In mid-September, on one of the precious last few days of summer, Dani Roche buckled her chow chow Suki in the back seat of the new Lincoln Corsair and set out on a revitalizing road trip through Niagara.
Taking a day off doesn’t come naturally to the 28-year-old entrepreneur. In truth, since Dani started her first company at 16, she hasn’t taken much of a break.
The artist, strategist, and creative director behind the branding agency Kastor & Pollux has worked hard to establish her business and make a name for herself in a competitive industry. But like her trademark pink Miu Miu glasses, that 30-under-30 glow comes at a price.
“In my early twenties, a lot of my friends spent time travelling, going on vacations, just relaxing. I feel like that’s one thing I really missed growing up. I used this excuse that I was too busy, or I was too scared to step away from my work,” she muses. “Travel is important because it’s something that is still kind of new to me, in a way.”
Now, for the first time in her adult life, Dani is starting to travel for pleasure. Since the pandemic hit in spring, she’s been using the forced downtime to reflect and replenish her creative energies. Seizing opportunities to escape the city and explore new places within driving distance has been key to this reset. With this in mind, Dani and Suki hit the road in comfort and style, and shared their rewarding journey with Refinery29.
“It’s very meditative. Moving out of the city immediately changes your perspective. It gives you peace and quiet in a new headspace. It’s different from the quiet of being at home, which can feel monotonous and suffocating,” she explains.
An hour outside Toronto along the Niagara Escarpment, Shorthills Provincial Park is a serene network of hiking and walking trails winding through an old river valley. “People have this idea of me as a city girl,” Dani laughs, but doesn’t dispute it. She grew up in Scarborough; her parents didn’t have a cottage. Hiking wasn’t really a thing. But having Suki and the freedom of her own wheels is changing that.
“When you get a dog, your life just kind of revolves around new experiences you can have with your dog, thinking about what your dog would like. It’s not like ‘Oh, I, Dani, feel like going on a hike,’ it’s like, ‘Oh, Suki would really like that! And I would, too.’ It’s something that I feel very appreciative of now.”
Coffee is a requisite second stop after a crisp morning walk in the woods. Fifteen minutes down the road, the town of Jordan is home to a sweet little coffee shop and bakery called De La Terre Bakery where Dani and Suki stop for a cappuccino and a croissant. Before moving onto the next stop of her journey, she enjoys some downtime in her vehicle to enjoy a seat-massage and her favourite tunes on the audio system.
“When I’m on road trips, I like to make pit stops. I like to read articles or research about where I’m going. Small cities, small towns, rural locations... just stopping to look at things and walk around,” she says, recalling the long drives she’s taken over the past six months. “Outside of the city, I feel like everyone is kind of at a slower pace. A lot happier, a lot friendlier.”
Wandering around Jordan, Dani scopes out the local shops. She has a keen eye for second-hand finds, and takes her time sifting through antique furniture at Refabulous vintage store.
“My interest in antiques and vintage started with clothing, and then progressed to furniture. I love a good find, and I love the hunt. Sometimes the best things can be found in the places you’re least expecting them. If you’re taking a road trip, it’s always worth checking out the local spots, even if you don’t walk away with something.”
Heading out of town with coffee and an antique side table in tow, Dani and Suki head to the countryside, following quiet sideroads through sprawling vineyards and orchards. Their next stop is a walk around at Southbrook Organic Vineyard. The biodynamic winery produces some of the most stand-out natural wines and ciders in Ontario, and draws daytrippers from the city to explore the estate’s grounds.
“I would definitely go back for a wine tasting. And Suki got to meet some chickens! There’s no pictures of that, but it did happen...”
Love it or hate it, no road trip to the area is complete without at least a glimpse of Niagara Falls. Cruising past the popular tourist rest stops, Dani finds a secluded spot to pull over and check out the view. It’s a quiet afternoon; a few visitors wander around the misty plaza. Dani has been here before, but somehow the sight of the Falls and their sheer natural power is still surprisingly moving, almost unexpected, ringed by the popular promenades and bright lights of Clifton Hill.
“The Falls are really beautiful and striking. It’s pretty miraculous that they exist. I think with a lot of these places, especially locals feel like, ‘Ha, ha, that’s so corny, to go somewhere that is so touristy.’ But I actually love that stuff,” she admits.
Back on the road, Dani and Suki leave Niagara Falls and its colourful hotels in the rearview mirror. Their last detour takes them to the historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s quaint, it’s charming—it looks uncannily like Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow. In essence, it’s the perfect place to cosplay and snap a few photos on an afternoon stroll. After satisfying their curiosity poking around the fairytale village, it’s back to real life. Recharged after her day, Dani heads onto the highway homeward bound.
“Maybe road trips seem appealing to me because I feel like I have more control,” Dani reflects, once she’s comfortably back in the city. “Because I can control where I’m going, how long I’m going for. I’m the one driving the vehicle. I’m the one choosing what stops I want to make. I can go home whenever I want to.”
“Or I can stay!” she adds. “I can extend my trip, if I want.” For a highly-driven entrepreneur, that kind of thinking sounds like growth.