After too much wine at dinner last February just before Valentine’s Day, Magellan said to Ginger, “I’ll drive your stuff to Saskatoon.”
“Dad wasn’t serious was he?” Lynn asked on the walk home. “There’s no way,” I replied. “Driving a big rental truck through the mountains at this time of year would be ludicrous. Plus there are border issues. He’d have to drive down to Seattle first to pick up all Ginger’s stuff. I’ll talk him out of it.”
Eighteen days later Magellan was behind the wheels of a thirty-four-foot U-Haul truck attached to a sixteen-foot U-Haul trailer—a fifty-foot rig! And I was riding shotgun.
Some people are born with AVPR1, the generosity gene. Magellan’s AVPR1 overexpresses. Lucky for everyone who knows him. But this time I thought it was dangerously overactive.
Let me back up and tell you how this started. A love story.
Ginger, the daughter of our friend Gail, is someone we’ve known for forty years. While practicing medicine in Seattle, she fell in love with Terry, a chef in Saskatoon. Ginger rented her house, packed up her car and Moose, her Great Dane, moved to Saskatoon and got a job at a clinic. A few months later she and Terry bought a big, old house on Saskatoon’s Spadina Crescent. They moved in just before Christmas. Ginger’s furniture and a lot of her possessions were locked in a warehouse in Seattle.
“You must miss your stuff,” somebody (maybe me) said at that dinner in February at Gail’s place.
“It’s surprising what I miss,” Ginger began. “Like my quilting supplies. I sit and sew whenever I can, which is more days than not. I also miss not having my books, such heavy, space-occupying things, luxuries really. And I miss my dining room table.”
“And that gorgeous desk you bought in France,” I added.
“I’ve gotten a few quotes from various movers,” Ginger continued. “But they want $10,600—US! We can’t afford that so Terry and I will go down in May and rent a truck and move it back ourselves.”
That’s when Magellan made his fateful offer.
The next morning I listed the odds against going through with this. Magellan thoughtfully countered with his rationale.
“Basically, I’m going to be strategic about this. I’ll find a window in the weather. Instead of the Coquihalla, I’ll drive the Fraser Canyon and the Yellowhead so there’ll be less elevation to contend with. Ginger deserves it. Besides, she’s taken mom on as a patient.”
Before long, he and Ginger were conversing regularly on the details. Magellan determined there was a good-weather window between February 27 and March 2. Ginger booked movers in Saskatoon to come unload the truck on Saturday, March 3.
Things became more complicated when the guys who’d moved Ginger’s furniture to the Seattle warehouse told her that U-Haul’s biggest rental truck wouldn’t accommodate her stuff. A trailer to be towed behind the truck was added to the rental. “Don’t you need a commercial license to drive a rig this size?” I asked. “No, but it’s the largest truck you can rent without one,” Magellan confessed. More fodder for my worries, which of course I kept hidden from Ginger who was busy sorting out all the US/Canadian customs’ requirements, working crazy hours at the clinic, experiencing one of Saskatoon’s worst prairie winters and adjusting to a new life in a quite-empty home with Terry and his daughter Alida.
On February 27 Magellan picked up the rig in Vancouver and drove down to Seattle. Later that night, he parked it in the Museum of Vancouver’s lot, a few blocks from our place. Honestly, I was shocked when I saw the length of it. And more anxious when I saw that the truck had “Georgia” written on its panel, Arizona plates and balding, mismatched tires. I hoped Magellan wouldn’t have to use the tire-chains he’d bought.
Too late now.
“You can’t do this alone,” I said to Magellan. “There’s no way I’ll help you drive that monster but I’ll go with you.”
Early Thursday morning we added a sofa from our house to the collection in the rig and hoisted ourselves into the cab. Along with tire chains, a Garmin InReach Explorer+ so Ginger, Gail, Lynn and Magellan’s mom could track our progress, a medical kit and suitcases crammed with parkas, long underwear, heavy socks and toques. I’d made six roast-beef sandwiches, bagged fresh veggies and fruit, stocked canteens with water and bought treats like chocolate and spiced peanuts. Nuts. Perfect description of us undertaking this, I thought.
Having not driven Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon for more than forty-five years, we were entranced. The road had been upgraded, the sky shone clear and the scenery felt new. I remembered the Fraser River and its tight canyons but I’d forgotten the many Cascade Mountain tunnels, pastoral farms, small communities like Yale, Spuzzum and Boston Bar, and the comforting sight of railroad cars strung along a parallel track beside us. The cab had no outlets for music and no CD player, just CBC and scattered reception from other AM radio stations. This was fun!
