Road Trip of the Southwest United States, Crossing the Border, Detroit, and Thunderstorms

I awoke at a little after 08:00 that morning. I wasn’t the slightest but groggy, my usual waking state — I was excited. The day had finally come. I wandered out of my room. Dhar’s (rather, my sister’s) door was open, and he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. The bed didn’t even look slept in — either he stayed up all night, or was much neater than me (which, with all honest, can’t be all that difficult). Little did I know at the time that Dhar didn’t require a lot of sleep. I quickly jumped in and out of the shower and did all the neat and tidy things I could to make myself look presentable for the first day. Exactly why I did this I’m not too entirely sure — Stefan and Rebecca knew who I was, and what I was capable of. I guess it was mostly for Dhar’s sake, I didn’t want to frighten him … at least until we were out of the country.

Rebecca and Stefan were still sleeping at the time, so I went outside as quietly as I could (not too easily done, the front door creaks quite loudly). I quickly found Dhar, having what appeared to be a deeply involving automotive discussion with my father. This didn’t particularly surprise me since my father had previously owned a Ford Probe as well, but had given it up due to a bad back — or to be more specific, the bad back the Probe gave him. As it turned out, Dhar had quickly learned as much about the van as I knew, which I knew would come in handy in the event that I forgot about something important. And when it comes to cars, I usually tend to forget everything.

My father had already gone to the trouble of draining the fresh water tanks, an experience that told us how slow the tank emptied, and refilled it with clean water. He did this twice to make sure that the tank was free of Javex prior to our departure. (There’s nothing like the taste of bleach-contaminated water … and after that you’ll can taste nothing.) The water hose was coiled and put away along with the electrical cable in the running board storage compartment.

A moment later, Stefan bounded out of the front door. Either someone had awaken him and Rebecca (the latter of which was not nearly as fast moving in the morning as the rest of us), or like Dhar and myself, were too anxious to sleep any longer. Dhar took this opportunity to make use of the shower, before starting what would be a 30 hour drive to Colorado.

Our trip was ambitious (bordering on insanity, at least according to some of our friends and family), but not as ambitious as it had once been. In less than two weeks, we planned to visit Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Albuquerque, Roswell, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, and Cleveland. Originally we had also planned to visit Death Valley, Los Angeles and San Diego. However, when our time became more and more constrained, and we realized just how large a trip we were looking at, we cut California right out of the picture. As it turned out, we didn’t even get to see all that we had planned (namely the entire state of Texas).

At this time, I would like to provide some free advertisement for the Canadian Automobile Association (and its American counterpart). Planning a trip like this would have been a complete nightmare if it were not for the efforts of the CAA. Not to mention all the freebies that come with membership…

A few years ago, my parents bought my sister and I memberships with the CAA. This was due mostly to both of us doing a great deal of driving to and from our beautiful national capital (Ottawa), sometimes in less than ideal weather. While it’s true that a CAA membership (or suitable equivalent) isn’t used very often, the times that you need it most are the ones you’re glad you have it. This trip was just one of those occasions.

On a suggestion from my mother (suggestions being 50% of motherly duties, the remainder made of nagging, scolding, and guilt-tripping), I went to the Hamilton Automobile Club (the local branch of the CAA), and informed them of the trip. From the destinations that had become our route, the CAA created a “TripTik”, which is a city-by-city, highway-by-highway map of your journey. For the Interstate-uninitiated, this can be a Godsend, keeping you on the right track whilst traveling through the United States (though we realized that you’re better off if you’ve got a map book that covers Interstates). I also acquired a rather large collection of travel books for all the states that we would either be visiting or passing through. Most of these books got extensive use.

