Wagons North…

May 2016

Points North

By James Fife

We always look forward with keen anticipation to our visits to Victoria, but this was different. One of the factors that made the prospect of a dual-home arrangement seem workable was that Home North is just a few hours away from San Diego by air. If not for the awkward connection in Seattle, it would feel even closer. This time, however, we were not flying. We were coming the 1,000 miles the old-fashion way: overland in a fully freighted covered wagon. Well, SUV, to be precise. As this was going to be our longest stay in James Bay since we bought our new place, Marilyn and I decided to take the time to make it a real adventure, as well as haul up a few items of stuff to furnish out and ‘home-ify’ our Victoria home.

My job had generously allowed me to work off-site for a month, which opened up the opportunity for a pre-retirement drudge like myself to get away, stay for a good while in Victoria, and pick a good time of year to do it. The liberal timeframe also allowed us to worry less about minimizing travelling time to maximize staying time. We knew from the start we were going to drive up one time to bring some personal items to christen the New with the Familiar. It also had the benefit of permitting us to bring our dog along on this visit. He is a small, but somewhat nervous Havanese, and neither of us had much confidence in how well he’d take to flying. The drive was ideal to make his introduction to Victoria, since he had at least ridden in the car before, if not for two days and a thousand miles at a stretch. A final plus was that this slower mode of travel would evoke found memories of childhood over the long, cross-country trips my family made. The very idea of passing through miles of scenery, staying overnight in a motel along the way, just stirred up feelings about what I considered the most formative episodes in my youth.

So, it all sounded good. On paper.

The reality was something different. We had deluded ourselves into believing that it would be easy to pack up all the things Marilyn wanted to bring up for the house, the materials I had to bring to work off-site, the items we’d need for staying for a month, and all the dog’s needs with room to spare. We were just as self-deluded that a vehicle called an SUV would surely be able to hold everything you wanted to pack in it. Various competing interests had to be accommodated. Our dog Morgan was lucky he was left a small, postage-stamp-size space in which he was expected to ride contentedly for 22 hours. In the end, the car looked as packed as a U-boat headed out for a three-month stint in the North Atlantic. We assured ourselves it’d be OK, as long as we didn’t hit any bumpy roads on the way. That wasn’t the only hopeful expectation that proved wrong.

Between work and other matters, the time for leaving was precisely determined. With barely a wink of sleep the night before, we shot up at 3 am, got Morgan packed into his postage-stamp area, poured ourselves into the car and began the odyssey. An early start was deemed necessary to avoid the traffic-hell that is Los Angeles freeways. The time of day, we are assured, makes no difference: whenever you drive through, you will hit traffic. But then the first expectation was shattered—there was surprisingly little back up, and we were through LA and the Valleys before sun-up and looked forward to a straight shot up Interstate 5 to the Canadian border. Things seemed to be going our way. There was just the long, boring, endless drive past farm after farm in the San Joaquin Valley, up, up the entire length of the very long State of California. In one day we glided through a couple dozen counties, from San Diego County on the border with Mexico to Siskiyou County nestled up against Oregon. We were road-shocked and weary by the time we made it to our overnight stop in Medford Oregon. Even Morgan, so exuberant to get out and sniff about at every stop made to change drivers, looked subdued and wilted by the end of the day.

But the longest leg was over. Just two more compact states to get through and we’d be home free. Oregon slid by—more farms, but much more scenic scenery. Sailed through the big city of Portland like a charm. Looked like more of the same, rumbling through Washington; we counted the minutes until we’d be at the international frontier. Then disaster struck.

I attribute it to some malevolent spirit that was nonetheless trying to teach us that you are never ‘home free.’ A time-space vortex caught up with us in Tacoma, because we spent an hour or more driving in a continuous loop around the downtown area, dodging construction, but with the absence of any accurate signage, caught in a flow of traffic and a GPS guidance system perversely trying to send us in the opposite direction. Once we realized its treachery, we stopped listening to the calm voice telling us to head west when we needed to go east. It cost us $6 to re-cross a toll bridge that we were never supposed to cross, but we eventually escaped the vortex and found our way back onto I-5 North. So much for the straight shot to the border.  Then Seattle turned out to be a much greater traffic-sink than LA, followed by an hour or two of back up in Everett when three lanes diminished to two. The length of the backed-up traffic was about five times the length of the construction detour itself. Moods were soured all around.

I don’t intend to disparage the genuine ordeals suffered by those who made the trek West in real covered wagons. But I was now set to believe that we had survived much more psychological trauma than a broken wagon wheel, or snowstorm, or Indian attack would every bring. But I do know that I can share and appreciate the euphoria those settlers felt when they reached the final crest and could see the Promised Land spread out before them. Because we felt the same way when we finally crossed out of Washington into the welcoming arms of BC. I was fairly racing the horses as we speed toward the goal line, marked by the line of orderly customs booths all fully staffed that marked the line into Canada. I was so focused on getting there, I didn’t even notice the speed bumps that I flew over too fast, sending the delicately packed contents of our wagon flying about and Morgan taking to the air in a circus-dog trick. But we made it through, and, as a sign of our reaching Paradise, everything started going right: we arrived at Tsawwassen with only 20 minutes to spare for the next sailing, but were still welcomed aboard. The crew cheerfully pointed out where the pet-walking areas. Our whole attitude now changed for the better.

It was arduous, but we finally rolled into our James Bay home well before the Spring sunset with pleasant, dry weather to greet us. We felt relieved to be free of the travail of travel. For a few weeks. Compared to that pleasant sensation of content, who could gripe about such piddling concerns as the renovators failing to hook up the showers, the City’s raising our property tax, and the Internet connection being down. What matter: we were Home (North) in James Bay one again!