Category: heading east

Travelling broke sucks

Woke up in Kentucky. One of my dear friends looooves bourbon, and I would love to be able to bring her some. Another dear friend loves country music and everything Nashville; a few hour later there I am driving right on by Nashville. I go past Memphis too, but I don’t mind not stopping at Graceland, I can’t think of any peeps that would really really love an Elvis souvenir.

I’m using an excel spreadsheet to keep track of my budget for the trip; given the money I have and what I hope to still have by the time I get back to Vancouver, I’ve whittled myself down to a food budget of $10 a day. I also have to be stingy with time; when I get back to BC I’ll need to get a job right away. Each extra day on the road costs more money and delays my capacity for bringing in new money.

But this should be an adventure, not a task. I’m making my way across a vast country full of amazing things to see; I can’t just drive by all of it.


Remember that Spirit of the West song? I can’t get it out of my head, partly because I’ve spent much of the last three days using the North Memorial Library, which is on Gottingen… yes, the same one in the song. I’m here for the internet access, but also for the blessed aircon; the cooling system at the downtown branch (which is right across the street from the school of architecture) went kaput. This is very much a community library, located in Halifax’s poorest district, which of course you’ll know from the song, if you’re old enough. I like it here.

But I think the song is staying in my head because I’m also feeling more keenly homeless than I ever have before. Forced by the heat to sleep outside, I did find a perfect spot last night (really lovely in fact), but then I ran afoul of the street cleaners. Certain streets get cleaned on various nights of the week, with signs posted that I didn’t read clearly enough, obviously. Parking’s tight and very complex in this town, making my home feel more precarious than it used to: I’ve never before had so much trouble finding a place to put my home. So now I have a $25 ticket for putting it in the wrong spot, on a night I didn’t even sleep in it!

Most of all though, the song is in my head because of the roadblocks I keep running into with funding for school. Last time I used student loans for university, they calculated what you needed for the year and gave it to you, simple. Foolish me, that’s what I expected again! I won’t get into the details, but I guess I’m being reminded, in a very personal way, of how our system needs… ah, I mean wants poor people to stay right where they are. Not that I truly fit that category; I’m privileged in many, many ways. But right now I’m very money poor and the experience is making me alternately angry and depressed. Again I should rephrase: it’s not the experience of being poor that’s a problem, in fact I’m quite pleased with my improved budgeting skills. It’s the ‘are you crazy’ look people give me when I act like higher education is my right, and everyone’s.

Anyway, I got this far, and I swear I’m going all the way. I’ll show the bastards!

Spryfield. The weather here has been baking hot, so I had to find a place where I could either just sleep outside, or feel comfortable leaving the van wide open while I slept. In the city I was getting really discouraged, so I headed west where it looked like there were lakes and parks. By about 11pm I found a little suburb on a high hill, with a gentle breeze and a little overgrown field. After I’d been there a short while two deer trotted out of the field, looked at me cautiously, then clopped into this yard to eat fallen apples. Getting a photo wasn’t worth scaring them away with the flash.

My encounter with the deer gave me new hope, but I do have to say, I vastly underestimated how hard this was going to be. I know Vancouver intimately; whatever my vandwelling needs may be at any given time, there I know exactly where I can go that suites them. Here just finding a place that isn’t going to violate the parking restrictions is a challenge. I’m worried about the effort that it takes to find a spot each night: will I be able to afford that kind of time once classes start?

Halifax has half a dozen or so universities and colleges that are starting classes this month, and the whole town is full of moving trucks, piles of stuff out in the streets, people either coming or going. On the one hand of course I’m reminded how lucky I am to be travelling light. On the other, for the first time since I started this adventure last November I’m remembering how it feels to not have to work at having a place to go each night.


Ha, I lied, there are no photographs in this post. All the most beautiful things I’ve seen, all the significant moments I want to record, they didn’t happen with my camera in hand. I was in motion, and I didn’t want to stop. Some I’ve already written about… here are the rest, but you’ll just have to imagine them, and I’ll just have to remember…