And the membership is compatible with the AAA (the American Automobile Association), in the event you need roadside assistance somewhere in the United States … providing of course that you have a method of contacting them (there’s never a pay phone in the middle of the Mojave Desert when you need one). We never needed that kind of coverage, but the knowledge that we had access to it was enough to let us drive in peace and not worry about a major problem. Being a member also means less problems with health — for a mere $20, I also bought extra health coverage in America just in case I fell ill. Again, it wasn’t needed, but without it I would have had to pay a fortune in medical costs (getting sick in the States is not good for your health, bodily and financially).

So for anyone planning an extensive trip in the United States, I strongly recommend getting a CAA membership (or AAA, if you happen to live in the U.S.). You never know when problems will come, and Murphy’s Law always says you’ll get them at the most inopportune time. This means that you’ll lose all your fluids in the middle of the desert. Luckily, we didn’t — but we were covered in case Murphy had stowed along for the ride (which was a bit doubtful, when you considered all the crap we brought along).

Most people (except the good souls at the CAA) who I mentioned the trip to thought we were insane. Over 10,000 kilometres in less than two weeks was not what most people would consider a vacation. I, for one, cannot stand sitting in the sun for more than a day without my brain decalcifying from having nothing to do. The thought of visiting so many places seemed like a dream come true to me, I only wished that we had more time so that we could have included California in the itinerary.

And besides, the purpose of the whole fling was as a road trip. All road trips are characterized by one thing: piling into a vehicle and driving a long distance. Until our “Road Trip From Hell”, I hadn’t been on a trip that exceeded six hundred kilometres in distance. I was embarking on a discovery tour, going places I had only seen in movies and TV, or read about in magazines and books. I would be doing things that a year previous I never even imagined. And the whole time I would enjoy myself … or at least that was the plan.

But before we could pack ourselves into the van, my parents (specifically my mother, performing one of her lesser, but still necessary, motherly duties) turned into the kind of sappy parents you see parodies of in National Lampoon. The dreaded camera was out. We arranged ourselves like a police line up and politely grinned as my mother decided that she would take the first picture of the trip. (I didn’t bother to tell her that Dhar had already taken a picture the night before during the tour, to prove the size of the inside of the van.)

As a last step before final boarding was called, I got the spare set of keys from the hall drawer. In case something befell the set of keys the current driver carried, my father suggested (in other words, decided) that we should bring spares. The safety of those keys were naturally entrusted to the most responsible person in the group. Stefan and Dhar looked a little taken aback when I handed the huge plastic keyring to Rebecca.

Observer’s Log: Traveldate 960421.10
Day 1
We’re ready to hit the road. Everyone showed up early last night, kinda caught me off guard. But we’re now ready to hit the road.

And thus we piled into the van and strapped ourselves in for the longest drive we would have for the duration of the trip. Partly to appease my father, and to let the others get accustomed to the van — though mostly due to pride — I took the first shift of driving. I carefully nudged the van forward, tooted the horn (which if you ask me, is not nearly loud enough), rounded the corner and didn’t look back.

At least until I got to Maplegrove Village, where my branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was located. I needed to make a quick transaction to prevent my cheques from bouncing. Less than five minutes later, we headed up Ford Drive to join with Highway 403. From there to the Trafalgar Road bypass, which in turn would take us to Highway 401. Less than a half hour from leaving home, I set the cruise control for 100 km/h, Dhar set the CD player, and we headed for Windsor, which would eventually take us to Detroit — our gateway to the United States.

The stretch of highways from Oakville to Highway 8 I had driven many times, as that was the route I took to get to the University of Waterloo, where I had been studying English Rhetoric and Professional Writing. Those stretches took about half an hour to cover. Once we past that, I commented that I was traveling a portion of the 401 that I had never seen before. Stefan was rather startled by this revelation, I guess he believed that I had gone this way several times.

Suddenly I realized that only Stefan had ventured to the Midwest previously. Dhar, Rebecca and myself were all proverbial virgins at that portion of the continent. I was no stranger to the West, my relatives live in Saskatchewan. However, that had been as far west as I had ever traveled with good memory. My mother claims to this day that I went to British Columbia as a wee babe to visit my mother’s Godmother, but my memory as a wee babe does not recall such a venture (although, oddly enough, it does include an incident of sitting down while wearing soiled diapers). As such, this trip would be my first real experience of the West.

