This blog post will deviate in several ways from my typical ones, it will be a bit more personal and candid than I typically am. That being said, everything about me, and my online presence including this blog, which I have maintained in some capacity since 2009, may also change dramatically at some point in the near future.
If you are only here to look at picture of my road trip, by all means please scroll down, there will be info in the captions, which should provide context.
Part One: From lost 18-year old to staff reporter
In reality this story began on the edge Lake Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Colombia in late June 2007. I was 18, less than three weeks out of high school and four provinces from home.
As a diversion from more school I had applied for the Canada World Youth exchange program, a six month international youth community service exchange. We were in Osoyoos, ten random Canadians from across the country, each matched with a counterpart from Uruguay. We lived with host families and worked as volunteers in the community during the days. We came from all walks of life.
A week and a half into the program, I was walking down towards the lake on a very warm, dry evening getting to know a guy named Dave Stacey, he was from Stephenville Newfoundland and a student at Memorial. He was taking a break to do this exchange.
We smoked cigarettes and talked about the different types of winter Ontario got versus Newfoundland, then he asked me what I wanted to do.
The question stunned me, I was on this exchange to escape that. So I told him that, he looked at my camera hanging on my shoulder. A Canon 10D with a 35-85mm f/4-5.6. It was a piece of crap in current terms, but in that time and place it was a show piece.
“What about photography?” He asked.
“Oh,” I said, “No I’m not interested in that, I just wanted to have a decent camera for this and my dad was switching formats so he sold it to me cheap.” I said.
He paused for a moment then spoke.
“There’s more to photography than photography, you ever thought about photojournalism?”
“No,” I said, truthfully I didn’t know what that was.
“Oh man,” he said, “It’s photography for newspapers, magazines, documentary, like National Geographic.”
My ears perked at this. As the program wore on there were a lot of things that happened but I will come back to that later.
I knew nothing about photography, but I had a camera. And so for the rest of the program I started fiddling with the settings figuring out what the shutter did, the aperture did etc. I didn’t have ready access to photography teachers or the internet at the time.
When I came home in December of 2007 I was 19, I thought I knew everything and my focus centered on escaping again. I started working as a temporary laborer in Guelph while living at my parents to save money. When I had the funds I left for Southeast Asia.
Again, the details of these three months could fill pages. But I realized something, I thrived on the sense of adventure, I could socialize well, and I was smart.
In September 2008 I arrived in Ottawa to begin my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. I had really grand intentions, however, I quickly filled my plate with school, work and the Charlatan.
The Charlatan, the school newspaper became my second home. I sat on the couch and absorbed the conversations of the editors and the writers. Many of whom are successful journalists today. I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by such talent.
However, I was motivated by visuals I never really considered writing.
It was also during this time that I started this blog.
When I left Carleton it was with the worst of mixed emotions I had achieved a lot. I had been published nationally multiple times, I had out-filed the wires on a few big assignments, I had a front page of a national newspaper, and more covers of the Charlatan than I could count. I had a partner, someone I loved deeply, and I had friends, really I had a family of people.
I look back on the years 2009-2011 with the uttermost fondness and joy, I can’t begin to describe it. Simply put I thought I would never leave Ottawa completely.
Then one drunken night in 2011 happened, it was May, the playoffs were on and I was at the Georgetown pub with some friends watching and drinking. Suddenly my friend Joel Eastwood, who had been like a brother and a somewhat kindred spirit throughout Carleton, turned to me and passed me his phone.
On it was an email from the Carleton school of journalism apprenticeships advisor passing along an email. The email was looking for a photojournalism student who spoke both English and Spanish to participate in an expenses covered six-month exchange.
I told him so send it to me so I could look it over the next morning, sober.
I never thought I would get it, I applied on a whim. Yet there I was standing in a bus shelter at 5am in January, sick, sleepless, wearing everything warm I had to bring to Costa Rica.
It was one of those biting Ottawa winter nights in Early January, -35 plus wind-chill. I had spent the night refusing to sleep because it was my last night in the apartment I had shared with my girlfriend Yamina, an there was a big part of me that regretted leaving.
When the time came to leave, walking out the door and down the road to the bus stop was indescribably hard. That whole 48 hour period and trip to Costa Rica was a blur of sad and tragic feelings mixed with the greatest joy and excitement.
I was moving to Costa Rica for six-months to be a reporter-photographer at a local newspaper there.
After I arrived I felt like I was immediately over my head. I hadn’t written much before, I knew only the basics of actual written reporting and my Spanish was not good enough to keep up.
Somehow I made it, and I learned a lot along the way and produced some good work.
When I returned to Canada I was now on a mission.
I started attending Loyalist College in January of 2013 as a fast-track student, meaning I could skip the first semester. My first priority was to find a summer job.
