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 Canada and USA 2010
 

Friday 26th March
06.00 bang on time our taxi arrives to drive us to Heathrow.  20 minutes later we arrive at Terminal 3 for our Canadian airlines flight to Toronto. 
Trying to check in and wherever I look, I see groups of people standing around watching a single person work.  Very infuriating when it’s so early and the queues are long.  Pretty much the same standard of labour I used to see in growing up!  Anyhow, we eventually check in and I take my oversized bag to the drop off area and the first thing the guy does is try to pretend it is too big, too heavy or too awkward to manoeuvre.  It carries my ski’s and clothes inside (okay so it does look like a 7 foot coffin on wheels, but hey…I could just see him angling for the health and safety angle.  So the penny drops, not only are luggage restrictions in place to save on fuel and maximise profits but also to protect themselves from stupid ‘elf and safety’ problems  I look at other desks, and yep, the same scenario.
Off to security clearance, yep, you guessed it.  3 watching, 1 working and long queues.  “Can we please get some efficiency in this place?” I want to scream.  Such an over hyped over complicated work flow, doing nothing, slowly. 
Flight was great with personal onboard entertainment system except that Zoë’s was on the blink literally.  So we shared a screen and swapped the window seat as compensation. We got free food, free drinks, smiling service and plenty of 
“You’re welcome’s.”  Great service, friendly and efficient too.  What a pleasure it was to travel with a staffed airline that enjoys providing service and free food, water and provides you with a reserved seat!  Suck it up you cabin crew that want to strike and airlines that want to charge me for the plastic cup I have to buy to drink your overpriced beverages. 

The shortage of snow is really evident as we approach Toronto from the east and all open ground is brown, when it should be a carpet of white.  Oh well at least the sun is shining.  We land without a hitch, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this!  All the taxis are huge Cadillac cars.  We take an overpriced taxi to our hotel that was recommended by the dog sledding outfitters.  Clearly on arrival we realise that we will need to relocate as we are way out in the boondocks.  Great for the travel to the park as it is already north of the town, and close to highways but for us to stay in will mean lots of in and out trips to town.  We head into downtown on the bus and subway for a nosey.  Bus and train costs $3 each.  Perfectly reasonable and you can transfer fares to other routes for each trip.  We grab a bit to eat in a quaint little Chinese restaurant and get some advice on locations to stay in.  We head north up towards the shopping area and book into the Marriott Courtyard hotel.  Neat, clean and right in the centre of the universe as far as Toronto goes.  Needing change, I stop off at a Starbucks (about as common as pubs are in the UK), everywhere.  I offer a ten dollar note and the barista asks if I want loonies and toonies, or just loonies?  I look perplexed, she looks more perplexed.  The lady behind me in the queue offers her 2 cents - loonies are 1 dollar; toonies are 2 dollars.  Okey dokey then. We’re off back to our hotel out near the airport.  We make friends with Abraham, our friendly shop assistant in the lobby.  We but 2 drinks and he hands us each a free Toronto mug worth $6.95 ea.  Not sure on the maths, but we now have Easter presents to give away.  Abraham runs the little souvenir shop, when he’s not charming the guests.  Very friendly and we exchange addresses.  The people we have met so far are always saying “you’re welcome”.  Massively friendly and a real eclectic mix of nationalities to be seen on the streets, unfortunately quite a few nut nuts around too.  

