As both a Yukoner and aroad dog, I take my winter-driving safety seriously. You could almost call it a bit of a religion.
Add this to the fact that I was raised by a family of survivalists and non-perishable food collectors and, well, suffice it to say that when I set out on the 2,000-kilometre drive from Vancouver to Winnipeg for a writer-in-residence gig in the early days of January, I was pretty well prepared.
My father had run down the list of emergency gear with me on the phone the day before I left.
“You got jumper cables, right? And road flares? And a tow-rope? You got a sleeping bag?”
I harrumphed a little. Of course I did. “I also have food and water, and an axe, and a power pack with an inverter for jump-starting myself, and lock de-icer, and brand new Nokian snow tires.”
He made a satisfied noise. “Well, drive safe then. Shame you bought the two-wheel drive, but it’s too late now.”
This is his way of showing his love.
I haunted The Weather Network’s website for days before I left, but I still hit some heavy snow in the mountains. I spent the first night in a motel in Revelstoke, and when I pulled back the window curtain the next morning, my truck was buried in a 30-centimetre blanket of white, and the westbound highway out of town was closed.
But I was going east, and the cop at the coffee shop told me I would be fine, as long as I took it slow and had good snow tires. And I did. Those shiny new tires just walked me right through the blizzard-blown side streets and back onto the Trans-Canada highway, eastbound.
The weather cleared up just before Calgary, and then the road widened and straightened and flattened. I turned up the stereo and sang through the rest of Alberta under a cerulean sky.
I had just finished telling my mother on the phone that it looked like smooth sailing all the way to Winnipeg when I felt a weird little wobble in one of my back tires as I changed lanes. I slowed down and saw a sign for a small village one kilometre ahead. I would pull over and take a look there. Safety first, I thought.
That is right about when I heard a thunk, and then the ear-searing sound of bare metal grinding highway, and caught a glimpse of one of my beloved new tires speeding off to my right, skimming across the snow-covered wheat field and bumping off the wire fence that ran alongside the highway.
I managed to pull over and stop, my heart pounding and my jaw open.
I called CAA and they dispatched a tow truck, which took about an hour to get there. My road flares would have been handy, but they were out of reach, tucked into a plastic tub, locked in the canopy. Big semis sped by constantly, honking long as they blasted by me, their passing wind rocking my truck and making my heart thump. I was afraid to climb out and crawl into the back of my truck, in case I got clipped from behind.
Finally the tow truck arrived. The driver was a grizzled old guy wearing lined buckskin gloves and a greasy canvas jacket. He said someone must have been looking out for me, and then I crawled over the dog and out the passenger side and fished my tire and my hubcap out of the snow bank.
He told me my snow tire had somehow not been damaged and then hooked up my truck to his. He figured I hadn’t done much damage and said that if they could get the parts on time he would stay late and get me back on the road in a couple of hours.
I told him how glad I was to meet him. “I nearly shit my pants waiting for you to get here,” I said, shaking my head.
He opened his eyes wide and looked a bit taken aback at my foul language.
I silently reminded myself to watch my swearing. I had never in my life met a tow truck driver who didn’t like to cuss, but then again, this was small-town Saskatchewan.
We climbed into the cab of his truck and he towed me into a tiny little town just outside of Moose Jaw.
I called my sweetheart, told her what had happened. Told her where I was, and that everyone was okay.
She was at work, so she Googled Caronport, Saskatchewan, for me, and her voice dropped, and she whispered that I had just been towed into a town of fewer than 1,000 souls that consisted only of a motel, a gas station and an evangelical Christian college. And, lucky for me, a tire shop. She told me to be careful, and I hung up.
The kind-eyed handsome man behind the service desk informed me that the accident had sheared off all five of my wheel studs, and I had lost my nuts, as well.
He could find me some new nuts, but he had called all over Moose Jaw, the closest city, and everyone was fresh out of studs. By this time it was Friday night, right about quitting time, and he was closed for the weekend, and so was the parts place, and he wouldn’t be able to order them until Monday, and they would arrive by Tuesday morning. Four days from now. My shoulders and my heart sunk.
The tow truck driver, who was also the mechanic, it turned out, hung up his coveralls and went home for the night.
I called the Pilgrim Inn, the only motel in town, but alas, due to a Christian basketball tournament, they were all booked up for the weekend. There was no room at the inn for me.
The owner of the tire shop grabbed a big ring of keys from the counter and turned the computer off. “Looks like you are coming home to my place for dinner. I hope you don’t mind noisy children, a messy house and leftovers.”
I tried telling him that I was fine, that I was going to stay and try to find a rental car company that could drive out here and pick me up, but he shook his head firmly.
“Can’t leave you here alone, can’t leave you out in the cold, and I cannot be late for dinner. You’re coming home with me.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
Loose End runs once a month in Xtra Vancouver. Check back next month to see how Ivan survives being stranded in Pentecostal Saskatchewan.