Bestowed Tips for Road Trips

Isn’t it strange how everyone driving faster than you is a maniac and everyone driving slower than you is a moron?

Meme of unknown origin

TL DR: Don’t drive like an arse wherever you may be. If you don’t know what that means, you probably are one.

Someday, hopefully very soon, I will be trading in my trusty Rav 4 for a newer model. This is the third vehicle since 1999 that I will say goodbye to with well over 200,000 km on it. So I guess you could say I’ve gone for a drive or two. I wish I could say I’ve driven completely across Canada, but I’ve gotten 2/3 of the way, and 66% is a passing grade. I haven’t done the far north, because I grew up in the less far north and the appeal of narrow and gravel roads is not so exciting when you’ve seen a buttload of bears and moose and all those other things.

My chariot, when she was young

I’ve driven all the way around the island of Oahu, up and down the east coast of the US several times, and criss-crossed the western end of the US a couple of times. But this is all about Canada, so I’ll stick with what I’ve learned about driving in Canada. You may or may not be surprised that the rules of the road (written and otherwise) can be quite different between provinces, and even between rural and urban areas. Not knowing the local customs can get you into hot water, or at least a warm tow truck, if you’re not quite in the loop. Horn dialects alone can make for some real embarrassment. And nobody wants to be driving along, feeling sheepish at being in the wrong while still being ticked off at the jerk that honked their horn and gave you the one finger salute. Because on the road, there’s no stopping to explain you didn’t know that’s not how it’s done here. In Rome, one must drive their chariot as the Romans do – and that may or may not include right turns on red.

So dear reader, here’s a few tips from this road warrior about how to make it 2/3 of the way across country with your vehicle and dignity intact.

WARNING: Rough language ahead. We’re talking about driving and that necessitates the use of certain words that should not be used in polite company. If you are a polite company, you might want to avert your eyes. I am also going to make fun of drivers across Canada, but really pick on Alberta because I live here, and driving here makes me wish for an extinction level asteroid event.

Are you a Righty or a Lefty? Or comfy square in the centre – where there is one?

I’m speaking of course, of lanes on multi-lane highways. I learned to drive and spent most of formative driving years driving in BC, where the law advises “Stay Right Except to Pass”. Here’s the thing – roughly 95% of British Columbia highways are only 2 lanes. Staying right comes more easily because not doing so in many, many places will put you nose to nose with a ginormous truck loaded down with a couple of tons of logs. What tends to happen in the more remote areas of the province is that long lines of vehicles build up behind a pace car until a middle lane opens up in a rare stretch of straight. At which point a starter pistol that only naturally born British Columbians can hear is fired, and the race is on to get past the slow vehicle before the passing lane slips away, slowly narrowing until the regular pace resumes.

A similar phenomenon occurs where there is no passing lane, but the double solid gives way to dots in another straight section. The first car behind the pace car is the lookout, edging towards the right lane to check for oncoming traffic. If it is clear, then the rural BC driver will plant their Redhartt’s (or Sorel’s depending on the season) hard on the accelerator and start round one of the BC chicken game. Generally once the first car has made their move, inevitably a car will crest a hill in the distance in the oncoming lane. The next contestants then need to make very complex mathematical calculations in their head: if I’m able to accelerate to 120 km per hour, how much time will it take me to safely pass a double trailer semi driving 90 km per hour, and is that more or less time than it takes for the cresting vehicle to close the gap at x speed. Solve for X.

Nah, just kidding. It’s a gut thing. Do I feel lucky? And as the gap closes, each following driver gauges the distance, their relative horsepower, and testicular fortitude and makes their choice.

This might be a good time to introduce you (or remind you if it’s been awhile) that BC does not really have proper highways – they have a series of corners joined together. (I stole that quote from somewhere but I can’t remember where so hopefully the rightful owner never reads this. I think the odds of that are quite good at my currrent follower count.) BC is one of the few places I’ve been where you can make 3 left (or right) turns and not end up where you started. (That quote is original).