For the next two hours or so we continued along the 401, while forming what would eventually become our regular pastime — finding out more about each other. I learned a great many things not only of Rebecca, Stefan and Dhar, but also of myself. They were things I had known unconsciously, but only through such conversation did the truth come to the surface … but not necessarily to light.

Less than an hour from the border, we stopped at what would become our last taste of Canada for almost two weeks: a batch of Tim Horton’s Timbits (donut holes to the uneducated). It was a fortuitous stop in more than one way, as I also needed to relieve a filled bladder. Once again, I was confronted with an odd insecurity I, and many other males have — an inability to use a urinal when other men are present.

It’s rather annoying: you walk into the Men’s Room, stand in front of the urinal, unzip the front of your pants, and stand uncomfortably because for some reason none of the muscles in your groin care to cooperate and allow you to urinate. What causes it I have no idea. At one time I used to think it was a result of being insecure about my genitals. After several years of university, endless discussions of sex, and more “interesting” situations I care to recall, I choose to discount that theory … at least for myself. Besides, I’ve found that with practice the problem goes away.

At any rate, this problem was quickly overcome with the use of one of the toilet stalls. I may have received a few odd looks, but less pressure at the waistline allows me the luxury to not care and proceed with my life.

Within minutes, we piled back into the van and resumed our heading westward. An hour later, we entered Windsor, and caught our first glimpse of the Ambassador Bridge, peeking above the tops of the low-set skyline. Our time in Canada was drawing to a close. On an earlier suggestion from Stefan, we immediately began to look for Canadian Customs, so we could register our more expensive items on board. This was for two reasons: in the event something got stolen, or in case Customs believed that we were trying to smuggle something back.

Before I knew it, I (still the current driver) had accidentally overshot the entrance to the Customs facility. Unfortunately, I had never entered into the United States through the Windsor gateway, I had always gone through either Niagara or Fort Erie. I knew where the Customs facilities were there. We quickly ducked into the area normally reserved for trucks going to the U.S. Rebecca and Stefan went into the office to find out how we would get back to the Customs building. The roads around the facility were all one-way roads, so we were justifiably confused.

The instructions they returned with were cryptic at best (not unexpected from Canadian Customs officials). We had to ask someone else. This meant we had to cross through the toll access point. When we got to the booth, we asked the attendant what we had to do. She told us to go up the road a little, just pass the median, pull a U-turn and head back towards the Canadian Customs booths just below us. There we could find out what to do. We received a receipt in the event we got hopelessly lost and ended up back at the toll booths again.

Once I had us pointed back in Canada again, we pulled up to the Canadian Customs booths. In less than three seconds we completely managed to confound the clerk, trying to explain to him what had just happened (it’s always fun to play “Stump the Chump”). But in a moment he understood and pointed us in the right direction to the Customs building. He also pointed out the route we would later take to get back to the bridge and avoid the toll booths. The man scribbled on a yellow piece of paper and handed it to us, not mentioning what it was for, then waved us on.

We drove across a large roadway into the Customs complex, and found a pull-through parking slot. We immediately noticed the plethora of Government employees not doing anything (in other words, a typical Government installation). We were sadly not surprised at this, disappointed that our tax dollars were feeding apathy.

We immediately set down to finding every last serial number of an expensive item we had. Fortunately, Home & Park (who built the Behemoth) had already created a list of all the van’s expensive items. Dhar’s camera, lens and flash; my camera, lens and flash; the CD player; and Stefan and Rebecca’s camera were recorded onto a piece of paper. Then Dhar and I wandered over to the main Customs building for approval.

We expected a large lineup — it was a Government office, after all. Border crossings, although nicely informal, were often slow mainly due to volume. This was the first time I had ever gone through the Customs office before leaving the country, but I expected no difference in efficiency.

