Companies that lie. Would you trust them with your life?

Clean Diesel. LOL

Clean Diesel. LOL

It’s been all over the news for the past year. It was so big, the company involved has had to massively reduce its expenses, innovation strategy and even some of its big marketing assets. No, I’m not talking about Samsung, but Volkswagen.

News came around recently that Audi was going to withdraw its diesel-powered cars from Le Mans, to focus instead on Formula-E (the electric Formula 1). Wonder why? No, you probably know why. And to say it all started with a very simple device and some basic programming.
When revelations came out that Volkswagen was explicitly cheating on its diesel emission numbers, the world was in shock. How could this be? In North America, VW promised us that their diesel-powered cars were clean. They even went as far as calling them “Clean Diesels”! People trusted Volkswagen, believed in what they claimed, because there was a tacit agreement that they were not lying. Extrapolating facts and figures, sure, they did that. They would even twist reality a bit to highlight their vehicles.

Oh the lies....

Oh the lies….

But outright lie, and set up a device to change reality, that was new. And turns out, this had been going on for a while. When people bought a VW, they put their trust in the company. They trusted VW to provide a car that would not break down after 5 kilometres, that would always brake when needed and in a way, would not kill them. Turns out, it was all a lie. VW became the shady second-hand car dealer that people did not trust, their reputation now in tatters, and involved in billions in lawsuits. Even myself, having owned a classic VW and who used to worship the brand, I don’t see the company as before. I’m even beginning to doubt the Golf GTI Performance pack has an electronically controlled LSD. What if it’s just a cheap brake-activated torque vectoring system? I mean, if they lied on their emissions, what’s stopping them from lying about what their car has. Seriously, have you ever checked if your car has the advertised airbags? What if it is just a bag of popcorn, accidentally put in by a distracted worker?

Speaking of airbags, remember Takata? They had one of the biggest products recalls in history, affecting millions of cars worldwide, because their airbags would puncture your face when they detonated. You know, that thing that is supposed to act as a cushion in the event of a crash. Turns out, they too lied. They knew that the detonator they were using had a severe risk of creating metal shards upon exploding, but they went with it. Because it was cheaper. Corporate greed, leading to lies and danger, ultimately leading to death.

These recalls have been more and more present in the past few years, and worst of all, it seems more and more cars are affected. It is usually linked to one thing: reducing costs for better profitability. In the end, we need to seriously consider the issue of trust. If the company you bought a product from, cut its costs to make more money, inherently making your product more dangerous, or worse performing, how could you trust them? As a consumer, we put our lives in the hands of the manufacturers, hoping that they will make sure we are safe. But if they value their shareholders over their actual consumers, how can we be safe, and how can we trust them?
Which, conveniently, leads me on to autonomous cars.

Do you trust Uber?

Do you trust Uber?

Ford’s making some. The same company that had the explosion problem with the Pinto. Google is making them, the company that “accidently” steals people’s data on numerous occasions. Even the worst company in the world, Uber, is making autonomous cars its priority. See where I am going with this?

It seems nowadays (and probably for quite some time, maybe even forever), we have trouble entirely trusting companies, especially corporations who value their shareholders over their customers. VW proved to us the lengths they are willing to go to deceive us, just to get that extra marketing advantage. If you can’t trust a company, how could you trust them with blindly transporting you at great speeds on a public road? Sure, apparently, millennials and metropolis-dwellers are adamant that autonomous cars are the future, and companies are assuring us that once the regulations are in order, it will be a reality. Probably in 2 years, since the technology is ready, they claim. Though as with every survey, when you look in detail at the questions and answers, you see that the vision is not so clear-cut as what is reported. For one, yes, autonomous cars are perceived as advantageous by a majority of people, but only to remove the boring parts of driving. When people are asked if they want to hand over all the driving, the answer, as found in this Australian survey, is not so clear cut. People still like to drive, no matter what the New York Times claims. Hell, even some millennials even want to drive.

