The highly anticipated trip that nearly wasn’t

My dad had been eagerly counting down the days to our annual Canadian fishing trip, but in the hours preceding our departure, the whole expedition almost came to a screeching halt.

Well, I really should clarify: Dad had actually been counting down the weeks until our trip, starting with 51, since the day we got back from last year’s trip. We were headed to the same destination as last year, Fireside Lodge in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

Our voyage was scheduled to begin at 3 a.m. on Saturday, a departure time that would get us to Fireside Lodge in time for our 12:30 p.m. check-in. When I wondered if we could set out at a more reasonable time, Dad explained it was important to leave that early, because the sooner we left the sooner we could get checked in. The sooner we checked in, well, the sooner we could start fishing.

Just like last year, our trusty gray mini-van would be the vessel transporting us those nine hours north. She’s a good vehicle: a ‘95 Quest, with a dented rear right taillight from an unfortunate incident involving backing up and a parked vehicle, and a scraped left side from a poorly placed light post. Despite the duct tape, we had great confidence in our Quest — after all, she had 168,000 miles of experience.

Our confidence crumbled, however, when the Quest died suddenly at 9:30 p.m. Friday, a mere half dozen hours before takeoff. Dad had just gassed her up for the big trip, when she suddenly refused to budge from pump No. 2. (Why couldn’t she have stopped running before he spent 45 minutes packing her up?)

So there she was, fully loaded and ready to go, and stuck at the Holiday station.

As it happened, I was an hour away in Rochester at the time with our only other vehicle. So Dad called my sister, who dutifully came from her nearby apartment to help unload all the poles, tackle and suitcases before the Quest was towed away.

I got back later that night, with our only functioning family car, and we immediately began loading. Our back-up vehicle was a 1993 General Motors conversion van — a monstrous heap of metal General Motors aptly named The Gladiator.

Fully equipped with curtains, a back bench that reclines into a bed, mood lights, wooden trim and a built-in wooden Kleenex dispenser, The Gladiator is anything but sleek. In fact, the beast gets all of 14.5 miles to the gallon. Not the cheapest way to make an 18-hour round trip, but it ran. And that’s all that mattered to Dad.

So we sped away in the darkness of early morning, in the purple mock-velvet of The Gladiator. We were perturbed, naturally, by the inconvenience of having to unload and re-pack all of our gear, and saddened by the collapse of the Quest, which actually represented the better half of our family’s vehicle fleet.

But mainly, Dad was just thankful our departure hadn’t been delayed a single minute.

The near-disaster did get him thinking a bit though. His wheels were also turning as we barreled north on Interstate 35E.

“You know, I guess we do need to buy a new car,” he said in a reflective tone. “We need to have at least one reliable car ... for fishing trips.”

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