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May 4, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 18
 
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Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014

 

 



 
 
The Kindness of Strangers
The Kindness of Strangers
By Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP

There's a famous line from the character Blanch Dubois in Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire about depending upon the kindness of strangers. I think we were more inclined up to that day to independently depend upon our own resources. It was this kindness however that saved us as we drove from Nimpo Lake, East, to Williams Lake on desolate but scenic BC Hwy. 20, that hot miserable summer afternoon.

The road to Nimpo had been bad enough in cooler overcast weather with wind blowing. Now it was hot sun, ferocious mosquitoes and other venomous insects, no air movement, and a delayed departure. Poor Mariah (my 1976 GMC classic motor home) labored as best she could with a load that never should have been mounted in front of her radiator and that wobbled with every little bump throwing the front-end drive off. There was also the heavy drag of a horribly overloaded Saturn being towed behind. Mariah, as always, did her best, but was in trouble on the highway's steep ascents and descents in temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit! GMC Classics are great, but not designed to handle that kind of an overload.

Never, ever, ever, let anyone talk you into overloading your car or rig, or over-packing!!!!

I was long past politely, profusely perspiring at the wheel, wishing I'd brought along a sweatband as salt dripped into my stinging eyes. We'd fueled up after learning how few gas stations, or anything resembling an amenity there were on this road. My companion wanted an ice cream bar, but the gas station freezers had broken down. Nothing frozen or even cold was available. I tried to keep drinking "room" temperature 96 degree water to stay hydrated and alert for a long, hot drive &.as I coped with keeping the rig under control on a bad road, unable to relax for even a moment, unless we stopped and parked safely and then sweltered in our own personal mobile sauna.

The dashboard engine temperature gauge was rising, but not yet half way&I knew that didn't mean much on an older vehicle. One quarter of the way represented a warm or hot engine, so I watched carefully, alert to every sound from engine, transmission, brakes, and turned the cab heater blower vents on high to help dissipate engine heat even though that made things even hotter inside for us&and then, about two thirds of the way to Williams Lake, in the middle of mountainous, precipitous, nowhere, I smelled radiator steam a second before my companion shouted at me that the rig was on fire.

There were no flames; it didn't smell to me like fire or smoke so much as vaporized anti-freeze. I looked for a safe place to stop, and pulled into a blacktopped rest area which had as its only convenience two brown, bear-proof steel garbage cans. She was shouting something about a fire extinguisher, and to not turn the engine off. Smelling and seeing increasing steam, feeling heat through the floorboards, watching the thermostat gauge continue to rise, knowing how hot it was outside, and that there was no breeze or air movement to help cool, I shut off the motor while there was hopefully, some fluid left in the radiator. I asked her to see if the CB radio or cell phone could pick up a signal as I left the drivers station and headed out the door to check under the hood to see what was happening. There was no signal for either radio or cell phone. We were stranded with no chance of calling for help, with night coming on, a situation we'd been warned never to be in. These BC roads did not have emergency travelers' phones on them. You could have literally cooked dinner on the hot black top which emanated visible heat waves.

The radiator had boiled over, cap still in place, but the overflow tank cap had blown off. I hoped that the engine hadn't seized, as I was pretty sure it would have done if left running under superheated conditions.

The only other vehicle in sight was about to leave the parking area. I shouted to my companion through the windshield that I was going to ask for help, and hurried towards the huge moving van.

Waving at them got a friendly wave back, until they rolled the air conditioned cab window down as I shouted at them while frantically waving my arms, prepared to throw myself in front of the truck, indicating urgent need. I explained what had happened and that we needed help as neither of us knew anything about mechanics or motors. Slowly they left the cool comfort of their cab to assess the problem. Two men, one in his 20's I'd guess, one in his 30's, a lady friend, and the older man's daughter. They were carrying a load from Bella Coola to elsewhere in BC or Alberta, and were running late. Roy, the leader, looked and ascertained that there was no way to open the radiator cap, it was sizzling hot, we'd have to let it cool down. We all stood politely, congenially together on the hellish hot tar. I knew they were running late, missed their cool cab, and couldn't have been more thankful and grateful for their graciousness in staying with us.

I went back into the rig and dug out the Godiva dark chocolate coated espresso beans to share with them as we had no beer, and they weren't interested in a warm soft drink or hot beverage. The once glossy confection was now melted down and dull colored, but, we enjoyed them anyway. Eventually it cooled enough so that Roy was able get the cap off, and slowly add a precious gallon of water to the radiator. I went to start the engine so that the water could circulate, but, the engine wouldn't start. Roy went back to his cab, put on coveralls, and went to work on the problem. Finally, Mariah started up.