In the end it came down to one job left at Toronto Community News. A collection of nine newspapers owned by Metroland Media, which operated out of the same newsroom. The final candidates were myself and one of my best friends a guy named Chris King. In the end I got the job.
As I settled in, I had a mix of feelings. I’d never done anything this cool, yet my success felt tempered because I knew Chris was still looking for work.
He found summer work as a reporter at a local newspaper in Whitecourt, northern Alberta. When we moved in together for our second year of Loyalist and started talking about our summers, I had to confess, I was a little jealous of his experience.
I wanted to work in Alberta, drive across Canada and be a local reporter suddenly.
Then it happened, in early December I had the week of all weeks. My car broke and had to be scrapped, my girlfriend of three years broke up with me two days after planning a surprise birthday party, I found out I had failed to get an interview for the Globe and Mail summer job and I failed one of my classes.
I felt like I’d gone from being on top of the world in August, to considering giving up in December.
Then January happened.
Over December I had made peace with my lost interview opportunity, spoken with a prof and done some extra credit work to pass. I had replaced my crappy old Mazda 626 with a modded out Acura Integra with a stick shift, and I was starting my final semester.
I couldn’t help but feel depressed though. So as an exercise I started applying for jobs on Jeff Gaulin’s journalism job site. I genuinely expected nothing to happen.
I continued to live my life, I fell in love again with a girl who I had just met. She pretty much literally fell out of the sky. As we got to know one another it turned out we were in very similar places in life, love, ambition, career and goals. She’d been in Alberta for the previous few years, and had returned east after the rug was pulled out from under her to regroup around friends and family.
Just as life in Belleville was starting to improve though I got an email.
It was from the editor of the Peace River Record-Gazette, in Peace River Alberta asking if I was free for an interview.
It’s hard to describe how I felt, this was a version of a dream come true. The job included a lot of writing and I had my doubts. However, I agreed to the interview.
Two days later I found out I had the job. It had taken seven years, almost, from the time I decided being a photojournalist would be an interesting career to the point where I was accepting a full-time staff job as a Multimedia journalist.
Part Two: From Belleville, Ontario to Peace River, Alberta
I gave myself a week to pack up in Belleville, then a few days in Guelph to see my family and finish preparations. At the last minute I decided to take the family cat Coco.
My final week in Belleville was intense. I suddenly became aware that the friendships I had formed weren’t just out of convenience, I was actually going to miss these people. Then there was Cynthia, she basically spent the week at my apartment, we weren’t anything official yet, but it was still painful to leave everyobe on some level.
Then I got sick from exhaustion. I waited an extra day before leaving, on Saturday February 8th I hit the road.
My first stop was Sudbury, I have family there but didn’t have time to pay them a visit, thankfully I saw them all recently at Christmas. I stopped by Big Nickel Mine for a photo, because it is such a huge attraction, then continued on. That night I pulled into Sault Ste. Marie Ontario around 9pm and crashed for the night at a Super 8 Motel.
The next day I hit the road early hoping to make it to Thunder Bay. I was now in a part of the province I’d never really seen before. I remember loving that day of driving so much, the roads were clear and dry the scenery was beautiful and it was the first time I saw Lake Superior.
I rolled into Thunder Bay around 9pm, this time I was staying with friends of a former co-worker. Natalie and I had worked together at a café in Guelph called With the Grain the year before. Now a student at Lakehead University, she had friends who had a couch I could sleep on. That was amazing.
The day was going just fine until I got to Ste. Anne about 45 minutes east of Winnipeg. I decided to take a picture of the sunset over the prairies, it was my first time seeing it, and I misjudged the shoulder and found myself in a ditch.
Some ‘friendly Manitobans’ came by with a truck and a chain and pulled me out, we said our goodbyes and I was on my way.
Then it happened again.
I figured I would get a second picture, because now the sun was touching the horizon. So I pulled over preparing to do a three-point turn. And once again found myself in the ditch. I was livid, mostly with myself. I screamed at the prairies, then tried to jack my car up to put it on my floor mats to get out.
It didn’t work, I tried shifting the weight in the car, using kitty litter everything and in the process I burnt out my radiator and overheated the engine. Now it was minus 45 Celsius, my heater was broken the winds were picking up and it was dark.
I never took the second picture.
I called CAA, it was almost two hours before I saw a truck.
When CAA came they helped me out, then I drove to Winnipeg. The whole way there my windows kept fogging up, the defrosters weren’t working, the engine sounded off. I was so worried, stressed and I could no longer feel my toes but I was 100% focused on getting to my friend’s house safely.
