Road Trip: My Near-Death Experience in the Fraser Canyon

When I was 17, a buddy and I set out on a road trip from our hometown of Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver, B.C., a journey which would normally be expected to take 11-12 hours. It would take us considerably longer than that.

This was due to our mode of transportation, which was my 1973 Plymouth Fury. If, like most people, you don’t know what that is, try this: First, imagine you are 17 year old guy. Next, picture the hottest car you have ever seen. Finally, wipe that image completely from your mind, and think of what the opposite of that might look like. That’s the Plymouth Fury. It was sort of like a cruise ship on wheels. My friends and I could play a game of pickup football on the hood alone (we left the trunk for dance parties).

In spite of its lack of aesthetic appeal, it had been a fairly reliable vehicle for me. I had no reason to suspect that it would not be up to the task ahead of it. Well, except for my mother, who reminded me that it was an older car, and would almost certainly break down. She was adamant that we not go. I told her it would be fine. She reminded me that our route would include dangerous mountain passes, not to mention the treacherous Fraser Canyon (this was before the Coquihalla highway) where narrow roads wind around blind turns precariously perched upon sheer precipices. My mother was always fussing about the possibility of bad things happening to her baby. I said that she was being silly, ignored her advice and left.

We broke down in the Fraser Canyon. Fortunately we were able to coax the ailing vehicle to a safe place off to the side of the road that was big enough so that the wounded behemoth did not obstruct traffic. Exiting the vehicle, we lifted the hood on the off-chance that either one of us might have a clue what was wrong. We did not. We left the hood up, the universal signal that says, “Hey! We’re idiots who drove a junker into a remote location only to have it conk out and we have no idea what to do about it.”

Having accomplished that, we took stock of our surroundings. First off, it was 40℃ (back then, we called it 104℉). The sun, all alone in a cloudless sky, blazed down on us mercilessly, reminding us of our isolation. As we stood beside our now-comatose beast of burden, a cliff rose up at our backs. Looking left and right, we saw two lanes that extended only as far as the next blind curve in either direction. No other vehicles. Crossing the highway we came upon a steel guard rail which, upon further inspection, we found to be the only thing between us and a sheer drop that terminated far below with some jagged rocks and a churning Fraser River.

Have you ever had a Fraser Canyon moment? I’ve recently embarked on a journey of sorts; a new phase of life: retirement, and a second career as a writer. It’s been a great ride for the most part, but now, as I’m attempting to get my first novel published, I find myself somewhat stalled in the middle of nowhere. There are a number of options open to me, but none of them currently seem very promising, and it’s difficult to know which way to go.

The map told us that Boston Bar (this was before Cheers was on TV) was the nearest town, but that it was very far away. We decided to wait for a passing vehicle; some Good Samaritan who would come by and save the day. Unfortunately, the only things that rolled along over the next half hour were the beads of sweat that poured down our faces, so eventually we came to the conclusion that we would have to set out on foot. We struck out towards (we sincerely hoped) Boston Bar, and agreed to hitchhike if anyone at all came by. I had never hitchhiked before. My mother said it was dangerous, since you never knew who would pick you up. But what did my mother know, anyway?

We trudged along up the highway, every step a marathon in that wretched heat. I’ll never forget the moment when we finally we saw the sun glint upon a distant approaching vehicle. As it drew nearer we could see that it was an old, faded-red Datsun pick up, and that it (joy! rapture!) slowed in response to our eagerly upraised thumbs.

The driver pulled over, stopped and leaned over to open the passenger door. He was somewhere between 60 and 100 years old, a little rough looking, but seemed friendly. We’ll call him Slim. We told Slim that we needed a ride to the nearest town, and he invited us to hop in.

My friend and I looked at each other warily. I’m not going to lie: we were more than a little apprehensive. Of course, being adolescent males we hadn’t discussed our feelings (or allowed ourselves to show any outward signs of anxiety at all—duh!), but let’s face it, we were two kids stranded in the middle of an extremely harsh environment with neither the know-how nor the resources to solve our problem. And now we were about to get into some old dude’s truck so he could take us off into the wilderness, pull out his axe, murder us and hide our bodies. And worst of all, I would die having to admit that my mom was right.   

