For all the times I’ve ‘borrowed’ Chinua Achebe’s title, I should probably actually read his book. Especially since I have a copy of it sitting in my bookcase. Leftover from my [disregarded] required university reading pile.
But it’s a perfect title and quite aptly describes the first day of our four-day journey.
It was 9 o’clock on the dot by the time we drove away from the house. The professor would have liked to be on the road at 5. Or 6. Or 7. But when you don’t go to bed until 2, a five a.m. departure is extremely unlikely. Ditto for a six or seven a.m. departure.
It was 9.04 am when I realized that I’d packed travel blankets for the two oldest boys, but none for the baby. I figured the professor would kill me if I told him, four minutes into our journey, that we needed to turn around. So we drove on.
We decided to switch up the journey a bit. Instead of trekking across the vastness of Saskatchewan, we opted for the vastness of Montana and North Dakota. Via Waterton Lakes National Park. The drive there was fairly uneventful. Until we arrived at the park and the Hen started screaming something fierce. I think it was due to a brotherly fight of some sort, but suffice it to say, we pulled over and plucked him from the car…..and he proceeded to lie on the gravel road writhing in anger.
A charming sight for the passersby, I’m sure.
When the tantrum had passed, we lunched and stretched our legs for a bit before getting in the car again. Within four or five hours we were at the border crossing at Chief Mountain, Montana. When the customs officer opens your van side door and begins to do a roll call with the passports in her hand, it usually means you’re going to be there for a while. Sometimes you’ll get a customs officer who basically waves you through. ‘How many people traveling with you today? Any firearms or alcohol? Welcome back to the States. Have a nice trip.’ That sort of thing.
But we’d been stopped by Marge from Fargo. She wasn’t going to let a sleeping baby or a bag of apples slip through on her watch.
We arrived in Great Falls around dinner time. After managing to waste an hour and a half at a McDonald’s and a playground, we hit the road.
Things weren’t going well. The wireless internet at McDonald’s hadn’t worked and we weren’t able to book a hotel room for the evening. It felt like we’d been driving forever – it had been nearly nine hours since we’d left Calgary – and we’d hardly made a dent in the thirty-six hours of driving that lay before us.
Also, I’d had to change two disgusting diapers with their owners lying awkwardly on the driver’s seat. Not good.
When we finally got back on the highway (after a nice little detour looking for the entrance) I’d had it. The boys were fighting more than I’d expected. The baby seemed unwilling to be in the car for more than an hour at a time. And I was tired. And it was barely 6pm. The professor, sensing my unwillingness to continue on the journey, got off at an exit marked with the tell-tale Starbucks logo. He thought that would cheer me up.
Instead I looked at him and said: ‘let’s just stay here tonight. We’ll get some sleep and leave first thing in the morning.’
He looked at me. ‘You’re kidding, right?’ No, I wasn’t. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. The kids could swim in a gross hotel pool. And we could fall asleep at a decent time. After deliberating in a parking lot for a bit, we drove to a McDonald’s for wireless internet. So we could book a hotel room in Great Falls.
The professor got out at the golden arches, grabbed his laptop and went inside to try and book a hotel room on priceline. The boys remained in the van, watching Monsters v. Aliens for the second or third time, while I stood outside the van with the baby. Both of us sick of being in the car.
It was hot. Nearly ninety degrees. And despite the excellent people watching – think teenaged boy with feathered Farrah Fawcett hair – standing on an asphalt parking lot beside a steaming hot car is pretty much the last place I want to be on any given day.
After many minutes of glaring at the professor who was sitting inside an air conditioned McDonald’s, obliviously sipping a smoothie, while focusing on his laptop screen, I went inside to retrieve him. Apparently the internet wasn’t working. And he’d just been sitting there. Troubleshooting. While drinking an icy beverage in icy surroundings. I was not pleased.
We got back in the car. And it wouldn’t start. At all.
We ended up walking, with our three children in tow, and a couple of bags of necessities, to the Hilton Garden Inn which was roughly two blocks away. We were a sight, I’m sure. Sweaty, angry-looking people walking to a hotel. With two dirty kids and a barefoot baby. After checking in to our (not cheap) room, the professor walked back to the car to get the rest of our bags.
It started on the first try.