Friday, October 12, 2012

Hitting the 'right' side of the road on a free road trip with Canada Drive Away

Delivering a car across the country was something that never crossed my mind as a potential mode of transport while backpacking - until my amazing Canadian friend, Corbin, (writer of I Backpack Canada) suggested it. AND... after completing my first mission, I could not think of a better way to see the country (especially Canada!) and meet some pretty cool people along the way..

I figured I would share with you guys how to acquire your own pretty-much-free road trip as well!

Be a very flexible traveller - the more flexible you are, the more likely you will be able to drive.

Get in contact with Hittheroad - search available cars, and apply for a suitable option. To apply you must have the following documents available in digital copies - and make sure you send them in your initial application email (both sides of your drivers license, driving record, at least one reference, your passport and an emergency contact). If you found out about Hittheroad through this blog - please mention me =)

Wait for a reply. When you have received confirmation, have your deposit of $500CA ready. You will receive instructions on how to complete the delivery. Print off the required paperwork.

Get a map if you haven't already got one, and decide the route you will take. Also be prepared to travel to the owners location. I made a 7 hour bus trip in the opposite direction to pick up my first car, and it was totally 100% worth it. Have all the paperwork ready, and you're set to go!

Don't speed, drive carefully and keep the owner of the car and Hittheroad updated on your journey through email or phone. Contact the owner of the car and let them know the expected drop off time, and confirm the drop off location. 

Collect the agreed gas reimbursement and part of your $500 deposit from the client, go over the car with the client and have the contract signed. Send the paperwork to Hittheroad, and mission completed!

So this is how my 6 day tour of central and eastern Canada went...

The car: 
A 2007 Pontiac G5

The road trip: 
Edmonton to Toronto (roughly 3,600 kms)
The reimbursement: $350 for fuel
The timeframe: 6 days

Day #1 Heading to Edmonton, AB
I caught a bus from Craik at 9:20am, headed to Edmonton with a transfer at Saskatoon. The Greyhound bus was its usual interesting self, with a variety of public transport travelers - one a very loud 'DJ' who carried with him an electric guitar for whatever reason, a long board and a bag that seemed to hold the contents of his life. I was lucky enough to get my own seat, which can be pretty rare, and contacted the owner of the car who was kind enough to pick me up from the bus station when I arrived. He was a very energetic man, and told me he brought the car for his daughter who lives in Toronto. I had planned to pick the car up and head to the HI hostel in Edmonton, but he offered for me to stay, (as his daughter was arriving at the airport at 10:30pm and he wanted her to see the car and meet me) - so I accepted the offer. He also wanted to make sure I could actually drive, which I thought was definitely fair, even though it naturally made me a little nervous to be put under pressure! Once I got behind the wheel I was fine, and after he skillfully talked a young man into giving us an oil change after closing time, we headed back to the house. I had a few hours to kill before his daughter arrived, so I headed to the West Edmonton Mall... and wow is that place amazing!

So many shops, a pirate ship, ice hockey rink, swimming pool - and thats only what I found in my short time there. I received a phone call to come back to the house as it was time to collect his daughter from the airport.

Day #2 Edmonton, AB to Aylesbury, SK
My first day on the road was lots of fun and lots of prairies. I left the house early, and headed back to the West Edmonton Mall to buy some new clothes, as most of the stores were closing when I went the previous day. The first stop off I made was spontaneous - it was the Elk Island Provincial Park.

I went into the visitors centre and asked what is good to see in a short time frame. She suggested a particular lake, so I drove there to check it out. It was very beautiful, but being on a tight schedule on that specific day I took a few photos and jumped back in the car. If I had of planned better I would of loved to explore more there. Even though I cut my visit short, I had the most amazing experience on the way out of the park... Near the entrance the resident herd of buffalo were crossing the road, so I got to finally see a buffalo up close! Definitely worth the $7.80 admission fee! After the park I headed to Saskatoon, then took the number 11 to Aylesbury to stay at Trails End Guest Ranch.


They have an amazing setup in a beautiful little valley, which includes a complimentary breakfast and the option to go on a trail ride. I slept in one of the cabins for the night, and would highly recommend the ranch to anyone passing through.

Day #3 and 4 Aylesbury, SK to Riding Mountain MB
I was up early again the next day, had breakfast and said my goodbyes to the owners of the ranch, Chris and Lyle.