The truth was, we didn’t have a lot of options. So off we went, three guys shoulder to shoulder in a tiny truck (with a stick shift!), windows rolled down in a fruitless attempt to blow away the oppressive heat (and . . .  er . . .  aroma). Our chauffeur was friendly indeed, and alleviated the awkwardness by asking us the sorts of questions one asks when attempting to initiate conversation with strangers. ‘Where’re ya from?’ ‘What the heck are ya doin way out here?’ ‘What happened to yer car?’ ‘How dumb are you guys?’ etc. We soon realized that, in spite of his appearance, he was not the sort to murder innocent young’uns. Not intentionally, at least.

His driving was what would likely get us killed. Or rather, his conversational prowess. Normally, making eye contact whilst communicating with others is a good thing; it helps establish trust, experts say. I’m going to suggest that the experts have never driven through the Fraser Canyon with Slim.

Slim looked at us whenever he said anything. He said lots. When he finished speaking, he’d take a quick glance at the road, jerk the steering wheel to bring the pickup back into its lane, then look back at us in expectation of a response. We soon recognized the need to speak quickly and keep our answers short.

That was easier said than done, given our level of distraction. We wanted to be polite, but when your vehicle edges ever closer to a cliff as the driver launches into leisurely discourse, it’s difficult to pay attention to what he’s saying. He’s telling you all about his life, and all you can hear above the sound of your pounding heart is your own voice in your head saying, “We’re gonna die we’re gonna die we’re gonna die!” Then the vehicle veers hard back on course, throwing you against your sweaty seatmate. Recovering, you notice Slim’s expectant glance in your direction and realize with horror that his last utterance must have been a question, and that if you don’t answer it he will not look away. And the tiny truck approaches the death-drop yet again. Essentially, it was like having a casual conversation with a gun to your head.

We survived, obviously. We made it to Boston Bar only to find that, since it was Sunday and the only service station was closed, we’d have to wait until the next day. We ended up sleeping in the car that night. I don’t recall how we got back there, but it obviously wasn’t with Slim, or I would remember (or we wouldn’t have made it).  The next day we called a tow truck, which we couldn’t afford, and got the car repaired, which we also couldn’t afford, and then were off to Vancouver.

Looking back, I can see a number of ways in which this might have ended badly. From the vantage point of middle-aged maturity, I view this experience, along with many others in my life, as an opportunity to learn and grow. In fact, even as a 17 year old, wise beyond my years, I was eager to share my newfound insight with those around me. For upon arrival home, when my mother anxiously inquired as to how everything went, I replied, “Phht! Fine, of course. Mom, you really need to learn to relax.”

Always the good son.

 

 

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t hitch a ride with with Slim

— Jim Croce (paraphrased)

A woman shouting in protest

How to Deal With Controversial Social Issues: A 4 Step Guide

Controversy is everywhere—the news, social media, even our day-to-day conversations. It can all be very overwhelming. What are we to do? How shall we respond? It’s a bit of a minefield out there, but do not despair. I have laid out some simple step by step instructions that are fully guaranteed (or your money cheerfully refunded!) to help you navigate even the most controversial social issues that might come your way in our very uncertain world. Just follow these 4 easy steps!  

 

Step 1: Find out your options.

Two one-way signs pointing in opposite directions
Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Whenever you come across a controversial issue, narrow it down to just two opposing points of view. You need to be very careful here: make sure that these two points of view are so far away from each other that there is no overlap whatsoever. Some folks make the mistake of assuming that some issues are complex, and that fully understanding them requires making the effort to see more than just two obviously contradictory viewpoints. Silly people! That requires a mental and emotional investment of more than 30 seconds. Who has that kind of time?

 

Step 2: Choose sides.