Malahat Summit – Vancouver Island BC

When driving the Coquihalla, lane choice has a lot to do with which side of the road you’re on and how close to the edge of the cliff you want to be. Luckily, many parts of the “Coq” have 3 lanes per side so you do have some options.

Highway 1 west of Abbotsford is not so much lanes as a giant slow moving centipede of vehicles, and whichever lane you are in when you get into the thick of the crowd, that’s the lane you stay in. There’s really not a lot of choice. And I can’t speak for the regular drivers, but on my trips through I haven’t been picky about which lane, I’m usually just happy to have a space at all.

Alberta drivers, on the other hand, are a little more used to multiple lanes and long stretches of straight lines. As a transplanted Albertan, it took some adjusting to the Alberta theory of lane placement. The official rule is that slower traffic should keep right. As a result, by driving in the right hand lane, one must admit to the world and themselves that they are, in fact, slow. This is truly terrifying to most Albertans; I’ve often wondered if in the horror stories tweens tell around the community tree that once, a guy drove in the right lane, and his dick clean fell off.

Alberta driver

As a result, the left lane is full of slow and fast drivers, the right lane is full of slow drivers that didn’t hear about the dick thing, and fast drivers trying to inch their way forward in the lines by slaloming between the slower cars in each lane. After a few kilometres, everyone meets up at a stoplight and has a good laugh about all the near misses caused by the GTA set and their wicked maneuvers.

In a few places where there are 3 lanes per side, the left lane is usually driven by the 10 km over the speed limit folks, the centre lane is used by those at or below the speed limit, and the right lane is used as a passing lane for those for which 10 km over the limit is too slow. Here, they can really show off their extensive knowledge of the Fast and Furious movies by using all three lanes to maneuver around everyone else. Then they all meet up at the stop light where the Fast and Furious drivers google the nearest brake shop.

In some areas of the province, where roads are not “twinned” – separated by a physical divider of sorts, it can be extremely dangerous as no one really knows just how far left you need to go to avoid the dick falling off thing, and frequently end up in the left lane of the other side of the road. This can be bad since the oncoming traffic is having the same difficult choice to make and you can all end up trying to defy the Laws of Physics by having multiple objects having mass occupying the same space in the same time. Or as is more commonly known, a 37 car pile up.

In driving across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, I didn’t really notice much about lanes and lane rules on the highway. If two vehicles should actually be close enough for one to need to pass the other, its a simple matter of borrowing the oncoming lane to pass. Unlike the BC chicken game, if you’re driving east from Regina you can pretty much see traffic from Winnipeg driving West.

Saskatchwan (somewhere)

That last statement is a lie – the curvature of the earth blocks the view. This is also a blatant rip off of the “I watched my dog run away for 3 days” joke that pretty much all the native Saskatchewanians (Saskatchewaners, Saskatchewinigans, Sasquatches?) hate with passion. What is true – FUN FACT – is that every so often on these long straight roads there will be an easy but inexplicable S curve. The reason, I am not making this up, is that in Saskatchewan the county roads are all set to align to the lines of latitude. Because of the curvature of the earth, every so often they need to adjust in order to keep their alignment. (Special thanks to Dyana for that tip. She drove me back and forth to Regina for training every week for a month and clearly we ran out of things to talk about).

You cannot generalize anything about Ontario as it really is a country to itself. Ontario is the Nanaimo of provinces – long and skinny, and goes on for days. It took me 2 days to drive across HALF of Ontario, no kidding. But it did allow me to stay in the lovely town of Wawa, famous for it’s giant Canada goose statue (because the regular size f*ckers aren’t scary enough). The first stretch – from the Manitoba border to the northern shore of Lake Huron – is a lot like northern BC. Thunder Bay is aptly named – although my trip involved a lot more rain than thunder. My recollection of this stretch of the drive is mostly of wet, two lane highways, and the odd moose.