My first stop was Twisted Sisters - A MUST if you are passing through Chamberlain. They have the most amazing ice creams!

Then it was onto Regina, where I had lunch at the Queen Elizabeth Gardens. It's a really nice place to stop for a break and have a wander - and easy to find.


I jumped back in the car and took the Trans-Canada number 1 highway to Riding Mountain in Manitoba, to meet up with my hosts for the night.

I arrived just as it was getting dark, and had lots of catch up conversations with everyone at the house until 11pm. They were people I had met during the summer while I was working, who come from a very different background to me!

Technically speaking, they are called Mennonites, and although I am in no way religious, I accepted their invitation to go with them to church the following day.... you've got to try everything once, right? Having no 'good' clothes - while everyone else wore their best dresses and heels - made me stand out terribly amongst the group who seemed to have developed a type of uniform. All the women wore handmade dresses, with stockings, black heels or dress shoes with their hair secured under a black cap. The men wore dress shirts and pants and their best shoes, and men and women were separated to opposite sides of the church. So there I was with my oversized cardigan, work boots with skinny jeans - totally blending into the crowd! I copped lots of stares, but their curiosity eventually got the better of them and they gradually started introducing themselves and finding out what my deal was. They were the most unbelievably accommodating people, very very old fashioned but so generous and kind, and it was great to see them again. Angela organized a lunch of taco mince, fried bread and salads after church, and everyone I met while I was working came for a catch up. It was soooo delicious!

I did plan to head to Winnipeg after lunch, but I couldn't find any available hostels for the night - so I stayed in Riding Mountain with the family one more night.

Day #5 Riding Mountain MB to Thunder Bay ON
I was up really early to catch the morning sun for my next day of driving. I had an awesome breakfast with Angela and Wes, packed my things into the car, checked the oil and said my goodbyes. I hadn't had a chance to find accommodation in Thunder Bay, so my plan of attack was to find a McDonald's car-park and steal some wifi. I stopped at Dryden McDonalds and managed to find a little hostel on the internet called Thunder Bay International Hostel. I grabbed my phone to call them to make a reservation and had no service - it was only 3pm or so, and I figured I would surely come across some phone service before 6pm... but surprise-suprise... I didn't! I had to stop at Ignace and borrow a lady's phone to call them, and I'm glad she was happy to help. I made it to Thunder Bay by nightfall, and found the hostel quite easily.


It was one of the homeliest little places I had stayed at - it reminded me of my Poppy's house. Lloyd, the owner showed me to my room, which was private with a double bed and my own personal washroom. I had a great nights sleep! And they only charged me $20 for the night. If you are EVER in Thunder Bay, please stay there!

Day #6 Thunder Bay ON to Sault Ste Marie ON
Lloyd was up early-ish, and I had no idea what was in store for me. I had organized some things on the internet, and had sat down for a bit of breakfast. He had clearly been waiting for me - which I didn't realize - and asked if I wanted to go to breakfast with him at the local diner.


We headed down there, and he explained how his wife Willa is ill with inoperable cancer, and I observed how helpless the poor man felt. We ordered bacon and eggs, and he pulled out a large folder and told me he wanted to show me what he had been working on. He is writing an essay titled 'The Year of the Dragon', which instantly caught my attention - for the fact I am born in the year of the Dragon (TYOTD). He went on to explain all the strange coincidences that had occurred throughout his life, and how they each traced back to TYOTD. It was really interesting. He started documenting it all when Willa was diagnosed in February 2012, and given 3 months to live. He included everything from the year of their marriage, to her diagnosis, to the rapture and other strange events that interested him, and told me he intended to just keep writing. We finished breakfast and he said he was going to take me and show me the river on the way back to the hostel. We pulled in to the car park and got out, and the first thing he did was walk to the gutter. I was a little confused, but I followed, and he said 'come and look at this'. He picked up a rock from the gutter and it was a beautiful Amethyst. I looked down and realized they were everywhere - it was amazing! He gave me a few small ones to take a souvenirs. We then went on a little hike through the forest alongside the river.

The leaves were beautiful. I really wanted to stay another night - he told me he would of taken me to the dumpsters to show me the bears that evening! Oh well... I left Thunder Bay later then I had planned, and continued on the road.