  • Driving between close close close vertical rock walls at Rogers Pass,
  • The Kicking Horse River and its miky green braids,
  • Through the toothy Rockies, literally like being a piece of tartar in the mouth of a planet-sized colossus,
  • Spiral tunnels and animal overpasses,
  • Orange setting-sunlight on the fields east of Calgary,
  • Pre-teens playing giant chess in Medicine Hat,
  • Hills dotted with hay marshmallows in Saskatchewan, some lying out of place in the median… pushed there by bored teens?
  • Fields of giant insect robots and shiny red martian rovers for sale in Swift River,
  • Manitoba, finally taught me how beautiful copses are. Not corpses, copses! As in “a copse of trees”,
  • Manitoba was also the land of a thousand lovely little white butterflies, often in couples that I would watch flirting and flitting and chasing each other right into the grill of my Death Van,
  • Ontario, perfect little lakes exactly like all those Group of Seven paintings,
  • Tallest pulp mill I’ve ever seen in Dryden ON… twenty stories? With monster smokestacks on top,
  • Sudbury: shock and awe of the smokestacks (one of which was the tallest freestanding structure in Canada until 1975; now only the CN Tower is taller), and the weird beauty of the water tank,
  • Swimming in an apartment tower rooftop pool in downtown Toronto, dubstep and cigarettes with my dearies Danielle and Nadia, Sarah, Francisco,
  • Cheese, how I love you! Cheese and more cheese in Montreal… chantrelles and pork roast too, a beautiful meal with Shirley and her friends Evan and Joanne,
  • The mouth of the St. Laurence, choppy and storm-dark despite the perfect sunny blue sky above,
  • Nearly driving off the road, mesmerized by fields of undulating and thrashing rushes,
  • A three-quarter moon, pumpkin orange and enormous over a dark stretch of New Brunswick highway,
  • The skip in my pulse and the lurch in my tummy as I rolled into Nove Scotia and realized that this strange new province was now my own,
  • The stranger who phoned his brother-in-law to find out the best route for me to take to a swimmable beach, having overheard me tell the gas station attendant that the first thing I wanted to do was jump in the atlantic ocean,
  • Peggy’s Cove, teeny and insanely adorable (but genuine) little fishing village… dusk by the time I got into the water behind a little seafood restaurant, cautious after a young local told me to watch my toes for crabs. After this final day of hot sticky driving the water was clear, cool, salty, and perfect.

Nowhere special, just a random little street in my new city :)

Florenceville, New Brunswick. I left the highway and followed my gut, turning onto smaller and smaller roads, until I came to a narrow bridge and saw an overgrown road leading off to the right. The road petered off within a hundred metres to a private little spot by the river. Yeah yeah, “living in a van by the river”, I know. You know how many times I’ve had to sit through that joke? Now it’s finally true, and I have to say this might have been the most perfect spot I’ve ever stayed; quiet, private, and in the morning I learned that I was right beside a historic covered bridge. Poked around a bit, then I was off: the final day of driving!

Home #112

Duluth & Drolet, Montreal.

Ah… A trip to the Jean Talon market yesterday afternoon, dinner and wine with Shirley, a night of dancing on St. Laurent, a morning spent wandering the streets and treating myself to a pastry and coffee at a phenomenal little neighbourhood bakery. I’m feeling much better now.

Rue St. Gerard, Montreal. Another lovely visit with a dear old friend, thank you Shirley!

I’m not fearful of what’s going to happen in Halifax, not exactly. I know this is going to be amazing set of changes in my life. But it’s still this huge unknown, which leaves me feeling a vague vulnerability that I’m not used to. I mention this because I was surprised to arrive in Montreal, a city that I looooove, and find that I really just wanted to hide! I’d forgotten how terrible my french is, and yeah I know you can get away with that here but I prefer to be making an effort to speak what the locals do… anyway on day one here I found that particular challenge a wee bit overwhelming.

Home #110

Church & Wellesley, Toronto.

After seven days of driving towards… what, a whole new life???? it was a huge relief to stay with friends for a couple of days… to just relax and talk and eat and sleep and recuperate. Thank you thank you thank you, Danielle and Nadia! This is part of the view from their balcony.

Just past Sault St. Marie.

I have to say, this trip has made me fear for Canadian culture. Not that I have any conception of what that might have been… but seriously. At least from the Trans-Canada Highway perspective, every single town is defined by the same shite multinational fast food (or gas or groceries or whatever) that the others are. Wendy’s, Starbucks, Subway, Tim Hortons (not even Canadian anymore)… the idea that familiarity is comfort, and therefore travellers want to walk in and know exactly what to expect. So why travel????

So Sault St. Marie, reigning king of chains so far, wasn’t my bag. Fortunately just a little ways past it was this nice field of cows, beside whom I slept quite happily.