Us vs. Them
Image by John Hain via Pixabay

How do you choose between two contradictory positions? There are a variety of ways to go about this. Perhaps the easiest is to see what your favourite celebrities are saying; they’re always telling people what to believe! Similarly, you could select the dominant perspective within a particular group that you identify with (evangelical Christians, progressives, environmentalists, scientists, cool people, etc.). Alternatively, you could select the viewpoint that is most popular within your own social circle. Good friends will always tell you exactly how to think! Finally, you could base your opinion on your personality type; if you are a rebel at heart, just chose the one that is most countercultural. If on the other hand you are conservative by nature, try to stick to the status quo.

Now, if this all sounds complicated, do not fear. You’re probably better at this sort of thing than you realize. The truth is, by about age 12 most of us have learned how to identify the group we most want to impress, and instinctively capitulate based on our perception of their expectations of us.

 

Step 3: Gather ammunition.

Because we are talking about highly controversial social issues, we need to recognize that once we have taken sides, we might encounter pushback from others at some point. Therefore, it is crucial that you prepare yourself to defend your newly acquired perspective. This will take a little bit of effort on your part, but if you do it right, it won’t take that much.

All you really need to do is check in with others who hold the same opinion. (For the sake of convenience, hereafter we will refer to this group as The Chosen.) Start by talking to your friends and reading social media posts from other like-minded individuals. Whatever The Chosen are saying, memorize it so that you can regurgitate it later.

Social media logos in black and white
Image by dizer via Pixabay

A word of caution: during this process, be very careful to avoid paying too much attention to opposing views. You must discipline yourself to dismiss such heresies out of hand. Too much critical thought at this stage will just slow you down, and could even (perish the thought!) change your mind. By this time, you’ve come too far to waste time rethinking things.

On a related note, it is imperative that you stay away from any kind of fact-checking. That sort of thing borders on research which, as everyone knows, just complicates things. The rule of thumb is that if you come across something that supports your opinion, embrace it.

 

Step 4: Tell the World!

Two seagulls on a rooftop, one squaking
Image by chaoselly-foto via Pixabay

Unfortunately, this is where some people stop. They feel that having made up their mind, there is no need to spread the word to others. I know what I know, they tell themselves. Why bother other people with it? Live and let live! While it is true that such people protect themselves from the contamination of their thoughts that could possibly ensue upon interaction with others, it is easy to see the selfishness behind such an approach. Since they are part of The Chosen, they’re perfectly content to allow the unwashed masses to continue in their ignorance and stupidity.

Shame on them. The primary goal of The Chosen must always be the elimination of all those who hold a different view (henceforth referred to as The Enemy.) For what kind of world would it be if, on a daily basis, we were forced to rub shoulders with those who think differently from ourselves?  What might society become!

One way to eradicate The Enemy, of course, is through their conversion. Accomplishing this goal is fairly straightforward. The basic strategy is this: tell them you are right, and that they are wrong. Obviously, if they are even the least bit intelligent, they will see the light immediately. With slow learners, it may be necessary to repeat yourself. Here, volume is key. Speak loudly in absolutes, preferably in a shrill tone of voice. Start with twenty to thirty repetitions, increasing volume and frequency as needed.

Unfortunately, some people will simply refuse to acknowledge your intellectual and moral superiority. If The Enemy will not capitulate, then there is only one reasonable course of action: crush them. Common bullying can be effective—name-calling, exclusion, public ridicule, that sort of thing. While some may object to such actions on moral grounds, the vast majority quickly come to the realization that what is clearly wrong for most people in most circumstances immediately becomes justifiable when undertaken for the sake of a cause.

If The Enemy still insists upon daring to hold a contrary opinion after such tactics, stronger measures must be taken. Here, The Chosen must band together to establish power. If you belong to a group root out, then kick out, The Enemy. If you’re not part of a group, form one with other members of The Chosen. Grow the group to the point where it wields some form of political, financial or social power. Then you’ve got them. It will force the enemy to either give in and join you, or suffer in silence as victims of your wholly justified oppression. Either way, you win, and that is really all that matters.