Beach Street Station Restaurant did. While offering up a more high-end menu than the other restaurants, it still manages to stay on a budget friendly price point. It also happens to be a focal point of St. Christopher’s Beach and offers great views of the lake.

Situated in the heart of the town square is a little shop called Cravings. Its name is exactly on par with what they offer, the treats you crave. Be sure to stop by and try out one of their 43 ice cream flavours or some homemade treats.

Goderich is just one of many places along Ontario’s west coast that are worthy of a visit, but with its small town charm; beautiful homes and parks; quiet and friendly atmosphere and top notch beaches, you may just want to make it your first.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Surviving Road Trips: Music

It's summer time which means long drives to the beach, cottage, camping or maybe even cross country! Either way there is always a common factor when driving anywhere with multiple people and that is trying to please each passengers musical taste(s).

Conventional rules say that the front seat passenger is the one who controls the musical flow, but how fair is that when the passenger is the drivers significant other? So to avoid ruining a beautiful drive and possibly some friendships here are some quick tips to please everyone musically.

1. Find a generic station on the radio

Seems easy enough, just work the radio dial and scope out a station that is playing top hits of decades, genres or whatever your group is mostly into. The major drawbacks of this are that stations come and go as you drive, you will need to find a new station once every few hours as you exit cities, towns and cross borders. Oh, and you will have to listen to non-stop commercials! While not ideal, using the radio is still a valid option for some background music.

Radio Dial
Sometimes you gotta go old school and just listen to the radio.

2. Share music time

Everyone has music on their devices, why not come up with a schedule so that everyone gets a turn listening to their own? Dedicate an hour or two to each passenger and pony up the auxiliary cord, Bluetooth signal, USB cable, or if you still have it (which is bad ass if you do) the cassette to 3.5mm adapter. The downside here is that you as a single person will have to listen to up to four other passengers musical preferences. And that can go either way depending on your friend’s taste in music. Again this isn’t ideal, but a better option than the radio.

3. Existing Playlists 

As an avid user of Spotify, I have to say that playlists are life savers when you don’t want to over think what to listen to. Simply pick a loose genre (example 80’s-90’s-00’s hits, Nu-Metal, Pop Punk, Country Hits) and search it up on Spotify. Magically, about 30 playlists pop up that you can now enjoy singing all the hits of. This works with many other genres, bands etc and is a pretty good road trip music solution. However you still have to swap playlists to cater to each passengers tastes. But at least it keeps the obscure tracks that no one has heard away. Downsides are streaming services use data, and we all know data is like gold right now! Tip: Consult with your buds beforehand and download a few Spotify playlists for offline play if you are a premium user. 

4. Creating Playlists

You can take this one step further and actually create your own playlist. You can do this on your computer, phone or through apps like Spotify. If you have extended time before your trip you could email all the other passengers and get them to send you the titles of 30 songs they’d love to hear. Compile them all up into a nice playlist, hit shuffle and enjoy musical freedom. This should cover everyone’s tastes and keep the music balanced (unless your shuffle is as stupid as mine and plays the same band 3 times in a row…c’mon shuffle get it together).

Spotify Logo
Spotify Logo, great streaming service for music.

5. Battle Royale Solution

Lastly you could of course have an epic road trip battle for dominance of the radio. The winner of whatever challenge you create takes full command of the tunes. Last one to need a bathroom break, rock paper scissors, elimination license plate games or pre-drive feats of strength? A true champion of the road deserves the glory of broadcasting the songs of their people, no? This solution isn't for the faint of heart (or ears) but still pretty awesome... if you win.

Regardless of which musical option you choose for your next road trip, just have fun and make the best of whatever may be playing. Remember that the drive and the music is just a means to get to your end destination!

Drive safe folks!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Escape and Discover: Thunder Bay Edition

I had been expecting a package from Ford Canada the other day; they were being weirdly secretive about it. I knew it had something to do with the new 2017 Ford Escape. When it arrived I tore into it and found a duffle bag emblazoned with the words, "Escape & Discover," along with a postcard telling me to "prepare for the ultimate adventure and an unforgettable night away." That and I was part of "Team Yellow," whatever that meant. I read it three times, trying to discern what this ultimate adventure was all about, but the only instruction was to be ready and waiting for 7 a.m. Then my mind did what it does best when faced with the unknown: it plays games. Where are we going? How are we getting there? What other team colours are there? Is it going to be a scavenger hunt, or perhaps some type of Hunger Games-style affair?

In truth, if I gave myself a rating on the adventurous scale, I wouldn't peg myself at the ultimate adventure end of the spectrum; I'm maybe... a medium adventure type guy. After dwelling on it for awhile I calmed down and became okay with the mystery of it all. All I had to do was get to sleep and find out in the morning.

