I went to a small country school and, thanks to Facebook I’m actually still in touch with a few of the people I’ve known since grade three. Recently, someone posted a picture of an end of year souvenir with the signatures of everyone in the class….except me. At first I was a bit puzzled. Was I sick that day? Was everyone else just pretending to be friends with me all those years?
But then I realized it was from 1986, the year I left school a few weeks before summer break to go on a little road trip with my family. A six week long trip. From the west coast of Canada all the way to Newfoundland. To this day I’m not sure if my parents were incredibly brave or just crazy.
One factor that makes me lean a little bit towards the “crazy” explanation is our ages. We had grown up camping with our family, but we weren’t exactly little kids any more. I was eleven, just shy of twelve and was was right in the middle of what could only be described as a puberty by Blitzkrieg. Seriously, in the space of about 18 months I went from the short, scrawny kid who was always in the front row of class pictures to pretty much my full adult size. For a very brief period of time I got a taste of what it was like to be a tall person.
My brother had recently turned thirteen and was no less awkward. At one point I’m pretty sure he was both the tallest member of the family and the lightest. I had glasses, he had braces, we both had terrible haircuts and unfortunate wardrobes, thanks to a mother, bless her, who firmly believed that the clothes in the thrift shop were “every bit as good” as the ones in the regular stores. (And for the record, we’re talking about the charity shops run by the church ladies, not the “cool” ones.)
While I love our memories of that trip, I still find it hard to look at the pictures, even though I’m definitely not a fashion conscious person. Have you ever heard of the website Awkwardfamilyphotos.com? Take the worst of the 80’s gallery and the worst of the Vacation gallery and combine them. We were that awkward.
Then there was our chosen method of conveyance. It was a dark green Ford 150 Supercab with a camper on the back. But not one of those nice, spacious campers with cushy berths and indoor plumbing. No, ours was really more of a cap than a camper, with a footprint exactly the size of the truck bed plus a tiny overhang that was big enough for one, coffin-like berth above the cab. It had enough room for a tiny dinette that converted into my parents’ bed, a little, doll sized kitchen and a bit of storage. It might of been adequate for a family of two. For a few days. If it wasn’t raining.
And yet, for some reason, my normally sensible parents took a good look at the camper and at us and decided to cram four adult sized people into this tiny camper and head out on a 9000 km, six week road trip across ten provinces. I have to say, though, that if they were trying to create some great family memories, they more than succeeded.
One of the most dramatic memories I have from the trip actually happened in our own province on day two. We had camped at Glacier National Park and we were just heading back to the highway when we passed a girl stumbling along the path in the campground. She waved at us and we slowed down and saw that she had a huge gash along the whole length of her shin. We helped her into the truck and in broken English she explained that she was from Germany and camping with some friends. She had gone for a walk but had tripped on a fallen log and had somehow managed to cut her leg open from knee to ankle.
My mom dug into our brand new first aid kit to patch her up while we drove her to her campsite, but once there we discovered that another member of the group had taken their only vehicle to get groceries, so we offered to take her to the hospital in Golden since it was on our way. For once, I think my dad may have actually gone a bit above the speed limit on that one hour drive to Golden that morning. The camper seemed to be in a bit of shock and my brother and I definitely were, so there wasn’t much chatter on that drive. We dropped her off safely at the hospital and all ended well, but I have to marvel a bit at the fact that after having the bad luck of getting such a serious injury, it was pretty fortuitous that the first vehicle that came by happened to contain a German speaking nurse who happened to be going in the direction of the only hospital around for miles. Funny how things like that happen when you travel.
While we did spend an awful lot of time on that trip camping, we do have relatives scattered across the country and we were able to park in their yards and take advantage of their indoor plumbing every now and then. A few times I was even able to escape the upper sleeping coffin with my dad snoring like a chainsaw underneath in exchange for an air mattress in a cousin’s room. One of the highlights of the trip was time spent with relatives that we rarely got to see, playing on farms, jumping on trampolines and fishing on remote lakes. I even had my one and only experience with lake swimming when I went out with my cousin from Lake of the Woods Ontario. We lived on an acreage and had chickens and I sort of considered myself a “county kid” but I couldn’t hold a candle to her when it came to country kid toughness.
We had biked for about a hundred miles to the nearest lake, (okay, it was more like five or six, but still it seemed like an awfully long way to go for just a swim) and walked out to the dock and jumped in. We were having a great time, splashing around in the deep water, but then we began to get tired. My cousin and her friend started pulling themselves up onto the dock but I figured it would be much easier to just swim a few yards to shore and walk out of the water. As I headed in that direction I suddenly heard them yelling at me to stop. “Why can’t I just get out this way?” I asked. “Because of the snapping turtles!” they answered.
Well, you’ve never seen anyone swim back to a dock and haul herself out of the water as fast as I did that day. And despite their laughing at me and insisting the deep water was perfectly safe, I spent the rest of that afternoon sitting on the dock and working on getting a lovely, lobster red sunburn.
But despite all the awkwardness, the rainy nights spent bickering and clambering over each other in the tiny space, the endless meals of ham sandwiches and carrot sticks and the hours and hours and hours on the road, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. My parents showed me that you don’t need a perfect family or a lot of money to go out and explore the world. And even though I do things a bit differently than they did, I hope to teach my children the same thing someday.