Where will the open road take you this year?
It is no exaggeration to say that road tripping is one of the constants of my life. Growing up in a military family, we moved often and travelled constantly, always by car. When I was really young, my parents regularly piled all six kids plus the family dog into our nine-passenger 1964 Ford Country Sedan station wagon – with its rear-facing third row bench seat, essential for our large tribe – to set off on adventures, either with or without our camping trailer in tow, but always with a great picnic onboard. Then, as now, I found the idea of heading out on the open road absolutely thrilling and I loved the idea of exploring new places and enjoying edible treats along the way. We definitely embraced the mantra of “going further”, as we clocked tens of thousands of miles which often included winding our way down narrow dirt roads to check out unique landmarks or scenic vistas. It’s a tradition which I have happily maintained with my own little family and I am extraordinarily proud of our kids’ familiarity with some of Canada’s most obscure destinations.
I wonder how many millions of road trips Canadians have taken in Fords during the 113 years the company has been in business in our country? I couldn’t help but reflect on that impressive legacy, and my family’s road tripping history, when Ford Canada offered me a recent opportunity to have some adventures in a beautiful new 2017 Ford Focus Titanium. I was invited to participate in a neat cross-Canada campaign (look for #GoFurther150 on social media) which involves sending selected bloggers out to explore our beautiful country and share some of the sights we discover along the way. What a great way to celebrate our nation’s 150th birthday!
In my case, I chose to venture deep into the Ottawa Valley with my favourite co-pilot. We know parts of this area well yet much of it was new-to-us territory we couldn’t wait to explore. In the days leading up to the excursion, I spent a lot of time thinking about landmarks and their significance. Sometimes they are attractions that draw attention, other times a landmark is something that becomes a reference point for giving directions. I zipped around town in my Focus visiting some of my favourite close-to-home landmarks, just to whet my appetite for the upcoming road trip.
One awesome auto
The Ford Focus Titanium was the perfect vehicle for adventuring. Let me tell you a bit about this sweet ride before my road trip ‘show and tell’. I had so much fun testing out the many features such Active Park Assist which uses sensors to help you locate a parking spot of the appropriate size; you then let go of the steering wheel and let the system take over and park the car for you, which is just the most amazing thing to experience. I tell you, this just never gets old, even for someone like me who is pretty good at parallel parking the old fashioned way. I also appreciated the Blind Spot Information System that illuminates a little yellow light on the outside of the driver’s or passenger’s side mirror whenever there’s a vehicle in your blind spot. This same utility includes a cross-traffic alert that provides an audible warning if a vehicle is approaching from either side when you are reversing out of a parking space with obstructed views. I sure wish I’d had the use of this feature last winter when my driveway’s snowbanks were six feet tall!
Another great safety feature is the Lane-Keeping System which has several components to alert a driver who is not maintaining the correct lane position. A camera monitors lane markings and if the vehicle strays out of the lane or if the driver’s behaviour gives the impression of drowsiness, the system will issue an alert. It can also be set to apply gentle steering pressure to guide the vehicle back into its lane. I had a scary experience a few months ago, tailing a driver who was weaving all over the highway at night, so I hope useful technology like Ford’s lane keeping system becomes standard equipment on all vehicles one day, to make the roads safer for all.
The Ford Focus was lots of fun to drive, offering an incredibly smooth ride and super comfortable seats. I also loved the satellite radio and may or may not have been singing at the top of my lungs on some of my solo excursions. I found it super helpful to have two smart-charging USB ports which recharged our phones twice as fast as conventional ports; this became especially useful when I was stopping often to take and post a lot of photos.
Purposeful pit stops
While the main purpose of our road trip was to explore some interesting landmarks, of course food featured prominently in our adventure. We’d barely left home when I decided a stop at Wes’ Chips in Arnprior for a mid-morning snack was in order. Their chips (French fries) are truly among the best in the world.
After Arnprior, we took side roads to wind our way to our next destination of Pembroke. It was fun to drive at a leisurely pace along the Ottawa River and we could certainly see evidence of the recent spring flooding. A few detours for roadwork took us down some charming country lanes too. Our first stop in downtown Pembroke was for – you guessed it – lunch! A popular little spot called The Nook had come highly recommended and I can confirm that they serve fantastic Parisian-style crepes. Our choice – a shared order of an Italian crepe with Caesar salad – was absolutely delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try some of their sweet creations.
History comes alive
Properly refuelled, we set off on a hunt to find all 34 of Pembroke’s Heritage Murals.
Painted in a variety of styles on the sides of buildings, primarily in the downtown core, the murals are an intriguing way to celebrate the people, experiences and industries that have shaped this Ottawa Valley community. An online map was useful as we strolled along side streets, popped down alleyways and drove to the fringes of town to find them all.
