Thursday, July 31

Sleep deprivation! Bane of my life. It is a terrible jolt to be woken up at 5am. Andrew helpfully suggests that he go and collect the others while I get some more sleep, but once awakened like this, knowing I only have another hour or whatever, I never get back to sleep anyway. So up it is, very groggy and grumpy too (just ask Andrew) and announcing that I will not be safely able to drive a car in this state. The others are almost packed up when we get to their site, so off we motor as the sun rises, just as it set yesterday, as a beautiful orange orb (forest fire haze or humidity I don't know).

We motor on. I have resigned myself to the relentless driving at this point and am just looking forward to getting it over with and still having the long weekend to spend at my parents' camp. The landscape and vegetation look just like Ontario for most of the Alberta leg of the journey. At Lloydminster, we eat some Albertan donuts, get an oil change about 10m from the provincial border, and then eat some Saskatchewan McBreakfast. After that, to my dismay, the divided highway ends, and we are on a two-lane, complete with slow campers.

The scenery flattens out and the rolling hill cow pastures turn into flat land with grain elevators. Also we see a lot of black oil tanks in the fields as we cross two patches of oil country.

At North Battleford we cross the North Saskatchewan River, which has an impressive (especially for this terrain) valley. I think I even spotted a vineyard but I'm not sure. After North Battleford, the divided highway resumes until Saskatoon, then it is two-lane again, but with less traffic so it isn't so bad.

Ewart wants to cook up a meal, so we start looking for a picnic area. It occurs to me that we've seen none of these as far as I can remember, and here we are, in the Quill Lakes area, which for these parts is a significant recreational / bird sanctuary area, and still nothing. In the small town of Wynyard, we ask at a gas station and are directed to the town park, where Ewart cooks, I eat some takeout KFC (tired of camping food) and Luc does impressive acrobatics on the play structure. I'm feeling pretty wakeful, and run a couple of laps around the small park to get a leg stretcher. Andrew has a nap in the van.

When we hit the road again, the air conditioning in my car conks out again for the first time in many days.

We cross a few more nice river valleys in the otherwise flat landscape, and into Manitoba. The highway quality deteriorates: Alberta 110km/h divided, Saskatchewan 100km/h two-lane with paved shoulders, Manitoba 100km/h two-lane with gravel shoulders, and of course we know what awaits in Ontario.

Munching on junk food and listening to the radio, I'm starting to fade out due to tiredness again as Andrew drives (as he has the whole way) when a harmless looking piece of debris on the road turns out to be something hard that smashes into the bottom of the car with a loud bang. So much for feeling sleepy. It turns out that the exhaust pipe is bashed in and punctured behind the catalytic converter, making the car annoyingly loud but otherwise fine to drive (Andrew says he does not notice a reduction in power). And so, onward we roar, sounding like one of those gimmicked up Honda Civics with the coffee can sized exhaust tips.

Not really a thunderhead
We watch a thunderhead (Andrew: Well not really a thunderhead, we didn't see any lighting, more of a proto-thunderhead), looking like the aftermath of some atomic explosion. A perfect side view, big billows of cloud above, wider darker layer below, rain underneath, blue sky all around. Later we even see the sunset underneath it. It is now getting dark. In the flat landscape we see the entirety of a long freight train speeding along at over 100km/h, while another train passes behind it in the opposite direction, and then a passenger train comes along. We see crossing gates close, blinking prettily in the half-light, it feels like driving through a model train landscape. The laptop map display shows about a dozen rail lines coming into Winnipeg from all directions. Obviously a major rail centre.

We stop in the outskirts of Winnipeg for gas (our third fillup today) and consumables and try to call my sister Marlene in Thunder Bay but she's not home. Hopefully she's left the key for us, because it is decided to continue driving, deer collision and sleepiness risk notwithstanding, to do a 2200km day and arrive in Thunder Bay some time around morning (keep in mind we are losing two hours in going from Mountain to Eastern time zone).

To minimize the collision risk we hang off the end of a convoy of three transport trucks. Several other vehicles accumulate behind us, and nobody passes even when the trucks lumber up hills at 80km/h. With all their noise and lights and bulk, hopefully they will scare off / clear up any animals that jump in the way, and since such a big truck can't do anything too sudden, you can follow with 20m of separation pretty safely.

All pictures for this day

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