Upon entering the doors, Dhar and I immediately noticed several people sitting down, a few people at kiosks, and a bunch of Government employees milling around doing nothing (different group of public employees, same work ethic). We paused a moment, and ventured to stand in line. Almost immediately, a woman behind the counter moved away from her discussion and motioned us to go to her. We informed her we only wanted to register the items we were taking over with us. She in turn asked if we had the serial numbers available. I produced the sheet that came with the van and the one we created, mentioning that some items didn’t have serial numbers. Even before I had finished speaking, the two sheets were stamped and the woman had walked away. Dhar and I looked at each other in surprise, shrugged our shoulders in disbelief, and headed back towards the doors. It was hard to say what bothered me more: the fact that she really seem to care about what she was doing, or that we were only in the building for 30 seconds.

On the way back to the van, Dhar and I encountered two more Customs agents, who took the mysterious little piece of yellow paper from me, looked at it, then waved us on. Typically cryptic government shenanigans. We were probably passing notes between all the clerks. Now hopelessly confused, Dhar and I returned to a locked van (and me without my keys). Stefan unlocked the door, Dhar and I climbed in, and we prepared to finally leave Canada behind us.

A minute later we had crossed the political border and were stuck in a traffic jam on the down side of the bridge. And we were in the slow lane. I had not yet learned all the nuances of the van, and wasn’t in the mood for trying to run into the next lane. We were in no hurry, so we decided to critique the City of Detroit instead.

We were amazed at the decay we could see. Buildings crumbling, garbage everywhere, soot and grime seemed to cover everything. Even the air seemed dirtier than just across the river. Detroit seemed a large unwieldy mess of concrete, glass, and steel. It’s amazing how much culture shock one can receive merely by traveling less than one kilometre, the distance from Canada to the U.S.

A half hour after crossing the bridge, we finally arrived at the U.S. Customs booth. It was time for 20 Questions. “Where ya goin’? Fer how long? Are ya takin’ any fruit or vegetables? Where ya from? Is ev’one Canadian? Lessee yer birth certificates. You in back, lessee? Anythin’ to declare? Okay, have a good time.” I almost expected to hear a “y’all” as we passed out of earshot.

We breathed a sigh of relief, even if only psychologically, as we were now free to roam the vast expanses of America without any fear of something hanging over our heads. Dhar quickly dug out the TripTik again, and began deciphering the route to get out of Detroit and onto I-94. I didn’t quite catch the instructions completely, so Stefan attempted to clarify. It was only when the most responsible person of the trip got a hold of the TripTik did we finally get moving. When in doubt, ask a woman.

Dhar started drooling less than five minutes into the States. We made the mistake of taking a route through the middle of the Motor City, the headquarters of the Ford Motor Corporation. Detroit was Dhar’s Mecca, and took every opportunity to find Ford billboards, and if he was lucky, an automotive plant. I waited with baited breath for the question: “Can we go on a Ford tour?”. As we exited Detroit into its suburbs, Dhar spotted Ford’s Special Vehicle Labs. It was there such geniuses as Shelby created some of the most well-known American sports cars in existence. It was there that Dhar’s Probe was given birth on a drawing board. He sighed as we passed westward.

Outside of Detroit we got sidetracked. Actually, sidetracked isn’t the right word. We got lost. Ann Arbor creates a divide in I-94, causing the main route to go just south of the city, and a smaller state highway to go north of the city. At this point, none of us were completely comfortable with U.S. highways, and we weren’t ready for the split. In a panic of which route to take, we took the north route onto State Highway 23, away from I-94. At first we thought we were still on I-94. But when we realized that the red, white and blue I-94 highway markers were replaced with a white shield bearing the number ’23’, we panicked. But only for a moment or two.