Morning came and I was whisked away in the back seat of a black, unmarked car. I buckled in and the driver looked back and said, "Heading to Thorncrest Ford?" I give him a straight faced look and said, "Am I?" The driver looked confused and said, "That's what this booking says." I just smiled and replied, "Thorncrest Ford it is my good man."

When we arrived I was greeted by smiles and food. I mingled with the other people and met my teammates. Keeping with the mystery of the event, there was a huge curtain with the Ford symbol on it, and what appeared to be the shadow of an SUV conspicuously shining through. Maybe not such a mystery after all, so we thought. But after a quick welcome they pulled the curtain, and much to the shock of myself and the 11 other guests, there was no Ford Escape, just a table with four sets of three tickets. I grabbed my Team Yellow tickets and brought them back to the group, where we opened them together and found...

I was on my way to Thunder Bay!
So off we went like we were the McCallisters and we had slept in again! Arriving at Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Island, I was so happy that I thought I would grab an escalator selfie.

Our smooth flight featured an unexpected treat, an aerial view of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park! You may ask why is it called Sleeping Giant... well that is why they invented Google (that and to make heaps of money). Google it.

You might be able to tell why its called Sleeping Giant now.
We were picked up by Matt and Malcolm who had us cruising in style in the new Ford Escape we had been waiting to see. Ours was a beautiful pearl white with blacked out rims, the new Sync3 entertainment system and a sunroof that starts at the front seat and ends all the way at the back seat! I don't even know what you call that type of sunroof, but I do know that it is awesome.

Nice Ride eh?
Team Yellow's first stop was lunch at a waterfront restaurant called The Bight; a delicious meal with a superior view. Speaking of superior views, we snapped a couple of shots of Sleeping Giant from shore. I tried to point at it in a selfie and came close... and that calls for a "that's what she said."

Not even close to the giant.
After seeing our first bit of wildlife (groundhog), we spotted a fox. Well in Canada he is THE Fox. I was so excited to see the Terry Fox memorial but when we hopped out of the Escape I wasn't expecting the somber, yet enchantingly appropriate music that we heard. A gentleman was practicing his bagpipes at the memorial, and it made our experience a little more emotional and definitely a lot more memorable.

Bagpipes, the Canadian flag and Terry Fox. I think I've got some dirt my eye. Ya, dirt, that's it.
Then it was road trip time. Turn down the windows and turn up the music. (Aside: Do we technically turn down windows anymore? I guess not. Anyhow, back to my #EscapeAndDiscover Adventure, and yes, you should check that hashtag out). We were headed to Kakabeka Falls. If you have seen them before you know exactly what I mean when I say, nature is freakin' beautiful.

FYI, if you are planning to have a stop at the falls on your journey be prepared to pay a small parking fee of $3/hour, but it is worth every penny.

After we saw the falls we stopped into the Kakabeka Falls gift shop. We had a great conversation with the shop owner about how much he loves free advertising from the local bingo that runs six months of the year, so this shout out is for you gift shop guy!

Our next stop had us at the bottom of Mount Mckay looking way way up to the summit. You can get up to the summit somehow, but we never really figured it out. Mount Mckay is the highest, most northern and best known of the Nor'Wester Mountains.

That was our last stop of the day. We checked into the local Holiday Inn Express and had a small rest before dinner. We dined at a popular wine bar and restaurant called Caribou. I had a pairing of wood fired pizza and a Lake of the Woods beer named Firehouse Amber. C'est Magnifique. When we walked out to meet our driver we were blinded by sunlight, even though it was after 9 p.m.!

Lake of the Woods Firehouse Amber
The next morning I was feeling recharged, despite our whirlwind of a Saturday. We were taken to the restaurant Hoito, a Thunder Bay staple known for their Finnish pancakes. I had mine with bacon and, oh baby, was it good. If you go to Thunder Bay, it's a must.

Hoito has been in business for almost 100 years
After breakfast we were on our way to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. We finished our trip off testing out the impressive handling of our Ford Escape while winding through pristine Canadian wilderness, occasionally dodging the odd deer or stray rock. We found ourselves at the Silver Islet store that sits on the site of a former silver mining operation from the 1800s. 

Shhhhh. Don't wake the giant.
Silver Islets Store
Our last stop before the airport was at the Thunder Bay lookout right smackdab in the middle of Sleeping Giant. A perfect view for saying goodbye to Thunder Bay.

That's a wrap folks. Our #EscapeAndDiscover adventure ended on a very high note. It was nice to be in a place where cell reception was so bad but the nature was so good. It reminded me that we live in such a huge beautiful province. A big thanks to Ford Canada for including me in this awesome adventure.

Shout out to Team Yellow!!