As you read this, my wife, Bonnie, and I are somewhere between Rapid City, SD and Billings, MT on what we refer to - with smiles and tongues firmly in cheeks - as the “Grand and Glorious Semi-Annual Adventure.”
We drive a Ford F-350 dually towing a 48-foot horse trailer…with two or three horses, two Borzoi (Russian Wolf Hounds) and two cats between Florida and the Okanagan. It is a 5,156 kilometre (3,222.5 mile) trip door to door…and we usually make it in five days. Easy to see how we came up with the name for our trips.
This is our twelfth “Adventure”…and the one thing we know is that despite diligent planning…stuff happens that we can’t control. We added “Grand and Glorious” even though it is neither grand nor glorious…but we both appreciate irony and sarcasm.
We have - over the years - had four flat tires. And while it might be said there is no good time or place for a flat…there sure are some bad times and places. Montana - halfway between Butte and Billings - on a Saturday afternoon, for example, is a particularly bad place and time.
On another trip with our previous Ford F-450, we experienced what the service manager at the Ford dealership in Chattanooga, TN described as a “catastrophic fuel pump failure.” Nothing much good comes your way when a sentence has the words “catastrophic” and “failure” in it. And so it was that five days and more than US $7,000 later…we were back on the road. But not before getting to know some folks in Chattanooga that we now call friends.
Even that trip - which meant a twice-as-long “Adventure” - was no big deal. You see - like tempered steel that gains strength by being heated - we were stronger from our previous experiences. Our very first trip from Florida to the Okanagan was a 23-day odyssey thanks to the worst Spring blizzard in the Midwest since 1870. Since 1870? Yes, Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States, work had just started on the Brooklyn Bridge, and Christmas wasn’t yet an official U.S. holiday.
We were delayed for 13 days in Council Bluffs, IA…literally across the street from Omaha, NE, by storms that dumped a foot or more of snow on us every other day the entire time. I’m not sure, but another day and we might have qualified to vote in local elections. We dined in every steak house in the area…and my Yelp and Trip Advisor restaurant comments are now legend…often exceeding a thousand words.
Both of us have - over the years - ended up in hospital emergency rooms during the “Adventure”…conveniently not on the same trip. Another time, one of our Borzoi - normally so well-behaved that we could let her off a leash to go potty - bolted for no apparent reason and dashed like an escapee from Stalag 17 nearly a mile across a muddy field in Iowa. On yet another trip, the other Borzoi tore into his bag of dry dog food…eating until satisfied before returning to his cage and presenting the worst case of explosive diarrhea I have ever witnessed.
I believe the two cats - a Rag Doll named Andy and a three-legged Tabby named Gingee - hate travel as much as two cats can hate anything. Despite a large custom-made cage with shelves, cat box, toys, food and water…lifers in Burnaby’s Oakalla Prison were likely happier than these cats. It is easier to put toothpaste back in the tube than it is to put the two cats in the cage when we start an “adventure.” And when we take them out of the cage when we arrive… you’d swear the three-legged rascal was an octopus.
Our early “Adventures” were without the benefit of now plentiful apps for our devices showing motels with huge parking lots and truck stops for diesel fuel and more. On a couple of occasions, we poured diesel from five-gallon “stupid cans” packed for the ride…and were glad we did. We have pulled into parking lots…and listened to GPS directions that led us into residential areas along the Interstate Highways that might have led most people to simply put a for sale sign on the rig and walk away.
Early on - before investing in various technologies for the horse trailer - we carried five-gallon water buckets from bathroom tubs - often from rooms on the second floor or higher…sometimes the length of a football field…to water horses along the way.
When it comes to motel rooms, our accommodations over the years have ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime. It has been said, “any port in a storm,” but I swear we have on occasion stayed in places that made driving on in darkness after a 12-hour day seem a realistic option.
When someone hands you lemons, make lemonade, they say. In that spirit, should we ever make movies and need a crack house setting or a room where a murder might happen…we have successfully scouted likely places near Paducah, KY and Casper, Wyoming.
Of course, we’re a bit smarter now. Unlike the first trip to Florida…when we left on Boxing Day. We now leave the day after Thanksgiving in October and fly to B.C. for Christmas, flying back to Florida for New Year’s. We now wait until the end of April for the “Grand and Glorious Semi-Annual Adventure” back to the Okanagan…honestly, I can’t take another stint in Iowa or Nebraska.
We now have an automatic watering system in the horse trailer…so our days of toting water buckets are like my youth…long past. The crappy tires that came as original equipment on the F-350 and the horse trailer have been replaced with more substantial, higher rated tires that are less likely to leave us stranded. The newer trailer has better lighting inside and out. We keep an extra marine battery handy for the air ride and hydraulics to hitch the trailer easily. We have spare tires, tools, flares, up-to-date maps, GPS, three trailer video cameras and any in-cab monitor to check on the animals en route.
In short…we have planned for everything. No, not really. But that’s why we still call it the “Grand and Glorious Semi-Annual Adventure.” Hmmm…I wonder if we can make Bozeman, MT tonight?
— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.
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