Southwestern Ontario is closer to Alberta in topography than the rest of Ontario. Lots of gravel or narrow paved back roads with speed limits that appear to be as high or higher than the actual highway speed limits. Which are very low, except on the 400 series freeways, where they appear to be only a suggestion. I don’t know much about lane usage as I avoided most of the 400 series highways, driving east to the outer edges of the GTA on a mission of mercy, with approximately 32 kittens in my car, and promptly turning back towards the sticks. (The 32 kittens is a story unto itself). The only sane way to travel to Toronto from elsewhere is to fly and then take a cab. Bring a f*ck-tonne of money and a 30 day supply of valium for each day you plan to spend there. I suppose the train is also an option, but I can’t speak to it as it’s a train (ha-ha) and I’ve never travelled by train in Ontario.

Ottawa

I have been to Ottawa and Montreal but in neither places did I drive. Ottawa doesn’t seem too bad – Hub did the driving there – but you really have to spend more than a few days to get the jist. I have heard many stories about Montreal drivers, all of them bad, and it seems to be a perverse badge of honour to proclaim themselves the worst drivers in Canada. If you’re sober, take the Metro – and if you’re drunk, you can probably handle taking a cab. Just not too drunk, if you know what I mean.

Round and round the roundabout – Fun with Intersections!

Again, I start with my native BC which has a pretty much mutually exclusive relationship with four way stops where stop lights are impractical or the mayor spent all the traffic funds trying to find the road under the potholes. As a result, four way stop rules are pretty ingrained in the BC driver training. Very simple rules. If you get there, and no one else is around, you can stop, and then go. If there are multiple vehicles arriving (or lined up, as frequently is the case) the right of way goes to the right. So easy a teenager with a 1.13 blood alcohol level can remember it.

Alberta, not so much. They prefer roundabouts. The first time I ever drove in Edmonton and stumbled across a roundabout I damn near pissed myself. These cocksure Albertans barely took their cowboy boots off the accelerator as they whipped around and through. It looked to me to be a lot like those old iron merry go rounds (now banned) where you held onto the bar and it went faster and faster until you lost your grip and flew off into space. That’s what those cars going around that first 3 lane roundabout looked like to me. What hellish concept was this?

Me, seeing my first traffic roundabout

We lived in Edmonton for a total of 7 years, during which I memorized the location of every major roundabout and plotted out several alternate routes to get where I needed to go. There were two that I gradually got used to – once a local explained the rules. Once you’re inside the circle, you have the right of way. Outside the circle you have to wait for your chance to jump in. If there’s more than one lane, you use the centre lane if you are going more than half way around and the right lane only if you plan on exiting at the first or second off ramp.

That’s a lot more to remember than right of way goes to the right. I may not actually even be correct on the roundabout rules even now. I repeated it so many times to myself and then ended up taking an alternate route anyway. But the roundabout trend continues, and all the new construction sprawl around Calgary is chocker block full of them. In some places, there are 3 or four in a row for no apparent reason as there’s no cross roads. They’re like the Albertan version of crop circles I guess. They just appear in the middle of fields getting ready to subdivisions.

Four way stops, on the other hand, are largely limited to when the power is out and there’s no functioning traffic lights at major intersections. In these instances, the rule appears to be right of way goes to side with the biggest, blackest, manliest Ram truck at the front, which claims the intersection by pissing directly in the centre and having all the traffic on his side follow – until the next Ram truck maneuvers its way to the front of another roadway, at which point they claim the intersection and lead their side through in the same manner. If there’s ever a four way stop situation where all directions are led by big, black Ram trucks, it will be a conflagration of epic proportions.

Perhaps I am a bit hard on my fellow drivers here in Calgary, but it’s only because they are all morons and maniacs, and everyone knows – despite the Quebecois claims to the contrary – that Albertans are the worst drivers in Canada, bar none. And for the love of Pete the Plumber, school bus drivers, if you can’t legally drive faster than 90 km/hr, and the speed limit is 100 km/hr, you ARE the slowest driver (best Anne Robinson voice) so get the hell over. I promise you, neither you nor any of your prepubescent charges have anything to fear with respect to your nether regions.

