I was traumatized by a trip to Niagara Falls
By the end, I just wanted to go home.
It was the summer of 2016.
Once upon a time, my church's young adult ministry group took a day trip to Niagara Falls. The group was comprised of locals. The out-of-the-area college students had left for the summer.
It was a time in my life where I was stressed. I guess that's happened a lot. I was weeks away from my black belt test and under tough scrutiny from my karate instructors. As a side note, I was in great shape. But more on that later.
The group was planning to leave after church. I was on the fence about going. Some of my best friends were going, but I had work to do. My mom convinced me. She said it would be a solid way to take my mind off my stress.
There wasn't much to do at Niagara Falls. How long could we actually spend there? I figured a few hours of walking around and admiring the Falls would be the max, and this would be followed up with dinner somewhere. It seemed nice enough.
After church, the group crowded into the church van. My church's sub-culture is sometimes hard to explain. But we have the stereotypical "church van." It's one of those white vans that seats about ten people. This one was higher quality than previous vans the church had owned. I do have a lot of respect for anyone who has actually driven it. You couldn't pay me enough.
All names have been changed to protect the innocent. Dave was the leader of our group and the driver. (The church had a policy that only people over the age of 25 could drive the van). In the co-pilot position was Mia, Dave's wife. Members of the group fell into two main categories: those who planned to see the American and Canadian sides of the Falls and those who planned to stay on the American side. Except for Dave and Mia, the group was college students.
Group 1 (seeing both sides): Dave, Mia, Mark, Aaron, Cody, Tim, and me. I was eager to get more use out of my passport, having been to England a few months before.
Group 2 (American side only): Nolan, Richard, and Steve. I will note that this was Steve's first time going to Niagara Falls.
Driving to Niagara Falls was a two-and-a-half-hour endeavor. We stopped around the halfway point to meet up with Tim at a Pizza place. Tim left his car and joined us in the van. We planned to drop Tim off at his car on the way back through. The pizza was great, even if the wait time was long.
We drove on, reaching the Falls around 3:30 pm. We had left the church a little after noon.
We started exploring the American side of the Falls, occasionally losing someone who just went off to use the restroom. The stereotype that girls go to the restroom in groups and guys like to do so alone is based in some truth. And it makes it hard to keep track of a group containing eight guys.
It had been a few years since I'd visited Niagara Falls. There were pleasant foot paths and beautiful views to admire. I do recommend going there at least once, even if it's just to say you've seen it. It's worth seeing. Pictures don't do it justice.
Around 4:30 pm, it was time to split up, so those with passports could go to the Canadian side. None of our phones had international minutes, so we recognized that we would have to reestablish contact once we got back on the American side of the Falls. I felt a little bad to be leaving half our group with not much left to do. We'd already done the walking paths, and you can only look around stores for so long.
We said goodbye and took the footbridge across to the Canadian side. We made it through security without incident.
We trekked from one end of the Falls to the other, admiring the view. I hadn't been to the Canadian side before. To get a full view of the Falls, it is the best side. It was a solid walk. My step counter would be well over 10,000 steps by the end of the day. After an insisted on stop for ice cream, it was time to find a particular poutine place that Dave and Mia had been to before.
To get there, we would need to go back along the Falls the way we had come. It was crowded on the Falls walkway. I focused on not getting separated from the rest of the group, trying to stay with the flow of the crowd. People were pressing in around me on every side. But what did I expect on a weekend in a popular tourist location?
There was a low stone wall to the left of the path, the side further from the water. On this low stone wall, we saw a guy doing push-ups. Aaron decided he needed to do this too, so he may or may not have gotten separated from the rest of the group for a bit.
Poutine was the priority. It's not my thing, but apparently, it's part of experiencing the Canadian side of the Falls. (It's fries with cheese curds and gravy.) The restaurant happened to be at the top of a hill. Mark and I ran the trek. Like I said, I was in great shape. But somewhere in the mess, we missed a turn.
I felt my skin prickle. We'd ended up in a sketchy area, and I was glad it was still light out. I glanced at my phone. It was getting closer to 6:30. I thought we would have been back on the American side with the others by now. This unmet expectation left me irritated. I was hungry, and we weren't any closer to finding the poutine place. I attempted to strike up a conversation with Tim about mission trips to get my mind off this irritation.