Then, we have manufacturers who like to claim that the technology is ready. Yet, even Tesla, who was so confident about its Autopilot, had to review their claims when one of their cars simply just drove into a truck and killed the driver. Seriously, if you honestly believe the technology is there, try the Autopilot system in heavy rain or snow, then get back to me. As with every Silicon Valley innovation, it works only when the parameters are perfect.

Tesla Autopilot. It works, kinda

Tesla Autopilot. It works, kinda

Sure, autonomous vehicles exist. Planes and trains can drive and pilot themselves. The only issue here, is that planes and trains are not mass-produced to the scale of a regular car. For a plane, each one must go through specific tests to ensure it is safe. And even then, sometimes it does not work, as we saw with the 787. And as autonomous as they are, there is still a human back-up, just in case things go wrong (and they do, unfortunately). Cars are not the same story. Once the model is approved, usually, manufacturers will just check that the car works for 20 minutes, then send it off. If the airbag contains metal shards, well they will only find out when there is a crash. Do you really want to find out once you crash that your autonomous car’s radar had a screw loose and was an inch off? You may have the best quality control in the world, but when you produce millions of units per year, there will inevitably be defects. Autonomous trains work, but they only have to deal with sudden darkness and operate in a closed environment, so not really comparable.

In all honesty, I think autonomous vehicles can be cool. Using the Tesla Autopilot system on a congested road is fun, and makes driving less boring in some cases. However, total autonomous cars are still a long way off. And given the history of corporate greed and cutting corners, I’m glad that it won’t happen soon.

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The Hire is back! Or how to make a good advert


How do you make a good advertisement for a car? GM would make you beleive they can sell you a car by showing some “real” people being excited, because their pickup has a couple more horsepower than its rival, or its Impala has wifi, so everyone can use their tablet. If anything, these adverts show just how clueless some companies are on how they should showcase their car. People don’t care that your carefully selected focus group believes that steel is stronger than aluminum. That’s just being lazy, on the same level of an American political campaign, and will bite you back when you inevitably have to use the technology your competitors use.

To use the old marketing speak, an advertisement must sell the brand, promote its values. If people cannot identify with what your brand is about, they won’t consider your product in the future. I already talked about this with the Toyota GT86 advert, which promoted the love of driving, directly in line with what the car was about. And I’m repeating myself, because BMW has once again embraced the concept of the brand, and remade its legendary “The Hire” movie series.

For those who don’t know, BMW, back in 2001, made a series of short films with famous actors and directors, showcasing their range, and in the process, creating the ultimate brand promotions. These movies featured Clive Owen in a variety of BMWs, playing an anonymous driver, driving important people around, while often evading a plethora of bad guys. These were no simple adverts, each short film being directed by a famous director, with their own style. The best thing about these adverts (they are adverts after all), is that there was no overemphasis on the car. The focus was the content and the form, not the car. In this way, the car became part of the movie, and you rarely had the impression that the movie was made around the car. In fact, as opposed to some product placements (say Transformers), the cars would get scratched, broken and beaten. The car was the support cast to the driver, and in that way broke the typical advertisement format. It was genius, and ensured BMW remained a “cool” brand for people who love driving. After all, it’s slogan was “Ultimate driving machine”, or more recently, “Joy”. To people who ask whether it was worth it, these videos were seen millions of times, in 2001. Before Youtube. And to this day, people still remember them!

Now, in a time when BMWs are more and more distancing itself from the whole “man and machine” concept, with fake sound, and overall cumbersome sports cars, “The Hire” is back. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, as people are starting to question if BMWs are still about driving. Now we have Clive Owen again, helping a kid get away from bad guys, in a BMW 5 series. The formula is the same, as in the car is a support character, and the story has little to do with BMW. The tradition of having famous directors doing their thing is continued here, with Neil Blomkamp (of District 9, Elysium and Chappie fame) bringing his signature touch to this short marvel. It’s worth the watch, and makes you appreciate BMW, and understand it’s brand values. And that’s what a good advertisement should be about.

