The Great Escape — second draft (travelogue)

A few years ago, I was faced with a choice all young adults must make in the western world: what was I going do with my future? There was no question of me furthering my education or not. I was doing it. I had already gotten the speech from my parents. And my grandparents. And my aunts and uncles. Actually, from every frickin adult I met, I was reminded that “in this day and age, you need a degree to get a good job!” The biggest thing for me was choosing the city in which I should spend the next few years. There were a few factors affecting my choice: the school’s French program and the cost of residence were the two main things. The deal was my parents would pay the tuition, but I had to pay my room and board if I were to go abroad (which I was going to… duh). It was a fair arrangement, much like most of their other ones. Don’t tell them that, though. Tell my parents they’re right and I will never hear the end of it. When I say never, I mean not until the day I die. My father keeps a little notepad full of mistakes and embarrassing things I do. I went through this correcting phase (tutor and swim instructor problems) where I would correct him from saying things like “I seen” “rather than “I saw.” Determined to shame me in return, he’s logging my discrepancies “to bring up on my wedding day.” Ass.

Anyway, while choosing schools, I was torn between Ontario’s two obvious choices for a French education: University of Ottawa and Laurentian University in Sudbury. I was thinking about it in class one day when there was an announcement for a Lakehead University presentation. Excited at the chance to ditch physics for the day, I decided to attend. After speaking two-on-one with this representative (only one other person showed up to the presentation with me), my mind was made. Qualified French teachers, a stunning campus and relatively cheap residence fees? And I would be far from my mother? It was a no brainer.

You see, my mother and I did not get along. We could hardly be in the same room with each other without screaming at each other. I’d say around 90% of our interactions were arguments. A lot of the time it was about dumb things, like socks. I’m not kidding. We feuded over socks for a couple of days. She stole a pair of mine, so I left mine in the living room… very mature stuff. We disagreed with whatever the other said just for the sake of disagreeing. Moving far away was my last hope before turning into season one homicidal Stewie Griffin.

When I first arrive in Thunder Bay in September 2013, I was so excited. It was all brand new to me as I had not visited the campus before like they say you should. I think it was better this way. My virgin eyes scanned their surroundings, taking in the beauty of the trees, the height of the buildings, the movements of the animals. Did you ever notice how small the squirrels are up here? Makes the ones in Windsor look like friggin cats! Anyway, after settling things in my new room, it was time to explore my new city.

The essentials were hit first: LCBO, the grocery store, and then the mall. Everyone was friendly, despite some of the things I had heard about this place. We were recommended to check out Hillcrest Park by a charming Tim Hortons employee, Sara. So, we migrated over there with our double-doubles and were not disappointed. From the top of that hill, you are able to see the city from a larger perspective; the lights, the homes, the shops, the cars — but you also get a good look at the great Lake Superior and the serene Sleeping Giant. Two totally different worlds, yet equally as beautiful.

This is the great thing about Thunder Bay — you can enjoy both the city life and the woodsy outdoor life. Often, the two areas are mere feet from each other, which is ideal for people like me who love their technology and their own beds but who also love to explore nature. On campus itself this is true. Just behind the Bartley and Deer Lake Ridge housing units, there is a large wooded area along the Lake Tamblyn River with trails and tree forts built by crafty students from the past. Getting there from residence, however, is a difficult task. It’s a bit downhill and both paths leading to this magical place, which students call Narnia, are littered with thick roots growing out of the earth that seem to grab at your ankles — there are much easier ways to get there, but we were always too lazy and impatient to go around. There are tons of birch trees in this forest, so the ground is littered with peeled bark and is spotted from where the sun (or moon) is able to poke through the leaf cover. The river’s current is so strong, it can be heard from almost everywhere in the forest, smacking the large rocks poking out of the surface. I remember one night about two weeks into school, a bunch of us headed out there to have a totally legal bonfire and some beers. We gathered our own kindling from stuff already fallen and managed to keep the fire going all night. We talked, we laughed, we danced, we sang. It was a great time. When we sat back down and were burning out with the fire, I started thinking. I had just met these people a couple of weeks ago and we were already acting like old friends. It wasn’t odd, because that’s how everyone I met had been acting. Bus drivers, servers, professors, fellow students, seniors in Tim Hortons, what have you. That’s when it hit me. Sure, Thunder Bay wasn’t perfect. Every place has its demons. However, with a smile on your face, virtually every single person has been friendly in my experience. No matter if you’re doing urban things, like eating at a local restaurant such as the Hoito or Lot 66, or jumping at the trampoline park, or walking through either downtown area (yeah, that’s right — two downtowns), or whether you’re doing something outside like visiting the Terry Fox memorial, or hiking Mount McKay, or having a picnic at Kakabeka Falls, the people you meet will make you feel at home. There is no better feeling than knowing you’re a part of something. I know at first this was a cheesy drunken realisation, but I still find it true more than two years later. Thunder bay is my home away from home.

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