18 Billion Miles Long: Behind the Lens with Canada’s Really Big
Canada’s Really Big. No wait. That’s an understatement. Canada’s freaking HUGE. It really is.
When we set out on our epic journey to photograph the little things that make Canada beautiful, I knew it was big (hey, I’d done the trip twice before via road and maybe half a dozen in a plane). But did I really think about how big? No.
ACROSS CANADA: Here’s a sample of some of the sights from each province we traveled to including the Alberta Badlands (top), a Saskatchewan farm (middle top right), a dirt Manitoba road (middle top left), a lake in northern Ontario (middle bottom right), fallen maple leaves in Quebec (middle bottom middle), the outgoing tide in New Brunswick (middle bottom left), a Nova Scotia sunset in the Cape Breton highlands (bottom left) and the most northern most tip of Newfoundland (bottom right). Many awesome little things were found along the way.
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image
We left on August 23 and made it back just this past Saturday (22 and a half days on the road). We traveled 13,464 km of highways, backroads, trails and questionable terrain (really did feel like 18 billion miles though) and that doesn’t even include the 178km each way of ferries or the many many hikes we took along the way.
The goal of the trip was to travel from Calgary to the northern tip of Newfoundland and the town of Quirpon where my father was from. I wanted to introduce my husband to my Nan and Pop plus the odds and sods of family remaining on the great Northern Peninsula. The trip had been in the works for three years, saving, planning, cancelling, rescheduling. I knew I wanted to a photographic project along the way and after pondering it for ages I came up with Canada’s Really Big: Tiny Snapshots of a Huge Land.
The concept was simple, combine my passion for macro photography with the beauty of Canada. Shouldn’t be hard, I thought. Once on the road finding the subjects was easy – a whisp of grass seed in the ditch along Alberta’s Highway 1, a mushroom buried in the weeds along a trail head in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, snails hanging out in the Bay of Fundy’s many tide pools – it was the tedious amount of travel involved that became difficult.
We set out, traveling east on the Trans Canada, stopping in Medicine Hat the first night and Winnipeg the next before jumping down into the United States to save time, money and sanity (anyone who’s traveled Northern Ontario knows it’s tough enough to do it once a trip).
Hitting the road always brings a sense of nostalgia, I don’t know why but it does. Drive ins, classic cars, mom and pop stops and tourist traps. We found six drive in movie theatres, something long gone in Calgary, two in disrepair but still standing, one on a private farm, one amongst a tank farm and two hosting their last few films of the summer. We would have stopped and stayed at the Twilite Drive-In in Saskatchewan but Magic Mike held no interest for either of us and we continued on.
ROAD TRIP NOSTALGIA: The Twilite Drive-In Theatre in Wolseley, Saskatchewan still shows movies from June until Thanksgiving and although we didn’t have the time to take one in, we had to stop and check it out (top and middle left). Other drive-ins sit in disrepair like this one outside of Woodstock, New Brunswick that apparently hasn’t shown movies since the 1980s (middle right). Classic cars are seen both on the road and beside it like these at the Manitoba Antique Auto Museum in Elkhorn, Manitoba (bottom left and right). It all gives hitting the road a sense of nostalgia, something any good road trip always has.
Heading into Manitoba we encountered an electrical storm like none I had ever seen. The sky was like a strobe, the rain was sideways and the temperature swing caused this bizarre fog that hovered above the pavement. Listening to the Rolling Stones’ 2000 Light Years from Home on the radio was cosmic (thanks Handsome Dick Manitoba for one of those moments where the song and the world around you connects and it was all meant to be). It was the only white knuckle drive the whole trip.
THE US DETOUR: After we dumped down into the States we took routes that were less than well traveled, drove across the epic bridge connecting the two halves of Michigan (top), took random backroads through New York State, saw the graves in Salem, Massachusetts (bottom right), took a few rides at the Seashore Trolley Museum (bottom left) in Maine and crossed back into Canada. We even got to spend an extra few nights along the east coast thanks to a delay in the ferry to Newfoundland (we were going to catch the boat on Saturday but couldn’t get on until Monday thanks to a mechanical issue).
Once in Quirpon we only had a few days to visit, hike and shoot. We picked berries, found the spongiest moss ever, hiked along the limestone barrens and checked out L’Anse aux Meadows. It was great to see the family and they accepted my husband happily into the fold. But our trip to Labrador was cancelled (again, thanks to the boat delay) and our time was cut short.
We booked it for the ferry, looking to avoid Hurricane Leslie, crossing in the nick of time and squeaking by the flooding in Truro, Nova Scotia. Although not caused by the hurricane, the storm we encountered pushed Leslie further out towards St. John’s, the roads shut down less than an hour after we drove by. Thankfully, we got time to shoot on the way there and ended up getting awesome pictures none-the-less.
RISING WATERS: Sometimes while on the road the cosmos throw curve balls at you. As road trippers, you have to expect this. On our way back weather in Nova Scotia went from beautiful in the Cape Breton Highlands (top), to ominous outside of Halifax (middle left), before it became down right scary (middle right) all within 24 hours. In the end, we just squeaked through Truro before the highway closed (bottom left and right) and continued on our way back west.
