Friday, January 8, 2010

She Who Drives the Broken Road

Every trip is it's own adventure.
She Who Drives the Broken Road

There is a fine line between solitude and isolation. I cross the line, cuss the line, ride the line, defy the line, deny the line and on occasion, drive the line. I am quite comfortable living in solitude. I appreciate the time and space to see and enjoy the beauty that surrounds me. It is in solitude that I discover the fullness of the Big Empty. To get from place to place I often drive through miles of isolation.

When I have guests, friends from far places, my road-map mind shifts into first gear. One of my frequent-driver guests is Kathy, who lives happily in urban Victoria with her husband Richard, surrounded by posh culture. Two or three times a year Kathy gets to hankering for the tang of sagebrush, the feel of the wind combing her hair and the whirr of the wheels beneath us as we set out seeking Adventure.

So while sipping morning coffee, I said, “Let’s go to Medicine Hat for lunch.” Kathy jumped up and grabbed her jacket. We crossed the border into Alberta at Wild Horse and meandered through the Cypress Hills. We never rush these trips. Several times we pulled off the road, walked about, looked at the rock formations, took pictures. We don’t drive just to rack up the miles.

We by-passed the strip malls and big-box stores on the outskirts of Medicine Hat and landed down by the river in the historic old town. We were hungry. But we were struck by the beauty of the Saskatchewan River , the walking bridge, the parks, and the restored buildings. Eventually we ate lunch in a Japanese restaurant, browsed some of the boutique stores and searched for our parked van, misplaced on a side street.

We checked the map, computed the miles against the clock, and decided we had just enough time to go to Maple Creek and then re-enter the States at Willow Creek. Maple Creek cast a spell over us. An old-fashioned butcher shop enticed us inside to buy salmon pate. Then a cozy cafe pulled us in for a cup of tea. We asked the owner, “How far to Willow Creek from here?” She looked at her watch, shook her head, and replied, “You might make the crossing before it closes if you leave right this minute.”

But first we had to fill the tank. We asked the attendant, “How many miles to Willow Creek?” He looked at his watch and said, “You’ll never make it.”

Puzzled, we unfolded the map, added up the miles, checked our clock, and wondered what the problem could be. We had plenty of time. And just outside Maple Creek, heading south, a road sign verified our arithmetic. We breathed easy. The first miles rolled beneath our wheels, validating our confidence. Then the paved road segued into mostly-paved, deteriorated into somewhat-paved and finally disintegrated into paved-here-and-there. Great slabs of peeled pavement lay alongside the road. Yawning potholes threatened to swallow the van. And heaven help us if we had a flat.

After several miles of these miserable, isolated, broken section-line roads across the empty prairie, we began to fear that we might not make the port of entry in time. Failure would mean we would be forced to return to Maple Creek for the night, a two hour trip back in the dark. Since I drive a cargo van, not a sports car, it would require all our skills. We looked at each other, nodded and decided to run for the border.

Kathy kept track of the miles-to-go. She shouted out directions and obstructions and words of encouragement. I perched on the edge of my seat, gripped the wheel with white knuckles, mashed the gas pedal to the floor. The van bounced over potholes and we bounced with it. We dodged chunks of broken pavement rearing up to tackle the wheels. “Yee, Haw!” I shouted. Kathy spit instructions like a drill sergeant. “Left turn ahead, large rocks on the right, stay in the center, one hour to go, switch to the other lane, washout, washout, detour, you can do it.” I drove like Andretti. The final miles of road held not even a pretense of asphalt. We were forced to slow down but we didn’t have time for slow. The sun was setting. The border was closing. I urged my van faster. A tornado of dust rolled in our wake. Kathy counted down the minutes. I could see the Port of Entry off on the horizon. “We’ll never make it.” “Yes, we will, go faster.”

Five full minutes past closing time, the van thick with dust, we slammed on the brakes and eased up to the window. The officer had seen us coming and had held the port open for us. His partner closed the barrier behind the van. I was so grateful I thought I was in love. We flirted unmercifully. I think he enjoyed having somebody to chat up. We might have been the only people through that crossing all day. He looked at my passport and asked me my name. “She Who Drives the Broken Road,” I replied with a straight face. He nodded and motioned us through.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Home Again
October 22, 2009


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