We couldn’t help feel like morons for getting lost in America so quickly. I wasn’t too concerned, we still had two weeks to find our way around. In only a matter of moments, someone figured out that Highway 23 was nothing more than a bypass of the city, and wasn’t going to get us hopelessly lost. We continued to follow the 23 around until we saw signs that guided us back to I-94.

Road trips, by their very nature, tend to be performed by the seat-of-the-pants … in other words, unplanned. Ours was intended to be the exception — we had done a good deal of the ground work in advance. Or at least that was the impression I had given myself. Prior to leaving, we had established a long line of places we wanted to go and roads we had to travel. Due to our time constraints, we also knew that there wasn’t too much room for leeway. But as one can inevitably expect, plans change. Ours started to.

Stefan, unbeknownst to me (and the others, much to our chagrin), wanted to go places we had never even discussed. First off, I’ll state for the record that Stefan is a nature nut. Now I’m not holding that against him — I am too, though not quite to the extent of Stefan … or Rebecca, for that matter — but he wanted more nature than we planned for.

Colorado is a state full of natural wonders, most of which spring up due to two things: the geology and the general remoteness of certain parts of the state. The end result is an abundance of parks … a good deal of which Stefan wanted to visit. Under different circumstances, I might have gone along with the deal. Maybe if we had planned not to go to places like Las Vegas and New Orleans, perhaps I would have been more supportive. But I was in an explorative mood, and I wanted to see all that I could see, and an endless number of trees and mountains wasn’t what I wanted to explore.

Thus we began to argue … okay, maybe argue isn’t the correct term … discuss loudly where we going. I quickly realized, with some relief, that I wasn’t alone. Rebecca and Dhar both wanted to see Vegas and at least one of the other places we had planned. Stefan was pushing for at least four days in Colorado. I knew full well that any more than two would result in having to axe something from the trip. (As it turns out, we had to axe the entire state of Texas, but that was for different reasons.)

The discussion lasted for roughly fifteen minutes when the most responsible member of the group called an end because it was giving her a headache. We resolved to continue the discussion in Colorado Springs when we were settled in.

We weren’t even out of Michigan.

The roadside billboards became, for a while, a focus of some fascination for us. In Canada, the public has prevented the plethora of eyesores that American urban highways are noted for. The diversity of the ads, and the names of the products they advertise provided us with a great deal of entertainment, especially Dhar.

Earlier that morning, I learned of Dhar’s habitual rhymes: “Awesome Possum”, “Starvin’ Marvin”, “Gotta Stop Lollipop”, and so forth. Cute, but endlessly annoying if left unchecked for a few days. (Not to mention the fact that it was a habit I was afraid I would adopt over the course of the trip.) Luckily, for me, Dhar either grew tired of the habit, or he didn’t use it very often in the first place. Either way, the rhymes were infrequent.

So what does Dhar’s habitual rhyming have to do with billboards? Shortly before we entered Lansing, Dhar nearly leapt out of his seat. For a moment he was stammering about something he had seen, and we couldn’t understand him. When asked to repeat his statement, we learned that we had just passed a billboard advertising, and I swear I’m not making this up, a store called Starvin’ Marvin. Dhar swore then and there that he would have a picture of a Starvin’ Marvin store before the trip was over.

I continued to drive until we arrived in Lansing, Michigan. By that point I had been driving for about six hours, and was feeling tired. This was my first introduction to Interstate Rest Areas. This was part of Dwight Eisenhower’s plans for a great American highway system. About every 20 miles or so outside of urban areas one can find small parking lots, usually with toilets, at the side of the Interstate. These quickly became havens for us, where we stopped to use the bathrooms, cook our dinners, or catch enough sleep to keep driving. I used the opportunity to call home.

Now don’t go callin’ me a momma’s boy — I wasn’t homesick, just absent-minded. I had forgotten two very important things: addresses to mail postcards, and my CAA health insurance number. The latter I could do without until a major crisis developed, but the addresses I would need much sooner.

