I’ve been a stranger to westward travel so far. I started east June 2nd, moving east from Humboldt and it’s been east ever since. Today I’m done with East. Today I travel west. I have a long, very long, way to go, a long drive ahead, all due west, ultimately destined for the opposite coast, the Pacific Ocean, an ocean I’ve never seen.
Some days I would just rather do nothing, driving excluded of course — driving is almost always okay — but some days I just want to go slow, do very little noteworthy, either because it suits my mood or because I want to have an easy job of writing my journal at night. After so many full, involving days I was ready for one of those days. Fortunately, with my big west-bound drive ahead, I’m in a good situation to do nothing — nothing but drive.
I got to sleep in a bit since I stayed in the Bélanger’s house last night, in a bed, in a room with curtains, and I slept in until 9ish. I got to take a shower, have cereal for breakfast, get dressed in a big, private bathroom — it was heavenly. Mom Bélanger saw to it that I was packed up with goodies from her pantry — pudding, a bag of apples, crackers, cheese, bowls and plastic silverware, almonds, a bottle of water — all kinds of things to keep me away from the 7-11/McDonalds lifestyle for one meal at least. She and Marcel were heading off in their camper van for a 5-day trip — they didn’t know where yet — and so I left straightaway, saying goodbye, and taking all of my food with me. They said they’d drop by next time they were around Kansas, but also noted that I’d probably be back to Quebec before then, so we’ll handle the details later.
Anyway, in a minute I was gone, out of their driveway, four wheels pointed west.
My next major stop that I had planned was Niagara Falls, some 6 or 7 hours away. But I was very near to Canada’s capital in Ottawa — only a two-hour detour — and so I knew I’d have to go there, while I was so close. Of course Ottawa had been on my original itinerary (before the car trouble in Boston), but I had crossed it out — along with Montreal — when I had to make up for the four days I’d lost.
I made one stop en route to Ottawa, in the anonymous town of Alexandria — everything seemed well sign-posted in Alexandria so I took the opportunity to stop at their library, but I was only able to check my mail and update the journal a day — no pictures, nothing else. I also stopped at a neat little city park, set on a lake with a small but sandy beach. Almost no one was using the beach — just a handful of young moms and their little children — so I stopped and sunbathed for an hour, falling asleep while reading my book, only to be reawaken by some kid saying “no, that man isn’t dead.” I woke up and reassured them: “No, I’m not quite dead yet.”
I got some good sun — Canada has strong sun — the lady on the radio said a UV-index of 9, whatever that means, but she said it in a tone that only implied one thing: use sunblock. I didn’t use sunblock, but I didn’t stay too long, and I didn’t burn either. I need a few more days like that, and hopefully I’ll get them. An hour a day laying in the sun, reading books. There should be a word for that.
Onwards, finally, to Ottawa. I made it there after 3:30 and told myself I’d have to leave by 4:30, head back south to Lake Ontario, follow that west as far as I could today — could I make it to Niagara Falls?
Ottawa seems like a lovely city, very clean, not huge or over-crowded or noisy or too fast-paced. It had bits of all those things — it is a city, and a capital city at that — but it was very comfortable. I left Ottawa not wishing I had more time necessarily, but knowing I’d have a good time if I did.
I walked around Parliament Hill just briefly, the hill where the Government’s three Parliament buildings are located. The architecture is reminiscent of England’s Houses of Parliament — elegant, Gothic stone buildings with copper roofs and filigreed wrought iron — gargoyle drain spouts jutting out at the corners.
Right through Parliament Hill, I watched a few boats slowly moving up the Canada Locks, moving them from the Ottawa River to some place else, I’m not quite sure — must have been important though, because it looked like it would take them a very long time indeed. My only other stop was into the Gallery of Contemporary Photography. I noticed it just at 4:30, but I said what the hell and went anyway. Fortunately, there was only one main exhibit and it only took me twenty minutes to look through, but it was well worth it. I don’t remember the artist’s name, but he would take a series of pictures — like you might if you were going to construct a panorama image from lots of individual photos — but he had some special way of doing it, some way I couldn’t quite figure out, and the result were these amazing series of photos of three types: ovals, singularities, and another I’ve forgotten. Oh well.
I made a stop at a Wal-Mart, the first time I’ve spent money in Canada, in order to get some razor blades (you could almost say I had a beard — almost, heh), a new toothbrush and toothpaste, and hair gel. When I was checking out the girl was talking to me in French. I had no idea what she was saying, but she seemed to have no idea — I guess my “bonjour” was that good. But she laughed at one point at something funny she had said and I laughed too, hoping it was the right thing. I said “merci” and left, seriously wishing the conversation had gone a little differently. At least I wish I knew what she had said, that I’d had a microcassette recorder taped to my chest.
Anyway, I drove the rest of the day, four hours or so, 308 miles, all the way back to the U.S. border, not crossing it, but turning west, finally west, starting in to the long drive. I didn’t make it too far west, though, stopping at the first Provincial Park with the camping icon on the map. I showed up after nine and they had only one of 408 sites left. And I got it, for only about 17 American dollars. Why did I stay at a park, you ask, when I’ve had the last three nights for free and I’ve gotten along quite nicely? Well, mostly it was the beard-thing — I desperately needed to shave — but there are also some very nice beaches here and I hoped I could use them in the morning, before pressing on to Toronto and Niagara Falls.
It’s pouring now, though, so I’m definitely sleeping in my car. I opened the door to my car for a minute, lights off, but it filled up with bugs almost immediately. It was terrible. I think I’ve finally killed them all, finally. It wasn’t just mosquitoes either. There were a ton of different kinds of bugs, flies, even little larvae on my ankles that came from god-knows-where. When I registered at the office earlier, they gave me a brochure on West Nile, so that’s not so encouraging either. But, yeah, it’s raining, so I might not get to take advantage of the beaches tomorrow after all. We’ll see.