Just about everybody knows the iconic hit song Life is a Highway by Canadian musician Tom Cochrane. It’s a catchy tune that you’ve probably sung along to, probably while driving a car, probably on some sort of highway or byway.
So when it came on over the radio as we were traveling through northern Ontario, and we automatically started singing along, ‘life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long…,’ it suddenly hit us. Tom Cochrane has obviously never, EVER driven across Highway 17 from Kenora to Sault Ste Marie in the summer, otherwise the title would have been: The After-life is a Highway because it feels more like a death march going through all the infuriating construction zones. No exaggeration, we came across construction delays every 10 miles or so (okay, that’s a little bit exaggerated but it felt like that).
Highway 17 is part of the Trans Canada Highway – the longest road in the world stretching coast to coast. However, once you leave the TCH in Friendly Manitoba to the west, you say goodbye to a 4 lane, straight, flat highway with a 110 km speed limit and say hello to Ontario’s Highway 17, a winding, undulating two lane road with a 90 km limit. After a couple of hours, you notice that Highway 17 also features an inordinate number of overweight semi-trailers, countless Saskatchewan farmers (nervous because they’re now in the ‘big city’), and motorcycles traveling in pairs, out for a Sunday drive (even though it’s midweek) – all cruising at or below the ridiculously slow 90k speed limit!
So when we came across one of the infrequent but highly cherished passing lanes, we put the petal to the metal and edged MaBel past the caterpiller chain of creeping vehicles. Then, when we finally made it to the front of the pack, it felt like we were exploding into the limitless beyond. Pure freedom. Life -the good life – is a highway! This ecstasy lasted about 2 minutes.
We’d just be flying along, feeling like we were finally making good time, when we’d see it. The small orange sign saying ‘Construction ahead.’ Dammit! Now there would always be a fleeting moment of hope that someone forgot to pick up the sign when they were all done. Or maybe they were all on a lunch break and we’d just have to slow down a bit. But then he (or she) would inevitably appear in the distance – the dreaded orange vested-wearing flag person, slouched over like the Grimm Reaper, always with their damned sign turned to stop, never slow.
Sometimes we’d wait 2 minutes, more often 5, occasionally 15 agonizing minutes before getting the ‘go ahead’ and wholly unapologetic turn of the sign to slow.
Hey, we fully understand that northern Ontario roads require routine summer maintenance. And we also acknowledge government efforts at stimulating the economy through infrastructure spending. But come on! Why does Highway 17 require fixing every 10 frigging miles? (again, slightly exaggerated but not by much).
So Tom, if ‘Life is a Highway,’ Highway 17 most definitely represents the lousy parts of life, like suddenly discovering you’re deep in debt, getting a bad diagnosis from a prostrate exam and/or dropping your keys down the outhouse toilet.
Epilogue: we crossed from Sault Ste Marie into Michigan as a shortcut down to see friends in SW Ontario. Goodbye, Hwy 17, hello Interstate 75! Suddenly (and metaphorically) we won the lottery, the prostate was fine and it was an old toothbrush, not keys, that went down the toilet…