AT&T (or whoever ran the local payphones) has a particularly annoying collect call system. I had to actually say into the phone “Collect Call” to place the call. Even though I had to key in the number, I had to vocalize what I wanted. Some programmer could’ve made everyone’s life a lot easier but just having someone press ‘1’ or ‘2’, and so forth. Humanity tries to make life too easy, and ends up making it more complicated.

My mother immediately panicked (a typically mother-like thing to do), not expecting to hear from me so soon. I reassured her that the only reason I was calling was to get the information I had left behind. A moment later I had the addresses safely jotted down in my organizer, but the health insurance was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t too concerned about this, but decided to make another check of my stuff to make sure I didn’t actually manage to pack it when I wasn’t looking.

Observer’s Log: Supplementary
We’re well into the States now, despite an unintentional detour. I got Scott’s, Tara’s, Chris’ and Kathryn’s addresses – I should be okay from here. It’s 4:37 now, and we still have some 18 hours until we get to our final destination.

Stefan volunteered for the next shift of driving, and I retired to the couch in the rear to get some sleep. We had plans to drive in a six hour rotation, so that we could easily drive through the night and arrive in Colorado Springs as soon as possible. Thus it made sense for me to get some sleep so we wouldn’t have any problems with me driving come morning.

However, I had always had problems sleeping in cars, so I doubted heavily that I would be able to sleep at all while we were on the road. Nevertheless, I went to the back, stretched myself out on the bench, buckled myself in so I wouldn’t fall off, and tried to get a couple hours of sleep. I closed my eyes and began a mental exercise to try and get myself to sleep. I’m normally a heavy sleeper, but it takes a long time for me to get to a heavy sleeping state. Over the years I developed a mental exercise which causes me to reflect sleepiness back into my mind, thus amplifying the effect. But it wasn’t working in the van.

Next thing I knew, we were exiting I-94 somewhere just inside the Indiana border. I had no idea how long I had been asleep, but I guessed at no more than an hour. It was time for our first fill-up of American gasoline, and our first shot at American gas-bar convenience stores. I quickly dug out my personal organizer, which was doubling as our travel expenses log. I jotted down the distance we covered on the tank of gas, and prepared to take the rest of the information regarding refill volume and price. But in the meantime I opted for disappearing into the store and getting something to eat.

Never before had I seen a Subway in a gas station … a normal gas station. This wasn’t one of those mega-stations that started appearing along Highway 401 in Ontario, but an average sized gas station one would expect to see in any town or city. But inside was a Subway sandwich bar, complete with bread bakers. Only the seats and tables were missing. As near as I can figure, the only reason for such things was that it was next to an Interstate.

But I was hungry, and not about to debate the reasoning for placing the Subway where it was. I quickly found out that the prices in the States (or at least along the Interstate) were almost identical to those in Canada, not counting the conversion. In other words, the American Subway was more expensive than the one just off-campus that I used to go to on an infrequent basis. Thus I opted for the cheapest sub they had available that I liked — the Subway Club.

The toppings were all standard: lettuce, olives, hot peppers, green peppers, onions, pickles. But instead of normal mustard (which is French’s in Canada, if I’m not mistaken), it was Dijon mustard. And instead of Italian dressing (which is “sub sauce” in Canada), I had virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Added an interesting zing to the sub, but overall didn’t change the flavour much.

I quickly discovered that I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I was, and ate only half the sub. I tossed the rest in the fridge for later. Dhar and Rebecca promptly decided they were going to have dinner. Dhar vacated the navigator’s position, and I took over. It was about this time that we entered the Fort Wayne area, which in other words meant that it was time for a navigator to start giving directions.

Fort Wayne was one of the easier places for us to travel through — we never left the highway we were on. Despite the fact we ran through Fort Wayne at around 18:00, we didn’t encounter any traffic. Living near Toronto brings you a certain level of awareness of time. You know that there are several hours in the day that you simply don’t drive on the highways because you hit traffic so nasty you want to pull all you hair out. For example, rush hour in Toronto lasts from about 15:30 to nearly 18:30. But in Fort Wayne, the traffic never came … that was when I remembered that it was still Sunday.

