Back in Wyoming (Finally)!

While I tried to make the best of it in Regina over the weekend of the 13th, it was still very frustrating to be stuck paying hotel bills, eating restaurant food, etc when I really just wanted to get home. The folks at the Honda dealership were, however, nice enough to lend me a vehicle for a few hours on the Saturday, so Riker and I headed down to Wascana Park for a walk, some sunshine, and chasing birds (mostly him). Then on Sunday we hiked down to the off-leash dog park and had a ball – both of us got to hang out with some really great people and dogs.

Wascana Centre in Regina, SK

Monday, full of optimism, I checked out of the hotel, walked over to the dealership with Riker ready to wait out a couple of hours of transmission work. Nope. It had just arrived and the fellows would need at least 6 to 7 hours to install it and test-drive it. They assured me the it would be ready the next day.

Tuesday, June 16th at noon I showed up again and they handed me the keys, got me to sign the warranty paperwork, and off I went. Finally! Bouncing along the highway south of Regina to the border, everything was going great. I had a pleasant interaction with the border guards (who even gave Riker a dog treat) and I was on my way again through beautiful northern Montana.

Around 6 hours into my projected 8-hour day of driving the first sign of trouble kicked in: the malfunction indicator light turned on just as it had after the transmission tanked on the trans-Canada those long days before. With a feeling of dread in my belly, I continued on, ever watchful for more signs that the vehicle was going to crap out on me again. Then between Miles City and Forsyth, the green light encircling the “D” (for drive) on the dashboard started blinking frenetically and the light around the “2” would come on from time to time. The steering wheel also starting vibrating over 65mph.

With light failing, storm-clouds gathering, a dead cell-phone battery, and a week and a half of accumulated stress and worry I was not feeling great. Even so, I slowed down and pressed on for Forsyth, pulling into the Sundowner Inn parking lot with tremendous gratitude that I would not be spending the night on the side of the highway.

Doug and I spent about an hour that night exploring my options over the phone and internet. The closest Honda dealerships were at least a couple of hours drive away either in Billings, MT or Sheridan, WY. We decided that I would try and get as close to home as possible and that if I broke down en route, Doug would come and rescue Riker and I (and we’d get the Element towed to the closest dealership).

With a fully-charged cell phone (and an hour’s worth of additional minutes), five hours sleep, and what I’d like to think was a steely glint in my eye, I loaded up the Element at 5:45am and prepared for my 10-hour plus drive in a vehicle that might die at any time. For the first 20 minutes the indicator lights stayed off and I hoped against all hope they would stay that way. Not so lucky, however. First the malfunction lamp came on. Then awhile later the circle around the “D” appeared. Then the strange blinking around the “2.”

Even though I was pretty worried, I was not immune to the gorgeous scenery of the Bighorn Mountains near Sheridan, WY. Definitely on the to-hike list!

Every time I passed through a town I’d call Doug and confer about whether I should try and make it to the next one. Each time, I thought “what the hell?!” and kept going, willing the Element to survive ’till home. About halfway through the day I thought we might actually make it and starting thinking that even if we didn’t it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could push the Element to the edge of the highway, set up camp, and sell my books out the back. I’d have Riker for company and he could hunt rodents for us…

Aside from the weird daydreams, something else strange happened: the indicator lights started to normalize. First the light around the “2” stopped appearing, then the one around the “D,” and around Rawlins even the malfunction light disappeared. What strange voodoo magic was happening?

In the end, I made it all the way back by dinnertime on Wednesday, June 17th. My brain was frazzled, my shoulders and neck were rock-solid with stress, but we survived. I still don’t entirely trust Ellie (our Element’s name), even after she got a clean bill of health at the local dealership and got us to and from Salt Lake City this weekend. She’ll need to earn that back by not stranding me in the middle of nowhere for awhile…

Canadian Book Tour: Part 4

Those few hours Doug and I spent stranded along the Trans-Canada seem far away now. Maybe because they are. I have been car-less for exactly nine long days: the tranny blew on Saturday, June 6th and we’re now the 15th, the day that was supposed to be my U.S. Launch Party and all-around fun time at the Book & Bean in Green River, WY. Instead, I will sit in my new “home” at the Best Western in Regina with Riker, who has become the hotel’s mascot.
Once we got picked up by the tow truck on the 6th and were driven to the Regina Honda dealership, it quickly became clear this would not be a quick fix. First of all, nothing would happen the rest of that day or Sunday. Monday would be spent placing the parts orders, clearing the cross-border red tape on warranties, etc. “Thursday if you’re lucky,” Trevor in Service told us. “More likely Friday.” And he recommended we stay at the nearby Seven Oaks Best Western because it was pet-friendly and wasn’t a junkie hell-hole like the Plains Motel.
So Doug and I grabbed whatever clean, warm clothes we had out of the Element and checked into the Best Western. Then I set to work figuring out our next move. It soon became evident we couldn’t make it to the centennial event at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton the next day, so I set my sights on getting to the Calgary CAHS event on Monday. I found a kennel in Regina for Riker (leaving desperate voicemails and email messages begging them to take him), cancelled hotel rooms in Edmonton, booked flights to Calgary, and contacted my good friend, Laura, who lives there to see if the offer was on for me to come stay for a few days. Then I booked Doug’s flight back to Wyoming from Calgary for Tuesday morning, so at least he’d be working and could pay for all these extra expenses…
Calgary was fantastic. I had a great time at the CAHS meeting which was attended by a wonderful group of people, including a former Laurentian pilot I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before. After the meeting we all headed over to the Sky Lounge at the Port O’Call hotel which appropriately has vintage images of aircraft plastered all over its walls. Doug and I stayed up talking to 11:30pm (which for me is late!) and sold several copies to folks in the bar who overheard us talking and wanted to find out more.

