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A Winter Holiday, by Car

From December 13, 2022 to the turn of the year, Heather and I went on a road trip – first, to the home of our California family, and then, after a stay of about five days, to Vernon, British Columbia, where our oldest son, Chris, lives, with his wife, Andrea.  As the trip began, I started sending a daily text report to about twelve friends, but, when we got into the U.S., Internet software in that country couldn't seem to handle the kind of texts I write.  So I created this page, and sent a link to it to those text-report friends.  The trip is done, now, and you can read all of the entries, straight through, or select any one of them by using the index here:

Click on one of these dates to be taken to that entry:

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The beginning of a travel report from Tony & Heather:

We left Winnipeg at 11:00 AM.  You probably know that there is a weather event – a HUGE weather event – a “Colorado Low,” wreaking havoc in the northern U.S. plains.  So, while we would normally have driven south from Winnipeg to Fargo, North Dakota, then west on the U.S. Interstate system, we decided to keep away from the bad weather, and stay out of the U.S. until we are west of the weather system. The upper edge of the “Colorado Low” is due to move into south eastern Saskatchewan, and then into Manitoba, tonight and tomorrow.  So, we’re going to California via the Trans-Canada highway.  Late in the afternoon, we stopped for the night, just outside Regina, at the home of friends.  Driving was excellent, with a clear road surface – though the northern edge of the unpleasant weather system sprinkled a tiny bit of moisture on us when we were just west of Brandon – but it was not enough to make driving scary.  We’ll try to get to Lethbridge ,Alberta, tomorrow night.  I'll post something here from wherever we actually end up.  But all is well on this first day of our travels.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Second day’s travel report from Tony & Heather:

After a warm and laughter-filled breakfast with our friends in Indian Head Saskatchewan (where we had stayed the night), we found our car to be covered in ice and snow.  It took a while to scrape the stuff off.  This is a result of the huge and disruptive “Colorado Low” wreaking havoc in the U.S. and then entering Canada’s eastern prairies to some extent, during the night.  This weather affected the first part of our journey, for there was ice on the Trans Canada highway for the first hour of today’s travel.  Worse, as we approached Regina, it began to rain – misty moisture that quickly formed ice on the windshield.  Windshield washer fluid and running the wipers gave me sufficient vision to see the road ahead, but traction was poor!  Things improved west of Moose Jaw, and with two stops for gas, we pulled in to a splendid motel in the town of Sparwood, B.C. just as night fell.  We were able to enjoy the Crowsnest Pass, and the astonishing Frank Slide as we neared Sparwood, this day’s destination.

It all turned out very well.

We had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, served by a perky young high school student – a girl who wants to be a welder after finishing school!

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Thursday, December 15, 2022

Third day’s travel report from Tony & Heather:

It was a nine-hour drive from our hotel in Sparwood, BC, to a hotel in Biggs, Oregon, USA.

Was any of it "white-knuckle" driving? Yes. The worst was thick fog, on Interstate 82, south of Kennewick, Washington, when, for about five minutes, we couldn't see more than 15 metres ahead of the car. Luckily, a cautious driver had entered the fog just seconds earlier, and put on his four-way flashers, so I put ours on, and followed him, until the fog became so thick, I couldn't see his flashers any more. Luckily, roadside markings were clear. But it would be hard to describe our relief when the fog began to lift, and we saw our cautious fellow at the very same distance ahead of us as he had been when visibility had dropped to zero! The other "white-knuckle" time came, a little earlier, when the highway in the Rocky Mountains near Cranbrook, BC, became quite twisty. We would find ourselves behind slow vehicles, and when we entered an official "passing lane" stretch, I would pull out, and pick up speed. Except that the left lane, where I was supposed to go, had not been cleared of snow, and traction was uncertain. As well, several "passing lanes" were located along the really twisty parts of the highway, so if, in passing, my wheels had lost traction, I could have slid into oncoming traffic, or over the edge of the road. It was all managed successfully, but the word "adventure" is an understatement for that part of today's drive. Scenery, however, was glorious; the U.S. border official was gruff, solemn, but courteous, and welcomed us to the U.S. after checking our passports. Yes, last year at this time, I had forgotten my passport, but this year, I did not forget. One more long drive, tomorrow, and, if the weather holds, we should make it to Rachael's late tomorrow evening.

