#ProjectPuppies: Slide Path
Before I knew what was happening, we hit a patch of black ice and the truck began to slide. I felt the back end slip out and start to get away from me as I tried, gingerly, to regain control, fully aware that my next actions would determine the success of our mission--and the well-being of the twenty rescue dogs we carried with us onboard.
The truck continued to slide. I looked out at the snowy median and prayed we'd find a soft spot to land.
I never really played a lot of video games as a kid, but I absolutely loved the "Gran Turismo" series of car racing games. Gran Turismo billed itself as "the ultimate driving simulator" and faithfully recreated the physical characteristics of hundreds of normal cars in a variety of conditions.
Basically, you started by racing your garden variety Honda Civic or similar and gradually worked your way up to fantasy cars and racers. But even before you started racing, you had to earn driver's licenses, just like in real life, by demonstrating competence in a number of tricky scenarios--including skids and slides.
This may sound silly, but I've always thought I was a better driver because of the hours and hours my teenage self devoted to Gran Turismo.
There were no Toyota Tacomas in the game, but there were snowy roads. And I sure did lose traction a lot as I tried to figure out what I was doing. Eventually, I got pretty good at keeping my virtual vehicle under control.
Anyway, all of this is to say that Alexis and I and our cargo of twenty dogs survived our encounter with black ice outside of Edmonton. I stayed calm as we slid and kept my feet off the brake pedal, and avoided making any sudden moves with the steering wheel. I let my foot off the gas pedal and let us coast through the slide and hoped we'd find traction before we reached the median.
Luckily, we found the end of the ice, and dry pavement again. Even luckier, there were no other vehicles around us in those scary few moments where we were out of control.
We slid, we stopped sliding, we got back underway.
It's just I'm pretty sure both of us grew a couple new grey hairs.
We'd left Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, earlier that afternoon, with our cargo of twenty rescue dogs from northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba destined for new lives on the west coast, courtesy Raincoast Dog Rescue Society and North of 54 Frontline Dog Rescue.
It had been sunny and very warm in Prince Albert, and aside from dealing with a fish hook we found in Duckie's fur in North Battleford, and cleaning up the aftermath of Brody's shitty situation in Lloydminster, the first stretch of the journey had been pleasant and uneventful.
But the approach to Edmonton was a snowy, icy danger zone, and it only got worse as we proceeded west. Worse, we'd heard from friends in Edmonton that the highway was supposed to be white-out conditions all the way to Kamloops, about five hundred miles away through the mountains, and all of a sudden our pleasant, early-spring jaunt was beginning to look like another wintry nightmare.
And that was before we nearly slid off the road leaving Edmonton.
After we got the truck back under control, I slowed to a dead crawl as Alexis and I both struggled to process what had just happened. Ahead of us, the road conditions worsened into heavy, swirling snow that often obscured the highway. The speed limit was 110kph; we maxed out at half that, or less.
Alexis updated Jesse and Jodie at Raincoast headquarters, who encouraged us to stay safe and take things slow. Not that we really needed the reminder; the increasing number of accidents and flashing first responder lights on the side of the highway were encouragement enough not to get heroic.
I figured we would limp along at a crawl for as long as it took, and if need be we could hunker down somewhere if the situation continued to deteriorate. But with twenty dogs in the truck, I didn't want to spend too much time sitting idle; as much as we try to make the dogs as comfortable as possible, our thousand-mile cannonball run isn't ideal for any creature, human or animal, especially once the temperature dips below freezing.
As it was, we found ourselves having to pull over and put blankets over the kennels in the bed of the truck to try and keep the dogs warm, where I'd been concerned they might overheat when we'd left Prince Albert that afternoon.
Attempting to get a handle on what awaited us in the mountains, I asked Alexis to check the road conditions on the DriveBC website. She did, though at first I thought she was doing something wrong; our home province, she reported, seemed to have no snow, no adverse weather conditions, and in fact no warnings at all about our route to Vancouver.
If there'd really been white-out conditions, the website would have been lit up with warnings. So that was curious.
Then, shortly after Alexis passed on the weather report, the road in front of us seemed to miraculously clear. No more snow fell from the sky; there was no more ice on the highway. The temperature had already begun to climb again.
We were only about a hundred miles west of Edmonton.
We took advantage of the break in the weather to get the dogs out for another rest stop. With twenty dogs, it wasn't exactly quick, but we managed to get our precious cargo out for some food and water, exercise, and a bathroom break...
Though not everyone took advantage of the bathroom break when they should have.
Alexis had already had to endure Brody's poop on her seat when we stopped for dinner at the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. For his trouble, Brody had been banished from Alexis's lap to a kennel and replaced with Knight, a very sweet, very shy puppy who became more and more animated in the shotgun seat as we drove away from the rest stop.
Despite our best efforts and encouragement, Knight hadn't peed at the last rest stop. Now, as he grew agitated, I hoped we could push on until we stopped for gas in Hinton, less than an hour down the road.
