The Long Way Across

The Long Way Across

The book has the Coles notes of this 'adventure' - this is the longer tale.

My Father-in-Law offered up his Jeep TJ. He took it to the dealer to be checked over, fitted it with new tires, signed it over to me and threw me the keys. I bought a GPS that attached to the dashboard. I kitted the cat's carrier out with blankets. I wrote my In-Laws a letter, thanking them for their kindness while I fell apart in their upstairs bedroom. I hugged the crap out of my daughter Katie, who as often as possible had been by my side for those two months. Quietly making sure I was ok. 

When the day finally arrived to leave, I loaded my suitcases, cat and Thomas Keller cookbook into the jeep. Driving from Halifax to Vancouver in December was not the decision of a rational human. The Jeep turned out to be so loud at highway speed that I couldn’t hear the self-help audiobooks I had loaded onto my iPad. Was the cat upset with our journey? I don’t know, I couldn’t hear her either. She was a huge pain in the ass to track down to put in the carrier every morning so I don’t think she loved the idea. The GPS’s suction cup was no match for the vibration and lived on the floor beside the stick shift. I stayed in motels on the outskirts along the way, eating mostly chips and salsa from gas stations once I stopped for the night. I don’t like fast food and couldn’t bring myself to eat it even if it was the only other choice available. I couldn’t eat while driving anyway, because that would have meant I had to loosen the death grip I had on the steering wheel. 

I literally started out lost. I took a wrong turn driving from my in-laws to the highway. I couldn’t get out of my province without getting lost and I was driving across Canada on my own, a journey which I had calculated should take seven days. New Brunswick was uneventful, but I’m pretty sure that was because I went through the entire seven stages of grief that first few hours. Clearly being left to my own thoughts without the distraction of books or music was going to be a challenge. I also didn’t have more than $200 in my bank account, which caused a decent amount of anxiety. The transfer, I was assured, was coming. 

I crossed the border from New Brunswick to Quebec. This is where the moose crossing highway signs began. Not once did I see a moose, or any other animal for that matter, but the threat was enough to keep me on my toes. My goal was to drive straight across Canada, dawn to dusk daily, avoiding large nocturnal animals. I had booked a motel just outside Montreal, not wanting to get lost in the city. I arrived at my first glamorous accommodation at around 7 that night. There was a beer opener fixed to the bathroom vanity. I hauled my suitcase and the cat carrier in and then walked over to the gas station which shared the motel parking lot. Inserted my bank card into the stand alone bank machine and closed my eyes with relief when I saw the balance. Bought my gas station dinner and fell into a coma after eating the chips and salsa. It had been a long and stressful day.

The next morning, it was snowing a bit, nothing serious but I had rather hoped that the drive would be snow free. In Canada, in December. At heart I’m an optimist. I planned my routes by entering things into MapQuest like, ‘what city is 8 hours from Montreal.’ I would find out what that was, then look up motels in the area and book a motel room, enter the motels address into the GPS and head out. Each night I had to send a Facebook group message to assure folks I was still alive, hadn’t been murdered, kidnapped or hit a moose and landed in a ditch. When I had agreed to do this before leaving Nova Scotia, it seemed silly. Until I hit the road and pulled up at some of these places, probably should let people know where I was. 

The next stop was Wawa, where the legendary White Fang motel is located. It may not be legendary. But a motel named after a Jack London novel should be, so I deemed it so. I tried ordering take out from the menu in my room, I was so hungry but it was terrible and I just fell asleep. I was, at this point in my life, a complete food snob and it did not serve me well on my journey. I only drank black coffee and ate gas station chips and peanuts until I got to Alberta. 

On to Kenora the next morning, I would like to state here that Ontario is too big, unnecessarily big, it’s 1.5 times bigger than Texas and I think that’s aggressive. It was snowing properly that morning. I was not happy. My hands had started to ache from holding the steering wheel so tightly. I stayed in a Super 8 that night that was brand new and felt swanky as hell. I was finally released from the death grip of Ontario the following day. Only to be met by a new challenge. 

The Prairies and their damn crosswinds. I spent the whole day fighting to keep the steering wheel right, trying not to get blown over the US border. I stopped for the night just before entering Alberta, and stayed in an Econo Lodge, it was not fancy. But it was better than the place I had booked online that morning, which had a real “this place will be on a serial killer podcast someday” vibe. After settling in, the cat jumped up onto the armoire that housed the TV and wouldn’t come down. She was over this bullshit. It took me 45 minutes and a cheap motel chair to collect her for our drive the next morning.

Only two more days to go before I was in Vancouver. Today I was going to begin winding my way through the Rockies. The night would be spent in Revelstoke. The drive through Calgary was quite icy and I didn’t have a nice time of it. As mentioned, the jeep was not the best vehicle for this trip, and it periodically liked to remind me. 

As I drove through the entrance of Banff National Park I was pretty excited. It was really the first time I had paid attention to my surroundings. I had been too busy feeling sorry for myself to notice I was doing something pretty cool. This feeling was unfortunately short-lived and replaced with a true and tangible fear that I was going to die, at any moment, in a violent car crash. The roads leading up to the mountains were nice, it had snowed, but they had been plowed. But as I started up a mountain, I was assaulted with signage about chains on tires and treacherous conditions and almost certain death. Up the mountain was bad. The road was coated with thick ice, with not a trace of sand or salt. 

I told the cat she would be fine. I felt like that was the right thing to do before entering a situation that was surely not going to be fine. On the way down I sincerely asked Jesus to take the wheel. I actually think I was singing that while crying as big rigs went whizzing past me. The draft they produced causing me to veer off the tiny tire tracks I was so desperately trying to remain inside. I took most of the descent in neutral, foot gingerly applying brakes. As I neared the bottom of the mountain, approaching a picturesque river and evergreen postcard, I allowed my hands to release ever so slightly, to see if they could still function. I pulled into a gas station to get coffee, gas and courage reloaded. I sat for a moment, trying to regain composure. 

I walked into the station and spoke with the nice lady behind the counter. I said, “That was quite a trip, glad it’s over!” 

She laughed in agreement, said, “Yes, they’re quite a challenge, those mountains,” then brightly added, “only one more to go before you’re in Revelstoke.” 

I began crying before I had a chance to make a run for it. I thought that was it, that I was done, I had crossed the mountains. As I gassed up the Jeep I sobbed. I cursed my ex-husband. I talked to Jesus again. I apologized to my kids. I apologized to the cat. 

Then I did what I always do. I got in the jeep, turned on the ignition. I thought to myself, it’s better than having a heart attack over a tv tray watching Wheel of Fortune. If you’re going to die, flying off the side of a mountain in the middle of the Rockies is a pretty spectacular way to go. 

I cried again when I finally arrived in Revelstoke. I checked in to a hotel that wasn’t horrible, went down to the hotel bar and ordered wine. I would not be broken by this or anything else. The next day, as I drove through Chillawak, singing “My Girl,” of course, I realized I had done something brave and stupid and I allowed myself to feel a bit proud of it. I finally pulled into the parking garage of my new home, an apartment that my son and his girlfriend had found for me. I did not get back in that Jeep for at least 2 months. 

Sorry for the photo quality of Audrey, phone cameras have come a long way since 2013. 

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