To read part one of Life on the Road, click here.
When my brother learned of my plans to spend 10 months on the road with Beautiful Unique Girl, one of his first reactions was this: “I would never get in a van with four girls.” If you have sisters you can understand where he’s coming from. If you don’t, four girls in a van might sound like paradise to you, but believe me, we’re not all “sugar and spice and everything nice.”
Especially when you have to wake up at 3:30am to drive 7 hours to the next venue, often making the decision between sleep and shower (sleep always wins – personal hygiene goes down a couple notches on the list of priorities). If you’re in a rural area and there’s no opportunity to start the morning with a steaming cup of coffee from Tim Hortons, this can be very disheartening. If there’s absolutely no Tim Hortons on the entire route, this can cause a chemical imbalance. If you simply had a late start and thus time constraints eliminate any possibility of stopping at a Tim Hortons, this can cause all-out rage (manifested of course, in passive aggression).
There are annoyances that you have to choose to let go of (because most times you are the originator of the ill-feelings) and then there are those genuinely stressful situations where your reactions determine how the circumstances are going to play out. Without further ado, here is Life on the Road: Part Deux.
What do you get when you’re driving through northern Ontario with lots of snow and only two winter tires in a 15-passenger van and trailer? An opportunity to be “one with the ditch.”
As we learned during our driver training session at the beginning of the year, “If you’re losing control and you’re headed into a ditch, don’t try to stop it. Embrace the ditch.”
We were driving to Red Lake where we would stay for a night before taking the ice roads to an Aboriginal reserve called Pikangikum. I’m sleeping in the back of the van when one of the girls wakes me up to switch drivers (we took 2 hour driving shifts). I’m awake long enough experience what feels like the pull of gravity sucking us into a ditch. When the van finally settles to a stop we’re silent for about five whole seconds until we burst into laughter.
“No one told me about the soft shoulders!” cries Jenn, our fearless ditch-driver.
We tumble out of the van to assess the situation and Linnea’s first instinct is to get right to work on digging us out of this ditch. She grabs our only useful tool – a mini shovel – to try to remove snow that is well above our knees.
I dig out my camera and begin to film Linnea’s idealistic absurdity and then interview the girls about our mishap. Of course my first instinct is to capture this hilarious moment on video. (Unfortunately I lost the footage when I lost my computer, otherwise I would indulge you).
I call our billets, who graciously drive out to the scene only to shake their heads in defeat, “There’s nothing we can do. You’re going to need a tow truck for this one.” Two hours later we’re back on the road to Red Lake, but not without blocking off the one and only highway into town for a good 90 minutes.
It would be nice if that was the end of our mishap, but it wasn’t. The next morning just as we’re pulling out of the parking lot to drive to Pikangikum, we get stuck in a snow bank. CAA says they’re going to be at least 90 minutes, but we just can’t wait that long. It’s the good Samaritans of the community – the ones who comment, “Oh, you’re the girls who blocked off the highway last night!” – that help us to completely empty and unhitch our trailer and pull the van out of the snow bank. Thank you!
Our team had this thing with borders. We were driving through southern Saskatchewan on another wintry day, and because our van had issues slowing down and coming to a stop, we missed our turn (we missed many turns for this reason). As we’re driving along looking for a place to turn around, we see a sign telling us that the border for Montana is in 3km.
Our only option was to pull into a driveway, but the backing out thing wasn’t going so well so Jenn just decided to drive the length of the driveway. This is a rural area, so the driveway is very long and at the end of it there’s a farmhouse, a barn, and a silo. “I’ll just turn around on their property,” says Jenn. But alas, we are stuck again! Then we see a man exiting his house. He walks over to the van and Jenn rolls down the window, “My wife’s wondering what you’re doing on our property,” he asks.
“Uhh, see, we were on our way to Montana, but we didn’t want to go there. I tried to turn around in your driveway but that didn’t work. And now we’re stuck. I’m sorry.”
“Do you want me to try to turn it around for you?” he asks.
“That would be great!” says Jenn. She opens the door and her can of hairspray – which she kept beside the driver’s seat in case of a hair emergency – rolls onto the ground.
“Here you go, miss,” says the man, as he picks up the hairspray and passes it back to Jenn.
I was feeling pretty good about myself. My “bad driver” moments were few and far between. There’s no chain on this girl! But you know what they say about pride – it goes before the fall.
We were driving through northern British Columbia when we came to some traffic lights along the highway. I didn’t notice that it was red until it was too late. “Ah well,” I said. “It’s not like we’ve never gone through a red light before!”
“Actually,” says Elliott, “this is a traffic light for a construction zone…”
I look straight ahead and I see a line of cars and trucks that are going to be head-on with our van and trailer the moment their light turns green.
“Shoot!” I look to the right and there’s a lane that’s blocked off by tall pylons. “I’m going to have to pull into that lane, even if I take out some pylons in the process.”
But then Linnea pipes up, “I think you’re just going to have to back up,” she says.
“Back up!?” I start to question my original decision, and since no one is affirming either suggestion I decided to try the back up. Bad idea. Backing up straight in a van and trailer is HARD. And since I’m a little bit panicked at the thought of the oncoming traffic, I’m not doing a very good job. Our trailer is practically at a right angle and I fear I’m going to jackknife.
“This is useless! I’m just going to pull onto the shoulder.” And I begin to do so, but then I hear my teammates in the back yelling “SOFT SHOULDER!” We had this experience before: the soft shoulders in Red Lake that propelled us into a snowy ditch. But there wasn’t any snowy ditch on the other side of the shoulder. There was a ravine.
I go back to square one and decide to pull into the blocked lane, and after all that I don’t think I hit even one pylon. I hang my head as cars and trucks pass by, mouthing “Sorry” as they shake their heads and wag their fingers at me.
But it’s done, and we’re safe. When the light turns green I pull out on to the road and joke, “At least there were no construction workers! That would have been double the fines!”
“THAT” says Jenn, still a little shaken up from the whole ‘almost-plunging-into-a-ravine’ thing, “was a CRISIS SITUATION.”
I try to let it go, but those two words reverberate in my mind for the remainder of my driving shift and even into the next day. “CRISIS. SITUATION. CRISIS. SITUATION. CRISIS. SITUATION.”
The thing is, once you’re wearing the “bad driver” chain, it’s really hard to take it off. So it wasn’t that surprising when just a week later on our drive back to Winnipeg I made a left hand turn in Calgary and ended up in the wrong lane. I tried to act nonchalant so that my teammates wouldn’t notice, but they did. I drove into a car dealership lot to turn around but ended up in a maze of cars with no room to maneuver. Stuck again.
It was a hard day.
Thankfully, I don’t wear that chain anymore. Thankfully, my friends forgive me for putting their lives in danger. Thankfully, when I look back these are all very funny memories and stories that I love to tell.
This installment of Life on the Road has been inspired by Jenn. We decided to end our phone date last with a funny memory. And driving stories are some of the funniest!