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THOMPSON: The grand semi-annual adventure

February 20, 2017 - 12:30 PM

 


OPINION


Some of our family and friends say we're nuts. They say this because my wife and I load a trailer with two or three horses, two dogs and two cats and drive 5,214 kilometres between horse farms in British Columbia and Florida. We do this twice a year. This is our fifth year of what we call the Grand Semi-Annual Adventure. We are not nuts, though certainly a case can be made.

You see, the first time we made this trip, we left Vernon on Boxing Day. And while there was snow on the ground until we reached Kansas City, the roads were mostly dry. My wife, Bonnie, looked at me as we drove - somewhere between Chattanooga and Atlanta - and proclaimed, "Well, that wasn't so bad."

The truth is, make that same trip for 25 years and you might get lucky one time. Our one time was the first trip, so I'm pretty sure our luck has run out. Given this reality, it was one of Bonnie's Eureka! moments to suggest we drive to Florida in early October - with much less chance of snow - fly back a month later for Christmas with the kids, and then fly back to Florida for the rest of the winter. The gal is smart.

Problem solved. But, as we all know, life if full of challenges, big and small. We'll make our tenth 5,000 km trip in another couple months and we know something will happen. After all, that's why we call it an adventure.

Let me take you back to that first trip. We loaded the menagerie of animals, clothes, golf clubs and an assortment of must-have items - like my Italian gelato maker - and at 8 a.m. left for the border in Osoyoos. And before you say anything, yes, an Italian gelato maker is absolutely a must-have item.

Crossing the border can be an adventure in itself...especially with an entourage like ours.  We made it roughly 100 feet inside the United States before running into our first problem. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Officer told us the veterinarians normally on hand weren't working the day after Christmas.

"You'll have to cross in either Sumas, WA or Eastport/Kingsgate, ID," said the officer. "They have vets there."

The last thing you want to hear on a 46-hour drive is that you're going the wrong way. I explained that we had called days before and were told a vet would be in Osoyoos. The officer eyed us suspiciously, disappeared and then returned ten minutes later. He said, "You're in luck, the vet's on break and will be back in an hour."

Later, as we drove toward Spokane, we relished the fact that we had saved ourselves hours of driving by not being turned back at the border. We learned early on to embrace small victories, no matter how pyrrhic. This first trip was - excuse the mixed metaphor - a shakedown cruise. We soon realized we underestimated the work involved each day. Every animal - horse, dog and cat - had to be fed and watered twice a day. The stalls had to be mucked, the cat boxes cleaned and the dogs walked.

We didn't have snow on that first trip, but it was bitterly cold...which brings us to our next, let's call it, opportunity rather than problem, in hopes of sounding optimistic. The horses have plenty of room in the trailer stalls, so we stay in motels along the way. Unfortunately, the only access to water that night - it was minus-18 degrees - was the bathtub in our motel room. We hauled water from room 234 to the trailer…about 200 yards away. By the way, five gallons of water weighs 41.7 pounds...plus the bucket. After the aforementioned animal chores, we hauled metal dog and cat crates to the room and assembled them.

We brought the two Borzoi - Russian Wolf Hounds - up to the room. Then, we carried in the two cats - a Rag Doll and a marmalade-coloured, former barn cat with three legs (that's another story). For the uninitiated, cats hate road trips, especially caged in a trailer tack room for five days. So, by the time they get to the room each night, well, they're pissed.

In our room for the night after 10 hours on the road and nearly two hours of chores, Bonnie offered me a gin martini, and summed up the day, with another "Well, that wasn't so bad." I had two drinks, as I recall. Tomorrow, I thought - a mere eight hours away - would bring more of the same. Our own personal Groundhog Day. We started and ended every day in darkness. But, we smiled and laughed a lot...what would be hallmarks of our trips...and pretty well solved many of the world's problems during the long days of driving.

The next day we drove through a sliver of Idaho, a very wide Montana and a third of the way across South Dakota.  We stopped in Murdo - a town of fewer than 500 people and a single traffic light - and pulled into the lot of a vintage Best Western.  Same drill with the chores and incredibly it was minus-18 C again, with a 25 mile per hour wind. 

We were hungry, but the Buffalo Restaurant - a rustic steakhouse - was 500 yards away with no room for a truck and trailer. Besides, the horses were settled in for the night, so we weren't moving the trailer. As I showered, Bonnie suggested we take a cab to the steakhouse.

"There's no cab in this town," I laughed. "I'll eat cheese crackers from a vending machine before walking in this weather."

But, Bonnie grabbed the telephone directory from the bedside table, looked under "taxi cabs" and sure enough, found a listing for Mitchell Cabs. She called, said we were at the Best Western and wanted to go to the local steakhouse. The dispatcher said a cab would be there in ten minutes.

Still shaking my head in disbelief, I walked with her to the lobby to await the cab. We entered and noticed a woman behind the desk and an assortment of local residents drinking coffee and talking. It was a scene reminiscent of Andy Griffith's Mayberry. 

The four or five Murdo residents gazed at us intently, as the desk clerk asked, "How can I help you folks?" Bonnie said we were going to the steakhouse and were waiting on a cab. The laughter was spontaneous and loud, from everyone but us.

The woman behind the desk managed to say between gales of laughter, "There's no cab here!"
I rolled my eyes, but Bonnie said, "Sure there is," and asked for the phone directory.
She paged through the listings and handed the open phone book to the desk clerk.

"See, Mitchell Cabs," Bonnie said with an unmistakable air of confidence. The room - once more - broke into laughter...almost deafening this time. "Oh, honey," said the woman, "Mitchell is a town about 150 miles east of here." I called Mitchel Cabs and asked them to cancel our ride, explaining we were in Murdo. There was more laughter on the other end of the line.

As I ended the call with an apology, the woman behind the desk tossed Bonnie her keys and said, "That's my van outside, drive down and get a good steak." We did. Most of dinner, Bonnie was incredulous about how nice the woman was to loan her van. She suggested I offer her money for gas when we returned, which I knew would be refused.

We had experienced the graciousness of people living in a small town. It was heart-warming. We occasionally stay in Murdo on our trips back and forth when the timing is right.

But even when we drive past en route to another stop, we smile, and fondly remember the people of small towns everywhere...who almost invariably are good Samaritans. Yes, our family and friends still say we are nuts.  But they've never been to Murdo on the Grand Semi-Annual Adventure.


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