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Remembering Gilles Villeneuve

Salut Gilles!

Salut Gilles!

28 years ago, on a rainy and cold October day, I was in attendance when Gilles Villeneuve won his first F1 race. To the delight of the cheering crowd, he did it on his home course; the Circuit Île Notre-Dame, which would later be renamed in his honour. Thousands and thousands of spectators were jumping with joy in anticipation of the checkered flag coming down and the red Ferrari 312T3 number 12 to be first to cross the finish line. The miserable weather didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that counted was that Gilles had won.

I began following his career when he was racing snowmobiles, another product of Québec, if I can put it that way. He raced Skiroule snowmobiles. They had been designed in the province after Bombardier’s success with Skidoo, but Skiroule was eventually sold to the Coleman Company famous for its camping gear. Gilles was snowmobile champion of his province, country and continent. He became the Snowmobile World Derby champion in 1974.

He did some drag racing, but going in a straight line bored him. He attended the Jim Russell Racing School in Mont-Tremblant to obtain his racing license. Despite driving an older Formula Ford car he had purchased, he won seven out of the ten races he entered and won the Quebec championship. The following year, he moved to Formula Atlantic. It was raining heavily when he won his first race in 1975. In 1976, he was crowned champion, US and Canadian at that, by winning all but one race during that season. And the sole race he didn’t win, he came in second. He tried to jump to Formula 2 in Europe, but a contract didn’t materialize, so he returned to Formula Atlantic.

Gilles Villeneuve in 1979 at Imola

Gilles Villeneuve in 1979 at Imola

My brother and I used to go see him racing on weekends. The two-day spectacle included the preliminary races to Formula Atlantic showcased the Honda civic race, Formula Ford, TransAm and CanAm. Gilles also did some CanAm races for Wolf Racing. In 1976, there was a celebrity Formula Atlantic race that included F1 stars. Gilles won the race. In doing so, he impressed James Hunt who was one of the participants and would become the F1 champion that year. James Hunt recommended the Formula Atlantic champion to McLaren, for whom he was racing, and it was the beginning of Gilles Formula 1 career. He lied about his age for fear of being considered too old to be an F1 racer.

"With Villeneuve you win, even if you lose." Enzo Ferrari

“With Villeneuve you win, even if you lose.” Enzo Ferrari

Although promising at first, things didn’t pan out with McLaren nor with Wolf Racing; the Canadian team that was interested in Gilles for their F1 effort. An interesting thing to note is that Wolf Racing won the very first Formula 1 race they entered. Walter Wolf recommended Gilles Villeneuve to Enzo Ferrari. The Commendatore took an immediate liking to Gilles Villeneuve whose stature reminded him of Tazio Nuvolari. Ferdinand Porsche called Nuvolari the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future. Mr. Ferrari decided to give Gilles a chance and eventually signed him to a contact. Despite poor showing in the beginning, problems with the Michelin radial tires and calls from the Italian press to get rid of him, the Commendatore kept him on Scuderia Ferrari, much to the delight of supporters like me. Mr. Ferrari grew to love Gilles like a son.

Gille Villeneuve's Ferrari 312T5

Gille Villeneuve’s Ferrari 312T5

My brother and I kept going to the local races after Gilles Villeneuve had made it to F1. The rest of the family also went to the races. One time, my parents were having lunch in a restaurant in Trois-Rivières Ouest when they spotted Paul Newman. When he saw that he was being recognized by more and more people, he left the restaurant. He was a team owner. I’ll never forget an accident during a race in Trois-Rivières when one of his cars plowed into a concrete barrier at full speed.  After what felt like an eternity, they extricated the driver from the wreckage. His legs were mangled. We later learned that he had eventually been flown to Switzerland for medical care, but his legs had to be amputated.

