There are Maple Trees Along the Road

The first part of a two part article about a long Canadian roadtrip.

I met a guy once. This isn’t about him but I feel like he needs to be mentioned. This is about a very much-summarized moment of my life. This was before I started signing a never-ending queue of paperwork with the hopes of prolonging my European stay, but it was after I sat around a campfire under a Mexican sunset with a bunch of strangers as we shovelled spicy raw fish on crispy tortilla chips from a dirty bowl that was being passed around our excited hands – long sentence I know. Read it again and again, it will eventually make sense.

The idea of traveling alone was not new to me but it would be honest to say that I was afraid. Hence, when he came up to me and asked to come along on a drive across Canada, I didn’t even try to look hesitant. Written like this, he sounds like a picked-up hitchhiker. No. I was dating the guy. Simply put; we jumped into his car one ridiculously cold and early morning and started to drive. Actually, he started to drive. I woke up in Toronto. But that’s not the point.

City names streamed passed us. I can only recall a handful.

Sault Ste-Marie. Amazing chicken wings! Just as we were nearing starvation after somewhere near 10 hours on the road, we found this funky chicken place where you could place your order from 6 to 300 wings. We very much considered the latter but thought it somewhat horrible to slaughter so many chickens on our account.

Our next stop: Thunder Bay, or so it was meant to be. The ongoing rainstorm was slowly flooding the city or, if it wasn’t, then there sure seemed to be a huge amount of water in the streets. We floated past what looked like a grey and dramatically sad city. We carried on. City names streamed passed us. I can only recall a handful.

We would eat Bison steak for 6$ and have pints for 1. We got wasted on Trashcans; a mix of vodka, rum, gin and Red Bull. We’d even go to Bingo night.

The next few provinces we passed without many incidents. Of course, that’s not counting the few dozen times we nearly drove the car into the gutter. Not taking into account my lack of driving skills, going through the prairies this time of year is a dangerous mission. The road covered in ice added to the wind that constantly pushed us off lane, left us very little steering control. Those few days, we didn’t stop much and lived off Dairy Queen’s hot dogs and ice cream. We made sure to eat everything sitting out in the snow. Then, I would make the motel rounds. I became very good at haggling with dodgy motel receptionists. We paid cash only and subtly greased their paw for a bit of a deal. It usually worked.

Alberta. Wild Rose Country. Banff. Our destination reached, I quickly became a proud hotel receptionist. He was hired as a pot-washer. My knowledge of English did help with the relatively better position. My job was not very demanding apart from the early morning shifts. It did involve a lot of bullshitting about the town but mostly we had a laugh and the crew was great. We’d go out snowboarding and spent our nights out in town. Each bar had a discounted night and we knew them all. We would eat Bison steak for 6$ and have pints for 1. We got wasted on Trashcans; a mix of vodka, rum, gin and Red Bull. We’d even go to Bingo night.

Already living there was a tiny brunette girl who worked as a masseuse at the hotel. She would have long, life changing, conversations with herself.

It snowed until June. There was a permanent view on the Rockies. Sulphur was the name of one of the mountains. We heard that after the first snowfall, some guy had decided to walk up the trail and snowboard down it. One morning, a few of us went on a hike. Once at the top, we found the trail left behind and used it as a massive slide. We felt like kings, like it was the craziest thing thought of in the world. It took an hour and a half to the top and a half hour down.

Another day, we went down to the frozen canyon. There had been a snowstorm just hours before. The trees were weighed down by heaps of snow. The place was deserted so we jumped over the security railings and walked on the frozen water. At the end of the trail we sat behind the frozen waterfall. It was a wonderland, a place where time had stopped for a moment.

Magic happened in a tiny, hidden restaurant where, behind a beaded curtain, the proud owner would concoct us stuffed Portobello mushrooms and ravioli in lavender sauce.

We moved into staff accommodation. Already living there was a tiny brunette girl who worked as a masseuse at the hotel. She would have long, life changing, conversations with herself. Most of us didn’t see past the next hour. I always thought she gave herself better advice then we ever did. In the room beneath us there was a lanky French guy. His plan was to hitchhike up to Alaska. I don’t know if he ever made it. I remember him being incredibly good-natured and hardworking. He was also a gambler. I would often meet him in this bar after work and we’d play pool. The place was stingy and dark and home to some shady characters. One guy loudly proclaimed himself to be a Nazi. We all took it lightheartedly, at first, thinking he just wanted to make an impression but as he took off his jacket he revealed the swastika tattooed on his forearm. He said he was traveling by greyhound hiding in the suitcase carriers. All his talking was horrific but he made a good story to tell. He won the pool bet that evening.

Living with us was also a British guy with hollow cheekbones who spoke with a posh southern accent and a ginger girl who was obsessed with unicorns.  And lastly, there was a beautiful gay man who loved trying to read people and was often dead on. All of us would share long analytical conversations together.

With them, I discovered vegetarian delicacies. Magic happened in a tiny, hidden restaurant where, behind a beaded curtain, the proud owner would concoct us stuffed Portobello mushrooms and ravioli in lavender sauce. We would savor the dishes while the only waiter spoke to us of global warming. His knee-long dreadlocks bounced around as he argued his point passionately. We ordered more wine realizing that if everything was going to hell we might as well finish it off the best way possible. In a dazed and slightly drunken walk we would leave the restaurant and finish the evening by the river drinking beers out of paper bags. It was the normal thing to do.

Near the end of winter the boyfriend’s mother took the train across to visit. We drove for hours to pick her up, mountains staring down at us from all sides. The drive was breathtaking. The mother was slightly insane though it is unsure which sort of insane it was. She believed herself to be the long lost kidnapped daughter of a Swedish diplomat. How else could you explain her blue eyes and blond hair? Her real father held top-secret information for the Swedish government and therefore could not arrange her return in the country yet. It wouldn’t be safe. Then we drove her back to the station.

It was also time for us to move on.

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