The Murphy’s Law Vacation

In 1980 began a trip which I will call “The Murphy’s Law Vacation”.

It was planned as a great summer vacation to visit family. At the time we lived in Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands (now known as Haida Qwaii), and the plan was to drive to Camlachie, just outside of Sarnia, Ontario (about 5000 kilometres away), to visit grandparents. We would be leaving Masset in mid June.

Okay, who were “we”. There was me of course, mother Evelyn, daughter Anita and son Colin. Anita was just turning three and Colin was a couple months past his first birthday.

Our chariot was a 1975 Toyota Corolla SR-5 (two door), and our lodgings consisted of a soft-top tent trailer (of unknown vintage, likely about mid 1960s). The chariot was in good condition, the trailer as well (roof was good, all support rods accounted for), however the cover was missing, so I decided to fabricate one from an orange tarp, a few pieces of wood, screws, and an abundant quantity of duck tape. It was form fitting and held down by a varied selection of bungee cords.

Plans were made, route was plotted, car was prepped (including two car seats for the wee travelers), trailer was loaded. Two days before our departure we shipped out the car and trailer. You see, in those days there was no ferry from the Queen Charlotte Islands to the mainland. Vehicles went by barge, people by seaplane. Therefore, the chariot and lodgings left Masset two days before we did.

The family flew from Masset to Prince Rupert via Trans Provincial Air on a Grumman Goose. The flight was uneventful and upon landing we took a taxi to the barge terminal to pick up the vehicle. Be it known that the terminal was a dusty place, as we had to look hard to see the car and trailer under all the dirt. However, a bit of cleaning and all was well. Off we went, both children in their car seats, Anita behind Mum and Colin behind me.

As we departed Prince Rupert, we encountered construction, covering the stretch of Highway 16 between Skeena and Terrace. Construction is never a joy; however, it went along not badly until just before Terrace, a section with exceptionally large boulders and potholes. It was there that it happened. There was a big bang and suddenly the car became considerably louder. Upon inspection, it appeared that a large rock had impacted the front of the exhaust pipe, breaking it not far from the header connection. As it turned out, repairs would not be in anything resembling the immediate future.

Our first scheduled stop was the KOA campground at Burns Lake. Suffice it to say, essentially having no exhaust system, they knew when we arrived. We acquired a site, and all went well in the trailer set up and preparation for the evening. The night, however, was a different story. The weather patterns of the upper interior British Columbia area can be unpredictable at the best of times. This was no exception as the temperature dropped to near 0C, our lodgings had become distinctly uncomfortable, and there was frost on the trailer canvas. As one can imagine, there were no morning niceties. It was in the car for warmth for Mum and the kids while Dad expedited the trailer pack up, and we likely woke most of the other residents as we thundered out of the campground. It was more than an hour later before we were warm enough to stop at McDonald’s and grab some breakfast.

Now some may recall that 1980 was the year that the movie Honeysuckle Rose, with Willie Nelson, was released. Of course, as fans, we had the album and played it quite often. As it turned out, we were not the only ones listening. As we were leaving breakfast that day a small voice from the back seat piped up “on road again”. Anita had learned it well as we heard it quite often for the remainder of the trip.

Okay, back to the trip. Our destination for the next day was Jasper, about 600 km. We arrived there late afternoon in our not-so-quiet vehicle, and there were two issues. First, it was raining awfully hard, and second, Colin was crying in apparent discomfort and we were not sure why. So, off to the hospital we went.

Well, it turned out that the little guy had developed a slightly infected penis, which certainly would be quite painful. The doctors provided him with some medication and antibiotic. They also indicated that if he were less distressed in the morning, we would be able to proceed to Edmonton, suggesting we get him checked there. After a night in a hotel (certainly no camping with his situation and the pouring rain), we set off in the morning, the ever-present exhaust notes notifying all in the area.

It was still pouring as we left Jasper and the forecast was the same all the way to Edmonton. Certainly not great for traveling. On the way though came another situation. We did not know, however were about to find out, that Colin, antibiotics, and traveling could not live in harmony. The result was, about halfway to Edmonton, Colin threw up. This was not a normal throw up though. He projectile vomited, all over the back of my seat, the back of my head, some even reaching the dash and windshield. Who knew he had it in him? If there was a vomit Olympics, he would have had the gold medal for sure.