In addition to attending live events, we watched Gilles’ races on television. Gilles was called the wet weather master for a reason. One simply has to watch the start of the 1979 Watkins Glen race to see how he maneuvered on a wet racetrack. He started fourth on the grid and before the first turn he was in first position. He credited his snowmobile racing days for his ability to handle slippery surfaces and driving conditions where visibility was minimal.

Thanks to the web and people who post videos, you can see footage of his racing prowess. Gilles once said that he can’t hurt himself, but he can hurt the car. That’s how confident he was. Who can forget the duel between Arnoux in his Renault twin-turbo and Villeneuve in his Ferrari at the 1979 French Grand Prix? It was unbelievable racing. That same year, he was voted fastest F1 driver by his peers who included mechanics and team directors.

When that fatal day happened in 1982, a little piece of us also died. He was 32. Seeing the pictures of him by the fence as track officials try to revive him breaks your heart. But sadness gives way to rejoicing for all that he has accomplished. For one, he was voted best Ferrari driver, ever, by Motor Sport Magazine.

So, on this dreary October day, 28 years later, I remember you, Gilles Villeneuve. Thank you for all the excitement you have provided your fans. I’m glad that I was able to see you race in person and to be there when you won your first Grand Prix; the only Canadian to ever win an F1 race on his home track.

Your memory lives on, Gilles Villeneuve.

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Alpine America: Keeping the flame alive

Alpine America

Alpine America Workshop

There is something about classic cars. Thinking of it objectively, they are just hunks of metal, through which fluids flow, combustion happens and they move. When you think about it, they have more in common with a lawn mower than a piece of art. And yet, they inspire in us so much. When we see an old classic car, be it a Beetle, a Mustang or a Renault, it makes us feel something. I like to think of it in the same way as Proust’s Madeleine, one whiff and you are transported back to your childhood, your family home and your parents. When we see a car from our childhood, we are just transported back to another time, when things were less stressful, when we could just have fun, when we had time. However, the problem with old cars is that they are, uh, old. Therefore, they need parts, maintenance, TLC. And when those old cars come from another continent and are not made anymore, you need serious devotion, passion and skill. That’s where Michel and Alpine America come along. He helps keep memories alive.

Mexican Alpine A110 1600S

Mexican Alpine A110 1600S

First, a bit of context. Today in North America, the only sign of Renault you will find, is in part of the name of the parent company of Nissan (Renault-Nissan). More curious people will also know Renault as the builders of some of the engines in Nissans and in F1, that’s about it. Forty years ago, that was not the case, Renault was actually a big part of the North American automotive landscape. In fact, when you watch that 90s classic, Dude Where’s My Car, you’ll notice that the star of the movie is a Renault LeCar. Renault has been present in North America since 1906, selling their most prestigious vehicles and soldiered on, with cars like the Dauphine, 4CV, Fuego, Alliance (R9), and even later models like the Medaillon (R21) and Premier (R25) until 1992. In the end, emissions, crash-test standards and the American thirst for V8 motors and big vehicles made sure Renault would not come back. This means, for almost half a century, North-Americans grew up with Renaults, had parents who drove the cars, saw them in the streets and movies. But after 1992, it was finished. Renaults would become a rarer and rarer sight, relinquished to a time when you could order a Pizza at McDonald’s.

Variety of cars in for care

Variety of cars in for care

This is where Michel and Alpine America steps in. This French national, who moved to Quebec in 1976 was always passionate by cars, and in particular fast Renaults. He started working for Renault in Canada, before moving on to Subaru. During his time working with new cars, he continued doing what he likes: making fast Renaults faster and rallying them. His dedication led him to be crowned the rally champion of Quebec in 1986 in a Renault 5 Turbo. As cars became more and more complex and electronically assisted, Michel decided to leave the world of new cars, and concentrate on what he does best: Keeping old Renaults alive, making them fast, and making sure the French spirit for speed stays alive in North America. Thus, in 2000, Alpine America was born.