I hadn't been driving long when I saw a hitchhiker on the side of the road near Nipigon - he didn't look like your usual hitcher.. dressed well and around my age. It had been a secret goal of mine to give someone a lift along the way, so I pulled over - which he was relieved about! His name was Dave, and he had been waiting for 4 hours after missing the Greyhound headed to White River. I was passing straight through that town so everything worked out great. We had awesome conversations, and he was great company. He told me he works on railway lines across Canada and lives on Manitoulin Island. We made it to White River - which is where Winnie the Pooh originated - and I dropped him off there.

After White River I passed through some of the most beautiful countryside. I would of loved more time to go hiking around the Provincial Parks, they reminded me a lot of Wilson's Promontary - one of my favorite places in Australia. There was one area I stopped for a look - it was called Old Woman Bay. I got there just on sunset and the scenery was amazing! I would suggest to anyone passing through to stop there and have a look around.

Continuing onto Sault Ste Marie I couldn't find my accommodation at all... especially with it being dark. I thought I had passed it - so I pulled into a Caravan park and tried to sleep in my car the night. What a complete fail that was! I froze without a blanket.. and ended up sneaking into the showers in the early hours of the morning to defrost.

Day #7 Sault Ste Marie ON to Toronto ON 
I ended up meeting the owner of the park, and he charged me $5 for the shower which I was totally cool with. I left as soon as I was done with my shower and headed onto Toronto. With the lack of sleep I really struggled with the last leg of the drive! I had a bag of mixed nuts that were a lifesaver - eating them one by one was the only successful thing that kept me awake. Once I got into the crazier traffic everything was fine - concentrating on keeping out of the way of the idiot drivers was keeping me nice and alert! After 6 days of driving on the opposite side to everything back at home, I felt totally comfortable driving in the city, and Toronto was fairly easy to drive in. I contacted the owner of the car and we reorganized the drop of location - I met her near where she was working as opposed to her home address. She was so nice and thankful, and dropped me off near my hostel - the Canadiana Backpackers Inn.

The hostel was really cool - but having stayed in both the Canadiana and the HI-Toronto hostel, I would recommend the HI-Toronto. It has better rooms, facilities, an amazing breakfast menu and great tours/events which makes meeting people really easy.

I want to thank Hittheroad for the most amazing experience! 
If you ever want a unique adventure in  Canada or the US, you would be insane not to look up the the Hittheroad! On the 15th of October I'm off on another road trip, delivering a car from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale. I have had more time in advance to plan the next trip - plus I have organized some road trip buddies this time.. Cannot wait for the next adventure!

Want to find out more? I ended up going on a second road trip with Hittheroad, driving a Jaguar from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale on a snowbird run. Click here to find out more!


Burrasca said...

Nice reading your blog. I did a similar trip with Dave Smaller and his father's RV, but we went from Toronto to Vancouver:)

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. I must say, you missed the two best parts of Canada - BC and the maritime provinces.

Unknown said...

@ Burrasca & Anonymous
Thanks for reading guys! Travelling with an RV sounds like lots of fun, especially across Canada! There were so many places I passed that I would have loved to camp at. I am going to have to come back and do some more Hittheroad adventures in western Canada... Hope thats ok Dave.. lol!

Red Hunt said...

Great road trip....I've bene wanting to do a big cross-Canada road trip for some time as I haven't bene to so many places. I did a couple of trips with as well, but have a much more sour experience with them. What did you think of the company? The road trips themselves are fun...but the company, ugh...

Unknown said...

Hi Red,

I COULD NOT speak more highly of Hittheroad and what incredible opportunities Dave Smaller has provided travellers like myself with. I have found no equivalent anywhere else in the world - the closest is relocating RV's and camper vans - and the ordeal is just so complicated. Dave's method is simple and provides an incredibly easy and affordable way for both client and driver to achieve their goals. Dave was there for me every step of the way, and I would not hesitate to apply for another road trip if I was ever back in Canada. It is unfortunate that you have had an unpleasant experience - I know you have voiced the same concern on my other post - and I hope that next time is different for you. However my mind is made up from my experiences and fellow travellers that have also delivered cars for Dave - I owe him so much in exchange for the wonderful memories I now have and amazing people I got to meet during road trips!