Sat 27th March
Wake up; go for a swim and a nice breakfast.  We miss out in the full breakfast, opting for the continental ($6.95 each).  Not bad value.  We check out and order a cab to take us and our luggage downtown.  Another Indian (no not American, Delhi) arrives in a beat up family wagon.  He stinks of schnapps and peach chewing gum.  The gum does nothing to hide the smell.  He really should change flavours.  Or maybe it was peach schnapps.  He likes Canada; he has family in India and has been here 35 years.  Lovely chap, not. We check in and realise we (Zoë) have left the laptop charger at the old hotel.  We unpack, grab the camera and head back to the other side of Toronto.  Abraham says he’s missed us, we greet and joke.  We look at the harbour, Lake Ontario and head for shelter. It’s sunny but bloody freezing.  Inside to the Easton shopping mall, with 4 floors and about a mile long.  There are about 27kms of underground walkways with shops and access to buildings for use during winter.  
Outside the band Jarvis Church are performing a sound check for the free Earth Hour concert later.  We watch a while then head back for a rest in the hotel.
All the cars are huge.  The 4 wheel drive cars here make the Range Rovers look like minis, they are so big.  And they actually look like they are normal size.  The roads are wide; the parking bays are double the size of the pathetic little spaces the UK tries to charge you for using as a parking bay.  It’s all real estate baby.   Even the traffic cones are oversized; well they have to be if you don’t want these tanks to ride over them!
We decide to go back and check out earth hour and watch the city switch its lights off for an hour.  We’re expecting a major change as the countdown to an hour without bright city lights approaches.  3-2-1…okay, bit of a letdown.  Yes there it is a bit darker, not dark enough to make a massive difference.  We head to the inevitable Irish pub (even more prolific abroad than at home).  They are also celebrating earth day and using candles.  It looks great until you try reading the menu.  The couple are below us on the lower ground floor are making the most of the near darkness to neck.  They’re 50 years plus…get a room.
We head back and relax

Sun 28th March
Up at 8, in the gym for an hour and quick swim.  Out to some Japanese restaurant for some brunch with noodles and flied rice.  Then we catch the hop on hop off bus around the city as it starts to rain.  Great way to see a city and get the history in a condensed fashion.  We don’t get off but just enjoy the ride around.  CNN tower (now the highest building in the world, not in the desert); Rogers sports arena, Yonge Street (longest street in the world at 1,178 miles), through the financial district and passed all 5 major banks with 4 of them facing each other from opposite corners of an intersection.  Now if I was a terrorist… We finish and take a stroll in Eaton mall and catch the latest Matt Damon film, Green Zone.  Interesting story, well could have been shall we say but it labours the point rather too much.  Anyhow, off to the Starbucks for an over priced coffee ($10 for 2).  Witness first hand how people really do order skinny mocha, no steamed milk, decaf with light chocolate sprinkles.  Yawn.  Can we hurry up please?  Back to the hotel to work out more of the upcoming schedule of how to collect the motorbike we’ll be touring on up to the park.  Just checked seat height to make sure I will fit.  Phew it’s 820 mm; same as the 650 GS BMW I almost bought 2 weekends ago before being sidetracked into a bigger 1200 GS BMW (think Range Rover on 2 wheels and Charlie Boorman around the world stuff). Take away pizza in the room with a great film.  Or so we thought, the film ended half way through with a “next time on …”

Mon 29th March
380 km’s, 7 hours in a motorbike seat, a couple of wrong turns, a few choice words exchanged between partners and we arrive at our first motel in Gravenhurst, Muskoka.  That’s where we ended up.  Here’s how we got there. 

 