True to the theme of this adventure, once we’d found all the murals, we decided that it was time to go further! We love getting off the beaten track, so we took the nearby bridge across the Ottawa River and headed into the Pontiac region of Quebec, a place we’d heard so much about but had never visited. Aside from the extraordinarily high water levels in this low-lying area, what really struck me on this part of our drive were the roadside forests’ gorgeous carpets of trilliums, extending as far as the eye could see. The sight made me remember going on excursions with my Mom many years ago (in that same Ford Country Sedan station wagon) to look for and photograph wildflowers.
One of the must-see highlights of the Pontiac region is Chutes Coulonge Park. Just 40 minutes from Pembroke or 90 minutes from Ottawa, it’s a spectacular not-for-profit natural park that offers incredible scenery thanks to a magnificent waterfall that makes venturing a little further off the highway so worthwhile. In addition to loads of artifacts celebrating the region’s proud logging heritage, the park offers a well-maintained network of trails, a picnic area, an aerial park, an elevated obstacle course and two giant ziplines through the canyon. Also available is a unique feature of which there are very few in Canada – a via ferrata, consisting of steel cables which run along the rock walls of the canyon, with iron rungs (stemples) for foot and hand holds. Harnessed and helmeted climbers use these aids to ascend the steep canyon, with three courses of increasing difficulty available. We arrived late in the afternoon so only had time for a short visit but I cannot wait to return to explore the park in all its glory.
The next landmark I couldn’t wait to find was Fort Coulonge’s Pont Marchand, locally referred to as the red bridge. Built entirely of pine in 1898 for $6000, at 151.59 metres (497.3 feet), it’s the longest covered bridge in Quebec and was designated a historic monument in 1989. We found it closed for repairs; had it been open, I’m sure I could have happily driven back and forth across the bridge a dozen times!
Just a short drive from the bridge, we found the charming Spruceholme Inn, a stone mansion in the heart of Fort Coulonge. It’s run by Jane Toller Pitfield who is the great-granddaughter of the original owner of Spruceholme, George Bryson Jr. She is also the great-great-granddaughter of George Bryson Sr., one of the original logging barons of the Ottawa Valley. Spruceholme is located just a few blocks from The George Bryson Heritage House, George Sr.’s Georgian-style home built in 1854, now a museum. Jane serves as chair of the Pontiac Tourism Association and has built an impressive conference centre on the grounds of the Inn, with cabins, a guest house, meeting rooms and a lovely little pub called Bryson’s Bistro du Bucheron. To create the pub, she dismantled her great-great-grandfather’s circa 1850 hay barn, then reassembled it adjacent to Spruceholme. The pub was packed on Friday night with a crowd that appeared to be mostly locals and our meals of fish and chips were absolutely delicious. A peaceful night’s sleep in the tranquil country stillness left us refreshed for a morning walkabout to see the other Bryson family homes in Fort Coulonge and after a cheerful breakfast at Spruceholme, we set off to go still further into the region’s back roads.
One of the things I love most about road trips is that you usually learn a thing or three thanks to unexpected discoveries enroute. I’m a big history buff so it was exciting to meander through the little town of Campbell’s Bay and find a small park that boasted two great landmarks. One was a breathtakingly beautiful war memorial inscribed with the names of all the Canadian Forces soldiers who died during the war in Afghanistan. The second got me thinking a lot about how much automobiles and the driving experience have changed over the past century. It was a plaque which described the feat of townsman George McLean, whom we should all honour as the grandfather of road tripping. He was the first person to drive a self-propelled motor vehicle across North America; his 1911 trip from New York City to San Diego, a distance of 2300 miles, took more than four months. Today, that same trip takes just 41 hours of driving time!
We wound our way back to Ottawa as slowly as we possibly could, spotting lots of pretty things along the way like beckoning beach chairs in Norway Bay, colourful beehives in a farmer’s field and an unexpected Elvis billboard in Quyon. The car’s easy-to-use navigation system was especially helpful as we kept venturing WAY off the beaten track and sometimes needed help to find our way back.
On a whim, we decided to take the ferry from Quyon to West Carleton, fulfilling a longstanding local travel wish list item. We meandered along back roads to make our way to Carp for a visit to Alice’s Village Café where we enjoyed an exceptional lunch of a bacon-avocado-lettuce-tomato sandwich with a side of poutine and some local craft sodas. It was impressive to see not only the lineups for Alice’s great food but also the large number of spandex-clad cyclists who had made their way to Carp on backroad tracks.
I knew it had been a great getaway as we approached home and I brought up a previous discussion on the trip, referring to it as having happened ‘the other day’. My husband corrected me, reminding me that it was actually ‘yesterday’, and I realized I felt as though I’d been away for much longer than one overnight. It’s amazing how even a short road trip can feel as invigorating as a longer vacation. And all of this on less than one tank of gas thanks to the Ford Focus’ great fuel economy!
I can’t wait to #gofurther on a regular basis this summer and hope to find more Canadian landmarks that are as unique and interesting as the ones we found on this journey.
Are you a road trip aficionado? I’d love to hear what you enjoy about heading out on the road.
Disclaimer: I am grateful to have been the guest of Ford Canada on this excursion; opinions expressed are my own.