As we drive the expanse that is Canada we are listening to John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “The Grapes of Wrath”. I’ve read the book and seen the movie, but listening to the book on Audible is mesmerizing. And so apropos. I chose this book because in a couple of weeks we will be traveling on the great Route 66. But as we listen to it now in Canada we find subtle similarities, and acknowledging our journey and fab fifty life is in part thanks to people like the Joad’s who paved the way.
The crossing of the great country of Canada is different than I imagined. Having driven three times across the United States I was expecting it to be the same. But it is not. Canada seems so much larger – the distances between our chosen destinations seeming endless. Hundreds of miles between towns or cities. And sometimes between gas stations or services. Sparsely populated in a way that makes the thought ring truer than ever before – “out in the middle of nowhere”. Like the Joad’s on Route 66.
We left Winnipeg Beach on Friday morning at 7am and fell into bed that night at 9pm with 600 miles done. Pulling Betty on the Trans-Canada Highway we go a maximum speed of 60mph. There is minimal traffic, mostly just truckers traversing the country just like us. A truck stop service station appears about every 100 miles. Just gas and fast food – little more. We knew our drive from Winnipeg on Friday was going to be a long one. We wanted to cover as many miles as we could. We thought it would be easier to drive until we couldn’t drive no more and then get a hotel.
It was a good idea, but it didn’t work out exactly as we imagined. There were plenty of hotels as we passed through the city of Thunder Bay on the border of Manitoba and Ontario. But it was still early and we kept going. Then there was nothing. For miles and miles and miles. Nothing but truckers. Nothing but signs warning to watch out for moose. Nothing more.
Finally not wanting to drive too much after dark we pulled off in the town of Nipigon. Three old style motels stared at us in varying states of decay on the side of the highway – no doubt built in the era of the Joad Family. We chose the one that looked the least offensive and checked in. In hindsight, we should have just pulled into a truck stop and slept in Betty – the motel offered little comfort. It actually was more of a hassle – as we needed to pull clothes and toiletries out of Betty to have in the motel room. In Betty we have a system. A comfortable routine. The Joad’s had a routine too. Pull out the tarp and the mattresses and fry up some pork. Same thing each night – maybe not fancy but in the routine they found comfort.
We slept well though, despite the shabby room and were on the road again at 8:30am. The night before we had passed into the Eastern timezone – our inability to know what time it is following us across the miles.
Fog was our companion on this morning as we continued our eastward quest. But within the first hour the fog burned off and a very bright sunny morning greeted us – the sun in the East shining right in our eyes. As we drove the Joad’s were traveling through the Mojave Dessert, hungry and poor as they prayed their old jalopy would carry them through. Meanwhile the Lund’s stopped for lunch at a truck stop A&W – the only option we could find.
And then we descended down along Lake Superior. Beautiful and blue and gigantic. For a girl from
Washington it is difficult to look at an expanse of water like that and accept it’s not salt water. So big and vast. We entered Lake Superior Provincial Park and admired the endless miles of pine trees and rust colored deciduous trees on the rolling hills around us. The road pulled us away from the great lake and wound it’s way through hundreds of smaller lakes and ponds on either side of the road. The Joad’s arrived in California’s lush green valley’s with no where to go, and pulled into one of many “Hooverville’s” for vagrants. The Lund’s pulled into the Agawa Bay Campground right on the shores of Lake Superior and counted their blessings to find such an exquisitely beautiful place to spend the next couple of days.
We snagged one of the few spots with electrical hook-ups and got Betty all set up and then we took a four mile hike on the coastal trail. I spent time on this hike practicing some new i-phone photo techniques I have been learning. There is no wi-fi and we don’t know when we might find it again, and we took the time to enjoy being out of touch. Meanwhile Ma Joad fretted how she would manage to keep the “fambly” together with no way of communicating if they got separated.
We took our chairs down to the shore to watch the sunset. We had watched the sunrise as we drove this morning, and then we sat together and watched it set over Lake Superior. I turned to my husband and smiled, “What are we doing here?” it’s like a dream.
For the Joad’s it was more of a nightmare.
California did not live up to their dreams and expectations. Life just was hard – no matter where they were.
Day two at Agawa Bay dawned bright and gorgeous and I went for a five mile run. We then packed up a picnic and headed out to do some hiking. What a perfect day to walk – solitary trails through woods and lakes. Stunning beauty. We definitely feel this is our favorite spot yet. It feels like real camping (bonfire too) and being right on the lake is special. Lake Superior – not just any lake. One of the Great ones. An icon of America. Here we are.
I’ll post this blog when we find wi-fi again, most likely on Monday, Day 12, when we reach Sault St. Marie. In the meantime we relax here in Ontario Canada – a long way from home. A long way from the trials of the Joad Family. But thankful for them and those who persevered.