8 am we catch a train to Oakville about half an hour east of Toronto where we are met by Carlo from GTA Exotic cars and bikes. We are taking a motorbike up north about 300km to the park.  It’s 10 C and 20km/h winds.  Not too bad for March in Canada!  We get the formalities out of the way, load up the gear in the 3 panniers and get final directions from Carlo (we nearly bought a map yesterday but thought that a rental agency would probably have maps lying around all over the place – wrong).  So we head out with directions listed as follows:
Take the QEW to the lights, turn right and then take the 403
Take the 410 – missing the 407 and then the 401, which will lead you straight to the 400 and then all the way North.  ‘Easy as’, he says with a parting wave. 
We head off, we find the 403, we take it and we ride for 70 km before we know we are going somewhere different to where we should be.  We pull off in Paris, Canada – not France.  We buy a map.  Anyhow we guessigate more than we navigate as it is really hard to read a map at speed while on a bike.  Zoë is too scared to let go of the handrail to look at it so we kind of ride, stop, look, ask until we get lost again.  The Canadians are still very helpful and are always willing to help, and all remark that we could have picked a warmer day.  Zoë bats her eyelids in my direction as if to say it’s his fault, he’s the nut nut who wanted to do this.  I grin like pig in winter. 
We are making progress but losing daylight.  We decide to take a detour from the highway as the trucks passing generate a lot of draft and since us law abiding citizens paranoid of arrest in a foreign country adhere strictly to the speed limit, we hold up all and sundry.  Every time I nudge the speed up, I get a sharp leg squeeze from Zoë.  We eventually find the road parallel.  Once out of the city, it becomes an awesome ride through the country. Single lane, 80km/h very little traffic, no huge trucks with grinning ice truckers overtaking with menace!  Beautiful scenery, open spaces, typical farmhouses made from wood with the rocking chair and porch.  Cool.  We pass houses with long drives numbered 14103.  No it is not cryptic, it is actually the 14 thousandth house on the road. They are that long here. 
It gets late and dark starts to close in so we pull off in Gravenhurst for the night.  We book into our first motel, The Oakwood Motel.  Great.  Almost like in the movies.  We take a stroll in the town and it is deserted, except for the few kids joy riding in massive trucks with names like Big Black stencilled on their windows.  We stop at Oliver’s’ Coffee Shop and Zoë has a coffee and I have a muffin and some Rooibos tea.  14 000 miles away and I can still get a cup of Rooibos tea!  Great way to end the day.

Tuesday 30th March
We leave after a coffee and hit highway 11 going north again.  Not far along we take highway 117 and the scenery is just awesome.  Biker’s heaven: clear skies, no traffic and lovely twisty roads with great scenery.  All I need to do now is to convince Zoë to open her eyes and relax a little.  She’s been great, if somewhat apprehensive.  She keeps asking me to get a bike that has a bigger tyre.  I tell her that it’s still only going to be a bike with 2 wheels on the road, and bigger tyres come on bigger bikes.  I like it the more I think about it.  Today we covered 300 km’s and it feels okay.  As we drive the lakes abound and there are lots of cute little cabins with snow aside them.  Not long and we reach Dorset.  What is it with this country that they name so much after the UK? Surely they’re not that stuck on HRH still.  Anyway we arrive at our log cabin accommodation just after 2 and it’s a great place to escape.  Thick ceilings, wooden outdoor deck looking towards the big lake called Ox Tongue Lake, still semi-frozen over and huge.  We are met by the Parkway Resort owners, Colin, Brenda and James.  They are originally from the UK and have moved out here to be nearer the wilderness.  They are really helpful and offer plenty of advice.  They lend us a park permit and a guide on the park for a while.  They even call ahead to see if the visitor centre is open – it’s not open as it is still officially winter here.  I mention that I am going to make a fire and Colin drops some logs off at the fire pit.  These guys are really kind and are service is definitely a word that comes to mind. 

Everything in this country is huge. I love it!  No-one was/is expecting such a warm start to the spring.  Most shops and motels we passed on the way up here have been closed.  A case of everyone expecting to still be snowed in and not quite ready for the spring thaw.  You cannot dog sled, but you cannot quite canoe yet either.  We head back to the shops after booking in to get some supplies.  After a false start (we stopped at a garden centre thinking it was a grocer. Doh! )  Anyhow, we get the necessary including some Strongbow cider and meat for a braai (BBQ) later.  We head for a drive out into the park and just adore the closed down campsites.  We go for a drive into the park along highway 60 which splits the park in 2 east to west.  Other than that there are very few roads and no mobile phone masts.  We throw stones at the lake and they sort of plop onto the sagging ice.  You can see tracks of previous snow mobiles that have passed.  We see moose droppings and prints that can only be from such a big animal.  We have found a trail that we will walk tomorrow.  Mizzy Lake, difficult, 6 hours minimum.  We’ll see how that goes.  And our hosts at the resort have told us we have a good chance of seeing some wildlife, foxes, badger, deer, moose and if we are lucky a black bear.  Now that would be awesome.  Anyhow, time to tend my fire as the sun sets over this lake.  Can you believe it; the weather has been 16C today and is forecast for 27C by Thursday.  So this might even be our summer holiday!  Only day 4 and it feels like we have done loads, even if I am sitting outside with a beer making fire like a caveman. Meat, beer, fire, woman (not sure of the order though…kidding love!)

