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There are trips and there are drives. Trips are made back and forth without much fanfare. You make a “trip” to the store. Drives leave an impression. Drives are tied to an occasion or special destination. You’ll always remember the first time you drove the Pacific Coast Highway.

And then there is – “the Drive.”

This is a journey you have taken so often, and over so many years, that you not only know every signpost and road stop; you know every tree. These kinds of journeys hold your history. They tell your story in miles and memories. These are the drives you may have first taken as a kid in the back seat and then graduated to driving on your own.

The length of “the Drive” does not define it. The Drive may be ten hours, or it may be ten minutes. It might be the drive from the airport. It’s what’s at the end that separates “the Drive” from all the others. The Drive ends back where it all began and often that means a place you once called home. The Drive tells you as much about where you’ve been as where you’re going.

My “Drive” runs from Toronto to Ottawa (both ways). I was raised, for the most part, in Ottawa, with time spent in San Francisco and London, Ont. The Ottawa drive is one I’ve made more than 100 times in every season, from spring’s crisp mornings to autumn’s red-tipped sunsets, in every kind of weather, in sundry vehicles both old and new, owned and rented. At the end there have been funerals, holidays, celebrations (and sometimes all three at once).

Most folks drive to Ottawa from Toronto by taking Highway 401 to Highway 416 (which was completed in 2000) because it is supposed to be faster. I doubt that it is and even if it was, the 416 route is not for me. I make “the Drive” inherited from my family. I take the 401 east, exit onto Highway 37 and proceed through Tweed and finally turn onto Highway 7 at Actinolite. Then I drive by Kaladar, Silver Lake, Perth, Carleton Place and Kanata. Some opt to join Highway 7 from Peterborough. I prefer to exit the 401 just after Belleville as it allows for a stop at Reids’ Dairy.

This part of Highway 7 was once the most-favoured route to the “Big O” and home to thriving businesses. The 416 killed it. In fact, that stretch of Highway 7 is part of what’s been dubbed “The Lost Highway.” It’s a road lined by so many abandoned building and ghosts that it was the subject of a documentary chronicling its decline.

Any serious “Drive” has its rituals. A short one might include a pit stop at a venerable local coffee shop. Mine includes a stop for cheddar. Maple Dale Cheese has been around since 1888 and been located on Highway 37 near Plainfield for as long as I can remember. Many of my old stops are gone. The Log Cabin (opened in 1932) was famous for keeping rescued bears. It’s shuttered. When looking for creative inspiration, I would pause for a moment before the now-decrepit Tweed Playhouse, where Canadian playwright Merrill Denison mounted some of his early work. Denison’s 1921 postwar satire Brothers in Arms made him a sensation. What would Denison make of this proud theatre’s decline? He’d likely write a play about it. Immortalized in the documentary, Gibbs Gas opened in the 1930s. It sits empty. There are too many darkened motels and skeleton gas stations to mention.

Rituals and signposts. These are the pillars of “the Drive.” They brace you for your arrival and for your inevitable departure. Each one triggers a memory and these memories put you in context, something that is not always easy or welcome. When you are driving “the Drive,” raw sunlight strikes through the window and reveals your history – every chapter – not just the ones in which you play the hero.

The Drive is proportionate. In your twenties, you may have made it 30 times and that feels like a lot. In your fifties, you’re at more than 100. Finally, there is the fact that “the Drive” is never final. You know you will make it again. It’s a process. Why wouldn’t you? You’ve done it 100 times before.

Two roads diverged on the highway, and I –

I took the one I’ve taken at least 110 times,

And that has made all the difference.