We agreed to both get onto CB channel 1, I think it was, so that we could stay in touch. They would follow us on the road to Williams Lake until we were in town, where, if need be we could easily get help. If we broke down again, they'd be right behind us to assist. They refused compensation, asking only that I remember to let folks know that Graham Trucking was a good outfit to hire. I've tried spreading the good word for them.

We got to Williams Lake without further incident, to an RV park, where cool showers were the order of the day, while the roof air conditioners, now plugged into shore power, began cooling the interior to tolerable levels, and the mosquitoes kept doing their bloodthirsty thing. I don't recall what we ate in the rig that night; it didn't matter, I just wanted water, rest, and my trusty bug zapper in hand to execute nasty insects.

After cooking breakfast the next morning, we detached the rig from shore power and went to a combination gas and convenience store on the corner of Hwy. 97 and the RV park street where we gassed up again, but, unfortunately, their freezers had also died, so there was no ice cream to be had for my companion. I settled for a cool Diet Coke, as I got behind the wheel and headed north on BC 97. The day was once again hot, then hotter, with some challenging steep inclines, but nothing like the terrifying precipices of Hwy. 20. We stopped for an A&W Root Beer fix, in Quesnel I think, then proceeded on to Prince George, which is quite a metropolis, with a gorgeous city park along the river. We went on to Hartway RV park, north of Prince George, parked, hooked up to all available amenities, turned both roof air conditioners on high, whereupon I headed for the local super market, expecting little, but hoping for a few fresh foods. I was in for a surprise that made my day. The market was fully air conditioned! I thought about throwing down a sleeping bag or mattress amidst the cool veggies and fruit, but instead marveled at the exotic unexpected selections which included hairy lychee's, star fruit, passion fruit, guava, mango, sweet cherries, exotic sausages with British, French, German and Italian derivations, fresh baked good bread and rolls, and more!

Mariahs hot water tank stopped functioning after a severe pot hole incident on Hwy. 20, but the park's showers were good, and they had a much needed Laundromat, for which there was a wait as others queued up to get things clean in anticipation of what we learned was this weekend's Canadian equivalent of our Fourth of July holiday.

We were too exhausted and hot to venture into Prince George for the festivities and fireworks, with full sun and temps still in the torrid zone. We ate out once or twice, nothing notable. I visited a German deli, again nothing notable, except that when I came out of the shop with some hard salami, halvah, pastry and cheese, the Saturn would not start. Temps in the lot were now likely past 110. I phoned for a tow, and an hour later one arrived and took me to a nearby garage, which was about to close. They ordered a battery, which arrived in another hour or two, and installed it. Cost for a small Ford battery up there was close to $200! My emergency trip insurance, by way of Family Motor Coach Assoc., took care of the tow. Hours later I returned to Mariah, almost in heat prostration, to lie quietly beneath the air conditioner which struggled to bring interior temps below 90.

I'd hoped to be able to find a repair facility to check out the hot water tank, but none were available on the weekend, particularly this weekend. We rested up and proceeded when safe to be on the highways (after a major holiday drinking weekend), towards Dawson Creek, which is the actual start, Mile 1, of the ALCAN. (No, we had nothing to drink aside from coffee, tea, diet pop. I just didn't want to be on the road after the radiator erupting and the battery dying on any day when help might not be available, and drivers might be impaired.)

We found a pleasant RV park and some internet access, (if you were in the right spot), just outside the city, and made camp. We wouldn't learn until later that we'd barely escaped being caught in the midst of forest fires as we'd driven from Prince George to Dawson Creek. The fires had necessitated evacuation of entire towns we'd just passed through, and hundreds of those evacuees were now crowding Dawson Creek.

A hot wind blew dust and dirt across the RV park. We almost lost the Saturn when, approaching heat prostration we detached it from the rig, forgetting to set the brake first. The car started rolling backwards, but my companion managed to catch up and put on the brakes. I don't know how she did it as she usually goes about on crutches, but she did, and then almost had a nervous breakdown when she realized she could have been hurt. Eventually she calmed down enough to venture with me to a (non air conditioned) pub for steak and chips dinner. She drank her usual pot of decaf, while I indulged in an icy frosted mug of draft Molson's Canadian. It was the best beer I'd ever tasted, went down easily and well, followed by another - the high point of my day.

Please do not confuse BC's Dawson Creek with Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, about which I'll write later on&they are nowhere near similar to one another. (Dawson City was a delightful high point of the adventure, but it would be a long road before we'd get there, and a terrifying journey from that point on when we left.)

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