another roadtrip attraction
May 4, 2006 11:21 AM   Subscribe

At the end of August, I'll be moving from northern British Columbia to London, Ontario. How should I get there?

So I am off to Ontario to continue my education. Because I am over-excited and like playing with maps, I'm already planning a route out. I will be driving with a friend, who has kindly offered to come along to keep me company and help with the driving. I want to get there as cheaply as possible-- meaning as few overnight stops as we can manage.

I think with both of us, twelve-hour driving days will be a reasonable expectation. I've heard some people suggest we go through the US for at least part of the trip, which is fine by me (unless they are likely to hassle us at the border for having my moving boxes).

We'll be leaving from Fort Saint John, BC. I plunked this into google maps, and it suggested a route that goes from FSJ through Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, and then on to London. However, I mentioned this to somebody who has driven from BC to Toronto and said that that goes too far south. I was thinking we could go from FSJ to North Battleford or Saskatoon the first night, then to Winnipeg, then maybe (following the gmaps route) to Madison the third night, then on to London the fourth day.

So, any askmefites made the trip? What's the most economical route to take? I'm not taking much with me-- just me, my buddy, and whatever I can fit in my Mazda 3.
posted by synecdoche to Travel & Transportation around London, ON (17 answers total)
I'd recommend that you don't try to take moving boxes through the US, unless you enjoy being hassled at the border and potentially denied entry.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:29 AM on May 4, 2006

I took a car full of stuff from Ontario to BC (once) and Seattle (once). But that was about 15 years ago. So the border policies might have changed but the roads haven't.

I took the route you describe, which is mostly I-80 through the US and then up to the prairies and across the Trans-Canada. It was a fine route. Going north around the great lakes is a drag as it's really, really empty and the distance between towns makes it more dangerous than the rest of the route.

In the US, you can take I-90 which is further north than I-80, but again, it's really, really empty. It's too empty to be really safe, IMO. You'll need to eventually swing south through Chicago anyway, so I don't think it adds that much distance to the trip.

As for the border, I had a New Yorker (at the time) which fits a lot more than a Mazda 3 and I didn't have any hassle. I just told the border guys what I was doing and where I was going and they didn't have any issues with it. On the Seattle trip I even had a US work visa, which probably made things a little easier, but going from Ontario to BC via the US didn't raise any eyebrows. I don't cross the border as often as I used to, but the last few land crossings I've made haven't been any different from the ones 15 years ago. Airport border crossings have gone insane, but land crossings, not so much. It would probably help if you have a passport and documentation of enrollment at Western (I assume) to back up your story.

Other than that... watch out for those prairie speed traps.

MSFT Streets & Trips says for a 9 AM to 9 PM driving day that you can do it in 3 days, 3 hours. First overnight is Saskatoon, second overnight is Fargo, third overnight is Lansing MI, which is only about three hours from London, so if you reallllly stretch out that last day, you'll only do two nights on the road. Alternately, aim for Regina the first night and somewhere like Madison WI on the second day and you'll have a not-so-long third day. But that's probably more like 14-hour days.

Also, get your car checked before you go and bring an extra bottle of windshield fluid. You'll need it. Good luck!
posted by GuyZero at 11:51 AM on May 4, 2006

Stay on the Canuck side. You could reasonably do Saskatoon to Thunder Bay in a long day, switching drivers. Two days to London after that.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:52 AM on May 4, 2006

Oh, also, per Streets & Trips, you end up on I-94 the entire way through the US, which is about as close to the border as it gets. I only took I-80 to Seattle, so that's kind of a non sequiter in the previous post.
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2006

Er...didn't mean to directly disagree with GuyZero...
posted by jimmythefish at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2006

Streets & Trips sez an all-Canadian route is an extra 9 hours of driving. And NO DENNYS! So I would advise against it, if only for the Grand Slams.
posted by GuyZero at 11:56 AM on May 4, 2006

DEFINITELY get your car checked out before you go. Any kind of problem will set you back by at least a day.

I think it's pretty much a guarantee that you'll get searched at the border, which will also set you back at least a few hours. Still and all, if I had to do the drive again, I would probably take the US route this time. Northern Ontario is veeeerry long (but beautiful!), and as guyzero said, it's a long time between towns and not a place you want to have a car break down on you.

When crossing the border, make sure that you're relatively clean cut and neat in appearance - it could make a difference between being hassled or not. And definitely! do not have any drugs or alcohol with you!

Good luck, drive carefully, and maybe I'll see you around London. Good drinking holes are Barney's, the Alex p Keaton, Call the Office, the Honest Lawyer, and many more.
posted by ashbury at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2006

I moved a U-Haul from Massachusetts to Detroit via Canada a few years back (pre 9-11). No problems crossing in to Canada, but it is the only time I've been stopped at the US border. It is a funny story now. It was not at the time.

If you go through the US (and gas is not that much cheaper here these days), you may want to call DHS, and find out what is required to move boxes across the border. At minimum, you need an inventory. There may be other paperwork.

Also, I'm in Detroit, and while we aren't far from London, if you need to stop on this side of the border, I've got crash space for you and your friend (e-mail in profile).

Oh, and the 401 between Windsor and London is the nastiest, hardest to drive bit of pavement I've ever seen.
posted by QIbHom at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2006

Well, I like highway 17, so I'd go that way. The drive from Minneapolis to Detroit is easy, but I found it rather tedious. I find it worth going a bit out of the way to take the ferry across Georgian bay, although if you're getting tired of all the rocks and trees by that point, it's more direct to cross the border at Sault Ste Marie and aim for Port Huron.

