• Simon Weir

A bumpy start


So I made it to Canada - woohoo. Still, the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime hasn't quite got off to the dream start for the dream trip. Further evidence that reality never matches expectation. I need to get used to that and just take everything as it comes.


One thing was just as expected: how hard leaving turned out to be. I started daydreaming about this trip when I was at rock bottom, life in tatters, having had my marriage fall apart. The idea of the trip was the life-raft I clung to, to get through the earliest, roughest days. I never expected to meet anyone else… so I kept asking myself if I was insane, as I climbed out of my girlfriend's bed to go to the airport. But of course part of the reason she's such a great partner is that she understands and supports me doing the trip. We were very tough: hug and a kiss and a "talk tonight" (we did, too) and I was out the door. No tears. But leaving was hard.


Of course the flaming email row with my ex-wife didn't help, either. Probably my fault, though I was actually trying to forestall and avoid an argument. But of course I'm always wrong. So let's not go there.


Instead let's get on the plane: cramped, sweaty, too many crying babies to make concentrating easy, trying desperately to type like a T-Rex, with my arms hunched up to get to the keyboard. Eight hours in a tiny seat, knees chaffing on the back of the one in front. Finally staggered out (and, fair play to Air Transat, the plane was early) grabbed my bags and got a beer.


Buying beer always tells you lots about a country. More so in a bar than an airport, but you can still learn things. Buying my first ever beer in Canada told me that (a) it's expensive and (b) it's more expensive than you think. They don't tell you how much things cost - just what they'll take. The price you pay is higher because tax is added afterwards. So that $9.60 beer was actually nearly $11... I find that maddening: I couldn't care what's their charge and what's the taxman's; I just want displayed prices to be honest so I know that if it says $9 then I'll pay $9... Still, I refused to let it wind me up. Instead I drank it down, emailed the work I'd typed up on the plane, then set off to find a taxi.


Aren't airport cabs pricy? Toronto has a flat-fee scheme which I guess keeps things level (no round-the-houses journeys to push fares up) but still… At least it was quick and comfy. When we found the cheap B&B I'd booked, though, there was nobody there. I'd said I would arrive between 4pm and 5pm - and got there at 4:50pm. I rang the bell, tried messaging the place through Booking.com - but to no avail.


At 5:25, after more than half an hour of waiting, I gave up. Mr Google showed me a Holiday Inn not very far away: I booked it and walked to the bus stop.


Hot, seaty and trucked up… Walking is just wrong

Here was my next lesson about Canada. The busses don't carry change. So my $20 note was useless. You can't tap with a contactless card the way you can in London, either. So I had to walk. But Toronto is a city set up for the motor vehicle. There aren't pavements on both sides of every street (not the one I walked down, anyway). I could see car drivers glancing at me, as if I was mad: stumbling along in the 27C heat, in a leather jacket, carrying bags...


But I got here, hot and sweaty. Had a shower, called my girlfriend, did some admin, sat down and typed this. It's only 8:30 here but to me it feels like 2am (well, technically 1:30am). So now I'm going to sleep. In the morning, I pick up my bike and the trip really begins.



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SIMON WEIR
The Riding Guide