Wednesday 31st March
We set off at 0900 to make the trailhead.  We start on the Mizzy Lake trail with our packed lunch and eyes open.  We are after all in bear country.  Not to mention wolf, moose, deer, beaver and otter.  The trail is still snowed over in some places, in other places it’s ice strips or even completely dry underfoot.  The route is narrow and steps between tree roots and little gullies making speed a problem.   Not that we’re bothered as all around are huge hardwood trees such as Beech, Birch and pine.  It is very refreshing to walk between these majestic trees and it is very different to walk in such a big forest that just goes on and on.  The park itself is over 7000 square kilometres big.  Our trail covers a mere 11km.  There are lakes at every turn and just pristine wilderness as far one can see or hear.  Judging by the size and regularity of the prints on the ground, there is evidence that some large animals have used the trail recently but the prints are a bit furry around the edges and it has probably passed through a day earlier.  We see huge dams that the beavers’ have built and these are not just a few branches.  These dams are at least 50 metres wide.  It looks so good you might almost think it was man made but the branch edges are clearly gnawed.  We don’t see any beaver or otter, only a few ducks.  We nervously take a walk on the edge of the frozen lake as some of the lakes are still frozen over, some are half frozen and others are free from ice depending on its orientation.  The terrain is undulating with rolling hills that twist up and over small hillocks.  We stop for lunch overlooking March Hair Lake and we are almost getting a tan in the sun since it is 19 C and I am walking in Canada in Late winter with a tea shirt on.  We do not see or hear another person all day on the trail; we do not have mobile phone signal and in the car park the bike is the sole occupant.  Real adventure, real risk.  Great.  We see true wilderness and it was very refreshing.  We are a bit disappointed that we did not manage to see any moose or deer but we still enjoyed the walk.  I make another braai on the beach for dinner and watch the sun go down over the lake using the birch bark as kindling, a la Bear Grylls style.   


Thursday 1st April
We have a long day ahead; we need to make it all the way back to Toronto on the bike.  Its about 300 km’s and hopefully we don’t get lost too much.  We get away at 10:00 after saying farewell to the good folks of the Parkway Resort.  Top notch accommodation and a fantastic location.  Just short of the park’s west gate and with its own secluded lake making it an ideal place to recover and relax.  We take highway 35 all the way down to below Barrie then use the 7 highway to cut across.  The roads are in a grid system even though we are now still 200 km’s away from the city centre.  It becomes obvious that the powers that be built roads in straight lines and made it real easy to work out where you are.  But the nugget for me must be the simply that they can build in straight lines because they have so much space.  They don’t have to go around Stonehenge or bypass an ickle village.  The space and country is so abundant that if they need a new road, they just lay it out and go.  These highways go on for ever.  Later on along highway 9 we start to see signs for Toronto, we look at the grid and it seems like we are so close.  We ride more and then remember how big this place is.  We have got the navigating down better on the way back and we make a few wrong turns yet we know when we have made them and are soon back on the right track. Both our bodies are a bit sore and we have covered 340 kms today, 1100 kms in total over 3 days.  On the 650 bike, that’s about as much I would want to do.  Looking around there are so many more bikes on the road today thanks largely to the weather.  Everyone gives the low down left handed wave and we feel part of the biker community. Since leaving Toronto on a cold and bitter Monday morning there is now a clear shift in the weather, clothing and bikes on the road.  On Monday we saw 1 bike in Toronto, parked on the sidewalk!  Today we are passing bikes, tourers and even sports bikes.  It is almost like a switch has been thrown.  Usually you start wearing less clothes and maybe leave the jacket at home; well today people are in shorts and flip flops with t-shirts.  We manage to end the journey unscathed with no damage to the bike and we finally make it back to the bike hire place with just enough time to catch the train back into Union Station, Toronto.  We don’t have time to go shower and drop our luggage off before the ice hockey game so we traipse in and up into the bleachers for our seats. The rink is smallish from where we sit.  Toronto Maple Leafs versus Buffalo Sabres.  Leafs are in poor form, still, and have not had many victories this season and are at the bottom of the log, in all competitions.  We watch and try to follow as much as we can.  Leafs score, and then relinquish their lead within a minute after scoring.  The episode repeats and the score is now 2-2 going into the third period.  Great goal, Leafs 3- Sabres 2.  Only 1 minute left of the game and the Sabres switch out their goalie for an extra forward to increase the chances of scoring and levelling.  Huge mistake, Leafs gain possession and slip down the blindside, bang. GOAL.  4 – 2 and final whistle to Leafs.  We are glad to have seen them win.  Back at the hotel we get a complimentary upgrade on the 15th floor with a balcony.  We are now really knackered.  I check my e-mail.  The skiing accommodation has been cancelled as the hotel we booked into is closing early for the season.  Good news, the agent has upgraded us into our very own condo with fireplace, full kitchen, tv/dvd, wi-fi, sauna and sports gym attached as well as a Jacuzzi outside.  Nice.  Best of all, Zoë is happy since it has a washing machine for her to do some washing.  Me, I’d rather ski dirty, but apparently it’s relaxing for her…I like it!