It’s often amazing how little meaning days of the week have when you go on a vacation. You just keep track of the actual dates themselves — you know you have to be in city X by the 23rd, and in canyon Y by the 25th. I was amazed at how quickly I forgot what the day was.

Shortly after Dhar and Rebecca finished eating, Dhar lay down to get some sleep. He had volunteered for the late night shift, and wanted to be awake for it. I tried to convince myself that I would also need more sleep later on, since I would be driving again come the morning. But I knew that would be difficult, since I was so excited to finally be on another trip, the first one in five years.

Stefan drove for the next four or five hours without any incident. It was an uneventful portion of the trip, we found new ways to keep ourselves interested. Several times I thought about opening my Linguistics text I had brought, so I could get some reading done. But every time I thought about it, the thought of doing school work while on a vacation seemed appallingly trite. Thus it remained packed in one of the upper compartments where I promised to forget about it for at least a week.

My duties as navigator were required when we entered Indianapolis, shortly after nightfall. Here we moved up a highway, from I-69 to I-70. But to do so, we had to skirt around the edge of the city on the I-465. The Americans are rather interesting about how they design their highways — they seem to regularly build rings around their cities so travelers only need enter the city if they need do, unlike cities such as Toronto where you get mired in traffic if you pick your time poorly.

Scarcely a half hour later, we were watching Indianapolis fade away into the greyness behind us. Already the sky was darkening as clouds began to form above us. It was a foreshadow of what we would receive later on that evening.

A few hours later we arrived in St. Louis. It was dark and foggy, but even through the glare of the city lights, we could see the famous Gateway Arch off in the distance. I woke Dhar and Rebecca to view the sight, though I must admit, I seemed to be the only one interested in it. Another half hour, and we were exiting the St. Louis city limits, and re-entering the enveloping darkness of the Interstate.

By this time, Stefan’s stint behind the wheel had ended, and he wanted to relax a while. Driving the van wasn’t at all tiring under normal circumstances, but when you had to fight the wind to keep the van in the lane you quickly got worn down. Fortunately, the wind had started to die down with the coming of night, but the damage had already been done and Stefan had to take a break for a few hours.

Rebecca was the next victim in line. We pulled off the highway, down an off-ramp, crossed the road and got on the on-ramp, stopping just as we got onto it. Quickly, Stefan jumped out the door as Rebecca slid between the driver and navigator’s chairs and took her seat. The doors behind me opened and shut, there was a hasty clicking of belt buckles, and the van started back onto the Interstate.

Prelude to disaster: Dhar and I used the same mirror settings, with the odd minor adjustment. Taking over from Stefan usually meant another larger adjustment to compensate for Stefan’s height. Under the best of conditions, Rebecca never would’ve been able to see with Stefan’s mirror settings. We were unknowingly about to throw Rebecca into conditions so bad they made me cringe. And we forgot to change the mirrors.

After only a few minutes of driving, we realized our first major mistake — letting Rebecca drive in the dark. It’s not that she’s a bad driver (I’d never actually been in a car when she was driving), it’s that Rebecca wasn’t ready for the task. Back home in Kingston, Rebecca usually only drove about town during the day in her Dodge Laser (for those of you who don’t know, Kingston is a very peaceful city on the south side of Ontario, about half-way between Toronto and the Quebec border). We had put her behind the wheel of a three tonne, eight foot three inch high, 19 foot long, blind spot laden behemoth … in the middle of the night. Rebecca was justifiably worried.

But we made efforts to try and adjust the mirrors so she could make it a couple hours, gain some experience, and let Dhar rest up before his early morning shift. But as Murphy’s Law always states: if anything is already wrong, it can only get worse.

It began to rain.


I almost expected to see an off-ramp sign for Noah’s Ark.