Canadian Cottage Country
Keep your eyes on the road your hand upon the wheel. Speeding down a winding road, music blaring, surrounded by trees and darkness, not knowing where we were, there was a sign that showed us a good time. My friend Randy turned to me and said “Should we pull in?” For the first time in a long time, both of us were early for anything at all. Following directions on a scrawled piece of paper probably written in highlighter or scratched with 2 colours of pen, neither of which worked very well. We were in first year University and going to a friend’s cottage in Muskoka (famous Canadian ‘cottage country’ hours north of Toronto). There was a lot of traffic so we took a side road and came across the sign. It read ‘casino’. I loved the movie, seemed exciting. So we went to check it out for the first time. That’s the ‘road trip’.
We aren’t gamblers, didn’t have much money and had never been to a casino. Who knows why someone decided to put one here, in the middle of a farmer’s field, but there it was. Flashing lights, slot machines, and valet parking that we didn’t use. We decided we had an hour tops, and gave ourselves $20 each to see what would happen. I hate losing money but felt I could part with that much as pure entertainment. Bells, whistles, music coming from somewhere, the ambient noise in a casino was unlike anything I had heard before. After walking the floor, trying the 25 cent slots and mostly breaking even, we went to the $5 black jack table since it was basically the only game either of us knew how to play. After about an hour, we saved our first $20 and played out until we lost. We were each up over a hundred, then lost a hand and drove away. A random occurrence, we had fun, made $100 each, and made it in time to party with our school friends. Oh, what a long strange trip it’s been.
Responding to a hostel ad to share a camper van hitching a ride from Darwin, Australia through the outback. These guys knew who they didn’t want but wasn’t sure how to place an ad for the right person. Kind of like dating. I pulled the number off the page and called from the hostel. I met Touru, Kwan and Bill at a local pub when they were ‘interviewing’ for candidates. I rocked up and they seemed open, friendly and liked beer. A Canadian, a Brit and a Yankee. What a perfect group for me. I think they liked that I rocked a guitar and had gas money: a match made in heaven.
A few hours leaving town there’s not a lot of radio in the outback, so I recall someone had some mixed tapes for the van. I had heard Pearl Jam’s version of Last Kiss for the first time and it always brings me back to that exact moment. We swerved around bloated animals on the road, kangaroos at night, shared laughs, stories, even got bitten by a feral camel and bonded through days’ worth of straight driving headed to the middle of nowhere. The beautiful sunsets, incredible rock formations and red sand is unforgettable. So are the friends and memories made. Hang up, get in a car, and see what tomorrow brings.
For the love of backpacking, Rob