Friday 2nd April
Up at sparrows again.  Tired now of all the travelling.  We go downstairs and try to get a cab to the coach station.  I say try as 2 pull in to the hotel courtyard but none are able to lower the back seats so that my ski bag (bloody coffin) will only fit in if you slide it in from the boot through.  Or unless we wait for a 4 x 4 to come!  We eventually get there with them sticking out the back of the Cadillac taxi and board our bus to Montreal.  The coach is rammed but it has free wi-fi so that’s a bonus.  I take time to read, reflect and research motorbikes and communication systems for Zoë and I to use on our future trips.  Screaming directions at 100km/h is tough.  We arrive and the weather is still fantastic.  The 6 hour trip goes fast and I realise that buses and truck engines in this country are not restricted to the 60 mph limit.  So they travel at higher speeds and can accelerate when they want.  No wonder we kept being overtaken on the highways.  We are staying in a very bohemian area, on Rue St Denis.  There are heaps of bikes and bars on the street and a lot of restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops, making it all very cool and chic.  We go for a long stroll, get a map of the area and start to research what to do next.  We are both quite tired now and realise how much we have crammed into the last 7 days. 

Sat 3rd April
It is 25C and cloudless.  So exceptional for Canada at this time of year, where they get on average over 21 foot of snow, this year they had less than 12 foot.  On the news last night they were skiing in Vermont in shorts and t-shirts.  Well at least they had snow but I guess we’ll know tomorrow how good it still is as we head for Killington.   We sleep in and get a good breakfast included with the hotel for a change.  We walk up the hill and into the Mont Royal Park.  We try to hire a bicycle from 3 different shops and they are all closed or not yet ready to rent the bikes out.  We get the Metro to the botanical gardens passing the Olympic Park on the way.  Weird looking building that resembles a flying saucer.  Awesome in its weirdness and I keep wondering whether London could ever come close? The botanical gardens are huge, as are all things in this country.  We stroll through, have a rest on the lawns and don’t really see many shrubs or water features as described in the brochure.  The shrubs or the park are clearly not ready for this weather either.  Even the largest insectarium in the world is closed as the employees are on strike.  We find out how maple syrup is made and what it tastes like.  We both get lollies – well they pour the syrup over an ice bed and you let it cool.  Then after a minute or so you roll it on your own stick and make your own sucker/lollipop.  Very cool and a great taste.  Canada produces over 90% of the worlds’ maple syrup.  We catch the train into town and have some tea and dim sum in china town, watching all the folks stroll past.  We then head off to the waterfront and go on an amphibious boat tour that lets us see the harbour and the city from a different angle.  We go through the old town and see all the posh hotels and banks.  We stop off at a Portuguese restaurant for dinner and then head back home.  It is already 10pmand we are a bit knackered. 

