Pamela MacNaughtan

The sleeping bag smelled faintly of old mown grass and dirt as I opened the black garbage bag it was stored in and rolled it out over the back seat of my car. In a matter of hours, I would be leaving Banff to drive my car to Toronto. I’ve driven from Banff to Toronto before (in fact, I did it 2 weekends ago when I needed to drive my Mom and her car to Orangeville). It’s a long drive. About 2-3 days long.

I had 5 days to drive from Banff to Toronto, do my last minute trip preparations for Africa and spend time with my family. 5 days! That’s not nearly enough time. So, as I was preparing to leave Banff, I made the decision to try and make it to Toronto in 2.5 – 3 days. It’s not an extreme idea. When I drove my Mom and her car out on the 17th of this month it took us 2 days and 2 hrs. However, this time I was driving solo and I was on a tight budget -which is where the sleeping bag comes in.

I could stay in a hotel each night, but I was having difficulty convincing myself to spend that much money. I looked into staying at a hostel, but Canada has a limited number of hostels and none in the cities I was planning to stop in. So, I rolled my old Coleman sleeping bag out onto the backseat of my car, placed my pillow at one end and topped everything with my bright yellow coverlet. When I was finished I stood up outside my car and mentally patted myself on the back. I also refrained from telling my Mother about my sleeping plans (she was worried enough about my driving alone for that long).

The drive was indeed long, but it had to be done. My driving goal on my first day was to get from Canmore, Alberta to Regina, Saskatchewan, however, my goal changed once I arrived in Regina. Don’t get me wrong, I like Regina. I just didn’t want to sleep in my car in Regina. Plus, it was only 7:00 p.m. I couldn’t stop that early, what would I do with myself?! So, I kept driving and driving and driving.

As I reached Virden, Manitoba (about 30 mins West of Brandon) my eyes were heavy, my legs were a little sore and my butt felt numb. I had left Canmore, Alberta at 1:30 p.m. and it was now 11.5 hours later. As I drove into Virden I looked for a 24-hour gas station so I could park my car and sleep. Unfortunately, all the gas stations were closed. However, there was a 24 hour Tim Horton’s in town.

I drove into the parking lot, parked my car and walked into Tim Horton’s to ask if I could sleep in my car in the parking lot. As I walked through the door my head felt light and the room seemed to spin a little bit. It had been a long drive and I was living on water, apples, and spoonfuls of peanut butter. I needed sleep. Bad. Imagine my joy when the boy behind the counter said I was more than welcome to stay in their parking lot. I could have kissed him (I resisted)!

I was surprised by how comfortable the backseat of my car was as I laid down. Sure, my legs were too long and I’d have to sleep in an almost fetal-like position, but I was oddly comfortable. Sleep, however, was elusive, and a nice deep sleep was not an option. I was aware of cars moving in and out of the parking lot. I could hear people and occasional noises. I wasn’t scared, but this was the first time I would be sleeping in my car, in a public place, by myself.

As the sun rose in the morning, I made the decision to get up and start driving. Sure I was tired (exhausted is more like it), but I wasn’t even half way yet. I needed to get moving. My second day was much like my first. I drank lots of water, ate apples and only stopped for gas. When I felt tired and my eyes grew heavy, I would pull my car over at a rest area, crawl onto the backseat and lay down. As I did so I became less aware of what was happening outside my car, and more focused on my need for sleep. Sure, people were walking around me quite a bit and peering through my windows, but I didn’t care. I was tired!

My driving goal for the second day was to go from Virden, Manitoba to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. However, my plans changed once I filled my car with gas and realized that I only had $40 left in my wallet. $40 was not enough money to get me to Sault Ste Marie -let alone Toronto! Thankfully, my final paycheck would be deposited into my bank account the following morning. This means my goal had to change. Instead of driving to Sault Ste Marie, I would drive to Thunder Bay and find a 24-hour gas station/ truck stop where I could park my car and sleep.

I arrived in Thunder Bay, Ontario just after 7:00 p.m. and promptly found a 24 hour Husky. Yes. Success. Now all I needed to do was ask a clerk if I could sleep there. I know, I know…I still like to ask though!

Finding a dark-ish parking spot was difficult. So, I gave up. I sat in the backseat for awhile, reading and playing with my phone. My money situation was pretty dire (I think I found $3.71 in my car), so going somewhere to hang-out wasn’t really an option. Once the sun went down, I laid down and attempted to sleep. I think I got maybe 3 hours of solid sleep, the rest of the time I was half asleep, listening to what was happening outside my car. When I woke up at 4:00 a.m. the first thing I did was look at my bank account via my iPhone. As soon as I saw that my paycheck had been deposited, I made the choice to get up, fill the car with gas and start driving. I then spent the next 16.5 hours driving through Northern Ontario, down to Orangeville where my brother lives.

In the last 6 months, I have gone on 5 road trips. Most of which involved staying in hotels, with family or friends. This last road trip was the only one where I actually stayed in my car. In fact, I only left my car to get gas, buy a quick snack or use a restroom. Sure, it was a long 3 days, but in a way, I felt as though I was finally on a road trip, a real road trip (not that staying in a hotel, hostel or with family means you’re not on a real road trip). I was on my own, exploring the Trans Canada HWY, and on one last road trip before flying to Africa. It was glorious (and exhausting). I, however, am done with road trips. Well, for a year at least.

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