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April 12, 2018

Zack Evans mapped out his future in Regina

The longest road trip of the year is in the rear-view mirror for Zack Evans.

The 27-year-old Regina product, who signed as a free agent with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders on Feb. 13, is settling back into life in his hometown these days after spending four days driving from Ottawa to the Queen City.

Evans has made the long drive before — including once through the United States — but this is just the second time that he has let his family, friends and fans follow along at home via social media.

Before each driving day began, Evans tweeted a Google Maps image of his route.

“I did it on the way (to Ottawa in 2016) and I got such a reaction from people saying, ‘I’ve never seen this before. This is amazing,’ ” the veteran defensive tackle says. “A lot of people haven’t driven across Canada, so I thought I’d share it. It was kind of cool.”

Evans began his CFL career with the Roughriders in 2012 and won a Grey Cup with them in 2013. After that season, he was left unprotected in the expansion draft that was held to stock the Ottawa Redblacks — and the new team surprised many by selecting the former Regina Thunder star.

In May of 2014, Evans and his wife Jenna piled into their vehicle and started east, but opted to travel through the U.S. That trip featured a number of stops, since Jenna then was pregnant with the couple’s first child.

“At that point in the pregnancy, they were worried about blood clots happening if she sat for too long,” Evans recalls. “So every hour, we pulled over, ran around the truck 10 times and then kept going.”

Son Zander joined the Evans family in December of that year.

Zack’s subsequent trips back and forth to Ottawa were by plane until the spring of 2016, when he and Jenna sold their house in Regina. Zack loaded up a trailer with all of the family’s belongings and hit the road that May, showing everyone where he was along the route via maps and pictures.

“I was like, ‘I don’t really know how to use Instagram at this point, but let’s try it out. And let’s try out Twitter,’ ” he  says with a chuckle. “I had never really put my life out on social media until that trip and I was like, ‘Hey, everyone, I’m here. Now I’m going here.’ ”

All the while, Evans was getting an eyeful of his own. He had never driven that far east on the Trans-Canada Highway, so he was experiencing the country in a new way.

“In Saskatchewan, it’s flat forever; it’s flat until you go past Winnipeg,” he says. “When you start going through the (Canadian) Shield, that’s when everything starts getting cool. The road starts getting windy, you start seeing cliffs, you start seeing all of these lakes and you’re like, ‘Where did this come from? This doesn’t look like Canada. This doesn’t look like the Prairies.’

“Everything is cut into the rock face. You can appreciate the amount of work that was done. I don’t know who built it, but whoever did was amazing. It must have taken decades to do it. To know how much work was put into it, you actually feel a sort of pride.”

Evans stopped to take pictures along the way and tweeted them out, including a shot of the Terry Fox Monument in Thunder Bay and another of a sunset over Lake Superior.

The Evanses lived in Ottawa throughout 2016 and ’17. After Zack hit free agency in February of this year, the Roughriders were the first team to make an offer — and he decided to take the plunge.

“Going into free agency, I had no idea what was going on,” Evans says. “I’d heard rumours, but you never know until it actually happens. Everyone can promise you the sun, the moon and the stars, but until that day (of free agency) starts, you have no idea.

“When Saskatchewan called and said, ‘Hey, we want you,’ I was like, ‘Wow! OK, cool.’ I talked to my wife and my agent (Paul Brown) and everything just fit into place. It was perfect.”

With that decision came the need for another cross-country drive, but the notion of having an active three-year-old boy and his dog, Ranger, cooped up in a truck for four days didn’t appeal. So Evans sent Jenna, Zander and Ranger ahead on an airplane.

Zack then repacked the trailer, gassed up his Ford F-150 and hit the road — but not before tweeting his itinerary.

He drove 750 kilometres from Ottawa to Cochrane, Ont., on Day 1. Day 2 was a 733-kilometre leg from Cochrane to Thunder Bay. Day 3 covered 693 kilometres from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg. And Day 4 was a 558-kilometre stretch from Winnipeg to Regina.

He drove between eight and 10 hours each day, passing the time by listening to audiobooks, the radio and his own music selections. He estimates he went through his playlist “hundreds of times.”

“My playlist was only an hour and a half long, so I was like, ‘Repeat. Repeat. Repeat,’ ” he says with a chuckle. “It has all my favourite songs, so I was jamming out and snacking and trying to stay awake.

“I had the window down a little bit to get the cool breeze in my face. But it was good. I liked it.”

Since arriving in Regina on March 29, Evans has faced an adjustment period.

The Roughriders have moved out of historic Mosaic Stadium — where Evans played his high school and junior football as well as his first two seasons with the Roughriders — into a new building that he calls “everything you want in a professional football facility.”

But the stadium isn’t the only thing that’s different. Regina itself has changed since Evans went east in May of 2016.

“I didn’t even recognize it,” he says of the city. “I’m living in a new development and I had no idea before that it was even there. Then I drive past Evraz and I see this huge development with a hotel (at Pasqua Street and Diefenbaker Drive) and I’m like, ‘Where did all of this come from? I’ve only been gone for two years!’

“It’s nice to see Regina growing. It has been small for a long time, but it’s not small anymore.”