I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Horseshoe Bay waiting for the ferry to take my Jeep and me to Vancouver Island. A little over two weeks ago, I left on a trek from Montreal, QC all the way to Whistler, BC. According to my trip meter, we travelled about 5,800 kilometers (3,600 miles). We did not take the direct route.
This whole thing started when I jokingly told Stephane Daury that we should take a Jeep across Canada to get to work. Stephane is one of my coworkers at Automattic and is one of the main influencers in me getting a Jeep in the first place. He lives in Montreal and has been spending a bunch of time learning to weld and building up his Jeeps. Now, when I brought this up, he enthusiastically agreed to do this trip. That’s when it got all too real. The initial plan was to carpool, but as it grew nearer, he decided to bring his own Jeep so we could hit some seriously epic trails. (Never Jeep alone. That kind of thing.)
I met up with Stephane in Montreal a few days before our departure date to work with him to ready both of our Jeeps. Stephane had welded together a rack for the back of his Jeep enabling us to carry extra fuel, water, wood, and some charcoal. The wood and charcoal turned out to be pretty great as most of the places we stayed were extremely damp. Even the standing dead wood was soaked. Check it out.
Stephane had discovered a route called the TCAT (Trans-Canada Adventure Trail) documented on this website. It’s a scenic off road trail designed for motorcycles that utilizes old roads, trails, and county roads primarily. There are often side routes that involve much more difficult terrain. It runs from coast to coast through Canada and takes around three months to complete. We did sections of it at a time and jumped onto the main highways to make up some time when necessary. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to find this gem of a trail. I will definitely be sending a donation to the creator.
Stephane had already scoped out a good section of the TCAT for us to spent a couple days on while we were in Ontario, but other than that, we just knew we had to head west. Our deadline for arrival was the 14th.
Day 1: Tire trouble and a dip in a lake
On the morning of Wednesday, the 7th, we set off on what would end up being quite the unbelievable adventure across Canada with no real plan as to where we were going to stay or even what routes we were going to take.
Our trip was not entirely smooth sailing. Almost immediately after we set off, two and a half hours precisely, Stephane’s rear tire dramatically exploded with a huge gust of smoke billowing out of it. It was extremely hot to the touch and looked like the sidewall had melted and then exploded in a huge tear. It was smoking from the inside for about ten minutes. We quickly swapped out the tire and hopped back on the road. We had my spare to swap out if need be for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, we didn’t need it.
We made up time stopping only for a few minutes of relaxation at some rivers and lakes along the way. I had never personally seen rivers quite that large. They looked wider than some of the lakes I’ve visited in Colorado.
We stopped for the day at Driftwood Park in the afternoon. It was just too perfect a spot to pass by with a beautiful beach to camp on and a clear lake to swim in. At this point, we were both fairly novice at setting up hammocks and hammock camping in general, but we set up our hammocks, some tarps, and went swimming while the sun was around.
In the evening the mist from the lake, the clouds, and the low lighting created quite the scene. If you stood right on the edge of the lake you couldn’t really focus your eyes on anything and it felt very much like staring into a welcoming abyss. Later on, when it got dark, our frog friends swam to shore to join us and sing us to sleep.
Day 2: The roads less taken lead to a pleasant surprise
Thursday the 8th we ventured onto the TCAT. We had no idea what to expect other than some cliff notes from the TCAT website. We started on some logging roads that took us pretty deep into the mountains.
For lunch, we found a beautiful spot near a lake where someone had previously set up a perms-camp. It hadn’t been used in years when we found it, but we took good care of it and were thankful for the lone chair and the phenomenal view. We brought eight french sausages from Montreal to use along the way as well as a few baguettes and cheeses. These were our primary food sources for lunch and sometimes dinner.
Once we passed the lake, we decided to take a road that could barely be categorized as a trail. Yes, it was on the map, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at it.
The trail was part of the TCAT, but hadn’t been used in quite a long time. It was heavily overgrown and was laden with trees that had fallen across the path. As we went, it got narrower and narrower and narrow occasionally opening up for some rocky fun along some power lines. The larger rock faces were covered in the softest spongiest moss I have ever seen. We couldn’t resist lying down on them.
We were initially pretty excited at the opportunity to test out our axe and my chain saw. My chain saw is just a flexible chain with a handle on each end and a cutting blade similar to a normal chainsaw. We discovered that with two people, we could make quick work of a large tree with the chain saw. We cleared several trees and even had to winch one out of the way. Then we hopped in our Jeeps, drove ten meters and realized we had quite a long night of work ahead of us. We got into a really solid groove of moving trees and only cutting what was absolutely necessary.
Each night we tried to stay somewhat near a body of water for the views, potential swimming, and water access. We saw what looked like some good sized ponds or lakes on our GPS maps and did our best to get there, but it got dark a bit too fast. Like Captain Ahab, I pushed us forward looking for a white whale. Inevitably, it became too dangerous to continue in the dark so we backtracked a little and found a quite nice camp spot to hammock up for the night. I believe it was the first night Stephane slept in his Jeep.
In the morning I slowly and quietly emerged from my hammock cocoon, slipped on my shoes, and wandered over to find a place to pee. I didn’t want to wake up Stephane yet. Along the way, I noticed a grey streak glinting to my left. Was it water maybe? Then, out of the bushes I heard Stephane running over and yelling. He was apparently already awake. He excitedly told me to follow him. We ran through some brush around the corner and revealed a huge beautiful lake I dubbed “Surprise Lake” due to the nature of how we found it. The place we camped was just on the other side of this huge lake the whole time! It was glorious! Our hard work paid off and we certainly spent some time celebrating and enjoying the view.
DAY 3: A bunch more dirt and a baby bear
Friday the 9th, we packed up after some quick breakfast, which most days consisted of a banana along with some tea or coffee. We said farewell to Surprise Lake and emerged from the deep woods onto some delightfully curvy logging roads. Before getting too far, though we stopped and went swimming in the river.
We saw a massive sand hill and tok the opportunity to test out our vehicles. Only Stephane made it to the top.
Later on, we saw what I thought was a huge dog running on the road, but as I got closer, we saw it was an ultra fluffy black bear cub running to its mother. We didn’t stick around long enough to find out. 🐻
Days 4 and 5: endless highways
Saturday the 10th we decided to really pick up the pace. We had made very little progress and we knew we had to be in Calgary by Monday morning to pick up a special guest. In order to make good speed, we stayed almost entirely on highways for the next 24 hours of driving time.
Even though we were in a hurry, Canada put on a beautiful show for us with sparkling lakes, thunderstorms, and fantastic cloud patterns.
We stopped by a lake for lunch. The calm and quiet it brought was welcome after hours spent in a Jeep. Dinner was even better. I followed Stephane off the highway onto a service road into the forest and we found a beautiful place for dinner. We had some of the french sausage we had brought with us from Montreal.
On Sunday the 11th, we realized we could actually make it to Calgary in time to pick our guest up from the airport if we headed out a little early. We jumped back on the road stopping only for the occasional silly selfie and gas. It’s hard to tell from my photos, but the clouds in the evening were phenomenal.
We made it to Calgary, picked up some Timbits for our guest and headed to the airport. Who did we pick up? Well, you’ll have to wait for part 2 to be published or skim our Twitter feeds. 🙂
All images and videos in this post were taken by Stephane Daury or me. 🙂