Speaking of weather, as many people know, I have been planning this trip around what promised to be very bad weather.  Heather and I feel very fortunate, because, apart from a bit of icy rain, we have managed to dodge the worst of the weather bullet.  If you're interested, CTV published an article on this week's weather, which begins, “A 3,000-kilometre storm system stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Prairies is creating dangerous driving conditions across most of Canada today.  The storm front, which passed through the southern regions of Saskatchewan and Manitoba Wednesday, brought snow and is wreaking havoc in Ontario Thursday.” This link has the whole story.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Fourth day’s travel report from Tony & Heather:

We’ve made it to Sacramento! 
At the moment we’ve stayed up past midnight, local time, catching up on family news, so this report will be brief... at least for now.

It was a ten-hour drive, with a stop for brunch, and two stops for gas.

Gas itself is a story, for, setting out from Biggs, Oregon, we suddenly realized that we could not go very far without a fill, and, according to the map, there were few, if any, gas stations on our route.  Eleven kilometres (7 miles) into our route, we decided that there was nothing for it but to turn around and go back to Biggs for gas.

Then there was another encounter with deep fog, in central Oregon.  Not fun.

The last 300 kilometres were driven in the dark, at high speed (almost literally bumper-to-bumper), on Interstate 5.

The worst event of the day was that a case containing Heather’s computer was forgotten at the motel.  It was something of a relief to phone the motel and learn from the proprietor that the case had been turned in to him.  When we leave to go up to Vernon, we’ll stay the night in that motel, and retrieve the computer.  Meanwhile, in many ways, Heather will feel like she is functioning without an arm.

Now, to bed.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Our stay in West Sacramento, California:

Heather and I have the privilege of being grandparents to seven people.  And, astonishingly, while the oldest of them is thirty-one years of age, the youngest is only three!  In between are people aged thirty, twenty-seven, eight, six, and five.  I delight in them, as people, but the age range is truly remarkable!

The youngest two, Annabelle (5) and Weston (3), live in California with our daughter, Rachael, and her husband, Michael.  It is to their home that we went on that intense winter drive.

Tony, with childre4, looking at a computer
“Advent Calendar” time! – with grandchildren

As you know, we arrived on Friday night, and were soon immersed in a very active and busy family.  I have driven Weston to his nursery school, and chauffeured Annabelle and her parents to and from a performance of the Nutcracker ballet.  I have, therefore, dubbed myself “Grandad Uber.”  We all watched the World Cup final together, and Heather has shopped for, and cooked, several meals.  But, most of all, Heather and I have interacted with the children.  The two of them particularly enjoy an electronic “Advent Calendar,” which has you clicking on, and “opening” various cute and funny Christmas-themed things, every day of December.  Heather does it with them, a lot, and Rachael photographed me doing it with them, yesterday afternoon.

I mentioned, in my entry for Friday the 16th, above, that a small travel bag containing Heather’s computer, was accidentally left in our motel, 918 kilometres north of here.  What I did not know, when I made that post, was that the bag also contains some prescription medication!  Part of my time, therefore, was spent reaching out to our doctor’s clinic, to see if we can get the doctor’s advice about what to do.  This was problematic on the weekend, when the clinic was closed, but today we got the answer, and it turns out that we will not be unduly affected by a few days’ of missed meds!  Which is a great relief.

So, we’ll enjoy the rest of today, and all day tomorrow, with our beloved family, then on Thursday, make the long trip to that motel, stay the night, there, and, with laptop and meds once more in our possession, we will make our way north into very cold Vernon, British Columbia.  We’ll spend Christmas with our son, Chris, and his wife, Andrea, then, when the driving looks reasonable, we’ll begin our journey back to Winnipeg.

At least that’s the plan. You might want to drop by again, to see how it all turns out!

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Thursday, December 22, 2022

Today, as planned, our stay in West Sacramento has come to an end.  We are now on our way to Vernon, British Columbia.

And, we have arrived at our hotel at Biggs Junction, Oregon – the place where we left behind a very important little suitcase containing Heather’s laptop and medication.  When we checked in, there it was, carefully kept for us by the proprietor and his wife!  It was intact, with nothing missing.

There’s no denying that today’s drive was a very long one.  We were up at 6:00 AM, and we breakfasted, packed, loaded the car, had some good-bye hugs, and were on our way by 7:45 AM.  What with two stops for gas, plus fairly slow driving in extensive fog near Mount Shasta, we didn’t pull into our hotel until 5:40 PM.  It had taken almost ten hours of driving, covering 926 kilometres (575 miles).  As well, given that it’s the shortest day of the year, sunset happened at 4:22 PM, so we ended up with an hour and eighteen minutes driving in increasing darkness.  But we did it, though I’ll admit to being totally exhausted by the end.

Dinner in a McDonald’s, right across the street from the motel, included a delightful conversation with a young serving staff member, about living the Christian faith.