Sunday 4th April
To read about the exciting times we had at the Killington Ski Resort, read the Killington Ski Review here...

Thursday 8th April
We pack up and leave Killington to head over to Stowe for 2 days.  We drive along many smaller highways through Vermont, and the trees and forests are all around us.  Last night we had more rain and it is still raining today.  We stop off at a diner on the way complete with bunk seats, regular patrons and the American flag outside.  I ask for a typical American breakfast and get 2 pancakes with maple syrup and bacon.  They are huge; each one is a centimetre thick, and 20centimetres in diameter.  Gorgeous.  Zoë has an omelette which is just as big and tastes even better than my pancakes.  We drive into Stowe, and go to the ski resort area.  There are about 15 cars in the parking lot.  From there website I am expecting to hear that they have at least 2 lifts running and in excess of 30 runs open.  We find out from the lady at the kiosk that Stowe has only got one lift going, and only 1 run is open back down to the lift.  They still want $58from each of us to ski a loop, a single run and a lift.  We call it quits and go back into town where we book into the Stowe inn for the night.  I go shopping and get some great deals on Mammut ski pants at 40% off and with the exchange rate I am quid’s in.
We go to the legendary Ben and Jerry’s ice cream museum down the road.  A good way to spend an afternoon and get a free taste.  We spend the last bit of the afternoon catching up on reading and researching clothing and prices.  I call Mom using the internet and wish her a happy birthday.   We have dinner in the hotel and are the only guests in the whole restaurant.  Talk about private dining and all.  Shame, I know what the waiter feels like setting up a full shop, serving 1 couple, then stripping it all down again.  We decide to go to Jay Peak Resort and I look online and book accommodation. They will demolish the long standing Jay Hotel, once known as the Palace on April 19th, so as a kind of farewell they are having a Brokedown Palace special, where you can stay at the hotel for $59 per person per night, which includes lift passes, sauna, Jacuzzi, king size rooms, breakfast and dinner whilst staying right on the slopes.  Even better, if you send them an e-mail on Jay or the hotel and if they read it out at dinner, you get to stay for free.  Quite cool.  How bad can it be?

Friday 9th April
We leave Stowe, weather still grey and raining.  Stowe was quite charming, a typical ski town with burger joints, ski museum and quaint wooden houses.  Chocolate box like as Zoë keeps saying.   We stop off at Denny’s (no idea, but it must be another chain). I get the lumberjack special: eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, grits and sausage links.  Even after eating them I still have no idea what they are.  Links to sausage?  Anyhow, it must be the biggest plate of food I have been served.  It actually comes on three plates.  The pancakes again are the size of a dinner plate and there are 2 of them, plus 2 rounds of toast.  No wonder the US has an obesity problem.  Jay Peak Resort says they have snow and 6/8 lifts are open.  We drive through some more picturesque scenery with lots of ‘moose crossing’ signs. We still haven’t seen anything bigger than a squirrel!  We drive up a long narrow road and reach Jay.  The Jay Hotel is more than ample with 2 double beds, a balcony, en suite and some comfy arm chairs.  It is definitely in need of an update and by the fittings you can see how 70’s it is.  A combined soap, shampoo and conditioner dispenser attached to the wall in the shower; the bottle opener attached to the front panel of the bathroom basin and the hanging globes for lights. It was a real top end hotel in its day so it is kind of retro to stay here and check out the décor.  It all gets auctioned off in 12 days time when the hotel gets pole axed.  Apparently there is a local moose, as in animal and is called Jayne.  Here’s to hoping we see some wild life after all.  Read the Jay Peaks adventure here

Monday 12th April
So, in 16 days we have slept in 9 different places, ski’d 2 different resorts, travelled 3000km on roads, visited 2 countries and loved it all.  I can’t wait to get back to school for a rest! Pictures in the Gallery