Submitted by Keegan Chapin
When I left to attend school, I knew that I would need reliable transportation to make the 4-day, 2800-mile journey to the continental US. What vehicle could be a better choice other than a 23-year-old Toyota Previa minivan. The supercar of minivans, featuring a supercharged, mid-mount engine and an all-wheel-drive platform. After obtaining the vehicle the summer before and making every repair that it could possibly need- brakes, shocks, struts, ball joints, CV axles, tires, and a full fluid change, the turquoise, jellybean shaped minivan was loaded down and ready to make a cross-country journey to my new home for the next two years: Wahpeton, North Dakota.
My father and I hit the road at 9 AM on a warm August morning, bound for a place that I now realize is far more boring than Alaska, Wahpeton North Dakota. A place flat enough to watch their dog run away for two weeks, but I digress. We traveled east, leaving Alaska and all of its beauty in the rearview, and reached the Canadian border around two in the afternoon.
With no complications, we proceeded into the land of the polite, stopping for nothing more than to top off the gas tank. 600 miles later, we reached Whitehorse, YT. What a beautiful little hillside town, with the accommodations of a large city, but the mere population of 25,000. We stopped in at the golden arches for a quick bite to eat, topped off the gas tank, grabbed some snacks and drinks for the road, and proceeded on our way.
As the sun dropped below the horizon, we kept pushing into the darkness, keeping our eyes wide open for any of Canadas many four-legged mammals capable of incapacitating a Toyota minivan in one swift maneuver.
Uneventfully, we pulled into Teslin, YT, fueled up, and hit the highway once more. We drove well into the night, seeing nothing but the wore out stripes of the cracked asphalt and the few lights of the other travelers that were as determined as us to reach a destination without rest. As 2 am rolled around, I began to see the slight reflection of my lights upon the power lines that began running parallel to the road, and I knew we were arriving at a place which my family once took an unplanned four-day rest stop, Watson Lake.
Watson Lake is a small crossroads town and travel hub where my father, brother, and myself spent four days in 2012 waiting for road repairs after a flood washed out the road and destroyed the entire village of Upper Liard. We grew well acquainted with this small town and all that It has to offer, from their famous sign yard to their recreational center, where I spent many long hours playing games such as squash and Canadian five-pin bowling. It was as nice of a town as any to make an unplanned pit stop.
Knowing Watson Lake fairly well and knowing from past experiences that we didn’t want to venture into buffalo country in the dark, we pulled off at a little rest area southeast of town and got a few hours of much-needed sleep.
Around 6 am, I arose to the sun in my eyes, and my father waking me up. He asked if I was ready to go, and I assured him that I was not, so I hopped over into the passenger seat, where I continued to sleep for another two hours. I was then abruptly awakened as he was pulling the vehicle off the road and into a small rest area at the beginning of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, just east of Muncho Lake.
Once I awoke from my slumber, my father and I executed a Chinese fire drill, and I got back behind the wheel, ready to take on the most beautiful part of the journey: the Canadian Rocky Mountains. For those who have never been through Canada, especially the Rocky Mountains, it’s breathtaking. The wildlife is abundant, sheep will crowd the roads, causing a temporary traffic jam, birds are everywhere, and don’t get me started on the scenery. The mountaintop lakes which feed the rivers flowing below, the drastic elevation changes which allow sight for miles on end, and the simplistic beauty of nature, obstructed only by a single highway which runs right through the middle of it all, allowing the world to see all of the beauty that hides just off the beaten path.
Fort Nelson was our next stop, halting our wheels for a quick gas stop, and to load up on energy drinks to stay alert. We pushed on to Fort Saint John, gassing up, and continuing on, once again, pushing towards the end of our two-lane blacktop adventure, reaching the end of the world-famous Alaska Highway, and the beginning of four and six-lane interstate running in Dawson Creek.
We rolled into Dawson Creek around 5 pm, and my stomach was growling, and so was something in the front end of the van, so we stopped in at an A&W for a bite to eat, and a parking lot vehicle diagnosis. After eating, I crawled under the front end of the van, only to find bad news: one of the CV axles that I had replaced the month before had a boot fail, allowing all of the grease to come flying out, and leaving the joint without adequate lubrication. With no time to spare, I grabbed my grease gun and a can of brake parts cleaner, and I hopped underneath to make the best roadside repair that I could. I cleaned all of the dirt and grime out of the axle, pumped the joint full of grease, and duct taped the boot closed, hoping that with luck on our side, it would hold together for the next 1400 miles.
With gas in the tank and the CV axle full of grease once again, we continued towards the big city of Edmonton. Six hours of interstate driving and about three monster energy drinks later, we crested a hill west of Edmonton, exposing the city’s lights in the darkness of night.
It was our intention to find a hotel and rest for the night, getting an early start in the morning, but the city’s newly constructed bypass had other plans for us, as the new development didn’t have any roadside hotels or rest stops yet, so I downed another monster and kept pushing through the night, until my eyelids grew heavy.
Bright lights of the interstate truckers continually blinded me, forcing my eyes open through the night’s poor conditions: pouring rain and a dense fog. It seemed like I was never going to find a place to sleep, and with my father sleeping beside me, I knew I would have to stop before I fell asleep, causing a fatal accident. Just when it seemed darkest, I saw a rest stop sign and the lights of a hotel right off of the highway.
The hotel seemed like a fairly nice establishment, we checked in, went to our room, turned the lights off, and I was sleeping as soon as my head hit the pillow. That hotel bed was seemingly the most comfortable bed I had ever slept in, but I am certain it was because It was 5 am local time when I arrived, and I had been awake for 21 hours straight, and only getting five hours of sleep the night before.
I woke up the next morning, rushing to get out of the room by the 11 am checkout time, we hit the continental breakfast, gassed up, and pushed on through the last day of our journey. This time, towns flew by like nothing, as I knew by that night I would be sleeping at my grandmother’s house, just an hour away from the dorm room which I would call home for the next two years.
It seemed like nothing as we ran through the next 14 hours of driving to reach our final destination. To speak the truth, I don’t remember much until we approached the border to the united states in Portal, ND. The people seemed nice, the sun was setting, and it felt damn good to be back in the good old US of A. We drove south to Minot, then headed to Jamestown, Valley City, Fargo, and finally, my grandma’s house in Pelican Rapids, MN. I can’t say how many billboards I passed in North Dakota that night, but I don’t think there was a time where there wasn’t at least one advertisement in sight. To say the least, Billboards are the most exciting part of the drive through ND, and I soon realized that there is nothing else to see in this state.
In conclusion, three days on the road, and 2,800 grueling miles later, I arrived at the college that my father before me attended, in order to better myself and further my education. The drive in and of itself was a great period of bonding for me and my father, and if I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat. I don’t believe that many students can say that they traveled across two states, four Canadian provinces and traveled far enough in three days for their vehicle to need an oil change, but I did. If that doesn’t say how seriously I take my education, I don’t know what does.
Submitted by Keegan Chapin
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