This was a mistake.
Fifteen minutes out of Hinton, Knight's little dam finally burst--all over Alexis's lap. It was my fault, and Alexis's lap paid the price.
As quickly as I could, I piloted us the remaining distance to Hinton, where Alexis rushed into the gas station to change clothes, and I stepped out to pump gas. I took Knight with me, just in case he had more in the tank, and he rewarded me by peeing a river and leaving a significant solid deposit beside the gas pumps as well.
Despite all of this, Alexis somehow remained in good spirits, and forgave me for not pulling over sooner. This is why it's important to have a badass rescue partner; Lexi isn't fazed by anything except not stopping for Dairy Queen, and is down to do whatever it takes to get the dogs over the road safely, in whatever conditions.
It was 3:47 in the morning when we left Hinton. We'd lost a ton of time in the snow in Edmonton, and we still hadn't reached the Rockies.
Luckily, the roads into Jasper Park and over the continental divide were clear and easy, and we made good time into British Columbia. As Lexi and Knight napped in the passenger seat, I was rewarded with an absolutely beautiful sunrise over the pristine mountains of the Monashee Range, including Mount Albreda and Mount Lempriere.
I've seen these mountains a bunch of times in my life but never as postcard perfect as that morning, and the view--combined with the rising temperature and perfect road conditions--buoyed me forward as Sunday dawned.
I kept us going at a steady clip along the North Thompson River to Little Fort, a hundred clicks or so north of Kamloops. There, we stopped for another rest stop in beautiful but chilly morning air.
Our charges had survived the night and were all eager to get out and stretch their legs. We'd been letting half of Pippa's litter of nine puppies ride with her at a time so as not to overcrowd the crate, so we swapped her pups (being careful not to mix up each batch) and let a fresh group ride with their mama for the next leg.
Then we were back on the road. I drove us as far as Kamloops, where we stopped for gas and Alexis took over behind the wheel for our journey over the Coquihalla Pass.
I meant to get some sleep, and with Knight curled up in my lap I was able to nod off a bit, but no more than a half hour or an hour, tops.
It was enough to energize me, and I woke up wide awake and ready for more as we passed through Merritt and then over the pass and down into Hope.
We were nearing the ferry terminal now. There were sailings listed for 1pm and 3pm, and if I'd let Alexis (aka Speed Racer) drive more, we might have made the early boat across to Vancouver Island.
But I took over again in Abbotsford and we pulled into the Tsawwassen terminal *just* after one o'clock, which meant we'd have a couple of hours at the terminal to wait with our dogs before we transported them across the Salish Sea to where Jesse and Jodie and a bunch of excited foster families waited for us.
Our pups always draw a crowd at the ferry, especially the puppies, and Pippa and her pack were the stars of the show, although Casey and Finnegan and little Jewel all had their share of admirers, too. We got the dogs fed, watered, and walked, and two hours flew by. Soon we were driving onto the ferry where, exhausted, we both just kind of zoned out like zombies for the 90 minute crossing.
Unlike our last mission, our dogs all stayed mostly quiet and calm on the boat. We were able to relax a little bit before the ferry docked and we drove the last few kilometres to our meeting spot near the ferry terminal in Sidney.
There, we found a host of fosters waiting for us and our cargo, and in a whirlwind of excitement, we introduced our pups and helped Jesse and Jodie outfit the fosters with what they would need for their role in these dogs' journeys.
Aside from a carefully coordinated double jailbreak that Missy and Brody pulled off at my expense, everything worked out without a hitch. Soon enough, Lexi and I were packing up again and racing back to make the cutoff for the 7pm ferry, the truck seeming strangely empty now with nearly all of our dogs handed over.
We still had Brody, who was headed to a foster home back in Vancouver. And he rode with us on the ferry, and out to Maple Ridge and Langley where Lexi and I picked up our own dogs, and Lexi's vehicle.
By that point it was well after dark again and I was absolutely wiped out from the journey. Lexi graciously agreed to drop Brody off at his foster home while I headed home to collapse into bed.
(It wasn't goodbye for me and Brody though; a week or so later, I would meet him again to help adopt him out to a lovely couple who'd fallen in love with him. He's headed north to a wonderful life in the mountains.)
So ended another mission for me and Lexi, though the journey wasn't over for our precious cargo. Jesse and Jodie and a team of heroic fosters took over, welcoming the dogs into their homes, coordinating vet checkups and vaccinations, interviewing potential adoptees, and generally just giving these pups as much love as humanly possible.
As for my rescue partner and me, we slept a little, showered, ate hot meals and washed the road grime off the truck...and then we jumped right back in the saddle again. There are always more dogs--and cats--who need a ride. It's impossible to stay still for long.
These rescue missions are funded entirely by donations! Check out Raincoast Dog Rescue Society for information on how to contribute, or to learn how to foster or adopt one of our mission alums!