I’m sure you can imagine, the cleanup put a definite crimp into our journey to the Alberta Capital, and we arrived fairly late in the afternoon. We first went to a doctor’s office so that we could get Colin checked out. The infection had subsided, and he was given a clean bill of health. However, it turned out he was not the only patient in the vehicle. Evelyn had become quite sick. Upon examination she was given some medication, told to rest the night, and she should be fine to travel the next day. With that good news, it was off to find a place to stay the night, which turned out to be not an easy task. Finally, we found a place and into the room we went. It turned out to be an interesting place, all decorated in red velvet and red satin. You can use your own imagination. For us, the crucial aspect was met – it was warm and dry. We left, in the still thundering chariot, early the next morning heading for Saskatoon.

As someone who grew up in the Edmonton area, the drive to Saskatoon is pretty routine, some would say it is boring. For me though, being a country boy, I usually found it interesting with the continuing growth and varied farming activities. However, for the summer of 1980, driving across the prairies was both a challenge and a chore. The whole area was in the middle of a severe drought period, fields too dry to support crops, with the strong winds pushing the dirt around. The dirt became almost like snow in the winter, blowing and drifting, reducing visibility and at times making driving difficult.

Now remember this was a bit “back in the day”, so there was no air conditioning in the car. The sun was shining, the outside temperature was hot, so one can imagine what it was like inside the car. Managing this condition was difficult, as the blowing dirt made opening windows a tricky endeavor, especially with the children in the back seat. Between the crosswinds and the passing trucks, the trusty tent trailer seemed to have a mind of its own at times. As well, the wind kept trying to lift the tarp right off. A stop at a local hardware store to purchase a large quantity of rope solved the tarp issue but the wind made driving very tiring.

Wind and dust notwithstanding we arrived, under blue skies, in Saskatoon about mid afternoon. Finally, we were able to address the ever-present noise issue as we stopped at a muffler shop and had the exhaust system repaired. Then off we went, in great and wonderful silence, to the KOA campground just south of the city, setting up with no issues and actually having a pleasant evening.

Reasonably rested, we were on the road the next morning, headed south towards Regina, and then east on the Trans Canada Highway. We were all feeling that the worst was behind us as we enjoyed the peace and quiet of a repaired vehicle. The day continued this way until we approached the Wolseley area when, with a bang and a jerk, one of the trailer tires decided to cease working and blew out. It was okay, we were prepared with a nearly new spare, so with a bit of down time we headed down the road again, looking for a place to obtain a new tire. One was found, and we carried on.

All this had caused a delay in our travels, so when we passed a sign indicating the community of Red Jacket, we viewed a campsite along the highway and decided to stop for the night. We checked in and obtained a site. While checking in we surveyed the small, and expensive, selection of foodstuffs they had available. Considering the limited options, we decided to drive to Red Jacket and pick up some groceries. We followed the sign, turned off the highway and drove down a gravel road until reaching an intersection with a couple of houses and what looked like a farm. It seems that the campground was the closest thing to a store in Red Jacket, so we headed back, picked up a few items, and bunked down for the night.

The next morning, bright and early, we were on the road, headed east. Little did we know that twenty years later we could have used that now well-known Canadian expression, “Goin’ to Winnipeg”.

As we were approaching Winnipeg, we had a serious decision to make regarding our journey. Remember, this was the summer of 1980.

Two major events had occurred that summer which were impacting on our journey. The first was the eruption of Mount St Helens in Washington state during the month of May, with the second being ongoing major forest fires in Northern Ontario.

As we reached Winnipeg we would have to decide which route to take as we continued our journey; should we travel north or south to get around Lake Superior. Up to this point we had avoided traveling through the northern US states because of the volcanic ash from Mt St Helens, which extended as far east as Minnesota. There were also serious forest fires in Northern Ontario causing the closure of the Trans Canada highway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.

We left Red Jacket not knowing which way we would travel, however on the way the radio news indicated that the Trans Canada highway was opening up, so we decided to head to Thunder Bay after a pit stop in Winnipeg.

