Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.
I was going to write about Christmas, about family and about traditions. I had it all planned because planning is something I do well. You note, I said planning, I didn’t say implementing. As part of my 52-week plan to get up and go, I decide to take a solo trip to Vancouver Island. The trip means I can kill a few birds with one stone—I’ll get some writing done, I’ll hold a First Annual Christmas Baking day with my sister, and my other sister will join us on the Saturday. The three of us will have uninterrupted girl time, something that we talk about doing but never get around to.
Things start out well, I catch the 5:45 ferry out of Tsawwassen to Duke Point near Nanaimo, and park myself at one of the work stations to do some editing. There are no worries that the view will distract me. Outside the windows the world is as dark as a little black dress. The intermittent wail of a fog horn makes it clear that Environment Canada is bang on with their warnings of dense marine fog. At least it isn’t raining.
Duke Point to my sister’s place is just over an hour. I dial up the Christmas channel on the radio and turn on my seat warmer. When I was growing up on the island, the highway ran along the coast, what they now call the Scenic Route. It winds along the water passing through tiny towns and communities. Inevitably you ended up behind the Sunday sightseers—drivers who crawled along until a passing lane appeared and then sped up.
The newer Inland Highway isn’t like that. Traffic flows at the posted 120 km or more. Fine with me. I want to get where I’m going. Tonight, taking the road less travelled holds zero appeal. Besides night and fog gobble up any chance of a scenic view.
Maybe it’s Karma because I dissed the old highway, but I look down at the dash and see the gas light is on. No worries, I think, comfortable in my belief in mercy miles. The range indicator says fourteen kilometres of fuel left. To be on the safe side, I take the next exit, confident I’ll find a gas station, blissfully ignorant there isn’t the foggiest chance I will. I look down and see the number reads zero. Fourteen to zero in less than a minute—really?
Away from the Inland Highway the fog multiplies. It hangs in a billowing curtain hiding everything but what’s in the immediate reach of my headlights. It’s hard to spot a gas station when you can barely see the road itself. I pass two old-school gas stations, both are closed. In fact, everything is closed, stores, hotels, restaurants—not much reason to stay open when summer is over. I keep driving.
Fewer lights, deeper dark, more fog. The range indicator is holding steady at zero. I’m looking for a sign, preferably one that says—gas station 1 km. The car lights bounce off the fog making it impossible to read markers until I’m right on top of them.
Yes, I know. I’m not in the middle of nowhere. If I run out of gas I can pull out my phone and call my sister. She’s ten minutes away. In my head, I hear my dad, “I don’t know why you do this. It’s just as easy to travel on the top half of your tank.” I probably did it because I knew he’d take pity on me and throw twenty dollars worth of gas in the tank. My daughters use the same ploy with their dad.
In my defense, I’ve only run out of gas once. At that time, I was driving a truck with no mercy miles, a fact my husband constantly reminded me of—when the needle hits E it’s over. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’d mutter. He was right. I ran out of gas on the Matsqui flats. I meant to gas up when I reached Abbotsford, oops. As luck would have it, I was stuck smack in the middle of nowhere. This was pre-cell phone. The only thing I could do was hoist my pregnant belly out of the truck and hike to the nearest farm house.
Naturally, the house I picked was probably a grow op. A burly biker answered the door. At first, he wasn’t going to let me use the phone, but I played the soon-to-be-mother card and he brought a phone to the door. Okay, so I added on a month or so, he didn’t look like he’d figure that out. I called our friend Peter and begged for help. Just like jail, I only had one phone call so I had to make it count. I knew Peter would be home.
This time though, I’m hoping I don’t have to walk, especially since I’ve started thinking about movies with stranded travellers waiting alone at the edge of the road. Think American Werewolf in London—keep off the moors. Or what about tales of women travelling alone who disappear without a trace leaving their cars abandoned on the edge of the road, the gas tank forever on empty.
I coast around another curve and find the bright lights of the Denman Island ferry terminal. I pull into the gas station and fill my gas tank to capacity. My dad’s words returned to haunt me as I start up the car and watch the needle climb past full. It’s just as easy to travel on the top half of the tank. Yup, he’s right. I’ll remember that advice—till the next time.