The Long Road Home: The First Day

I had just replaced my distributer in my car—to solve its tendency to die even after it was warmed up, and then the throttle body gasket in an effort to fulfill Joe the mechanic’s best guess as to why the idle was unstable, and I felt I was ready for the long drive east. At the other end was my cabin, in who knows what condition after eight months of abandonment, and between me and that destination was around three thousand kilometres of driving.

Theoretically the car was ready for the trip, but I had only briefly contemplated the nonfictional heater fan. It was warm enough in Winnipeg that I was more worried about whether the car could endure the trip.

I left on a Thursday morning, just before ten o’clock. I carefully locked up, answered a few emails, and then drove west through the downtown and then into the sprawling eastern part of the city. The route I had planned out for leaving the city proved to be blocked by a slow-moving train so I turned south and tried my luck again. That was also blocked by the same train, so once again I turned south, found a major avenue going east and hoped it would jump over the tracks by way of a bridge. When the flashing lights in the distance showed that the train was approaching, I turned off a side street, following a van who was following a CN rail truck. I was hoping they knew of a back way out of the city, for with the idle in my car surging, I didn’t want to sit for the half hour while the train slowly crept through town.

Many people call for Winnipeg to relocate its train yards outside of the city, and I could see their point, especially at this moment, but the CN truck driver knew where he was going, and before long we were bumping over the tracks where the train had not yet approached enough to alert the signals, and I was soon on my way east.

I stopped at Richter, which is a small town east of Winnipeg which has a Husky gas station beside the highway. I usually stop there on the way west, since by then my car would have gone nearly seven hundred kilometres since the last fill in Thunder Bay. That means that the Richter fill-up is often enough to get me through the winter, since I rarely use the car in the city, and take it off the road entirely in November. I only use the car to drive Tara home a few times, Colleen to her house a few times, and once to take Samidha home. For my own part, I would go on a bi-monthly grocery store trip with Colleen, and that was the sum of my city driving. I still had a third of a tank when I pulled into Richter and loaded up with fresh gas. I had used a gas stabilizer over the winter, but I could smell the gas was stale when I was changing the gasket for the throttle body. The car seemed to work better with the fresh gas, and I also topped up the tires, since they were a bit slack and that would affect both tire life and gas mileage over thousands of kilometres.

At first the weather was a mixture of sun and cloud and that kept the car warm enough. I even fantasized that since I had pulled the heater out of its hole under the dash, that air was coming in through the gap and was slightly heated by the heater block. When I approached western Ontario, however, the true nature of my heating situation became more apparent. Colleen and I had joked about me staying an extra weekend just so we could spend more time together, but now that the car was beginning to cool off and I thought about how I could have taken the time to buy a junkyard heater, that was beginning to look more attractive.

The car worked great, which was a mercy considering I had wrapped a blanket around my legs and I was still chilly. As the day grew later, and spots of rain began to decorate the windscreen, I wrapped in another blanket and looked at the snow peering from the woods as I drove. It was much cooler in western Ontario, and I hoped that it would be warmer near Lake Superior.

By the time I was taking the by-pass around Thunder Bay, the temperature had dropped and I was starting to become hungry. I didn’t relish the idea of eating in a cold car, so I grabbed the bag of carrots I had put together and ate those after my fill-up. The gas mileage was the same, at least, for I was seven hundred kilometres before I found the gas station I typically aim for outside of Thunder Bay. It was growing dark, with intermittent rain, but the cold was the worst problem. As I rounded the corner of the lake at Rossport and began to turn south to Sault St Marie the windows began to fog up. As well, it was foggy outside and by times I was only driving sixty kilometres an hour and right on the yellow line so I could see where to go.

The driving was becoming too dangerous by the time I pulled over in Thessalon. I had wanted to get as far south as possible, but not by having an accident in moose country or wasting time and fuel driving so slowly. I pulled into the tourist information and under the brilliant light shining right into my car, I assembled my various blankets. I knew it would be freezing at night, so I had brought my minus twenty sleeping bag, as well as another, and three blankets for padding or possible warmth. I was some minutes getting warm, but when I did, I was soon asleep. I had only slept six hours the night before, and even though it was only eleven o’clock, I slept deeply enough that I was only woken a few times by having to switch position.

I had thought a number of times while I drove that few would endure what I almost see as normal. Most people would have never set out on a road trip without a working heater, and fewer still would contemplate sleeping in a cold car. My decision to do so was partially based on parsimony, but it was mainly about time. I wanted to get as far as possible the first day, and waste as little time as possible getting to sleep so I could start early the next day. That would not happen very easily with renting a motel room. Thus it was that I found myself waking in the night to try to stretch my aching knees. I am too old to sleep in a backseat of a Honda anymore.

About Barry Pomeroy

I had an English teacher in high school many years ago who talked about writing as something that people do, rather than something that died with Shakespeare. I began writing soon after, maudlin poetry followed by short prose pieces, but finally, after years of academic training, I learned something about the magic of the manipulated word.
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