The thing about adventures is that we don’t just get to have the fun part. Any time we exit our comfort zone, that little rut between where we live and where we otherwise occupy ourselves with the necessities of life, random shit can happen.
To be honest, random shit happens when we’re on autopilot too. But a little more of it happens when we’re putting ourselves out there, and help is harder to get.
Mike and I talked about taking a cruise, or a train ride through British Columbia and Alaska. Something less intense than personally driving 4,000 miles and camping part of that time, all in unknown and potentially rugged places. But we’re just not ready for something that canned, that crammed with other people’s schedules and someone else’s idea of what’s a worthy sight, experience or activity. We’re rebels that way. We want to decide ourselves, the hard way.
But let me back up and say the day started out well.
I slept like a log under the heavy comforter of the brothel bedroom in hamsterlike bliss under a mountain of heavy down. I woke up around seven, having adapted to the ridiculous amount of daylight by wearing a sleep mask, took a look at the chill rain coming down on the muddy street of Barkerville outside the window, checked my email in bed, and pulled my sleep mask back down for another hour of sleep. Mike was long gone, as usual, looking for wildlife to photograph in the wet dawn.
He woke me up on his return and we went down to the dining room for a delicious personally-made breakfast with our fellow guests. I had my own silver pot of tea, and a delicious homemade granola as we visited with the other guests. I’d given our hostess a bookmark the night before, and this morning she told me she’d read my books. “Love mysteries. Found you on Bookbub.” That was amazing, and I handed out a few more bookmarks to other guests who overheard and asked. After checking out and hauling our luggage back to the car, we pep-stepped around the whole town and into the forest above, where I was enchanted by star-like dogwood blossoms punctuated by whisks of Queen Anne’s lace, setting off the tatting of new ferns.
It was fully eleven a.m. by the time we got on the road toward Tyhee Lake Provincial Park, supposedly a good fishing lake and at least six hours away if all went well—and it didn’t go well. Outside of Quesnel (notable for a truly epic sawmill, never seen so many logs in my life!) the van developed a wobble at around 70 miles an hour. This was a speed the highway, with its mud-spattered, impatient Ford F-150’s and trucks loaded with perilous logs, demanded.
I was driving, and commented on the shimmy. We pulled over. Mike went around, checking the tires but couldn’t see anything. A few more miles later, we pulled over a second time. The problem wasn’t going away, and now nightmare scenarios filled our minds. We called the rent-a-car company and discovered that they had no further satellite offices outside of the US, and though the sister company they partnered with had an office in upcoming metropolis St. George, it was going to be closed until Monday. Today was Saturday, so that wasn’t good news.
We ran through various scenarios: we could wait until Monday and change out the car, then drive like heck to get to Prince Rupert in time for the ferry, forfeiting the prepaid cabin and campground we’d planned on. Or, we could drive on to Prince Rupert, hoping the suspension would hold, and hope to get another car there. We could abandon the car in Prince Rupert and take the ferry to Alaska without a car—after all our plans there didn’t call for one especially. Then we could come back to Prince Rupert and rent another car for the drive back to Seattle through B.C.
“Let’s just try to get it fixed here, first,” Mike said, but neither of us felt optimistic. We limped into St. George, a modern sprawl on the fat artery of the Fraser River, and without internet finding something open seemed iffy. I reflected for the hundredth time on how different our lives are in the States, with that data service available anytime we had a question. Now we felt rendered blind, fumbling and feeling our way across all these new challenges.
That’s when the prayer we’d stopped off for in the Anglican chapel in the center of Barkersville paid off. In a series of tiny miracles, we were able to get the van into a tire place, where the alignment was adjusted while we ate lunch (Japanese, and very good) and we got on the road again, the van running like silk and tempers relatively unruffled.
Once again, the Canadians impressed us, from the attendant at the Enterprise rental place who had no obligation to help but found a mechanic open and made us an appointment, to the hardworking team that put our van up on the hoist and surrounded it like a pit crew, even taking the van out onto the freeway afterward to drive it at 70 to test if it was fixed, to the counter attendants who helped us find the road out of town.
“We solved the problem without internet and we didn’t even fight! We must be growing up or something,” Mike said. I'm proud of us, too.
I do foresee a day when we’re too old to deal with all the random occurrences of freeform road tripping. But for now, we’ll carry on and hope for the best, remembering our days are all God’s anyway.
We drove on for another six hours, past velvety fields of hay and alfalfa, past groves of shimmering quaking aspen, beyond acres and miles of pines of various kinds. Past farms with cattle and rusting tractors, past mountains of logs and hillocks of two-by-fours, and train cars loaded with golden mounds of wood chips, breathing the sweet pungent scent that is newly-cut wood, the smell of tree death.
We drove through rain, and sun, and rainy sun, and overhead the sky played out high drama, peekaboo layers of veils and teasing glimpses of rays. We saw picturesque barns, winding streams, expansive lakes, mountains in the distance that made me gasp. And fields filled with flowers as far as the eye could see.
Tyhee Lake turned out to be false advertising, a weed-choked expanse of boat-only fishing filled with noisy families and clouds of mosquitoes. Our campsite was way too far from the water, and feeling a pang for the twenty-seven dollars we’d spent and the idea of camping that still hadn’t been worthwhile, we drove on to Smithers. This was at least stationed on a river where Mike perked up that some fish might yet be had.
To our surprise, being unaware of the popularity of the dot on the map known as Smithers, the first four motels we went to were booked. Finally we found refuge at the Fireweed Motel, surprisingly updated with blond wood furniture and white matelassé bedding—but nowhere near enough plugs for a modern couple who require at least four to accommodate his n’ hers laptops and cell phone chargers. I sit now at the Ikea desk in the dark, having unplugged the lamp in order to plug in my laptop—but the smell of the place is gloriously neutral. And there’s internet, and the car got fixed, and yes, I’m headed for another bubble bath.
Life is good.