Destination: wal-mart parking lot, Sainte Agathe, Quebec.
Christine and I slept in a bit in the parking lot, which is quite a feat with all the noise and vibrations. We had an appointment for an oil change at 11am in Timmins, so we were in no rush. We went in a bit early and got some McDonalds for breakfast and wandered around wal-mart while we waited. When the oil change was finished, we drove all over Algonquin Boulevard trying to find the right auto glass repair shop. We went ‘out’ a lot of ‘in’s, and people in Timmins do not like that. We finally found the shop and found out the chip in the windshield would be covered by Christine’s insurance. While we waited, we walked over to the Shoppers Drug Mart and I finally got to mail the postcards I’d been carrying around for ages. I thought it was hilarious that we ended up mailing postcards from out west, in Ontario, when some were only going to Ontario.
Geographically, we were close to home, but temporally, nowhere near it.
When the car was finished, we hopped in and got the hell out of Timmins. The traffic there was so brutal and people generally seemed to be a bad mood. Not someplace I’d like to remain. Maybe I just caught it on a bad day…
It was about 1:45pm by the time we started up again, but it felt good to get our big chores out of the way. The chip had been right in the driver’s line of sight, so having that distraction gone was a relief.
Things got a little sketchy when we entered Quebec. We didn’t have any cell service and actually didn’t know we were in the province until the signs all switched to French, so we didn’t see an info centre or anything. We stopped in a tiny gas station to get gas, but they didn’t sell maps – and it took all my french and all their English to get across what I was asking for. The second gas station didn’t have maps either. But they did have wine! So I bought a bottle just for the novelty of buying wine from a convenience store.
It was 6:30pm when we finally found a map! We came across an info centre only two minutes before closing. Thank goodness, because we still didn’t have reception and we had no idea where we were going or where we’d end up. The french map was free but the English one cost $6. I had to laugh at the feeling of being in a completely different world but still in my home country. Quebec looks a lot like Ontario, but it doesn’t feel like it.
We ate the fish we had bought the day before, which was a nightmare for the driver, but we made it work. It was delicious, so fresh and completely different from anything you’d get in a grocery store or restaurant. Very fishy! We also ate snacks. I think we were sort of afraid to stop and ask for food. Most Quebecois seem to be helpful when you try to speak french – they really don’t seem to like it when you start a conversation with ‘parlez vous Anglais?’ which I completely understand. But my french is super limited and I usually ended up starting in french and then just offering a bunch of English synonyms for whatever I wanted because I didn’t have the french word. At first, I felt so embarrassed and stupid, but soon it became a challenge, and we enjoyed seeing signs and then looking up french words.
We also took advantage of google translate. For example, we stopped at this lookout and it had a large information sign on it, so I took a photo of it and the app translated it fairly well, so I could at least get an idea of what I was looking at. It was moments like those that made me so grateful for the advent of technology. Say what you will about millennials or tech generations, but we know how to take advantage of the galaxy of information at our fingertips.
The driving is Quebec is really difficult, too. People keep their high beams on when they are driving behind you, right up until they pass you – which they do very close. Generally, Quebec drivers seem to speed, and the roads are covered in construction, but the signs are different and sometimes the pylons didn’t seem to actually indicate where the driver should go. It was a stressful stretch, but so beautiful, especially through Reserve faunique la verendrye. I had hoped that road would be beautiful, remote, and quiet, but it was only the former two. It took some good deep breathing to get through that drive, especially after it got dark, without hyperventilating, but I did my best to maintain my regulation and not get too distracted by all the road signs or wild driving. It’s true that I still find driving stressful, and I think this is very much a ‘me problem’ and not a province problem. Yes, the western provinces and Quebec have higher limits and fast drivers, but there is something really challenging about venturing outside your comfort zone. Ontario is comfortable and safe to me. Driving in every province was an experience I was happy to have, all said and done.
We stopped in a Tim’s to pee and then pulled into RV village at wal-mart in Ste. Agathe. It was a lovely wal-mart, with lots of green space to park beside, and a large, dark lot. By then, I was sore and tense from the drive – my shoulders were killing me. But I was glad to be at rest, and so looking forward to getting back into National Parks starting the next day. In Ontario, we only stayed in the hotel and parking lots and spent the vast majority of each day driving. I couldn’t wait to get back into nature and get my tent back out.