But, without a doubt, the best part of the entire day was finding Heather’s little suitcase with all its contents untouched.  What a relief!  I will recommend the Three Rivers Inn, in Biggs Junction, with enthusiasm, to anyone.

Friday, December 23, 2022

There is horrible weather all over North America, 1 and some of it is hitting both the state of Washington, and British Columbia.  Various weather reports that I’ve checked indicate wind, ice, and snow along our route to Vernon.  Even in the McDonald’s where we had dinner last night, the staff told us that their location was going to be closed all day today, due to the expected storm.  So… do we want to get to Vernon before Christmas… through all that!??

However, when I checked online weather sources this morning, there was an interval promised, during the day, when no snow would be falling over much of our route, and visibility promised to be good, even if there was some snow, so we decided to get on the road.  But, we would only drive part of the distance to Vernon – making sure that we would not be driving after dark – and we’d take our chances that we will be able to complete the journey, tomorrow – even if it requires us to drive slowly in a blizzard.

However, only moments after we set out from Biggs Junction, I regretted the decision to drive anywhere!  U.S. Highway 97, immediately began going up a steep hill, with packed snow on the twisty turns.  It was a white-knuckle experience.  Thankfully, the road eventually levelled out, and the car’s GPS suggested that we take a route that was not quite so mountainous.  We decided that we could get as far as the town of Omak, Washington – a mere 72 kilometres south of the Canadian Border.  Having used a “hotels” application on one of our cellphones, we booked a room in the Omak Inn, and, just as darkness fell, we checked in there, and were given a very pleasant room, where we will stay the night.  There are still 253 kilometres to go, tomorrow, to get to Vernon, and it threatens to snow all day, so we’ll decide in the morning what is best to do.

Saturday, December 24, 2022  – Christmas Eve

We’ve made it to Vernon!   There was light snow falling, today, during much of our drive, but – for the most part – the wind blew the snow off our lane of the highway, such that I had good traction, and little risk of sliding into the ditch.  As well – just as the online weather applications had promised – visibility was very good, in spite of the light snowfall.  The worst moments were when highway transports, coming the other way, blew great clouds of snow into our lane, causing our view of the road before us to be reduced to zero.

The most difficult moment came when we were actually in Vernon – almost at our destination – and were proceeding uphill towards Chris and Andrea’s home.  There was a stoplight at the top of an incline, and when I stopped, I could not get moving again, for my drive wheels spun uselessly in the packed snow.  And I couldn’t back away from the slippery place, because there were cars behind me!  They went around (how did they get sufficien traction!??), and, eventually, I got moving and made my way successfully to our destination.

As the drive had covered a mere 253 kilometres, we arrived just after mid-day.  Chris, an Anglican priest, was naturally quite involved in preparation for Christmas Eve services, but we had a personal catch-up for an hour or more, then he went over to the church, and we did some last-minute shopping.  We chose to stay home in the evening, and rest up after all our fairly tense driving.  We’ll go to church in the morning.

But it is so nice to be with family,  and we had lots of yarns to share with one another, over dinner, and again, once Chris had returned from the Christmas Eve service.  There is no midnight service at his church, so we had enough time for visiting.  Chris and Andrea’s children are adults, living far away, so there were no tiny kids in the house, and thus no excitement and concern for the arrival of Santa Claus.  Just quiet affection, and the likelihood of a good night’s sleep!

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Sunday, December 25, 2022  – Christmas Day

As my family knows, the most important part of Christmas for me takes place in a church – with all the Bible passages and prayers and carols about the birth of Jesus.  So, this morning, Heather and I went to All Saints’ Anglican Church, Vernon (Chris’ church), and attended their Christmas Day service.  There was a surprising number of people in attendance; the liturgy and the carols touched my heart; and the preacher was excellent.  Okay, perhaps I’m prejudiced, given that the preacher is my son, but I’m certain that many others would agree with me about his sermon.

After church, we visited with several of the other attendees, then returned to Chris and Andrea’s home, where a delightful continuation of our visit began.  Far away family also checked in, with phone calls and texts.  And then there was a Christmas dinner, for the four of us: a beautifully cooked leg of lamb, with vegetables, accompanied by gourmet red wine.

Later in the evening, I managed to almost completely catch up on these blog entries, as well as reply to a number of emails that had come in over the past several days.

All in all, this has been a deeply satisfying Christmas Day.