Renault 5 Turbo

Renault 5 Turbo

As the name suggests, Michel likes to focus on the pinnacle of fast Renaults, the Alpine. Created by Jean Rédélé in 1955 with the A106, Alpine was the result of taking an ordinary Renault, removing the superfluous parts, improving the engine to new heights, and overall turning it into a race car. This venture culminated in 1962 with the Alpine A110, which went on to become a rallying legend. The story continued with the unloved A310 and A610, to end sadly in 1995, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, officially, the Alpine was never imported in North America, and with the A310s gathering dust in Europe, Michel decided to import what he could find. The response was more than positive, and Canadians and Americans just wanted more and more of this small V6 powered, rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive car. Michel went on to improve the A310s, by working with Willwood for better brakes and improving the intake manifold to make a classic, but potent little race-car. Being one of the only Renault specialists in North America, Michel also gets to work on the unicorn A110, as well as related cars, like Lotus Europas or Matra Jets.

France and USA

France and USA

In addition to the Alpine, Michel loves to work on old Renaults. One of his specialties is taking the ordinary LeCar, and transforming it into the brutal Renault 5 Alpine that only France got to enjoy back in the day. Having seen his work, one only has to wonder, why would you consider a Mini Cooper instead? After all, once it has passed through his hands, you are talking about a car that has at least 130bhp and weighs only 850kg. Making sure these classic Renaults can keep on bringing smiles to everyone is hard work. As you can imagine, parts are increasingly hard to find. Every year, Michel and a few friends go back to France and comb through the country trying to find salvageable cars from which they can retrieve working parts. In addition to this, Michel imports a considerable number of cars from Europe, based on what his customers want. In some cases, he will even fly to Europe, in order to give his seal of approval on rare Alpines for American customers. Taking into account this, and all the restoration work he does, it would be an understatement to say that Michel is a busy man.

Projects, just waiting to live again!

Projects, just waiting to live again!

Seeing him work on preserving and improving the life of all these classic cars is a genuine treat. Even though he loves his Renaults, Michel will work on about anything, including a 1930s Delage D6, a Ferrari 550 Maranello, a 1965 Ford Mustang, a BMW 2002 (in which he wants to put an E30 M3 engine in) and the odd Subaru Impreza or Legacy. As he told me, project cars are not what he lacks. Looking around his garage, you can count at least 20 cars that are getting worked on, or stored for later. And with the exception of a few friends and family who help him from time to time, Michel tends to work alone. The artist preserving lost memories.

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The case for Automobile Association membership – Part II

The empty Canadian highway

The empty Canadian highway

Travel is all about time and space. The West and the Prairies have nice defined borders, and mostly two lane highways. Ontario is another story. It is a very wide province and although there are passing lanes, the Trans-Canada highway is mostly a two-lane road outside the big cities.

So, we hold our breath as we enter Ontario. First marker is Kenora; some 200km from Winnipeg. The clouds slowly take over and our enjoyment of the sun is short lived. Next on the map is Dryden where we stop to refuel. 70km past Dryden, we pull at a provincial rest-stop right next to Highway 17, which is also Hwy 1. There are a few travelers there and we drive past them to find a nice spot by the side of a lake. We have something to eat and use the facilities. It is cold and rainy. The ice on the lake has thawed and so have the black flies.

We get back in the truck and as we make it on the Trans-Canada highway I notice that the engine doesn’t have its usual zip. We travel a stretch of road that is fairly flat so the truck is not struggling too much, but it is still under-powered. There is road work up ahead and a flagger stops the traffic on our side. There is only one lane open. We wait for a while. After the traffic from the other lane has passed, it is now our turn. It has become even more obvious that the truck doesn’t have much energy, especially since it’s loaded and pulling a trailer. Because of the road work, we are travelling at a slow speed. After a while, we get past the road crew and are directed to get back in our lane. Not too far ahead, there is another provincial rest stop and I decide to pull in there. There is definitely something wrong with the engine.