So…where was I? Oh yes, intersections.

There may be U Turn rules in each province but no one seems to know or understand them. U-turns in BC are illegal in most places, at least they used to be. As street parking becomes impossible, cars in Vancouver have no choice but to whip around at the first open space they see. It may be on the other side of the road and roomy enough for a hamster cage, but they will get that space or die trying.

U-turns in Alberta appear to be mandatory as there are many places you simply can’t get to without making one. You see the odd “No U-Turn” sign in some places, but I guess everywhere else is pretty much fair game. I tried to read the rule on it in the legislation – and despite having made a living for most of my life interpreting legislation – this one was a stumper. So I mostly just make U-Turns to park and un-park in front of my house and avoid them everywhere else, just in case.

I don’t think there are too many issues with U-Turns in Saskatchewan or Manitoba given you really don’t need an actual road to drive in many places. As long as you’re not actually hitting crops, I think everywhere is pretty much a road, it just may not know it yet.

The other little source of Unique Identity at intersections is the Right Turn on Red. In Montreal, (although not in the rest of the province) it is illegal to make a right turn when you have the red light at an intersection. Even if there’s no traffic coming from the other direction. You just have to sit there and stare at the red light until it turns green, at which point you cannot make a right turn because of pedestrian traffic. You can avoid this dilemma by only making left turns, at which point pedestrians are required to run serpentine patterns to avoid being struck. Or, as previously noted, take the metro or get drunk in a cab.

Right turns on red are not only allowed in BC, but strongly encouraged. Similarly, in Alberta, if you don’t make a right turn on a red light, you will receive a brutal honking even if there are pedestrians in your path. You can’t back down to those walkers, you gotta let them know who’s boss. The use of turn signals is discouraged for all and strictly forbidden by owners of any European manufactured vehicle.

Oddly enough, both BC and Alberta allow passing on he right, but only BC has law forbidding passing on the right. This means that in BC, if you stop for pedestrians, the driver behind you does have to stay behind you and be content with playing chopsticks on his/her horn. In Alberta, they can and will drive on the shoulder/sidewalk/grass/pedestrian on the right if you even attempt to stop at the intersection prior to making your right turn on red.

In Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, right turn on red is permitted unless there is a sign that prohibits it. Halifax, interestingly, is looking at following in the fascist footsteps of Montreal and New York City and putting an end to this turning on red lights business. Of course, this was in 2019, and I was too lazy to google further to see if they ever came to a firm conclusion on this. Also, having to stop to research totally messes with my lighthearted, breezy vibe I have going that makes this article fun. No one wants the damn driver rules read out to them. We read that stupid book 150 times on the day we turned 16 and never looked back.

Critters – Sharing the road with livestock, wild animals, and cyclists

I lived in Victoria for a few years, so I was a bit surprised on a recent trip how the downtown roads are all brightly painted with cycling lanes on every single street, avenue, highway, boulevard, footpath, alley, back alley, and even Fan Tan Alley. This has produced a new breed of cyclist – faster, stronger, and willing to take their chances hitting a moving vehicle 20 times their GVW. The cyclists have become more brazen, aggressive, and ubiquitous than the deer. The only difference is that the deer move more slowly and, because they are a weirdly stunted version of normal deer, make less of a dent in your vehicle should you actually hit one. The cyclists are actually bigger and probably know many lawyers, so best to let them do whatever they want. Even if it means cutting you off in the vehicle lane in order to pass a slower cyclist in the bike lane.

In Calgary, they’ve taken a bit better approach by building pathways all over the city, connecting small greenspaces and parks, so that a cyclist can pretty much drive from one end of the city to the other without every being seen by drivers. It’s not unlike the approach of the wildlife overpasses out towards Banff – if you provide an alternative route that is safer, they seem to understand that is better than trying to dodge cars and trains below.

However the REAL cyclists prefer to gather in groups out on the secondary 2 lane highways where they can take up half a lane and cause the kind of traffic backups that they were born for.