"As cheaply as possible" doesn't necessarily mean avoiding overnight stops. You can probably manage to buy a waterproof tent for about the one-night cost of the average not-too-cheap motel room. There's no problem finding places to use it anywhere from Kenora to Espanola, at least. It's a whole lot better than sleeping in the car, anyway.
posted by sfenders at 1:43 PM on May 4, 2006

When I hitchiked across Canada in 1991, I caught one ride all the way from Calgary to Ottawa. We went through the U.S. (Wisconsin, Michigan, Sault Ste. Marie), sleeping in parks along the way. According to the driver, who had done trip numerous times, this saved him a few hours...but definitely not a day.

Personally, I'd likely just stick to Hwy 1. Border hassles are much more frequent now than they were then.

Off topic: We're planning a move to Quesnel or Prince George in the next year or two...already bought land in Quesnel, but may work in PG for a while first. What's the one sentence you can give about living there? Email in profile if you're interested.
posted by Kickstart70 at 5:45 PM on May 4, 2006

If you want the drive to end faster, go under the lakes. It is faster because the speeds are higher and the highways are less curvy and have more lanes. The transcanada north of superior is beautiful, but it still has only 1 lane in parts (at least on my last pass through). Also,
posted by maxpower at 6:05 PM on May 4, 2006

Thanks for all the tips. Is there any way I can find out how likely it is that I'll get bugged at the border? Or, is there anything I can do to help myself out (aside from the good advice above)? For example, would it be possible to contact the crossing and tell them I am coming, or anything like that?

Basically I am going to have boxes with books, some clothes, and some kitchen stuff, plus my usual travelling gear. I doubt I'd carry anything that would raise an eyebrow, but I could understand if they wanted to verify that fact, but sitting at a border crossing, unloading my car, opening all the boxes, closing all the boxes, and loading up the car again might be more trouble than it is worth.
posted by synecdoche at 9:15 PM on May 4, 2006

I've been turned back from the border before specifically because I "didn't look like I was going to come back to Canada". I really would advise against risking it for the rather minimal extra time savings.

You won't be able to know how they will react beforehand (this is on purpose, so bad people can't make predictions)'s really up to you how much risk you are willing and can afford to take.

*shrug* Good luck either way!
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:43 PM on May 4, 2006

I did the reverse trip (London to Vancouver) and took the northern route rather than going through the U.S. Loved it. Some of the most amazing scenery I've ever seen. Yes, you're mighty alone up there, but that was an experience of its own. At one point a bobcat ran on the road in front of me and stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other for a while and then went our separate ways. Good times.
posted by showmethecalvino at 11:31 PM on May 4, 2006

Just want to echo what showmethecalvino said. The stretch of the Trans-Canada from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie is one of the most gorgeous, majestic, awesome drives you can do on this earth, and it is absolutely essential to understanding what Canada is as a nation (and how absurdly improbable it is) to see just how vast and forbidding is the Canadian Shield.

(It follows that it is a national travesty that at least a couple of generations of Canadians have skipped this drive to save a few hours, buy cheap gas, and/or cross-border shop.)

Drive the Shield. Revel in the emptiness, marvel at the ruggedness. Stop at the Terry Fox Memorial, and at some roadside picnic area next to a rocky Superior beach. Inhale the reek of a pulp town or two. Stay at a cheap motel in White River. Years from now, you'll be thankful you did.
posted by gompa at 12:27 AM on May 5, 2006

I've been turned back from the border before specifically because I "didn't look like I was going to come back to Canada". I really would advise against risking it for the rather minimal extra time savings.

And I have been let across numerous times because I had all my documentation in order to prove where I'm going and what I'm doing. If you are a Canadian citizen and are going to re-enter Canada there should be no reason for them to turn you back. As I suggested, take your passport (if you have one) and your acceptance letter from Western or wherever.

I have gone across in a car with kids seats, but no kids; in a car that had rolled over a week before, crumping the roof; with a bunch rowdy teenagers to get ice cream and comics in the US (who hid rude notes throught the car in the hope they'd get searched); with a car full of stuff, moving within Canada but via the US; and once to go visit a girl who I'd met online and I had to try to explain to the officer how I met her (this was in 1992, when such things were not exactly mainstream). I have never been turned back at the Canada-US border. Neither have many of the millions of other people who cross it every day.

The DHS is not a bunch of rabid guard dogs. They will ask you questions and want proof that what you say is true - it is an international border after all. Just answer all their questions and everything should be OK.

Calling ahead will probabaly not help, unless you know someone specific top talk to. They generally don't make appointments at border crossings.

In the absolute worst case you can always go north around the lakes.

Drive the Shield.

I can't argue with gompa on his points. It's probably one of the few opportunities in your life to get to see a remote and beautiful part of the country.
posted by GuyZero at 6:38 AM on May 5, 2006

I would also add a vote for driving the north shore, but then again I like vast, wild, and uninhabited places. If you choose to take the southernly route, be aware that hitting Chicago at the wrong time can add unecessary hours to a trip. You might consider the ferry. If you cross at Detroit take the bridge (as opposed to the tunnel). If the bridge is busy, pay the toll at the duty free, grab a case of Blue, or top off the tank and get funneled right onto the bridge. I haven't crossed as much in recent years, but generally being polite and adding "sir" or "ma'am" when appropriate seems to help. DON'T BLOCK THE CROSSWALK (they hate that). The 401 isn't as bad as QIbHom says it is (unless it gets dramatically worse east of Chatham) plenty of trucks, but as straight a road as you get this side of Kansas.
posted by fantastic at 9:08 AM on May 5, 2006

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