Darkness fell near Blue River, a wilderness area renowned for its deep powder. A skiff of snow dusted the road. Traffic was light. But in front of us a small car was inching slowly. We soon discovered why. It was the trailing car for a small U-Haul truck driven in convoy by a nervous couple. We had no choice but to hang back. Even in daylight, there are few opportunities where it’s safe to pass on this mountain highway. Besides, we had limited power for passing. And our truck’s lights were not exactly illuminating; we might not see a deer leaping onto the road.
We had agreed that Valemont, six-hundred and seventy-five kilometres from Vancouver, would be our target destination the first night. Rose Cottage looked like a good place to stay but I wondered about parking. “Give me your phone number and I’ll measure my driveway and call you back,” said Dee, the owner of Rose Cottage. “It’s forty-two feet, not long enough,” she said minutes later. “But I tell you what. If you make it this far and decide to stay here, there’s a place where semis park down by the Tempo. You could park there and I’d come pick you up.” What hospitality!
Dee proved to be a great host—we returned to Rose Cottage this year—but I worried how our feeble tires would get rolling the next morning in the skating rink of ice that was the Tempo parking lot.
We’d talked of spending our second night north of Edmonton at the home of our niece Richelle and her husband Trevor. (Remember our blog about their wedding?) But a storm was brewing behind us and they live in the country on snowy, narrow roads.
“What do you say to driving all the way to Saskatoon today?” Magellan asked as we treated ourselves to a latte in Jasper.
It’s more than a thousand kilometres from Valemont to Saskatoon, and we had almost nine-hundred left to go.
Seemed sensible to me.
Were there any hiccups? We learned to be choosy when we needed a bathroom after we found ourselves at a rest stop with only one entrance/exit and Magellan had to perform a multi-point turnaround of that fifty-foot rig. We learned to be choosy when we needed gas. The station had to be on the right-hand side of the highway, have high clearance and an easy exit that didn’t require backing up.
Before midnight on Thursday, we pulled up to Magellan’s mom’s house in Saskatoon. We’d been calling Glynn, his mom, to let her know we’d be arriving a day early but she wasn’t answering her phone, which seemed unusual. His sister Colleen wasn’t answering her cell either.
“Mom’s up at the University Hospital,” his sister Diane explained when we reached her. “She’s had major breathing issues and went to see Ginger today. They’ve been up there awhile because Ginger ordered x-rays and a CAT scan to see if there’s any lung or heart damage.” To this day, here’s the most frequent phrase we hear from Glynn, who lives alone at the age of ninety-four and is now on oxygen: “Ginger saved my life.”
To spot the trailer in a back alley too narrow for the U-Haul, on Friday Magellan went to the office of a high-school friend, a renowned clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, to borrow his Suburban. He told the receptionist in a voice loud enough for the women waiting for their appointments to hear, “I’m here to see Barry about my sex-change operation!” Visual darts pierced his back as he jumped queue to see the doctor.
Winter storm warnings issued in Saskatoon, west-central Sask. areasPublished Friday, March 2, 2018 11:24AM CST
Magellan had driven that rig about 2270 kilometres at a cost to Ginger of C$2,800 not counting the price for movers to pack and unpack the U-Haul. “I put your odds at one-in-fifty of making it without an accident,” said our brother-in-law Vern, a rugged outdoorsman who well knows the roads we travelled. He and my sister Margie and their daughter Raina had their car totalled by a semi on their way to BC from Saskatoon a few years ago. “With all the bad, inexperienced drivers of semis on the highways now, your poor tires and a truck with that many miles on it, you’re really, really lucky,” Vern repeated a few days later when this was the news headline.
Biggest storm of the year blasts Prairies with 20+cm of snow
By Saturday the storm had caught up with us. Blankets of snow covered the streets of Saskatoon. Freezing air chilled the group of us as we moved in furniture and unpacked boxes. “Thank you,” Ginger said a hundred times to Magellan, along with this note to us: “Your fearless carting of a fifty-foot articulating caravan over those passes in February really was one of the most special gifts I have ever received. You made this leap of faith of mine feel backed by the community that loves me.”
Rose Cottage is a great place to stay in Valemont. For Dee’s generosity, home-cooked breakfasts and many stories (ask for the one about the ghost). Across the road is a Korean restaurant and at the end of a winding backroad the Best Western has a decent pizza, just like Dee advised.