The entrance to the park is paved and fairly wide. I turn the whole rig around and pull to the side. This way, we don’t impede visitors to the park, and if we need to be towed, the truck and trailer will be facing in the right direction. I look in the engine compartment, but I can’t see anything wrong. There’s plenty of oil, plenty of transmission fluid and plenty of engine coolant. After some mumbling and grumbling, I try to use my LG phone. It’s a Telus phone and I should be able to use it on any network in Canada, but there is no signal. I try my wife’s phone; same thing.

I decide to walk back to where the roadwork is taking place to see if I can get some sort of help. I cross the highway and approach the flagger. After explaining the situation, he hands me his phone and tells me to use it. He said he’s got unlimited minutes with Virgin Mobile and he gets a signal with no problems. I call BCAA and they have a truck with a flatbed and a tow ball showing up within the hour. I thank the flagger profusely for letting me use his phone.

Unlike the first BCAA tow man we encountered, he is well equipped. But unlike the other man, he is not very happy to be there. He is overworked and doesn’t want to take me to his garage because he has too many clients waiting already. The only option is to go back to Dryden at either the Ford dealership or the Canadian Tire. There is also a third place he suggests, but I choose to be dropped off at the Ford dealer. He drives the truck on the flatbed and hitches the trailer.

Lakehead region, Ontario

Lakehead region, Ontario

The rain is picking up and the trip back to Dryden is slow and somber. By the time the tow truck driver drops us off at the dealer, they are closed and it’s getting dark. Now, the rain is coming down like buckets. The driver of the tow truck does a good job parking the trailer. It is nicely tucked away at the back of the dealer’s lot. I drive the truck off the flat bed. The man leaves.

The wife is miserable. The cat is miserable, and I ain’t happy about this latest turn of events.

My wife just wants to go to sleep in the trailer, but the load has shifted and the trailer is a mess. I tell her that I’m going to go rent a motel room. On the drive back to Dryden, I saw a motel near the Ford dealer. Although the truck is underpowered, I drive it. As I get near the motel, I see that it is closed, but past it, there is a small motel tucked away on a corner, across from the KFC. I knock on the office door and a man answers. He tells me that there is a room available and I promptly rent it. I go back to the trailer to pick up my wife and Java Man.

They have a good night sleep. Me. Not so much. The next morning, the rain has stopped, thankfully, and I show up early at the Ford dealer. Like most dealers, they are booked for the day, but after they hear my story, they “squeeze” me in and fix the truck. It turns out that it was the coil on plug on the number six cylinder that failed. It is beyond me why engineers decided to get rid of distributors and the cap for a coil-on-plug for each cylinder. So, a couple of hours later and $400 tacked on to my credit card, the truck is ready. It drives like its normal self, again.

Probably the best store in the world

Probably the best store in the world

There’s about an hour to go before we have to check out of the motel, so I decide to give my wife and the cat a bit more time to rest. In the mean time, I fill up the gas tank and I go to the Canadian tire to get a new hitch and tow ball. The one I had on was a bit loose and the last thing I needed was for the ball to break. I also get more water and snacks for the trip. I go back to the motel and we pack everything up.

We’ve lost another day, but we are happy to get back on the road. A bit tentative at first, we finally relax a little bit. What the hell else could happen? We stop at the Shell station in Upsala, originally a station for the Canadian Pacific railway. It was named after Uppsala in Sweden. Many of its residents originally came from Scandinavia. After filling up, we go into the restaurant for an excellent meal, including home-made bread.

Satiated, we get back on the road and make it to Thunder Bay; a four-hour drive from Dryden. We push on to Nipigon. It’s another 120km away. I feel like we’ve got nothing to lose at this point and I decide to leave Highway 17 and take Highway 11. This way, we will avoid more traffic and a bunch of towns along that stretch of Trans-Canada highway. We will also avoid driving through Ottawa.

