We were “just shy” of Toronto — “just shy” of being 7-year-old Gordon’s newly discovered and instantly overused way of describing being almost, nearly anywhere — when we first learned our mistake.
Sure, we had suspected our travel itinerary wasn’t entirely foolproof. We knew we’d have to run into some traffic at some point in our weeklong expedition through New Hampshire, Vermont, the Adirondacks and Ontario.
But it wasn’t until we were “just shy” of Canada’s largest city (population, 2.5 million, all of whom were apparently driving on the QEW highway at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday) that we realized the true errors of our ways.
We were surrounded by cars. We were getting testy. And we had a real, live bathroom emergency on our hands.
Not that 7-year-old Georgia minded much. The emergency wasn’t hers, after all. And she was having a fine time sight-seeing, even though the only sights to see were cars and buildings.
“That’s our hotel, right there,” she chirped from the back seat, apparently recognizing it from our trip to Toronto a year earlier.
“No, it’s not. We’re a long way from our hotel,” her mother, Karen, replied.
Georgia paused. She thought. And then she delivered the kind of punch line a family needs when it’s stuck in a traffic jam and in the midst of a real, live bathroom emergency.
“Yup. It’s our hotel. It looks just like it,” she said, thoroughly convinced she was right (which, we learned on this trip, is becoming a more frequent occurrence). “See? It’s made of brick and has lots of windows.”
Overall, our trip from Maine to Toronto was a well-planned event. Thank my girlfriend, Karen, for that.
My self-appointed role in the grand plan: Drive safely. Pray that kids neither bleed nor vomit. And (perhaps most importantly) avoid roller coasters at all costs.
I may have told you before: I’m not much of a thrill-seeker.
First stop: Silver Bay YMCA in New York, on Lake George. It’s a family Y, with all kinds of family-oriented activities. Swimming. Archery. Beach volleyball. Tennis. Basketball.
As it turns out, 7-year-old Gordon is a shuffleboard savant. He drummed Karen in game after game. Then he challenged me.
Wisely, I suggested we go swimming instead.
We hiked a nature trail and learned about trees. We ate like hogs (Gordon’s two-meatball-sub lunch on Day 2 was an epic achievement that was at least as impressive as his shuffleboard dominance).
And then we left.
The road beckoned, you see. We had an itinerary. We had places to be.
Our next stop was Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Great place, Great Wolf. Unbelievable.
Picture Bugaboo Creek, if it wasn’t a steakhouse. Picture it as a hotel (with talking bears and moose and trees). Picture an attached 80,000-square-foot water park, with a wave pool and waterslides and (my favorite) a lazy river to float in.
And picture a little log cabin, inside an otherwise modern hotel room, that the kids could call their own.
It wasn’t roughing it, to be sure. But it was outdoorsy … kind of.
Again, we had a great time. We splashed. We slid. We swam. And we ate like hogs, again.
Then it was on to see Niagara Falls itself, and then head to the big city to visit Karen’s dad and her college buddies.
Toronto awaited. So did traffic. And the bathroom emergency. (It turns out that a steady diet of meatball subs might not have been the best idea, after all.)
Eventually, the crisis was averted, we arrived at the real hotel — not one of the other well-windowed buildings made of brick — and settled in for three busy days.
We visited the CN Tower, and the kids posed for photos on the glass floor, some 1,100 feet above the hard, unforgiving pavement.
I shot photos and quivered.
Did I mention I’m not crazy about heights?
Later, we ate. We swam some more. We visited with family and friends.
And then, finally, it was time to go to Canada’s Wonderland, home of the nation’s longest roller coaster. Not that I rode it, mind you. But one of us would have, had he found anyone else brave enough to join him.
Instead, he opted for a slightly tamer ride called “The Bat.”
I sat that one out. I think I was eating like a hog. Or looking for the bathroom. Or simply chicken. My recollection is foggy.
That’s probably due to the one roller coaster I did go on. It was big. It was bad. It was … well … located in the kids’ portion of the park known as “Planet Snoopy.”
I know, it doesn’t sound like much of a beast, but believe me: It was.
Georgia screamed. I held my breath and stared at the rapidly approaching earth. Gordon and Karen inexplicably said they enjoyed the ride.
And 10-year-old Mackie — the real thrill-seeker of the bunch, dismissed the ride as “a baby coaster.”
After a few days to ponder his assessment, I can’t really disagree. It wasn’t much of a coaster, as coasters go.
Color me baby, baby.
But in the end, our trip turned out just as I’d hoped. I drove safely (except for that near-miss outside of Montreal, and the one in downtown Toronto, and the other one in downtown Toronto). Nobody bled. Nobody got sick.
And apparently, I also avoided the real roller coasters at all costs.
Mission, I suppose, accomplished.