Monday, December 26, 2022  – St. Stephen, the Martyr

If, (to misquote a popular seasonal carol) “Good King Wenceslaus” were to look out, on this “Feast of Stephen2  he would see me and Heather quietly sitting in the living room of our son’s home, doing stuff on our computers, then, later, being joined by Chris, who regaled us with stories of the “Dunning Krüger effect,” and the adventures of parish management.  And now, I’ve also had a moment to update this blog, so all is well with the world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

This is our last day in Vernon.  The roads look to be as good as they’re going to get, and little or no precipitation is forecast.  Tomorrow morning, Heather and I will set out, beginning our route home to Winnipeg, on the Trans Canada Highway.  Wish us luck, and, if you are willing, say a prayer, please!

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

We’ve made it to Golden, British Columbia!!  292 kilometres (181 miles) isn’t a long drive by our standards, but the route goes through two mountain passes, and driving conditions threatened to be “packed snow; ice; pooling water” – given the recent sudden change, in the region, from deep freeze with snow, to mild temperatures with rain!  I chose today for the drive because it promised the best chance of good weather.  As well, our route is the Trans Canada Highway: the main – and in some places, the only – east-west commercial corridor in the country.  Authorities will want to keep it safe for traffic.  And it turns out that this was done: deep piles of snow on each shoulder of the highway, but clean, clear pavement.  So, our first day on the road is definitely a success.  Tomorrow?  Calgary, or even Medicine Hat – if conditions permit.

Friday, December 30, 2022

The road, running east from the town of Golden, BC, toward Calgary and the Canadian prairies, runs up into the mountains almost immediately after leaving Golden.  And the angle of the highway is dizzyingly sharp, as it twists and turns along the side of a cliff.

I have driven this road several times over the years, and know it well.  And despite the curves, the steep angle of ascent, and the dizzying drop from the side of the road to the river valley below, it’s one of my favourite drives in Canada.  But, being careful to check road and weather conditions before setting out on winter highways, yesterday evening I checked the official British Columbia website, and, to my great disquiet, found a notice announcing that our highway would be closed for “avalanche control” from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM today. This notice hadn’t been there the last time I had looked.  But it has snowed – a lot – and preventing avalanches is a high priority.  For us, however, the notice meant that if we didn’t get past the location of the work before 11:00 AM, we’d be unable to complete today’s journey in daylight.  And I try to avoid night-time driving whenever possible, because, at my age, the glare of oncoming headlights distorts my vision.  Horribly.

So, I decided that we had better leave really early, and avoid any chance of hitting the closure.  7:30 AM would do, wouldn’t it?  So, that’s when we left the motel.

Not smart!  This morning, sunrise in that location would be at 8:52 AM, almost an hour and a half after we had set out.  The very thing I try to avoid, driving in the dark, was now upon me.  Going up a cliffside highway in pitch dark, with the blinding glare of oncoming headlights in my face.  As well, there was dark sand and snow on the road surface, so it was difficult to see the centre line and the road shoulder.  Even worse, I had not realized that my headlights were covered in dirt, kicked up by other cars during yesterday’s drive.  My low beams could not illuminate the darkened road.  High beams worked pretty well, but they bothered oncoming vehicles, who would blink their lights at me.

And it began to snow, heavily.

This was the scariest part of our entire journey, without a doubt.  True “white knuckle” driving.

Luckily, I managed to find a safe spot to pull over, so I stopped, turned on my four-way flashers, got out, and with snow scooped up from the side of the road, I managed to clean the headlights, which then allowed me to see more clearly where I was going.

Slowly the road levelled out; slowly the dawn began to illuminate the sky.  And the snow began to taper off.  The rest of the day’s drive was a delight.  By the time we had crossed into Alberta, and were passing Banff, the road surface was clear, the sun was up, and driving was easy – as it was through the city of Calgary, and along three hundred kilometres of high speed rural highway to the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta – where we’re staying the night at a friend’s home.

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Saturday, December 31, 2022  – New Year’s Eve

We have stopped for the night in the town of Indian Head, Saskatchewan.  We have friends here, who have frequently expressed delight in having us stay with them, so we were there on the first night of this trip (December 13-14), and we’re there again, on what may be our last night on the road before getting home!

What a pleasant way to travel!  Two of the three nights of our homeward bound trip have been spent with good friends!

As for today’s drive, it was reasonably easy.  True, from Swift Current to Moose Jaw, the road surface was icy, causing a certain amount of “white knuckle” driving, but, before and after that section, the road surface was clean, dry, and grippy.  There was some slight snowfall, as well, but not enough to obscure one’s vision.  And there was no driving in darkness, such as we had to endure yesterday morning.

I might as well tell you that Heather and I were married on New Year’s Eve, 1975, so today is our forty-seventh Wedding Anniversary.  It is happy.

The weather looks good for tomorrow, so we should be able to be in Winnipeg by sunset.

And so the day – and the year – comes to an end.  Happy New Year, folks!