Highway 17

Highway 17

After fueling up in Nipigon and taking a bit of a break, we soon realize that taking Highway 11 was a big gamble. There might not have been much cellular signal for our crappy phones, but there was more traffic on Highway 17. Highway 11 feels like the end of the world. There’s nobody there. The sun is setting, but I keep on driving. We make it to Longlac; 200km away. I’m getting tired and it’s getting darker. Longlac is nice. There’s a lowly church by the lake. It must be real harsh in winter. I drive past Longlac hoping to find another gas station apart from the one we saw at the entrance of the town, but there is none. We do find a pull out on the left side of the road. We decide to go back to fill up and then we will return to the stop to spend the night.

We fill up in Longlac. There are lots of native kids hanging around the gas station, looking bored. We drive back to the rest stop we had used for a round-about earlier. Soon after we settle in, a big rig pulls up at the same stop. Truck drivers have this habit of leaving the engine running and they seem to sleep through it. This guy probably wanted to take a leak or grab something. In any case, he doesn’t stay long and leaves.

As I’m drifting off to sleep, leaning against the driver side door, another rig pulls in right beside us and releases the pressure in his air brakes. There are so many lights on his truck that it would make your average Christmas tree envious. He backs up the rig behind us and leaves his engine running for quite a while. Although, I’m very tired I cannot sleep with all that racket. And I’m sure my Cat doesn’t like it much either. My wife will sleep through an earthquake. The inconsiderate moron finally turns off his lights and the engine. By now, I’m still tired, but I am fully awake. I’ve had enough of this and we get back on the road.

Danger, Moose crossing

Danger, Moose crossing

We make it to Hearst in the wee hours of the morning, 200km from Longlac. There was nothing but nature in between with a lot of signs warning drivers to be careful about Moose crossing the road. We start making fun of the moose on the loose and any combination of words thereof. Fortunately, we do not encounter any. We pull into a rest stop just before Hearst and catch a couple of hours’ sleep. We are dead tired, both physically and mentally, and need to shut down.

From Nipigon to Hearst, the road is pretty good. From Hearst on, it’s garbage until we reach Kapuskasing. Then, it becomes wavy. Sassy, but not brassy. I’m still tired. I think my wife is becoming seasick. We stop in Smooth Rock Falls, 160km from Hearst, for a well deserved break at the Esso station. There is a diner adjacent to the station. The food is plentiful, good and reasonably priced. Like the Shell station was in Upsala with its diner, those two are becoming a rare breed.

The humdrum of the trip returns when we depart Smooth Rock Falls. What a quirky name for a town. Whatever enjoyment we felt for the trip is long gone and now my only goal is to make it to destination on that day. We had left Hearst at around 5:30am and I was determined to make it to Lachute, over 1000km away, before midnight.

The stretch of highway between Cochrane and Iroquois Falls is the pits. They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t come up with a black top that will withstand the rigors of winter and of traffic. And there are no rest stops open. I guess they close them all for winter and reopen them at some point. There is no snow on the ground, so we do not understand why they have the stops still gated. The only places we can stop are the turn-around for the snow plows. It is apparently illegal for us to stop there. Obviously a great number of travelers have also stopped because the road side is littered with garbage. There are no refuse bins at those locations.

Rest stop where COP failed

Rest stop where COP failed

We should have turned at Matheson to head for the province of Québec, but instead use the Kirkland Lake route. We get on Route 117, as I wouldn’t call it highway 117. We have Rouyn-Noranda in our sight. We stop along the way to fill up. In Rouyn, you have to drive through town, and it is a fairly large town. There is some sort of by-pass, but I don’t want to risk it. The travel map we have doesn’t give any details of that town. We make it past Rouyn and shoot for Malartic. Once we’ve made it past Malartic, we set our sights on Val d’Or (Valley of Gold). Gold mining was big in the middle part of the 20th Century in that region.

I’m going at speed limit, despite the awful road, but some moron in a grey pickup truck keeps honking behind me. I’m not going fast enough to his liking. He finally passes us. He’s the only stupid motorist we’ve encountered so far, except for the two big rig drivers who thought they owned the rest stop in Longlac.

