The Enchilada: Vroom, baby…VROOM!

There’s a Hollywood feel to flying into town top-down, with your hair flapping and your cheeks tingling from the combination wind-sun burn that has been ravaging your face for a whole day. The drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay on a beautiful August day is twenty-two hours of fresh, fast, bright and hot air, locked inside a gusty silence as the city fades to suburbs, then small towns dot dot dot into the odd village. Eventually, it’s just rocks and trees and roadside motels. You can`t really talk because the wind steals your hearing. But that’s okay because human beings travelling at that speed in a fun car on a sunny day will always smile. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to do this, but convertibles are romanticized for a reason.

It was 2002 and we were going on a 10-day fly-in canoe extravaganza. During our stopovers, our little beauty was the topic of conversation. She was still in her prime: about 11 years old, but with low mileage, her original ragtop and still pretty and shiny. We asked a few locals for survival advice and heard a series of stories about all the convertibles that had been to Thunder Bay. Undeniably great, but not extremely helpful.

Sure, cars get demonized, but I can’t afford to fly for vacation, the train is almost as expensive and I’d rather have my soul violently sucked out than take the bus (never mind, it’s the same thing).

Travelling in a convertible to northern Ontario, you can lay your head back and see big sky while the rocks in your periphery grow in stature. And you whizz by knowing that bigger rocks and slower days are in the very near future.

Three hours north of Thunder Bay you’ll find Armstrong (make sure to fill the tank before leaving T-Bay because there are no gas stations in between). Armstrong is where the OPP get sent when they really mess up. Or so my dad tells me. There is an outfitter with a beautiful lodge who knows everyone who has anything to do with Wabakimi Wilderness Park. Bruce is an amiable guy: children’s folk singer, Raffi, was sleeping on his couch when we swung by to plan our trip.

We stayed in a trailer away from the main lodge for the night before our trip, finished packing our bags, had a few a drinks and set the alarm to meet the bush plane that would take us to the first lake. Once the clouds had cleared, away we went on one of the most challenging canoe trips I’ve ever experienced. We encountered low water and water rushing faster than adrenaline, and came face-to-face with the primal. Wit and charm kept us from killing each other during the three days of rain, and we had a wicked good time complete with a near-death experience.

We made it back, wet, chilled, cold and generally miserable – but we also managed to make last call in Armstrong. The next morning, I glanced at the car and queried about a small tear in the seam of the ragtop. “Does that look bigger to you?” I asked Steve, who shrugged. The outfitter later told us that a squirrel had been living in our car while we were gone – thus, the tear being larger. The squirrel had squeezed its girth through it repeatedly for 10 days. It was the beginning of the end of the Enchilada, but throughout its long life, that car illustrated that if you look like hell and feel like a million bucks, it’s better than just looking like hell.