It’s blistering cold walking the 50 metres from the arrivals door to valet parking at Montreal’s Trudeau International airport. The mission, just hours old, is to get a fifth-generation 2019 Ford Explorer from Montreal to Halifax ASAP.
After I pay the bill, a parka-clad valet pulls up in the Explorer. I search in vain for a tip, sheepishly tell him “next time” and slide in behind the wheel. It’s warm inside and he had instinctively turned the heated seats and steering wheel on. Spa music fills the cabin.
The outside temperature on the instrument panel reads -23C. I wonder what the howling wind would drop the number to in terms of wind chill, that weather-hype number meteorologists shock-and-awe the public with.
Of course, the Explorer Platinum has every imaginable convenience feature and plenty of power with a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 engine and I settle into the cocoon of warmth and luxury.
It’s 8 p.m. The plan is to drive 90 kilometres east to Saint Hyacinthe, check into a hotel and sleep until 03:00 before taking on the remaining 1,200 kilometres to Halifax. The 13-hour drive will get me home in time for dinner with visiting two-year-old grandson Dorian, who will be wondering where his Grampy is.
“There won’t be much exploring in an Explorer on this trip,” I think, two hours later drifting into a five-hour nap in my hotel room.
It’s 02:57 when I hit the start button and pull the frosty Explorer onto Highway 20 East. The road is bare and bone dry. The weather forecast is cold and clear. Once things warm up inside, I activate the adaptive cruise control and await the eastern glow in the sky that means spring is another day closer.
I’ve always liked the Explorer since Ford launched it in 1990 as a 1991 model, available in both two and four door versions. It replaced the two-door Bronco II to fight GM’s T-series Jimmy and Blazers, forcing the General to stretch their two-door SUVs, adding back doors and ABS, to be competitive.
The name Explorer nameplate has become synonymous with adventure, but what could I explore during a nonstop drive on a route I’ve driven hundreds of times?
I decide to explore my mind starting with why, after a half century of driving, do I still get revved up at the prospect of long haul, solo road trips no matter the destination?
Of course, there are plenty of reasons — solitude, ever-changing landscapes, people along the way, vehicles I’m strapped into and the mission itself. I consider professional drivers behind the wheel of the hundreds of transport trucks I’ll encounter today. Are long haul drivers enthusiastic about their work moving whatever down the road? I suspect they are.
I’m not saving the planet or delivering food, building materials or medical supplies. It’s not an ambulance, taxi or tow-truck I’m driving either. Maybe I’m an optimistic lazy generalist deep down inside, hiding out on that never-ending road under the guise of a trumped-up mission.
The sun is up now. The temperature has risen to -18C and traces of spring sunshine flood over my face and through the Explorer’s lush interior as I turn south toward New Brunswick at Rivière-du-Loup. Gone are the sweeping views of the icy Saint Lawrence River.
Mind exploration shifts to the “R” question people are beginning to ask. But how do I retire after decades behind the wheels of thousands of cars and trucks that has been so much, well, fun?
What would I do? I don’t fish, golf, play darts or watch much TV. Friends are scattered all over the world with few in Halifax. After a driving career that has taken me through more than 80 countries, bunked me in the finest and worst hotels, fed me everything from Russian caviar to freeze-dried food spiked with instant coffee, how can I stop?
As the sure-footed Explorer cruises southeast through New Brunswick, I’m relaxed and take a break from mindless mind games to check the news.
I hear U.S. President Trump is being bashed and our Prime Minister and his office are in trouble too. The jet stream has dipped south and is to blame for the lingering arctic freeze from Winnipeg to Newfoundland.
People in entry level sedans and SUVs hauling ATVs and snowmobiles are flying by me. I roll past a tractor trailer on its roof in the median with three huge wreckers trying to right it. Was it the result of a blown front tire, side swipe, texting or a driver that fell asleep? Or was he or she simply driving too fast and lost control? I hope the driver isn’t hurt beyond a badly bruised ego.
Time for a final mind exploration as I cross into Nova Scotia, wondering why I often don’t want to reach the destination? It’s the question I still can’t answer. Perhaps the road is life; fascinating, suspenseful, rewarding and unending.
I wheel the salt-stained Explorer into our driveway after 13 hours and 12 minutes of cerebral exploration, just in time for dinner. When I open the back door, a squirming, loving border collie jumps me. Then I hear the pitter-patter of little feet.
“Grampy home,” Dorian squeals, his face bursting with joy.
And I wonder if this young man will eventually like to drive as much as he loves to push my eclectic collection of Dinky cars and trucks around the living room.
Follow Garry on Instagram: @garrysowerby