As we travelled from Hearts and into Québec, we couldn’t find one rest stop that was open until we drive past Val d’Or. The scenery is beautiful despite the narrow road and the tractor trailers zooming by. They’ve got a deadline to meet or they are getting paid by the mile, or both. There is a small rest stop right next to a lake. There is a sign that reads “closed” but I don’t care and pull over. For some reason, the barrier is open. We park the truck and are happy to find that the women’s stall is unlocked. We admire the lake. It is cloudy, but not raining.

La Verendrye Reserve

La Verendrye Reserve

After a bit of rest, we get back on the road. Next goal is Mont Laurier. To get there, we will have to drive through the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve. It’s a long stretch with no gas station, but we’ve got plenty of fuel in the tank. Besides, I have a 5 gallon jerry can at the back of the truck.  At the beginning of the Reserve, there is a large rest stop on the left side. There isn’t much traffic, so we cut across the oncoming lane and park at the rest stop. It is surprisingly clean and there is a large building housing the rest rooms. They are also clean with lots of paper, running water and soap. We decide to have a bite to eat. A pair of ravens appears, calling out for their share of the lunch. We tossed some hard boiled eggs and pieces of apples in their direction. We are used to Ravens. Last summer, we fed three chicks that had landed on our roof. There were a noisy lot and we fed them cat food or dog food many times per day. We would put the food on a big concrete block we had. They would fly down and once the food was gone, they would fly back onto the roof. They still had their blue eyes. After a couple of weeks, they just flew off. They needed to hunt or scavenge for themselves. The roof was covered with doo doo. Over time, the rain washed it all off.

We would have like to hang out a bit longer at the Wildlife Reserve rest stop, but it was time to leave. Again, the road was in bad shape. There were short stretches here and there that had been repaved, but for the most part, it was very bumpy. It’s slow going and there is no signage along the way indicating how far we are from Mont Laurier. I know that it’s a wildlife reserve, but it wouldn’t kill the environment to have some nice signs along the road showing how far you have to go. The only way we realize that we are out of the reserve is that we are starting to see some buildings. The Laurentian Mountains are beautiful even though the leaves are just starting to unfurl.

Before we reach Mont-Laurier the road meanders through a village and there is a snack bar by the side of the so-called highway. We pull in the driveway taking up a few parking spaces. But we are tucked out of the way and the owner, whose nickname is “La Saucisse” tells us that the rig is fine where it is. He and his crew are very pleasant and welcoming. I order a poutine, of course. Québec being the land of poutine, La Saucisse serves the real deal. Portions are large and the prices are great, like the other two establishments I previously mentioned.

Mont Tremblant Natural Park

Mont Tremblant Natural Park

The sun is setting. And to think that we were in Hearst that morning. We’ve got less than 200 km to go before we reach destination. We get across Mont Laurier and reach Mont-Tremblant, famed for its skiing and all year-round resort area. By now, I’m really tired, but the goal is in sight and we finally make it at around 10:30pm. 17 hours on the road that day for the last leg of the trip. We get in the house and unpack the cat and the sleeping gear. We are ready to crash. We don’t know how Java Man will react. If the previous motel stays are any indication, he will not like it. But to our surprise, he immediately takes to the place. He loves it.

We wake up to snow the next day, but we don’t care. We’ve made it. It took almost 7 days to drive 4500km. Despite having had the truck and trailer checked and serviced before departure, it was still no guarantee that nothing would happen. The moral of the story is that I’m happy I signed up for an automobile membership. On the one hand, we were fortunate to be able to call BCAA and on the other hand, we were promptly assisted, regardless of our location. The cost of membership was peanuts compared to what I would have paid if I had not become a member of the Canadian Automobile Association. Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia, so it pays to be prepared. And having an Automobile Association membership is a good place to start.

Happy Traveling!!!

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