Service, interrupted

What hapens when neither your car nor your cellphone work.

I once wrote a story called “Back Roads”, about a man who has a hankering to travel some of the roads snaking off from the highways around here. It stemmed in part from my own fascination with back roads, born of many years travelling in southern BC when I was a child.

The irony is that now that I live here, I rarely get to travel any back roads. So a few weeks back, when my husband and I were on a drive through Hat Creek Valley, I persuaded him to return home via Oregon Jack Road, a route I’ve known and loved for close on 40 years.

All was well, until we stopped to walk up to the pictographs near Three Sisters. When we returned to our vehicle, imagine the concern when our trusty Dodge Caravan suddenly and inexplicably refused to start. There was nothing obviously wrong under the hood – I always feel that if there’s no smoke then things can’t be that bad – but the van was as dead as a dodo.

I immediately reached for my Blackberry, but of course there was no service. My nifty piece of potentially life-saving technology had been reduced to an overpriced paperweight.

I quickly ran through the situation in my head. We were 4,000 feet up a mountain with a dead van, on a road with almost no traffic, in the middle of a forest filled with animals that would see us as a nice midday snack. Since the trip had been spur of the moment, no one knew where we were, and it looked as if it was going to start to rain. It was like a scene from a not very imaginative horror film, only without the benefit of anyone around to yell “Cut!”.

I knew there was a house about a quarter-mile away, so leaving Christopher to attempt to work miracles with the van I set out, trying to remember if it was make yourself big for a cougar and small for a bear, or vice versa. I was busy rehearsing my greeting to Candy and John Truscott, whose house I was heading for – but the speech was unnecessary, as there was no one home except two very zealous guard dogs.

Well, this was a blow, and no mistake. I tried to calculate how long a walk it was to the next house that was likely to be occupied. A very long way indeed (“And don’t forget about the bears and cougars!” whispered a cheerful voice in my head) was as far as I got, before the welcome sound of an approaching vehicle caught my ear. I ran towards the road, determined to flag the car down – but what to my wondering eyes should appear but Christopher in our once again trusty Caravan, firing on all cylinders.

In “Back Roads” the narrator finds something a lot worse than he bargained for down one particular road. My own story had a much happier ending; but it’s a reminder that while modern technology can be wonderful, it has its limits. And by the way, you make yourself big for both bears and cougars, although if the bear makes physical contact, make yourself small and play dead. At least I’ll know for the future.

Barbara Roden