As I pulled onto their street my engine light, maintenance light and oil light all came on and my car started stalling while I was shifting, normally my engine would stall at under 400 rpm now it was stalling at anywhere between 400-1500 I had no idea what was wrong. I decided I would deal with it the next day.
The next morning it wouldn’t start. The battery was frozen, I called CAA again and there was a tense moment where I was worried the engine wouldn’t turn over because the car was now literally out of oil. With the fried radiator the engine had been overheating while I drove 75km to Winnipeg, it had burned off all the oil.
We poured some in, the tow-truck driver connected my battery to his charger and I got in my car. I said a small prayer (something I NEVER do) then turned the key. The engine sprang to life and at that moment I could have almost cried I was so happy.
I followed the CAA guy to a local shop and dropped my car off. It took them just over a day, but they replaced that radiator, put in more coolant, and checked the car over. There was one little issue: the running lights and blowers weren’t turning off, even with them turned off the key out and the fuse pulled.
It suddenly became clear the previous owner has rewired the entire car. It took the mechanics 4.5 hours to fix it. I walked away with a functioning car and $1050 poorer.
Now though I wanted to explore Winnipeg.
Richard and Melissa are two of my oldest closest friends. We met in 2007 during my exchange, Richard was from Ottawa and Melissa was from Winnipeg. During the program I watched them fall in love. Since then they’ve gone to school together, lived together, had a baby together and this summer are getting married, I get to photograph it.
Without question they let me into their home, fed me and gave me and my cat a place to stay.
I saw Portage and Main, The Forks, the Toad in the Hole, St. Boniface and downtown. Not a bad little tour.
The next morning I rolled out of Winnipeg. While my trip there had been tarnished by an expensive Instagram, a frozen night on the prairies and some bad memories of a previous relationship, I did realize something: I really liked the city, it was beautiful and the vibe I got was right up my alley. Plus now that I had dealt with the negative feelings there I felt like there was space to come back and rediscover the city. I can’t wait to do so.
Winnipeg was a far more significant stop in my journey than I had ever intended it to be.
I continued across the Prairies now crossing into Saskatchewan, it was also my first time in that province. I suppose this goes without saying but I have NEVER seen a place that was so flat in my life. Their license plates say “Land of the living sky,” I understand that now.
I rolled into Saskatoon around 8 and met up with a friend of mine, Alexandra Stang. We’d gone to university together and I knew her through the Charlatan. She had actually officiated the election where I was elected photo editor. That was 2010, it felt like a lifetime ago.
We chatted and she gave me a list of spots to check out in Saskatoon. So the next morning I went and checked them out. Saskatoon was another city that very pleasantly surprised me.
Now I felt like I was nearing the end of my journey, certainly it was the end of 800km+ days. That afternoon I drove the three hours from Saskatoon to Lloydminster, a city where the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan literally runs through the middle. My friend from Loyalist, Jeff Peters, work there as a reporter at the Lloydminister Meridian Booster, he’d moved out here almost a year earlier.
It was nice to see him and get a feel for the work he was doing, I thought it was a bit of a preview for my upcoming work life. We checked out a highway accident and a children’s play.
The next morning we had breakfast, then spent three hours looking for my cat, which had gotten loose in his house and hid herself. When I finally had her I hit the road to Edmonton.
Only two hours away, I rolled into town completely exhausted. I pulled into the Super 8 there and spent the night. It was noticeably warmer here, only about -5. I decided against touring the city, I was too tired and Edmonton is only 4-5 hours from Peace River, I figured I’d be back.
I slept in late and almost missed my checkout. I rushed out the door and hit the road. I was so excited to get to Peace River, I may have had a bit of a heavy foot cruising down the Trans-Canada.
Finally I turned north.
And if I’m being totally honest here, for the first time it actually hit me. As the mileage markers for Peace River continued to march along the road in front of me, so did the faces of my life in Ottawa, Belleville and Guelph. Ontario is the only province I have ever called home. I grew into independence in Guelph, I grew into adulthood in Ottawa and I grew into maturity in Belleville.
Tears rolled down my face as I motored north of Valleyview.
The sun was setting and the roads were getting worse. I was growing more and more anxious, desperately wanting to be in Peace River.
Then suddenly I came over a hill, below me sprawled out along the floor of a valley was a small town with a frozen river that sliced through the middle. I had arrived in Peace River
That night I met the office manager here, Shelly, she took me out for dinner, told me about the community and the people. It was a really nice introduction to the town. That night I slept in my own apartment.
I’m now here, I’ve been at work for just over a week. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. As I move forward here I will post about my experiences in the town.
For those of you who read this whole post, wow, just wow, I hope you enjoyed it.
The blog will return to it’s normal format, whatever that is, starting next week.
The posts will DEFINITELY be shorter going forward.