In October, I moved from Toronto to Regina for a new job.
I had never before attempted a drive of this length, so I was a bit worried. In the end, it turned out to be a fine experience. I saw a decent chunk of the country, and it was nice having some time to myself. There were the boring parts, but they were inevitable. Probably the best tip I could give anyone going on this journey, especially solo as I did, is to not pay attention to how many more kilometres are left; just keep going.
Based off what I read online, along with what a friend who completed the drive told me, the general route for people travelling solo is:
Toronto to Wawa, Ont. — 910 km, nine hours and 46 mins
Wawa to Dryden, Ont. — 812 km, eight hours and 50 mins
Dryden to Regina — 933 km, nine hours and 23 mins
That’s fewer than 10 hours of driving a day without stopping. There is a slightly quicker journey through the United States, but I wasn’t keen on having to buy health insurance, buy extra car insurance, and having to pass through border security with a room’s worth of stuff crammed in a Honda CRV (I’m one of those people who always gets searched at airports, so). With those extra steps, that journey would actually require more hours than the Canadian route, I suspect.
The route I took:
Toronto to Wawa — 910 km, nine hours and 46 mins
Wawa to Brandon, Man. — 1,385 km, 14 hours and 46 mins
Brandon to Regina — 362 km, three hours and 33 mins
I find that my body generally works better in long durations for this kind of thing. I can work for 18 hours straight, but then I need 12 hours of sleep. It doesn’t work for everyone.
Toronto to Wawa — 910 km, nine hours 46 mins
My drive didn’t start off on a good foot because I couldn’t sleep the night before (I got about two hours). Still, I wanted to stick to my plan. The journey out of Toronto wasn’t difficult because I left after the morning rush hour. I was in the boonies relatively quickly after driving past Canada’s Wonderland. Once I passed Barrie, there were few buildings taller than three storyes visible for hours. Overall, the road conditions were fine. My only annoyance was having to occasionally wait at bridges for up to five minutes due to one lane being closed for construction.
Before this trip, I didn’t know how beautiful Ontario was. I struggled to keep my eyes on the road as I passed what looked like untouched lakes that perfectly reflected the surrounding trees and sky. I felt like I was driving past postcard covers for the first leg of the journey. The mountains were beautiful yet occasionally a little creepy. It got dark outside fast, and snaking around the mountains felt like the opening scene of a movie (you know, that cliché shot from a helicopter of a lone car heading to some secluded mansion in a forest). I came across one car on the other lane about once every 10 minutes at night. I was tired once I was an hour away from Wawa.
The only times I saw lampposts were at intersections, gas stations, and the like. Speaking of gas stations, it was a challenge to find the 24-hour variety and, when not driving close to bigger cities/towns, finding any at all was difficult. Running out of gas was a big worry, so I made sure to fill up by the 50 per cent mark during the day, and even sooner at night.
I chose a Wawa motel with a lot of lights outside in the hopes that they would deter any potential thieves. I brought my valuables inside my room. My car was still packed but mostly with things that I could replace relatively inexpensively. I was still worried that someone would try to break in. I mean, I could survive without my nearly decade-old vacuum and my two bathroom mats, but I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of dealing with broken glass everywhere. I’ve read that it can sometimes be wise to leave the doors unlocked to alleviate that. I see the logic: The thief breaks in, maybe messes things up, finds nothing of value, and leaves sans breaking the window. Then again, maybe the thief will actually be so incensed that there was nothing worthy of taking, they smash the window. Anyway, I found a cigarette butt in my non-smoking room’s toilet, and that was the extent of my issues, thankfully.
I didn’t pay attention to this too much, but I did lose cellphone reception several times (with Rogers) while driving (I used my phone as my GPS device), though generally only lasted for about five minutes at its worst. Getting a decent radio station signal was tricky for many parts of the journey, but there was generally at least one station always available. I found it quaint that so many of the stations I listened to were named after animals (The Bear, The Moose, etc.). I didn’t expect to get bored of music so fast, but I did, so I downloaded a bunch of CBC Radio’s “The Irrelevant Show” podcasts when I stopped at my first motel; the show got me through the rest of the journey.
Wawa to Brandon — 1,385 km, 14 hours and 46 mins
Minus more of those occasional bridge construction waits, this leg of the journey was uneventful. As I crept closer to Manitoba, the number of scenic views got more sparse.
I checked online for other people’s experiences completing this journey. I kept reading warnings about hitting moose and deer. I made sure to keep that in mind throughout the drive. The animals can come out of nowhere, and hitting a moose can kill you. There were many signs that warned drivers of particular moose/other animal hotspots. Thankfully, I did not see any large animals except for the fenced-in farm variety during the drive.
(Update: I drove back from Regina to Toronto in 2015 on the same route. On May 31 and June 1, I drove from Brandon to Toronto. I saw many moose in Ontario during the day and the night. They were difficult to see on a clear night, and they had no problem walking onto the road as my car approached. I witnessed one driver sideswipe a moose. I drove well below the speed limit during many parts of that drive.)
It was dark by the time I crossed the Ontario-Manitoba border about 11 hours later, and I felt fine to continue. The further I drove, the far less tightly the trees hugged the highways; that was helpful because it let more moonlight in.
I reached Brandon by about 10 or 11 p.m., and I was still good to drive the rest of the way to Regina, about a four-hour drive away. I called my landlord to see if he wouldn’t mind leaving the key somewhere for me to move in when I got there. Alas, he wasn’t able to accommodate that. Subsequently, I called it a night and searched for a place to stay. I was fooled into thinking that finding a place wouldn’t be difficult in Brandon because there were many motels on that stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, but I was able to find only one that had a room available.
Brandon to Regina — 362 km, three hours and 33 mins
It was obvious from the previous night that the rest of the journey would feature plain after plain after plain, but I guess the darkness of night masked the true extent of that. Meandering around Ontario’s mountains one day, and being able to see the tip of the CN Tower from the flatness of Saskatchewan and Manitoba the next day (OK, I’m exaggerating) was a bit of a visual shock.
Eventually, the Trans-Canada Highway turned into Regina’s Victoria Avenue East, which is kind of like Toronto’s Bloor Street, and the traffic got significantly busier.
And that was that: I made it to Regina.
I’ve lived here for more than three months now, and there are some notable differences regarding what it’s like living in Regina than in Toronto.
I found that most of Toronto’s roads that I used were cleared within a day or two. Here, it feels as if the roads, including many parking lots, are completely coated with snow starting in November — and they stay that way. There is one road I started using in November every couple of days or so, and I’ve never not seen it coated in ice at least an inch thick. A friend of mine told me that people drive much slower in Regina than in Toronto, an observation which seems to have anecdotal merit.
When I lived in New York City, I thought that my friends there complained too much about snow and such. “Try experiencing a Toronto winter,” I, the know-it-all, told them. Having now experienced much of a Regina winter, I’ve come to realize that I knew nothing.
I still don’t think anyone truly “handles” an outdoor temperature (with windchill) of -50 C, but Saskatchewanians do. Those temperatures bring the requisite flight cancellations, water main breaks, and such, yet people here just go on with their lives. Somehow.
Subsequently, my new temperature tolerance entails:
-50 C — I’ll make my grocery run a quick affair.
-30 C — Nothing out of the ordinary.
-2 C — Practically t-shirt weather.
Lastly, it took me a while to accept that everything is nearby in Regina by car — like 10 minutes or so away pretty much anywhere you’re at. I fault the Torontonian in me for thinking that I have to leave an hour early for everything. That said, there are regularly-used train tracks that cut through the middle of the city; trains crossing those tracks have delayed my trips by up to 30 minutes before.