About half an hour after leaving Winnipeg came a change of plans as one of the trailer tires suffered a blowout. With quite a distance empty of services remaining to reach Thunder Bay, we turned around, returning to Winnipeg for a new tire. Having had two blowouts thus far on the trip, while at Canadian Tire, I decided it would be prudent to have two spares, so another tire and rim was acquired.

By now it was well into the afternoon, an extremely hot afternoon, so it was off to a KOA Campground on the east side of Winnipeg to allow for an early start the next morning. Oh, did I mention that it was hot? As a result, a good sleep was difficult to say the least.

As an aside – we found out later that the local temperatures for our night in Burns Lake was their coldest of the summer and our night in Winnipeg was their hottest of the summer.

As an aside – we found out later that the local temperatures for our night in Burns Lake was their coldest of the summer and our night in Winnipeg was their hottest of the summer.

Having decided on the route to take, I contacted my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Ian and made arrangements to stay overnight with their family just outside Thunder Bay. With an early start we arrived at their residence in the latter half of the afternoon. During the drive there were moments of great sadness as we passed through large areas of black smoldering forest from the recent fires.

Other than that, the day’s travel went very well and following our arrival in the Slate River Valley area we had a wonderful evening visiting with my aunt, uncle and six cousins. Even got some pool time to relax.

The following morning, after a tasty breakfast and some goodbyes, we headed off in the direction of Sault Ste Marie. In great spirits we drove past Thunder Bay for about fifty kilometres or so. Then we got a message from our trusty chariot, in the form of sudden reduction in performance and some very uncharacteristic sounds from under the hood. So – we turned around and limped into Thunder Bay for assistance. Fortunately, it turned out to be not a serious issue, however it did take a couple of hours to determine that and provide a remedy. Then, a quick phone call, and back to another evening with the relatives, not a bad ending for the day.

The next morning, once again, we said goodbyes and headed east. Although it was nice and sunny when we left, as we went along it got darker and darker. The plan was to seek a campground as we got closer to Sault Ste Marie. However – the weather gods, with their capricious nature, decided that was not to be. As the expression goes, “the heavens opened”, and all thoughts of camping just disappeared.

It was starting to get well into the evening and the decision was made not to stop, but just press on. We crossed into Michigan, over the bridge at the Straits of Mackinac, and headed down I-75. Although the rain started to let up it was still very windy and to make driving worse, there was some form of construction on the highway causing one lane to be closed for many miles (not kilometres as we were now in the US). Marking the closed lane were the familiar metal pilons with their yellow flashing light at the top. They must have been purchased at a sale because there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them, located what seemed like 25 feet apart. Driving past them for miles and miles at night was not enjoyable.

Finally, the rain petered out, although it was still windy, and we pulled into a rest stop for a bit of shut eye. Mum and the kids slept in the car, but I took a blanket and laid down for a while under the back of the trailer.

The winds finally died down and the morning sky began to lighten. We were to find out later that Central and Northern Michigan had been under a tornado watch for most of the night. Hmm… guess that would explain the winds.

Well, time to get back on the road, and the final part of our journey to Camlachie went smoothly. We did manage to surprise Granny and Grampy by arriving hours before they were expecting us.

Well now you might say, that is half of the trip, now a similar tale of the return journey will ensue. However, that is not to be. After several days visiting friends and relatives in Ontario, we headed back to Masset. This time traveling through the States as the volcanic ash issue had ended. We transited through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota before re-entering Canada through Saskatchewan.

On the return journey we had no trailer issues, no car issues, no weather issues, and no health issues, save one. I got sick. Actually, while driving through Saskatchewan with the window closed and the sun shining on me, I had gotten extremely hot and was sweating copiously. I had become weak and had to sit in the shade after putting up the trailer at a campground just past Saskatoon. While sitting I had grabbed a can of cashews and started munching. Soon I was feeling better. I had been suffering from hyponatremia (lack of salt), and the salted nuts had come to my aid.

That one event was the only thing of any significance to happen as we arrived back in Masset. The return journey was almost an anti-climax, but we sure did not mind.