The next morning after Doug left I got the chance to go over to the Aero Space Museum where I’d been promised a private, behind-the-scenes, tour with one of the volunteers and CAHS members, Bob Connor. He told me all about the Sopwith Tri-Plane they have on display there, which he helped restore, and could actually be flown, if it weren’t so valuable and the insurance so dear. He also told me about the old Bell helicopter they have there and the new geological survey exhibit they will be opening shortly. Apparently after being a Mosquito pilot at the end of WWII he went to school to become a geologist and spent four months riding horseback through the interior of B.C. on geological survey only to find out that these helicopters could do the job in a couple of weeks!

Tuesday noonish Laura (who co-ran the McGill Writer’s Circle with me while we went to school there), picked me up and whisked me off to her magical new house in the Bowness neighbourhood of Calgary. I spent a few days catching up with her, another McGill friend, and generally catching up on sleep, exercise, and sunshine.

Cadence, a cool little coffee shop and breakfast place in Bowness, NW Calgary.

Still, in the back of my mind was the fact that Riker was in a Regina kennel, the car was still not fixed, and after a month of being on the road, I really just wanted to get home. I was in touch with the dealership several times a day and they were quite confident the new transmission would arrive by Thursday and that I would be ready to hit the road Friday. So I booked my flight back to Regina, picked up Riker, and showed up with a “All right, let’s go!” kind of attitude.

Except the new tranny hadn’t arrived. I wasn’t going anywhere…. all weekend.

Canadian Book Tour: Part 1

I’m currently sitting in the Regina International Airport (Saskatchewan, Canada) awaiting a flight to Calgary, to make my last stop on this first book tour.

I wasn’t supposed to be in an airport this trip. On May 19th I loaded my luggage and dog, Riker, into the back of my Honda Element. After a four-day solo drive and a pick-up of 10 cartons of books, I arrived in Montpellier in the Laurentians north of Montreal. What was supposed to be a quiet time to regroup and visit with family ended up zooming by. The next thing I knew, I was off to my talk in Montreal the 27th, had my book launch and talk in Ottawa the 28th, and attended the Laurentian reunion the 29th.

Early June 2nd, I piled my stuff, Riker, and my husband Doug (who had flown up from Wyoming) back into the Element and we headed off on the Trans-Canada highway. Unlike the American interstates, this highway carves its way through the Canadian backcountry in single-laned, pot-holed glory. The speed limit is 90kmh (roughly 55 mph).

By noon on June 2nd we made our first stop in North Bay, Ontario at the Discovery North Bay centre. After I did my “superman routine” (changing out of travelling clothes into more authorial gear in the bathroom) local journalist and writer Doug Mackey joined me for a small but enthusiastic group talk on history and our books, and Laurentian pilot Brad Mackie and his family stopped by for a visit.

Then we hopped back in the car and headed to Sudbury with some trepidation. You see, the last time we were in Sudbury in 2005, Doug had a minor fender bender with a taxi at the gas station. We don’t tend to have the best luck there, and this time was no exception. While we had an event scheduled at a local indie shop, One More Bookstore, and we’d all done our best to advertize, the turnout was a little underwhelming. We did have a chance to get to know the owners and left with a bunch of Timbits for the next day’s drive, though.

Me with One More Bookstore (Sudbury) owner, Denis Dupuis

Day 2 (June 3rd) started with us feeling a little unsure of what the day might bring. We loaded everything and everyone back into the car and drove off for Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (known as The Soo) where I had a signing scheduled at the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. My spirits lifted significantly when I saw they had an announcement out front indicating an author signing (me!). We took the dog for a walk, ate our sandwiches at the picnic tables out front, and I impressed the pants off Doug when I guessed correctly that the aircraft out front was a Beech 18 on wheel-skis!

Our time at the Soo went wonderfully. We had a steady stream of folks come in to chat, buy books, and even a member of the local media came by for some photos and an interview. I also made some great contacts with people at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

By 3:30pm we were back on the road headed for Wawa, Ont. Wawa’s most famous for its huge Canada Goose, which is possibly the most photographed statue in Canada (other than the huge Nickel in Sudbury). After being stopped for speeding by the friendly neighbourhood Wawa police (we were let off with a warning) we spent a couple of hours at the local library chatting with people and selling books. Then we headed to the Northern Lights Motel along the Trans-Canada where humorous, personal touches abound. We couldn’t stay long to enjoy them, though, as we were off to a major bookstore signing in Thunder Bay early the next morning….

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.