New Brunswick passed in a flurry, Quebec came on way too quick and I discovered although I can read French very well, my verbal skills were bad enough to get me flagged as an Anglais after a few words. But I tried my best and managed just fine (minus the gas pump that was spouting technical terms and wouldn’t accept our card). We got switched around in Quebec City construction and the roads north of the major cities had more delineators than people on them.
When we left summer was in full swing, ditches full of blooms, insects gathering. By the time we hit Northern Ontario nearly three weeks later, frost had touched the land turning leaves gold and red. Those same ditches where now brown, the last wildflower holdouts heading to seed.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan flattened out, bringing fall colours, beautiful sunsets and giant snakes (just ask my husband how big the garter snake was that squirmed over his foot at a rest stop outside of Moose Jaw).
As we pulled up to our house back home in Calgary, we knew we were both bagged. The time zone switches, changing sunsets and all those kilometers had worn us out. The adventure was over and now the hard work was about to begin, editing and getting all those images sorted out for the book. Over the next few weeks all the images for the project will be polished, posted on to the blog and laid out in to the book. Contacts will be made to see if we can get an exhibition and pre-orders will be filled.
I loved the trip and I love Canada. But man. Am I glad to be home.
ALBERTA BOUND: This province of ours is pretty stunning if I do say so myself. Grass grows in the ditch at the Gleichen East rest stop (top), the same place where the Trans Canada Highway is surrounded by cattails (middle left). Calgary glows in the distance coming in from the east as Saturday night traffic head for the city limits (middle right). Little blooms fill the ditches like these Senecio flowers (bottom left) and are found in a place that proves Alberta is called big sky country for a reason (bottom middle). And pretty things don’t have to be obvious, like this little potato beetle who was one of hundreds munching down in Medicine Hat (bottom left).
Reflections on how lucky we have it in Alberta
We as Albertans, especially Calgarians, have it good in so many ways. And traveling across the continent really emphasizes that.
We have great roads, they are well maintained, most major routes are divided and the speed limit fits the conditions. Road laws are enforced by a large and dedicated police force and most drivers use signal lights, know how to pass and are, on average, patient.
Our economy really hasn’t been impacted in the downturn. Whole towns have up and left in parts of the States and along the east coast. One story I heard was of a small town in Nova Scotia who lost nine families in one night to Fort Mac. They left all their belongings, food in the cupboards, cars at the airport, and flew to Alberta. Within a week all nine families had found work and started their new lives. In places like Michigan, we found abandoned main streets, boarded up, gas pumps pulled out. In rural Ontario and Quebec, most restaurants, hotels and businesses were closed for the season, with many up for sale. Many towns look worn, old and sad – tourist hubs and large cities being in the best repair.
We don’t have to worry about driving at night because large animals on our roadways are rare. In Northern Newfoundland most people don’t drive at night because of moose/car collisions and had an open season last winter known locally as the ‘Save the People’ campaign.
We have natural gas and don’t need to purchase heating oil or propane to keep our houses toasty warm. We have a low fuel cost, especially compared to most of Canada. Our power is constant, we have very few outages. (Ironically, the power is out now as I edit this.)
Our produce is amazing and affordable. It looks good. It tastes good. It doesn’t cost you your first born for a quart of strawberries.
Although we often complain about our government, it is stable and accountable.
We don’t get hurricanes. The sun shines most days. We don’t have black flies or no-see-ums. Our mosquitoes are small.
And we have only have a five percent tax.
We are very lucky indeed.
Random Road Trip Stats
* Days on the road – 22.5
* Provinces drove through – 8
* States drove through – 9
* Kilometers traveled – 13,464
* Photos taken – 5157
* Weird and wonderful wildlife seen – A black red fox (we named him Steve), two moose (a bull and a cow), a bald eagle, a golden eagle, deer (lots of deer), a pileated woodpecker (like Woody), a loon, orcas, chipmunks, a humpback whale, a northern leopard frog, a couple dozen prong horns, beavers, muskrats, garter snakes and lots and lots of Canadian Geese.
* Tim Hortons found – 106 (Amazingly 24 of these were south of the boarder. The Canadian invasion has begun. We also found TD Banks along the eastern seaboard. Go figure.)
* Hotels stayed in – 3
* Nights where awesome friends and family put us up – 8
* Random nights spent in the bush beside the road because we couldn’t find anything else – 3
* Ferry rides – 2 including a night crossing
* All the rest were in spent in campgrounds, which was awesome and the best way to do the trip on a budget.
* Best touristy thing – Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine
* Worst traffic – Tie – Construction along a freeway in Ohio (near Cleveland) and construction in Quebec City
* Best drive – The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
* Best hike – Tea House Trail in St. Anthony, Newfoundland
UP FOR THE FINAL CUT: Although I still have thousands of images to go through there are some standout favourites for the book – a black and white yellowjacket (top), a yellow Birdfoot Deervetch (middle left) and these partridge berries (middle right). And my current front runner for the cover, a fallen maple leaf (bottom). I’ll be plugging away at this for the next few weeks and all the images will be posted on the Quadrophonic Blog so stay tuned.