Kidding aside (you do you, biking freaks) Alberta does have plenty of critters to watch for on roads big and small – as does the rest of the country. Here’s a few rules to live by:

  1. Don’t swerve to avoid hitting an animal. Unless that animal is a moose or a bear, then swerve like hell. The fact is, if you end up rolling the vehicle, as long as you are wearing a seat belt, you are actually reasonable safe from serious injury. Vehicles are engineered to have that core passenger box that is solid as a rock and while the fenders and body absorb the energy from the repeated collisions with the ground, that roll cage keeps you pretty snug. Hitting a moose is a bit more like hitting a brick wall and the fact is, they often survive the initial impact and end up going through the windshield, kicking like hell. So while you’re fighting the airbag, you may also be getting kicked in the face by a pissed off moose. Bears are pretty close although size really does matter. Pretty much horse size and up, you want to try and stop and/or get around it. Below that, you’re safer to strike the animal, if you can’t safely slow down or stop. But really try not to. Seeing roadkill is a big time bummer.
  2. Some animals will always have friends. It is rare to see one deer. If one deer is crossing the road, his friends can’t be too far behind. In spring time, bears will often have cubs with them. Black bears can have up to 4 cubbies, so again, make sure the whole family is accounted for before proceeding.
  3. F*ckin Geese. Yes, they can fly. And they know it too. But I guess since they fly so far in the fall and spring they prefer to walk the rest of the year. And they will have a trail of any number of babies behind them, so be prepared to wait. They are protected in Canada, so killing them is really bad. And frankly, given their demonic temperments, the little hissers would probably hurt your car more than the car would hurt them. Or you would wake up the next day to hundreds of them surrounding your home and never be able to leave your house again. I dunno, I just think its a really bad idea to mess with a goose.
  4. Never, ever, hit a skunk. If you do, immediately strip naked and set fire to your clothes, your car, your hair, and then walk away.
  5. Millions of visitors come to the parks in the Rockies to see critters. Despite all education efforts to curb their enthusiasm, tourists are known to stop dead in the middle of the highway and jump out of their vehicle in order to get a selfie with a critter. Make sure you have good brakes and be prepared to stop at any moment. DO NOT get out of the car and attempt the same. Okay, if it’s like a squirrel or something fine, but they’re everywhere. Bears and moose and elk are big-ass fully wild beasts that have no qualms whatsoever about making you unrecognizeable to your next of kin.
  6. It has nothing to do with driving, but it needs to be said – if you don’t want to get attacked by a cougar/puma/mountain lion – avoid running through it’s territory looking exactly like prey begging to be eaten. Tanned blondes in Columbia neutrals look very deer-like. Its ok to be an instagram snack, just keep it out of the woods or you may well become a big kitty snack. Just saying.

Where do the Romans pee?

Look, we all have to go at some point. And given the sparseness of the population coupled with general lack of attention to our parks and roadways, there’s going to come a time when you have to pee and you’re still a thousand miles from anything resembling a toilet. Not so much a problem in places like BC and Western Ontario – there’s plenty of bushy trees to give you a little privacy in emergencies.

But what if there are no bushy trees? I posed this question to my friend Dyana on one of those Regina driver – not that I had to go, but once I had the question in my head I needed to know. If one does what the Saskatcheweeners do, where do they do what they have to do?

Well, in some cases there may be a ditch deep enough to give you cover, but basically, you need to have a four door car. Sorry pickup drivers and little two door hatchbacks – you are going to have to live with the possibility of mooning someone. But those with a four door, like my wise friend, have a better option. As she explained, you simply pull over, open both doors on the passenger side, and use them as front and back cover. So if you are driving cross the Prairies, be sure to do it in a four door, and thank Dyana should it come in handy.

Seriously, where you gonna pee?

I certainly don’t know everything about driving, but I’ve got some skills and some knowledge – and beyond that, let courtesy and patience be your compass. You’ll be okay. But trust me on that skunk thing.

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