By 7:30, we'd found it (finally), and everyone who wanted poutine got some. I tried it, but I like my fries crispy. Oddly enough, gravy and cheese curds make fries a bit soggy.
At this point, the sun was close to setting. It was still crowded, now that we'd made it back into the tourist areas. With a great deal of weaving, we made it back to the bridge. Finally, I thought. I want to go home. I was ready for this trip to be over.
That was when we discovered we needed quarters to get through the turnstile. We did not have quarters.
Great. Now I really wanted to go home.
We were back on the American side by 9:15, after making it past the quarter hassle. Good grief. The welcome center on the American side closes at 9. The members of our group that had been hanging out there were kicked out. Of. The. Welcome. Center. We all stood around the church van, deciding our game plan.
"You know," Tim said, "if we wait about another hour, it will be time for the fireworks."
NO! I thought. No, I am not staying for fireworks. I want to go home.
I managed to keep a more even tone. "I'm sorry guys," I said. "I just really want to go home. I really don't want to stay for fireworks." I knew my irritation was showing, but I didn't care. I was done. All I had wanted was a little trip to see Niagara Falls, and I'd been here four hours longer than I had already anticipated.
Everyone was understanding about my sentiment. We all piled into the church van, agreeing to stop somewhere for food for the people who hadn't gotten poutine. Dave got into the driver's seat and turned the key.
The battery had died. We'd left the lights on.
I got out of the van, exceedingly unhappy.
I think Nolan could sense this. He gave me a hug. "It's gonna be okay," he said. "You're fine."
Right. I knew that. I needed to calm down.
Okay, all we had to do was find someone who could give us a jump. We took a divide up strategy, with Mia and I going off to find a taxi driver. Apparently, taxi drivers charge $10 for a jump start. We were willing to take that option but went back to the others first.
While we'd been gone, they had found a nice couple who had agreed to give us a jump start. Guess we wouldn't need that taxi after all.
This side quest took about half an hour, and we were on the road. We agreed to stop at an Arbys. The dining room had closed a full 15 minutes early. The drive-thru was still open, and we went around the drive-thru three separate times to divide orders. Comical, but it was late, and we didn't totally think it through.
I devoured my fries and roast beef sandwich, grateful to be eating. Now we could go home. But we weren't out of the water just yet.
"Guys," Dave said, "I'm going to need to stop somewhere for coffee."
Fair enough. Don't argue with the driver. It was getting late. Dave insisted a Tim Hortons was the best option. Dave went inside to get his coffee. I'm like 90% sure there was a drug deal going on outside the Tim Hortons. That wasn't disturbing at all.
I popped in my earbuds, forcing myself to focus on the music. We were going home. The dark of night was full now, and we drove along silent roads. Those two and a half hours kept feeling longer and longer.
"Hey, Dave, don't forget, we need to stop off at my car," Tim said, about an hour into the drive.
Okay, we had all forgotten that one. Tim's car, that we left at the pizza place. It was another half-hour detour, because Dave had actually been on a different road home. Could this trip get any longer?
We got to Tim's car. Steve admitted he had drunk too much Mountain Dew and took care of business behind some tall weeds. Then we were actually almost home.
It was 1:00 am. 13 hours. Dave dropped me off at my house, since it was on the way back to the church.
I was home. I was never going on another trip with the young adult ministry! Never. That's what I told my mom, who after listening to my story, told me to take a shower and go to bed.
"Never again," I told myself adamantly. Never.
You shouldn't say never about most things. But saying it helped me stay in my little self-absorbed state of indignation. Typing it all out now, I do wonder what made me that upset. It's not like it was anyone's fault that the trip took 13 hours.
Looking back, I now realize two things:
1. I had unmet expectations. When it didn't work out the way I wanted, I became even more focused on myself, which led to more irritation and anger. The whole thing could have been more of an adventure, if I'd come in expecting the unexpected and been more flexible. This is something I continue to strive for. I can't say I'm there yet, but I am getting better.
2. This group has been notorious for crazy adventures full of the unexpected. (Remind me to tell you about the time we had to turn around in a corn field after getting lost.) And the truth is, I wouldn't have it any other way. They're my friends, who through it all have helped and supported me.
I guess the real lesson is this: Nothing bonds people together like a 13-hour day trip to Niagara Falls.
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Passionate writer that is enthusiastic about writing engaging, compelling content. Excels in breaking down complex concepts into simple terms and connecting with readers through sharing stories and personal experience.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
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