Lost Car

by Ben Avern from Victoria, BC
Mar 17, 12

About five or six years ago I moved from Yellowknife to Fort Smith in the North West Territories. Once I had settled into my new home I decided it was time for a road trip to visit in friends in Calgary.

I left Fort Smith on a Monday morning. After 6 hours or so on the road I decided to make a stop to wash the car and get gas in High Level, Alberta. Leaving the car wash in High Level, I pulled out onto the highway and soon went into the kind of trance that I fall into on these northern roads. The landscape in that part of the world is hard to describe. While hardly stunning or full of frequent landmarks, it is still pretty and varied. At the same time every kilometre is similar to the one before and the one following. After the first couple of times driving between Yellowknife and the south, I began to find myself bored on this long journey.

So deep into my trance was I that particular day, that I didn’t see the sign for the OSB plant, which for some reason has always been an important landmark for me. I also missed the sign telling me how far Peace River was. Not long after I had noticed my fogginess, I crossed a bridge that I didn’t recognize. It had been a couple of years since I had been out that way. And I thought, How quickly we forget these things. Anyway, there sure were a whole lot more oil and gas developments than there had been last time I drove the route. I was starting to get drowsy, so approximately 100 km out of High Level I pulled over for a 10-minute nap. I couldn’t get far off the side of the road and began to worry that traffic – trucks in particular – might wake me when they passed. To my surprise I slept soundly for those few minutes – the traffic, I thought to myself, was unusually light that day.

It wasn’t until I was a further 40 kms down the road when it hit me like a logging truck on a blind curve and I managed to put all the pieces together -- something you probably did quite some time ago. I was closing in on Rainbow Lake – which was the end of a different road than the one I should have been on. A quick check of the map showed me that I had driven 140 km west, when I should have been heading south. 

There was no road connecting Rainbow Lake with anywhere else other than back to High Level, where I’d just come from. 

I had no choice but to retrace my steps. 

By evening I was exhausted. I decided to call it quits and stop for the night in Peace River.

Tuesday morning I left my Peace River hotel room to put my bags in my car before grabbing breakfast. Walking out the side door that I had come in through from the parking lot the previous evening, I was a little stunned to find my car had disappeared. I always half expect my polar bear license plate to be half-inched when I’m in Alberta, but not my whole car! I quickly realized, though, that where I had parked the previous night was a no parking zone, so it was with some relief that I realized I had probably been towed. The front desk didn’t know anything about that, or which towing company they had a contract with. I borrowed a phone book and called the one towing company in it. They told me they knew nothing about my car. They did say, however, that they weren’t allowed to tow a car because it was illegally parked, that they had to be asked to do so by the RCMP.

I hitched a ride to the cop-shop and asked whether they knew anything about my car. The extremely helpful desk agent called everyone she could, and half an hour later announced that she didn’t have any good news. My car had been stolen!  

I filled out the appropriate forms, and was introduced to the Constable who would be handling my case. I got the impression that any confidence he had came from his uniform and the gun hanging from his belt, rather than from within himself, especially, when he wrote down my license number incorrectly. I was at the station ninety minutes. While I was there I lost any faith that my car would be found. 

As I left, I wondered what on earth I should do. Obviously someone was trying to tell me that I wasn’t supposed to be going to Calgary, I got that, but how was I going to get home? As far as I knew there was no airport in Peace River, and who would drive 10 hours from Fort Smith to pick me up? It was no use calling any of my friends in Yellowknife. The ferry wasn’t in yet so they were completely cut off. I hadn’t been planning on buying another car, but perhaps that was my best option. 

Looking back on this string of calamities I am proud to say that I didn’t become even slightly upset. I accepted my fate. I was in a bit of a predicament. But I was most miffed about the prescription glasses that were missing along with my car.

I got a cab to take me back to the hotel. The driver insisted on giving me his card, and said he hoped that “next time I’ll get to pick you from somewhere else!” I think he thought I’d been in the drunk tank overnight. I told him I was a cop. He put on his seatbelt and shut up pronto. On the journey, a thought that I couldn’t shake had begun to bug me. 

Climbing out of the cab, I walked around to the side of the hotel where the parking lot was, and there, exactly where I had left it the previous night, was my car. That morning I’d lost my bearings and exited on the wrong side of the building into an identical parking lot. 

I went back in to my room to call the cop I’d dealt with, and ask him to take my car off the ‘wanted’ list. You can’t imagine how humble I felt. 

Next, I went to check out. 

“Did you find your car?” asked the girl at the front desk. 

“Oh yes,” I said. “Thanks. That’s all taken care of.” And I hurriedly departed.  

All thoughts of Calgary abandoned, I got in my car and headed for home.