The Journey is the Destination

Blurred Trees

When I was a child there were two things I could always rely on: being dragged to an endless stream of lessons (piano, organ, school band, swimming & diving, and many others), and family summer road trips.

Every summer the entire family would pile into the camper and make the long, meandering drive out to the West coast, staying at campgrounds along the way. I think I’ve been in every KOA campground along the Trans-Canada Highway from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba to Victoria, British Columbia. These summer trips inevitably ended in Victoria, where my great aunt Jessie would be waiting with Chinese candies, warm, friendly smiles, and an avalanche of hugs.

To me there was something about road trips that seemed right. After more than ten years of these marathon vacations (covering 4640 kms from Winnipeg to Victoria and back), and six years of touring around North America as a penniless musician, I grew to view the road as the only, true way to travel.

The first time I ever flew in an airplane was when I came to visit Renée in Toronto; this was before I moved out here to be with her. The incredibly short flight time and overwhelming convenience of the whole experience left me feeling very disconcerted. Forced to consider a new context of travel nearly broke my unshakeable belief in the road; like some kind of pavement zealot I had come to believe that the road was the only way.

Road travel in Canada is a strange beast. Ask any musician who has experienced the grind that is touring Western Canada and they’ll concur; travelling the West is like being slowly ground down under spinning van wheels into teensy little pieces. The vast distances between any of the major cities (8 & 1/2 hours from Winnipeg to Regina, 16-plus hours to Calgary or Edmonton, 25-plus to Vancouver) is enough to make even the most seasoned road warrior shift uneasily in their beaded pilot’s chair.

And then there’s the Prairies.


The crushing boredom that travelling through the Canadian Prairies has been saddled with is a cliché so long in the tooth that it has become crusty and grumpy with age. For me, the trips out West when I was kid felt more like these automotive pilgrimages, with the Prairies representing a kind of traveller’s Lent. We would give up the luxury of all visual entertainment, save for cows, the twisting black snake of the road, and fields of wheat and canola that would extend to the horizon.

In return for this (and for putting up with Calgary), we would be graced with the evangelistic faith-healing epiphany that is the Rocky Mountains. After more than 18 hours of flatlands and straight roads, the enormity of the mountains was something like getting kicked in the balls and orgasming at the same time; so shocking that it was nearly painful, but also restorative, faith-renewing, nearly transcendent.

After the long monotony of the Prairies, getting to the Rockies used to make our family feel like we could drive all the way to India. As our creaky camper drove through Roger’s Pass, I felt like I was passing inbetween the long arms of a muse and into the bosom of some wild, unpredictable and exciting dream. And then: the exoticism of Vancouver and its Chinatown, the ferry, and finally, Victoria.


I found out a few weeks ago that my Aunt Jessie had passed away. This was kind of expected - she wasn’t getting any younger - but the news still hit like a slap in the face. Even though our trips out West tended to seem more about the journey than the destination, she was at the end of the road every time, and her warmth, kindness, and generosity came to personify my summer vacations to me. With her passing away, it felt as if as if this huge part of my childhood was disappearing along with her.

The truth is I originally wanted to write some kind of memorial for my aunt here. As I thought more and more about her, however, I came to realize that I didn’t know her well enough to write anything meaningful. After we stopped going on our family vacations (once I hit fifteen or so), we kind of lost touch. It’s the same old story: different cities, a lack of effort to try and stay in touch, and taking it for granted that someone will always be there when you finally come around to calling.

When I think of her, though, all of the memories of travelling out West come flooding back: going fishing with my brother Kevin and sister while at the Kamloops KOA; getting our photo in the paper while at the annual Strawberry festival; standing on the Capilano suspension bridge with my sister and wondering if I was going to make it to the end before I wet my pants; driving through the mountains, with my dad blasting his James Bond theme songs 8-track at full volume to try and calm his nerves; standing by the rail on the ferry to Vancouver Island, watching seagulls fly alongside the boat below.

I’ve been thinking about these childhood trips out West a lot these days, and damn, they’re good memories. Thank you, Aunt Jessie. Rest in peace.

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