This journey starts just down the street from where I grew up, in the leafy East end Toronto neighbourhood of Riverdale. It is cold, it is rainy, and I am handing out free Swiss chard at The Rooster Coffee House on Broadview Ave. This is the last order of business before I hit the road for four months on my freshly launched Farm Talk Radio tour. The chard disappears, I chat with neighbours and friends, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude sets in for this community that has done so much to help raise and nurture me into the person that I am today.
Cooper and I load up our stuff in my aging Chevy Astro van. This beauty has 450,000km on it and I am planning to drive it to the East coast of Canada, all the way out West to Tofino, and down the coast to California. It is temperamental, bulky, and it is the only vehicle I have ever owned. Typical of any long term relationship there are at times laughter, there are tears, there is more than the occasional swear word, and there is a commitment to getting through anything together. Cooper settles in for a snooze immediately, he seems to know he is in this one for the long haul.
I pick up my good friend Nathan Miller and we hit the road. He is a corporate shill and works from the mobile office as I settle in for a rainy drive down the 401, some slow country tunes on the old Astro van CD player. As we get closer to La Belle Province our spirits rise. We are both exhausted from the rigors of daily life but perk up over old stories, J. Cole beats, and the non-caffeinated organic Red Bull ginger ale, which I thought would give me more of a lift than it did.
After spending way too much time trying to figure out the overly complicated parking rule book in the St-Denis area we check in to our Airbnb for the evening. It is situated over an old bookshop, up a wrought iron staircase, and then up another floor. Perfect for a couple of long legged guys and an energetic dog.
We style our hair, give the Coop a quick walk, and head out for dinner. We settle on Le Darling, a recommendation by Nathan, and man this one turns out to be gold. We wait in line briefly and are seated right in the action of this wonderfully eclectic bar, lounge, resto. The menu is fantastic, very farm to table, tapas style. Great beer list featuring regional producers, we end up sampling a fair number of those. And by sample I do mean full pints. The wait-staff is hip and young, the people watching is fantastic, and we get some recommendations of where to go after for music and dancing. In full spirits we head off into the noise and smoke of the bohemian city streets.
Le Doggy Cafe
Nathan and I treated ourselves the evening before so I figured it was time for Cooper to get his treat. We drop Nathan off at the airport and head to Le Doggy Café, which is only a short walk from where we are staying. The place is incredible. You open the gate at the door and your dog is free to roam and socialize while you eat food off of a simple yet elegant menu and are also free to socialize. I had an excellent café au lait and a grilled cheese with a fresh side salad. Cooper got more treats than humanly possible in one sitting, I bought him a pineapple kerchief so he could also dream of the sunny surf in Costa Rica while we trudged through the wet and cold Montreal streets
I met an old friend, Sharon Fang, and her friend for a trek up Mount Royal. They both work for Morgan Stanley and we spent an interesting afternoon discussing philosophy, politics, the economy, the risks of being an entrepreneur, and the changing global climate. There was great appreciation for how each had chose to live their life, and a recognition for the gifts and challenges on either road. What an incredible view of the city, Mount Royal overlooking Montreal!
On the Road Again
I had anticipated that Cooper would forget about the time change so I spent a relaxing evening in, preparing for the journey ahead, sampling the fromage and charcuterie delights from a local deli, with a craft brew and a baguette to boot. Not to mention the Leafs game on and an appreciation for a comfy bed and a warm house. Accommodation on the road ahead would figure itself out day-by-day but I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be quite as luxe.
Our first stop was a rest area just outside Quebec City. There was snow in the Laurentians, a wicked wind in our face, and a nice trail in the woods for a short run. I sprinted along with Cooper for about a minute before realizing how horribly out of shape I was. Out of breath and sore we returned to the van. I got a coffee, Cooper sat impatiently in the drivers seat as if to say, really, that’s it!?
I love that drive along the St. Lawrence river up to Rieviere-du-Loop. I have done it a few times on my way to and from Halifax in my university days. The next few hours were filled with memories and a realization that I have an undeniable thirst for journeys, which has been present throughout my life. My first big one was a trip to Morocco, back packing the Camino Santiago across Spain, and a few weeks of exploring just outside Paris in France. I had set out on that adventure almost ten years ago, with the same November departure, and a four-month duration in mind. So much has changed in ten years but many of the human challenges of self-doubt, apprehension, and the existential meaning of setting out on an unknown path remained. My mom left me with these words from Thomas Aquinas,
“I have a cause, we need those don’t we? Otherwise the darkness and the cold get in and everything starts to ache. My soul has a purpose, it is to love; if I do not fulfil my heart’s vocation, I suffer.”
Perhaps that is why I was driving into uncertainty, with this Farm Talk Radio tour on my mind, and a dog who trusts me just enough to say sure lets see where this thing goes.
