He-Who arrived home at 2:00 am Sunday morning, which I like to call “very late Saturday night”. He flew down to Florida last week for some R & R and to join a buddy on the drive back to Ontario. Unfortunately for them they had some car problems and ended up abandoning their vehicle in Chattanooga Tennessee, renting a car and then completing their journey. There had been several phone calls marking their progress (in vivid detail) while still trying to continue the drive in the vehicle eventually left behind. As I listened, I was reminded of an adventureous road trip my sister Pat and I had years ago.
This is not a tale of some wild “bucket list” adventure, but of a simple road trip gone wrong, long before we were all tethered together via cell phone, computers and GPS. Pat was moving from Barrie, Ontario to Calgary, Alberta. Her husband and a lot of their belongings were already there and she was driving their car and the remainder of their belongings to finish the move. We started in Niagara Falls (where I lived at the time) on a beautiful, late August morning and after a couple of time-consuming side trips (Toronto) we arrived in Barrie at the storage unit holding her worldly goods. Our first challenge was staring us in the face. How do we get enough stuff that would fill a half-ton truck to fit into an already overloaded 1985 Mercury Lynx- something like this one.
For awhile it looked like I would be getting bungie corded to the roof along with various pieces of furniture. Instead, I promised not to complain as I was folded into the tiny space left in the front seat. I quickly lost all feeling my lower extremities. As we passed through Sudbury (home of the big Nickel) I had my eye on the gas gauge praying for a pit stop. Unfortunately for my legs and bladder, Pat went on to Whitefish (don’t ask I have no idea). When we got back on the road it started to rain. A lot. The tapedeck (yes, I said tapedeck) got a serious case of the munchies and started eating our tapes which meant we might be forced to sing to amuse ourselves. My attempts at resurrecting the tape deck proved to be temporary fixes at best and dash damaging at worst. As we passed through Sault Ste Marie around 9:00 pm, the car stalled out in 4th gear. We started it up again and pressed on through vast areas of nothing to the next sign of civilization. Around 10:30 we were witness to a spectacular display of Northern Lights. After many hills and many more “Moose Crossings” we arrived in Wawa (home of the giant goose). It was 1:00 am.
We got on the road again, still in the pouring rain, only to have the car misbehave in White River (birth place of “Winnie” of The Pooh). Fortunately, they had a “24 hour mechanic on duty”. Unfortunately, he had gone to lunch and would be back in an hour. I ask you, does that not make him a 23 hour mechanic? Upon his return he diagnosed our car to be terminal and said there was nothing he could do. We decided to take our chances for now (famous last words). Somehow we survived “Hell on Highway 17”. All we had to do was follow the trail of mufflers on the road. We were told we would hit “a little construction”. I consider actual mine-sized holes quite a bit of construction! We reached Thunder Bay and the car simply could go no further. We literally rolled down a hill into a hotel parking lot. Needless to say, beverages were needed this night!
After waking up and finding I had been eaten alive by bedbugs, a plan was formulated. The first thing we did was move to a new hotel for the 18 – 20 hour wait while my brother-in-law drove in from Calgary. A trip to the mall helped kill some time but not quite as much time as it took for me to get out of the cab upon our return. The door in the back was broken and somehow triggered the locking system. I was trapped in the back seat for quite a while. After calming down, we went for dinner, where I found a hair in my soup and I was served a hoagie without the steak. I gave up and went back to my room to put ointment on my bites.
Pat’s husband finally arrived to rescue us, a half-hour after the rental place for towing things closed, so we spent another night in Thunder Bay. Now remember that part about no GPS or google maps? We got lost trying to find the U-Haul place! Wonder of wonders we finally made it out of Ontario and into “Friendly” Manitoba, my brother-in-law towing the car with his pickup. Only two more provinces to go. Sixty miles east of Winnipeg, smoke started billowing from the truck. The transmission was pooched. One of our delightful RCMPs came to our rescue and arranged for a tow truck. He was laughing the whole time as he watched the tow truck towing the pickup truck towing the car to the nearest service station. Hadishville, Manitoba (at the time) consisted of the Parkview Inn (four rooms)/Restaurant/Bar and a service station and we were stuck there until the parts could come from Winnipeg to fix the truck – Monday morning. We had the run of the place for the weekend. The restaurant was closed on Sunday so the owners lent us their vehicle for the day to drive into Winnipeg (home of the author of Winnie The Pooh). By Monday morning we were clearing tables, doing dishes and peeling potatoes to keep ourselves amused. We were back on the road by 5:30 pm with me driving. An hour later there was a big clumping noise. We pulled onto the shoulder but found no problem. After another hour on the road people were waving at us as they passed, mouthing something. I finally made out the word “smoke” and stopped again. It appeared to be the muffler. Back on the road. As the sky darkened and the sun sank, we realized the headlights weren’t working. Off we went again to a service station to replace a fuse. The lights went off again before we left the parking lot. It appeared to be a short. When we reached Brandon (hometown of Amanda Stott, Pat’s hubby did a “MacGyver” with a paper clip. Voila, we had lights … until they started to flicker. Then the fuse board flashed! We were staying put for the night. Did I mention the freak snow storm that had enveloped us? As it turned out, they closed the highway because visibility was so bad, with or without headlights.
The next morning we rose with the sun. The rest of the trip had to be made in daylight. We made it through Saskatchewan without incident and limped into Calgary, white-knuckled and holding our breath. The “Road Trip from Hell” had ended. I was quite content walking around Calgary for days until boarding a plane for my return journey.
I love my sister and missed her a lot. I was really happy when years later she came back to Ontario. And even happier she didn’t ask me to join her on the road trip back.