This is the tale of how I, along with my wife and two small children, almost didn’t make it to our family reunion in Canada.
The Adventure Begins
Getting up at 4:00 in the morning has never been appealing to me, and even less so when I have a 13 hour drive on my hands. But, as is the way of long-distance travel, we got up early and left the house by 5:00 a.m on a cool, Saturday morning.
My wife started out as driver while I took a rather uncomfortable nap in the passenger seat. I slept with my neck bent at angles I never thought obtainable by humans, but there I was, getting what sleep I could in whatever position I could maintain before it was my turn to take the wheel. Drooling, I woke up and asked where we were.
According to my wife, we were getting on track to Twin Falls, Idaho. We’d been traveling for a few hours, and I scratched my head, wondering if it was my groggy state that was hearing things. Twin Falls? Twin Falls was most certainly not on our way. But, sure enough, we were heading in that direction. My wife had never driven to Canada with me before, so when I said it’s a straight shot North, she took me at my word. Now, to be fair, we do travel northbound the entire way. As it happens, however, the road that we wanted (that goes North) veered off to the East for a bit before heading back North. So, instead of following the direct route, we took the scenic route. And if you’ve ever driven through Idaho, you’ll know there’s not much “scenic” going on there.
After returning to the road we wanted (and nearly running out of gas before we could – we had under half a gallon left in our tank) I took the wheel and we were off, just an hour behind schedule. No big deal. The big deal came when, driving along the I-15, I saw a trail of thick grey smoke behind us. I quickly pulled over to the shoulder, got out, and checked under the hood. As is only appropriate, I waved the smoke away with my hands as the hood opened. Not a good sign. I couldn’t see any problem (which isn’t saying much considering my knowledge of cars), but a quick check under the car told me enough. Bright red transmission blood pooled underneath the car. Considering we had just had the transmission fixed a few days previously, we were not happy.
A quick check of my cell phone indicated what I feared; we had no cell reception. My wife was distraught (as was I, but I had to keep up a macho front), but we did what any hopeless couple would do: we prayed. We said “amen” – and I kid you not – not two minutes passed before two middle-aged women in a truck pulled up behind us. They asked how they could be of service, I told them the problem, and, presenting a tow rope, offered to pull us to the nearest town, 14 miles away.
Wow. Just wow.
I hooked the tow rope to the chassis of our car, got inside, and let the towing commence. I was fine being towed by someone else; heck, I’d been towed a few blocks as a teenager when my car died at an intersection. But being towed not ten feet behind a truck going 65 miles per hour is not my idea of a good time. With eyes wide and white knuckles gripping the steering wheel, I kept our little Chevy Cobalt directly behind the fast-moving truck those next 14 miles. Going straight was easy – it was when we took the exit that I thought we were all going to die.
The freeway exit sloped down at a good grade. Our escort did well to avoid slamming on her breaks, but even a little tap brought our car dangerously close to her truck. I watched the rope like a hawk, ready for it to go slack. When it did and we gained on the truck, it took everything I had to keep from slamming the brake. After what seemed an hour of white knuckle driving, we stopped just past a gas station in the small town of Lima, Montana.
No Reunion for Us
Lima has a population of just over 200 people. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot going on there that would be of use to us. But, we couldn’t ask more of the nice ladies, so I unhooked the rope, thanked them profusely, and watched as our newfound saviors drove away, leaving us with nary a name or number or anything wherewith to help us. I don’t blame them, of course; how would they know anything about that little town? We were on our own, but bless their hearts for getting us somewhere we could find help.
A small mechanic shop stood across from the gas station where we were abandoned parked. Inside, I found the owner working on some project, but he shrugged his shoulders, saying he was closed, and even if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have the parts needed. Walking out and to a tire shop to see what help they might be able to offer, a big rig driver called me over, asked what the problem was, and made some calls. Unfortunately, nobody was around to help. But, he mentioned the next city down the road was Dillon, Montana, and that if we could get a hold of someone there, they might be able to help us.
In the mean time, my wife had been calling our insurance, the transmission shop, and anyone else that might be able to help. We originally had our transmission fixed at Aamco, which came with a warranty, and provided we could get the car to the nearest Aamco shop, they would fix it for us, free of charge. The next closest Aamco, however, was in Twin Falls, Idaho, which would take 6 hours to get to and cost $900 for towing, so that was out of the question. Ironically, had we made it to Twin Falls (which thing my wife had nearly achieved), we would have been just fine. As it was, we were pretty much out of luck. Our best option was to have our car towed to Dillon, Montana (about 45 miles away), leave it at the Chevy dealership over the weekend, and instead of joining my family up North, spend the week in Dillon while they fixed the car. So I texted my parents, informing them of our plight and that we would not be joining them for the reunion. Once I sent that message, it hit me like a ton of bricks that the vacation we had been looking forward to for so long would not be part of our week. Instead, we would spend our week in a small, Montana town. What fun.
A Silver Lining
It didn’t take long for my mother to text back. She told us that if we could find a rental car to get us to Canada, she would pay for it. Bless her heart. Unfortunately, Dillon wasn’t big by any means, and a quick Google search showed that the nearest Enterprise, Budget, or other car rental company was in Butte, an hour away from Dillon. Somehow, though, I clicked on a link that looked like it could be a sketchy, small-town car rental out of Dillon. Miraculously, it didn’t look too sketchy, and that it was indeed based out of Dillon. Unfortunately, it was closed. I called anyway. A lady answered, I told her our situation, and she said she had a car available for us. Miracle #2.
So we got a tow truck to come from Dillon, pick up the car, and bring us back with him. The drive with the tow truck driver was long, but nice. We talked about life, about God and the blessings he brings us, and other such topics. His name was Mike, and without knowing it, he helped us put our little ordeal in perspective. Sure, life was pretty rotten right then, but all in all, God had been good to us, had gotten us help when we asked, and were then on our way to drop our car off and rent one to finish the journey.
After that, everything fell into place better than I could have hoped. The car rental place had to do a bit of shuffling to get us a car that would fit us, the kids, and all our stuff, but she managed, and six hours after our Chevy Cobalt stranded us on the side of the barren I-15, we were back on our way.
Blow Us Over
The rest of the tip went without a hitch (thank goodness!). We met up with my family in Banff where we were all staying together. Because our rental car had a limit of 200 miles per day, we parked our car at the condo we were staying at and shuffled everyone around so there was enough room for the four of us in the other vehicles my family arrived in. It was such a blessing to have made it to Banff. The national park was beautiful, and the time spent with family even more so.
After Banff, we drove further North where my parents live, and we were to spend the last few days of the week there. As we neared Red Deer, Alberta, the wind picked up at an incredible rate. In all my years living near there, I had never experienced such strong wind. One semi-truck blew over on its side on the other side of the road. We made it to our destination without incident. Upon arriving, however, we learned that there were reports of a tornado not ten miles from where we were. The damage in town was severe, including large trees toppled, power loss for days (my dad didn’t have power for three days after the storm), and even a bank’s roof blew off. To say we were lucky to have escaped those dangers is an understatement. Again, we were certainly blessed.
In the End
We left my home with fond memories, new inside jokes, and a feeling that the Lord had been watching out for us. All we had to do on the way home was pickup another rental car (because the one we rented in Dillon had to be returned in Dillon), return the original car to Dillon, and all else was well and good. In the end, we drove five different cars throughout our stay. (ours, two rentals, my mom’s, and my dad’s). It was a trip like no other, and while the way up was ulcer inducing, they were experiences that I’ll remember my whole life.
I think, however, we’ll save some heartache and just fly to our next reunion.