As we crossed into New Brunswick it was getting dark. I am not sure how many hours I had been on the road as the clocks went back in Montreal but jumped forward again as I crossed into Atlantic standard time. My immediate goal was to get to Moncton to visit my cousin Reuben and his partner Amber, with the idea that I might push onto Halifax to sleep. As the kilometers continued to unfold the night grew dark, strangely dark. I thought shit it really is only forest along these empty stretches of highway. However, a widespread power outage from Fredericton up to parts of Nova Scotia would later explain the blackout but it had left frightening images of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” running through my mind.
Cooper and I were welcomed into a warm house in Moncton and fed pasta, or at least I was. Cooper is on a bit of a diet so he stuck to his regular dog food. He did manage to sneak a bit of peanut off of the mousetraps which pleased him very much.
Rueben and Amber and I strolled down to Miss Cues for some pool, good tunes on the jukebox, and big glasses of Moosehead Dry. After the first round it was decided I would crash on their couch and Rueben proceeded to give us a good lesson in the angles and nuances of a Moncton pool table. Good music, good laughs, it was great to spend a night with family in New Brunswick.
The Sun is Rising in the East
Cooper and I hit Nova Scotia with the sun rising in our eyes. First stop a café called Two if By Sea in Dartmouth. Best crossiants this side of Paris, good strong coffee, and a chance to do some computer work. This would be my morning office for the next few days.
Coop and I set out for Lawrencetown beach, there is a moment when you come around that bend and you can see the clean lines just rolling in. I’ll never get tired of that feeling of elation of seeing ocean meeting sand and the promise of a surf session ready to unfold. Cooper emerged from the van frisky and ready to report on the conditions. His first taste of salt water and ocean surge were a sight to behold. I think he enjoyed the seaweed snacks most of all. Must have heard that the ocean flora fauna is good for your gut health and a good source of antioxidants! Tasty sea snacks abound.
I had a decent day out there. Caught a few nice rights and lefts. Enjoyed the new board from Surf the Greats in Toronto, and was toasty in my mid-winter wet suit. The short board is a bit more challenging and I was definitely over turning my waves and having trouble keeping balance. Had a few laughs with the guys out on the water, including a Slovenian suave who was elegantly riding a long board. Lots of room for improvement on my end, a lifetime ahead in fact I hope, but man it sure felt good to be back in the ocean.
I did the post surf wet suit removal dance and warmed up in the van. Coop and I drove into Halifax where I spent the afternoon reacquainting myself with some old favourite haunts and had a good walk through the North End. Cooper had dinner in the car while I wrote and enjoyed a tasty beverage at The Good Robot on Robie St.
Next up was dinner with my old roommate Will Barton and his partner Karis. Great to share stories, hear the goings on at King’s College, and just generally get caught up. They are both still quite involved in the King’s community and it felt great to be welcomed back into that world. Will is currently working at Lee Valley and making some beautiful pieces of his own furniture. The craftsmanship in his work is incredible, skills honed in the heritage carpentry program at a college down near Lunenburg. The fact that he is also working with stained glass made for a unique blend of elegance.
Cow Bay Hotel
Cooper and I had scouted a few spots earlier in the day for sleeping and a quiet parking lot out in Cow Bay seemed to be the best choice. It offered a reprieve from the city streets, a good spot for a morning walk, and just close enough to the ocean to feel relaxing. All romanticism of the open road aside it was a bit of a restless night. A few people pulled into the parking lot and shone their headlights into our bedroom. Was it the police, or perhaps a couple sneaking off for some fun, only the Lord will ever know. Space was tight with Coop and I fighting for real estate. He moves around quite a bit, wakes up early, and he smelled like the bog we had been trudging through earlier in the afternoon. All in all I was glad for the company but put doggy breath mints and lessons in personal space on my to do list.
Your Oceans Dark and Dreary Be
We had an early morning beach comb and found a new crab squeak toy, which shoots salt water when you chew it. It was a very popular find, especially back in the van to be enjoyed on the new hardwood floor. We went straight from there to TIBS for the usual pastry and coffee primer. I decided to cancel my surf plans on account of the strong onshore, the frigid temperatures, and my aching body.
We spent the day over in Halifax. I explored my old university campus, did some work in the library, caught up with the athletics staff, and shot some hoops. I had a tasty burrito for lunch at Burrito Jax with an old volleyball coach and friend, Rob VN. We talked basketball, men’s health, life, and moustaches. Bucking hot sauce for the win, on at least on Rob’s burrito it was.
Coop and I explored the Hydrostone Market and just enjoyed the slower and more relaxed pace to Halifax city life, which I love so much. Another visit to campus and the old Wardroom, where I had spent many a night in undergrad drinking cheap beer on tap and enjoying the raucous dance parties which so often erupted.
