by Janice Henshaw –
If John Steinbeck could travel across the US with only his dog Charlie for company at 60 years old, then I could do it too, at a much younger age – 57. My job had vanished and my two sons had flown the coop and were busy and content in their own lives. Time seemed to be rushing by and I felt adrift, powerless to make it slow down. At 3:00 a.m. one morning, I had a marvellous thought: why not drive across Canada, from coast to coast? There were so many places I wanted to see: Waterton Lakes National Park, the endless prairies, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Atlantic Ocean. I was filled with so much excitement that I got up and started making a list of how to turn my dream into reality.
Three months later, I had rented out my house, bought the cutest little 14-foot travel trailer and dusted off my late Dad’s “seen better days” slightly dented and rusty pickup. After due payment for repairs, the guy who apparently knew everything about diesel engines assured me that “This old Ford truck will take you anywhere.” My dog Baloo, a golden lab and German shepherd mix, jumped in and sat in the co-pilot seat, ready to go, looking regal with his chin in the air. He agrees with all of my ideas, doesn’t argue when I change direction, get lost or am late with his dinner. In short, he was and still is the ideal travel companion.
Before catching the ferry to Tsawwassen and heading east, it seemed like a good idea to make a shakedown trip to Fairy Lake Campground, which is just a few kilometres out of Port Renfrew. As I sat at the lakeside campsite relaxing in my folding lawn chair, bare feet in the soft grass, looking out at the small calm lake, I felt contented from top to bottom – how could I not feel good camping at a lake named after fairies? Words by Lao Tzu confirmed for me why just this, is everything: “Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Late one afternoon, I decided to investigate a side road that led to the San Juan River campsite. Almost immediately after turning onto it, I hit loose, dusty gravel and banged into the deepest potholes I had ever seen. A warning sign said the road was no longer serviced and that it shouldn’t be used by vehicles with low carriages. Did I have a low carriage? There was no cell service. I wondered what would happen if I had a flat tire or broke something vital underneath the truck.
I knew, at that moment, that if I was going to have fun on this trip and discover beautiful places, I would have to embrace fear and accept it, just like the Buddha. I kept driving down that rutted, bumpy road and felt an exhilarating freedom in knowing that every road I chose was my decision. I didn’t have any experience in changing a tire, I knew nothing about engines, and if I ran into some “bad guys,” so be it. I had to start believing in myself – that I would somehow find my way.
I camped at Fairy Lake for five days and enjoyed great hikes through lush forests and along stunningly beautiful beaches. But as I sat beside my campfire on the fifth night, I knew that it was time to leave and start my trip, or I would possibly still be there when fall rolled around.
All through my journey, I found that decision – when should I leave? – created tension and a little uncertainty. Why leave a place of contentment for the unknown? To be truthful, thinking about towing the trailer all that distance made my stomach feel like it had something unpalatable in its depths. When I studied the road map, it looked confusing no matter which way I held it. I felt like Dorothy’s roaring lion – all pretense and no courage – I could use a wizard!
In the morning I stowed everything away and followed my step-by-step lists on “How to Pack up the Trailer” and “How to Hook up the Trailer to the Truck.” Next, I found a straight stretch of road and practised backing up. I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it and kept jackknifing the trailer. Five hours later, tears were running down my hot cheeks as I again tried to back up the trailer, this time in a congested parking lot that sloped down to a steep drop-off. Could I find my way across Canada without being able to back up?
After that crisis, I found another. I had safely managed the ferry to Tsawwassen and then, while driving through Langley, first one car and then another cut me off. I slammed on the brakes, but each time my truck slewed left into the next lane of traffic, once narrowly missing a semi-trailer. My hands felt like sweaty vices on the steering wheel. I made it as far as a truck dealership in Chilliwack, where they told me not to attempt to drive over the mountains, that my truck brakes were all worn out and the tires too bald, and that I would face more problems – not the easily replaceable kind – the further I drove. I wondered: was this a sign for me to turn around and go home – or, at least, back to Fairy Lake? Or was it just a test, one that possibly saved me from great danger? Since I’d decided to embrace fear, I chose to see it as the latter.
When I saw the shiny, midnight blue, GMC pickup in the car dealer’s used lot I knew it would be perfect. The blonde-haired, high-heeled sales lady asked if I wanted to look under the hood. We laughed together after I said I didn’t have a clue what I would be looking at. As the mechanics readied it for my trip, I drove Baloo around in a sky blue loaner convertible that had white leather seats. It was sunny and we had the top down. I wondered if I could pull the trailer with a convertible … .
Who would have guessed that I wouldn’t even make it to Hope on the first day of my journey across Canada? That I would set up camp in a Zellers parking lot? But that’s how my amazing, 15-month odyssey began, a trip of over 20,000 km that took me to the east coast of Canada, down through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, through the Florida Everglades to Key West. And then home, through the southern states, and up the coast to B.C. We made it, John S!