Sunday, January 1, 2023  – New Year’s Day

Our great Winter Holiday drive has now come to an end.  We have driven 6,781 kilometres (4,213 miles), in a season when all of North America was disrupted by unusually bad weather.  And yet, here we are: at home, intact, in good humour, and full of fun memories.

This morning, after an anecdote-filled breakfast with our well-beloved hosts, we gassed up the car, got some hand-held food for lunch (capable of being eaten while driving), and left Indian Head, Saskatchewan.  And we never stopped once until we pulled into the parking garage of our home – having driven 500 kilometres!

The most interesting fact about this drive was that the very best road surface of our entire 2.5 week journey was the Trans Canada highway from the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border through to Winnipeg.  The road surface was completely clear of snow, or ice, or sand, or slush.  The passing lane was as easy to drive as the right-hand one (in Saskatchewan, the passing lane frequently was invisible under ice and snow).  It was like driving in summer, except for the -12°C cold outside.  Yes, famously cold Manitoba had the best highway!

So, the extraordinary trip is over!  In a season when air travel, trains and busses were being cancelled everywhere, we managed to use our car safely and go where we planned to go, on the dates and times that we had chosen.  I have happy memories of us two grandparents being with Rachael and her family, looking through an electronic Advent Calendar with her two children.  I celebrated Christmas in a church with a fine preacher whom I love dearly, and had some wonderful discussions with him at home.  We drove through spectacular scenery, and, in the last days of the trip, stayed with interesting and very good friends.

Would I do it again?  I’d like to, but at my age (eighty-one and a half), it is important to live one day at a time.  So, we shall see.

Tony's signature

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FEEDBACK   (Most recent first)

from Margaret O., Monday, January 2, 2023 12:01 PM CST (CA)

I’m so glad that you’re back home, and have just read your blog.  You seem to have lived through the best and the worst of times!  I’m sure that you have so many happy memories, and I envy you the opportunity to have driven all those miles in the dead of winter while I stay comfortably in my own apartment, being fortunate to have all my family in Winnipeg.  And on my next birthday I will be 89, so I’m seven tears older than you are, and will not be doing any traveling except to Victoria Beach!  There was a good representation of family members in our church on December 18th, which would have been Bill’s 93rd birthday.  He died six years ago today (January 2nd).
I’m so glad that you mentioned the Feast of St. Stephen in your blog!
Happy New Year to you and Heather!
Margaret Owen

from a friend in California, Monday, January 2, 2023 11:36 AM CST (CA)

I’m so pleased you guys had a beautiful and safe trip!  Just sorry we missed seeing you this year!  I read your journal with a fair amount of horror.  You are either wildly adventuresome or just plain crazy.  So glad you are home safe and sound.

from Richard B., Saturday, December 17, 2022 2:17 PM PST (CA)

So glad you had an ultimately safe trip.
(in Christian fellowship)

from Dorothy Y., Saturday, December 17, 2022 10:17 AM CST (CA)

Happy to hear that you and Heather arrived at your destination safe and sound.  Travelling at this time of year is always an adventure!  Sorry that the computer was left in your room. Heather! Enjoy your time with your grandchildren and their parents.  Your work will wait until you pick it up on your return journey.
We will miss both of you at St. Margaret’s.  Merry Christmas to all 🧡 🎄

from Allison and Kevin, Saturday, December 17, 2021 7:20 AM CST (CA)

We’re so glad to hear that you arrived safely at your daughter’s home.  As you know, I can appreciate the dismay realizing that the computer wasn’t with you and also the relief learning it was turned in.  So many people still do the right thing.  Have a wonderful time in Sacramento and in Vernon as well.
I hope the journals of your journey continue.
    It certainly has continued, Allison!  Right to the end! — Tony


1  On December 24, 2022 the BBC news service published an article with the headline, “US winter storm: Icy blast hits 250m Americans and Canadians.”  The article’s opening lines are: “Nearly 250 million Americans and Canadians are feeling the icy grip of a massive winter storm linked to at least 19 deaths ahead of the holiday weekend.  More than 1.5 million people lost power and thousands of flights have been cancelled since Thursday.  The vast storm extends more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from Texas to Quebec.”
Click here to get back to the narrative.

2  The delightful carol, about a king bringing food to an impoverished household, is set “on the Feast of Stephen,” which, today, is more commonly known as “Boxing Day.”  In churches, however, December 26 is still known as the day to commemorate Saint Stephen the Martyr – the first person to be killed because of his Christian faith.  Martyrdom certainly doesn’t sound very Christmassy, so not a lot of people, in recent decades, have deliberately marked this Saint’s Day.
Click here to get back to the narrative.