I met two old friends for dinner and the Leafs game. We talked real estate, food and farming, and a whole list of other things. I knew I’d be leaving Halifax the next day and it as definitely all happening much too soon.
The Lawrencetown Motel
Coop and I drove out to the beach to camp that night. It seemed like it might be a little quieter and the surf report had looked decent for the next morning. We had a more restful night, one other VW van in the parking lot, and sheets of rain hammering in to make us very glad to be inside.
That onshore had picked up over night so the waves were big but all blown out and messy. I paddled out but had to fight pretty hard to turn it into even a semblance of a surf session. I road a few in on the board but had trouble riding the waves with all the chop and the relentlessness of the sets. Coop and I had breakfast overlooking the ocean and waved goodbye to our Atlantic surf trip.
I had a very cool opportunity to interview a current King’s student and local/global food hero! Her name is Cassie Hayward and our podcast episode will be released on November 21st. I’ll say nothing more than Cassie is an athlete, a campus leader, and one of the most inspiring young minds I have ever met. If we are going to solve the problems of global food production and gender inequality, there is a good chance that Cassie will be on the leading edge! Thanks for the introduction Neil Hooper, UKC Blue Devil’s nation is going strong.
Our next stop was Berwick, Nova Scotia, in the Annapolis Valley. This is farm country folks and I was very excited to be going down there to see an old friend. I didn’t have time to actually visit any farms but I did get a number of good leads for my next trip to the Maritimes. Had a great evening with Ian Manning, his partner Marie Claire, their friend, and a few good dog friends for Cooper. Ian made an excellent homemade Mac and Cheese, the dogs frolicked, and it was Walter’s birthday, so pup cakes were had all around.
It was a brief visit but a good one. The hospitality left my heart full. A load of laundry and a hot shower had me feeling almost human again and they set us on our way with a full bag of snacks for the road.
Farewell to Nova Scotia Your Seabound Coast
This was shaping up to be a marathon of a drive and it did not disappoint. The ferry from Digby to St. John New Brunswick didn’t leave at a time that would work and both Cooper and I forgot our passports. We were not interested in testing Donald Trump and U.S. border patrol, especially after the recent midterm election results. We breezed through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and then back into Quebec. I stayed awake with a combination of The Carter V (Lil Wayne’s new album), the third season of the Serial podcast, and finally the Montreal Canadians game on the radio in French. A definite highlight! Ahhhhhh bon but (goal) Jonathan Drouin!
The Eastern Townships
We staggered into my friend Jess’s house after 13 hours on the road. She was kind enough to put us up at her parent’s place where Cooper enjoyed the company of her three dogs and two cats. The feeling was not necessarily mutual but it was certainly a full household of friends. It was great to catch up with Jess. We swapped stories from our adventures in life since Costa Rica, and reminisced about sunset cerveza’s on the pier in Punta Banco. Not to mention those tasty ice cream Trits!
We had a nice breakfast together at Beet et Beetrave in Frelighsburg. Great food, they have a small garden which they base their menu off of during the harvest months. It was very farm to table, and a good few cups of coffee helped to perk me up.
Jess and I parted ways. We are hoping to meet again in Hawaii, or Costa Rica, or perhaps just back in the Eastern townships next spring. I drove a short distance to the family farm of Maude-Helene Desroches and her partner, Jean-Martin Fortier, THE market gardeners. I had been down about a month earlier to meet M-H and also to do a tour of the project her husband is working on at La Ferme des Quatre Temps near Hemmingford.
I enjoyed a sweet chicory from their fields and Maude Helene and I sat down to discuss bio-intensive farming, the gifts and challenges of being a modern farmer, and what it means to be a woman who is the head of the family farm. This podcast episode will be released on November 16th, and it should not be missed! Merci M-H
I did a brief stop in North Hatley to look at property. My family has deep roots in the area. Cooper and I went for a walk, visited the graveyard, and felt a strong connection to place. I visited my uncle Mike’s grave and toasted him with the last of my Tatamagouche Lagered Ale. I was named after Mike, not Michael Jordan, as I had originally thought, and he has been an inspiration for this journey on the road. In his life he was a basketball player, a musician, and a constant seeker of new horizons both physical and spiritual. I am very proud to be named after him.
Cooper and I filmed our weekly update in the parking lot and reflected on a busy week. We had come full circle from Montreal to the Eastern townships and we were ready to start back on the road to Ontario. It was a brief tour of Quebec and the Maritimes but one rich with experiences and lessons from the road. I left, excited to see family and friends back home and to plan the next stages of the Farm Talk Radio tour. I hope you have enjoyed reading, and as always, sincerely sweating for you, Farmer Mike