The shrill cry echoed around the room making me squeeze my eyes even tighter. James shifted in his sleep, but continued to ignore each pulse of sound that speared into my brain. I really need a new alarm clock, I thought to myself like I do every morning I hear it.
Opening my one eye, I peer at the red numbers – 3:15am. I sigh. My hand fumbles through the air as I try to press the snooze button, missing it several times before I stop the cacophony that I am sure must be a demon from the pits. At the last second, my hand slips to the knob and I flick off the alarm.
Laying in quiet frustration, I stare at the shadow of the ceiling in the pitch black room; the only source of light is the red glare from the alarm clock as the number slides closer to 3:30, the time when I really need to get up. I sigh again, louder, as I swing my legs over the side of the bed. A wave of nausea washes over me and I groan at the thought of what lies ahead. Six agonizing hours of driving up to the cottage we are renting for 2 weeks.
“Why do we have to leave so early,” I grumble; James slowly getting out of bed behind me.
“Because we are going to hit traffic in Toronto and then there will be all the cottage traffic.”
I shake my head and leave the room to get ready for the day and do one last search through the house to make sure we didn’t forget anything. My head is foggy and there is a thickness on my tongue that the toothbrush just can’t get rid of but that’s what happens when you are only working on 2 hours sleep.
The night before had been spent packing up the van for the trip we were taking. Two glorious weeks at a private cottage but that meant we needed to take just about everything in the house. It had taken us until 12:30am to get the van loaded and by the time I had tumbled into bed, it was closer to 1:30. Even after that, my mind had been too busy to really sleep so the two hours before the alarm began to scream was spent in fitful slumber.
By the time I had finished checking the house and loading the last few items into the van, James was dressed. I sat on the couch, my oldest son still sound asleep on it where we left him the night before. The nausea washed over me and my head felt like a concussion grenade had gone off in it. I groaned, desperate for some pain medication but the Advil in the cupboard was a risk I wouldn’t take after having a bad reaction to it only a few days earlier.
“Are you alright?”
I stare blankly at James for a few seconds before I realize that he had asked me something, “Yeah, just tired.”
“You going to be okay to do the first shift of the drive?”
Indignation flares my nostrils as I glare at him, “Yes,” I practically bite the word in half, “I’ll be fine."
With that, I grab the kids’ blankets, feeling a little ashamed for my outburst, and head downstairs as James picks up the kids and carries them to the van. They wake up slightly as they are set in the van and I quickly cover them up. “Where are we going?” Gabriel yawns.
“To the cottage silly.”
“Why are we leaving so early?”
I grind my teeth, “Because we need to beat the traffic....”
The clock on the car radio says 3:45am by the time we pull out of the driveway. Michael exclaims, “Mom, look at all the stars!” and his voice sets off an argument that we listen to for the first 15 minutes of our trip. Gabriel wants to go back to sleep but his little brother's excited chatter keeps disturbing him. Finally, Michael falls silent, although he stays awake, his green eyes searching the dark for anything new and interesting.
Gabriel falls back to sleep and James dozes beside me as I peer through the windshield. It is as though the world is still asleep, the only companion on this journey being the occasional transport truck that speeds by. Everything else is silent and a light fog drifts across the road, shrouding the edges of the road.
I feel James's gaze on my hands and I glance over to see him checking my speed. “I’m going slow right now because I don’t want to hit a deer.” I say before he mentions it.
“That’s okay,” he murmurs before he drifts back to sleep.
The road seems extremely dark but a light pierces through the darkness and I make a quick turn into the Tim Horton’s drive through. The smell of coffee begins to send pulses of electricity to my cortex and the fog that had been plaguing me starts to evaporate the minute I take my first sip.
Ahhhh...Now we can get on the road officially. The next few hours are a blur. The sun begins to lighten the sky to gray and I am no longer alone. Other cars start to merge onto the highway, each of the drivers looking as shell shocked as I feel. James wrestles from his doze every once and a while to check my progress and the only companion I have is Michael as he asks the occasional question.
The drum of the highway shifts to the high pitched hum of the 407 as I merge onto it, my mind going into auto pilot as I coast down the highway.
What?! Where am I?! I think to myself as I look at the landscape. Either I am still on the 407 or I somehow shifted through time and space and ended up in Texas. I can’t believe how the stretch looks so much like a highway I have driven down in that state. I shake my head to clear it of those wayward thoughts, the sign for the 401 confirming that I haven’t left Ontario and arrived in Texas after all.
James jerks awake and says, “We’re at the 400 already, I didn’t think we would be here so fast.”
“Yeah, there was no traffic,” I mutter but keep the other thoughts to myself.
The 400 is long and straight and I finally run into some congestion, although it was a far cry from the traffic I was assured would be there. We zip past Canada’s Wonderland and I hear Michael exclaim, “Look, there’s Canada’s Wonderland!!”
A few seconds later, he is sound asleep and I wonder if that was the reason why he stayed up for 2 and a half hours. The rest of the drive is nice although I feel the fog enveloping me again. I search in vain for a Tim Horton’s; desperate for that little jolt of coffee to get me started again. The clock slides on to 7am and James is fully awake now, taking in the beautiful scenery as the Canadian Shield starts to open up to us.
“Do you want me to take over now?”
“No, I will let you take over when we stop for gas.”
“Are you sure?”
Only the gas stations have all disappeared and I find myself on a winding road towards Bancroft. Great, where the heck are the gas stations?
Piles of rocks start to climb around us and I am struck by the beauty of the place. A hawk glides over the windshield and I watch its flight over the road and into the trees. My eyes return to the road...
Oh my god! A squirrel!
I shriek as my tires edge even closer to it and swerve slightly to miss it. My heart is in my throat, choking me; tears sting my eyes as I glance back in the rear-view mirror. The squirrel is standing on the side of the road in confusion, looking around before he turns and runs back into the woods.
I glance over at James, his eyes wide, “I think you’re done. Pull over and I will drive.”
I nod my head, red staining my cheeks in embarrassment. I’m not usually so jumpy at the wheel but it is 7:30 in the morning and I had been driving for 3 and a half hours after only 2 hours sleep. Yep, time to get off the road.
Unfortunately, it takes another half an hour until we find a place to pull over, a gas station with the world’s worst coffee. James takes over for the last hour of the trip and we roll into Bancroft at 9am. Our 6 hour trip has turned into a 5 hour one due to the light traffic.
The cottage is beautiful and the kids are overjoyed at all the sights. Me, I struggle to get the cottage unpacked before we head into town to purchase our perishables.
Finally, by 3 in the afternoon, I am able to relax and start to unwind.
I have to say that I am surprised by the beauty of the area since my closest experience with this area was a few hours away in a tourist trap. I was expecting the same but it is quiet and peaceful here, which is exactly what I need.
James often talked about this area on the Canadian Shield and how it would remind me of home (being British Columbia). He would talk about the towering trees, the thick forests, the large hillsides and I think that he wanted to bring me a piece of BC, which I miss greatly.
I have to say that this isn’t BC and while my heart still aches for the province I was raised in, there is a quite beauty here as well. It is a whisper, an echo of something that I often lose in the city but I felt it the moment the hawk dipped down into view during the drive.
I felt the pull as we passed the large rocks heralding our arrival into the Canadian Shield. It is difficult to explain but for the first time in years, I actually felt my soul let out a sigh and breathe again. The stress was still there, the same worries but there was a lightening that was more metaphysical than physical and I felt like weeping as I drove. I found a piece myself driving down an empty road in the middle of nowhere, but I guess that is where everyone finds themselves...in a place where you would never think to look.