This past year has been an interesting year, and I mean interesting in all the connotations of the word. My wife and I moved from Halifax to Saskatoon. We both said goodbye to family back east and have been making new friends here in Saskatchewan. We have left jobs, started new jobs and sold a house. And we sadly had to say goodbye to our Chewy only days after arriving in our new city. The year has been exhilarating, scary, heartbreaking, heartwarming and a thousand other adjectives. It’s been like no other year of my life.
With all of that life chaos, it left much less time for travel than in previous years. 2016 was a travel year of weekend road trips, tacking a day or two onto work trips and carving out some interesting experiences around the margins. With the context of my life this past year, it’s not surprising that a theme running through these memories is emotion – sometimes subtle, sometimes raw and powerful. As you’ll read, it’s been a year of tears, some shed in sadness, some in happiness, some from simply being overwhelmed in this crazy year. In no particular order, here are my ten favourite experiences and memories from my travels in 2016. In honour of #6 below, I’ve titled each with a Tragically Hip lyric evocative of the moment.
1. “From thin and wicked prairie winds come in / It’s warm and it’s safe here …”
February 2016, a Sunday morning, and I was climbing out of a cab at the Saskatoon airport. I was in Saskatoon to meet some people and spend time in the city before making a final decision on accepting a job at the University of Saskatchewan. As I got out of the cab, Halifax artist Joel Plaskett’s song “On a Dime” was playing over speakers in the drop off lane. I immediately started to tear up. The song is about leaving the past behind and heading toward an uncertain future. Between opening the cab door and wheeling my bag into the airport, I knew my mind was made up. Saskatoon was going to be my new hometown. It was a great decision.
2. “My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in…”
Perhaps my mindset only two weeks after moving to Saskatoon was seeking familiarity, but there were many moments in Montreal back in April where I got lost in nostalgia. Catching a glimpse of Olympic Stadium, cutting through a park where I chased pigeons as a child, or a taste of the truly horrible beer, Labatt 50, that I’ve had a few of in Montreal over the years – those moments all connected something in my brain. Mostly, they made me think of the times my dad and I have spent in the city, first with me as a child, then of our last trip there together in 2002. It was great to have so many memories come flooding back over a few days in Montreal.
3. “And get all teary from the wind / Look as though you’re standing at the station / Long after the train came in”
Eight long months after moving to Saskatoon, I returned to Lower Sackville, NS, to spend a few days with my mom and dad. Sitting around swapping old stories with them for a few days reminded me how lucky I am to have them as parents. A couple of memories from the trip back east stick with me. The first, becoming unexpectedly emotional getting off the plane in Halifax and crying as I met mom and dad downstairs in arrivals. The second, getting out with dad for a pint and some deep fried bar food at the Carleton, a place that was a second home for me when I lived in Halifax.
4. “He bought two-fifths of lead free gasoline…”
My wife and I had long wanted to do some form of epic Canadian road trip and our move to Saskatoon dropped this adventure in our laps. We did the 4,000km drive over a week from Fredericton to Saskatoon and visited places of Canadian lore – Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kenora. The memories from that week on the road together will always be special for me. We didn’t know for sure, but suspected at the time, that our dog was dying. So we enjoyed the hell out of being with him, even as we tried each day, mostly unsuccessfully, to get him to eat. He only made it six more days after the road trip, but I’ll be forever glad that we saw our country together and we let him sleep on hotel beds the entire way.
5. “It was though I had been spit here / settled in…”
Throughout this year, I’ve had moments of stark realization that I live somewhere else. Even while feeling comfortable and completely at ease, there are moments that have slapped me across the face that Saskatchewan is now my home. Like this: my first Roughriders game in Regina. As the team ran onto the field, I could feel tears forming in my eyes. In that precise moment, I knew I was living here. I felt it in my heart in a deep visceral way. Although you’re pretty much compelled to bleed green living here, the moment had nothing to do with the team or football. It had to do with community and sharing something that means so much to the people of Saskatchewan. I felt that this was mine now too. I’ll love this moment for the clarity of feeling the connection to my new province.
6. “No dress rehearsal, this is our life”
Musically, on just that alone, it was an exceptional concert. The Tragically Hip rocked. Against the backdrop of Gord Downie’s health, that night in Edmonton meant so much more. I’ve never attended a concert with such a vibe before, and likely never will again. The love, adoration and respect in the rink was palpable. Three moments that are locked away in my memory, and still bring goosebumps the way they did that July night: (1) the opening bass line to the show opener “Blow at High Dough”; (2) listening to Wheat Kings, always one of my favourite songs, now even more meaningful to me after taking up residence in Saskatoon; (3) the crescendo into, and the twenty seconds of the bridge of “Bobcaygeon”, the show closer, hearing the music rise as Gord’s voice, pitch perfect, sang “That night in Toronto…” The night repeatedly brought me, and everyone else in attendance, to tears.
7. “For a good life we might just have to weaken…”
It was simply the most beautiful memory of my travels in 2016 and hands down my favourite memory of our road trip across Canada. My wife, our dying dog, both a bit weary half way through the trip, decided to grab an extra hour of sleep before we hit the road out of Thunder Bay. Watching them sleep like this, two creatures fully enamoured with each other, made me cry and smile. I watched them like this for almost a half hour and wished the moment would never end. One of the cruelest facts of life is that dogs just don’t live long enough.
8. “Or dreams of impossible vacations / And get all teary from the wind”
My wife and I didn’t have a proper vacation together in 2016 until we headed to Mexico for a week over Christmas. Though the entire week was a highlight (beaches, books, margaritas) and perfectly rejuvenated two people in need of a break, there was a moment from the trip that will stand out to me. About two hours after landing in Cancun, my wife and I sat down to dinner at about 7:30pm on Christmas Eve. A breeze from the Gulf of Mexico gently blew through the restaurant and we were both a bit giddy at being away in such a beautiful setting. We both ordered lobster and wine. In those first few minutes in the restaurant, everything was perfect in the world and my wife’s face lit up in a type of smile that warms my heart – a smile of simple happiness.
9. “And come on in, sit right down / No, you’re not the first to show”
With all of the emotion of 2016, it was nice to have a few days of travel in Minneapolis that were simple, unadulterated fun. This one is probably my most unabashedly fun memory of the year. Through a lucky conversation, I secured a stunning seat eight rows behind the Twins dugout. It was a perfect night for baseball. The game itself was outstanding. The Minnesota craft beers tasted delicious. I was by myself, enthralled in three hour drama that is baseball, from one of the best seats in the house.
10. “I’m so relaxed, little wistful perhaps / Ocean next / Ocean next”
Sitting in a chairlift on my way down Grouse Mountain, my mind was completely at peace. It has been a good 2016, but not the kind of year where my mind has been able to take a knee and let things just soak in. On this afternoon, the air was still and quiet, I was on a vacation day on a perfect, sunny day, and as I sat in the chairlift, I had this bazillion dollar view of Vancouver. I was reconnecting with a large body of water for the first time since April. I felt a weight lift from me in the most zen moment I had while traveling in 2016.